Roadmaster, experts in dinghy towing, introduces the Comfort Ride Slipper Leaf Spring and Shock Absorber systems to road-weary trailer and fifth-wheel owners
Trailers and fifth-wheels take a lot of punishment on the road. Suspensions, designed to counter this abuse, have not changed much over the years, and in most cases are the same ones found on chassis that date back a very long time. (The old line “This isn’t your grandfather’s vehicle” does not apply.) While stock suspensions hold the chassis off the ground, controlling the ride is not a strong attribute.
Leaf springs tied to shackles and a center-mounted equalizer are supposed to counter the bumps in the road but, with few exceptions, are not very effective. Roadmaster, a company immersed in the tow-bar business, catering to owners towing vehicles behind their motorhomes, has expanded its offerings in the towable arena with the introduction of the Comfort Ride Slipper Leaf Spring Suspension and Shock Absorber systems.
The concept is simple, and the result is a game changer in the way trailers and fifth-wheels handle all road conditions.
One might ask, “Why worry about ride quality inside a trailer when towing since no one is back there to feel the shakes, rattles and rolls? That’s a valid question, but subjecting a trailer to a constant 4.0-magnitude earthquake takes its toll over time and leads to premature damage, not to mention the destruction to items stored in the inside and outside compartments. Smooth out the ride, and the trailer will last longer without seams separating and the resultant water leaks. Unfortunately, structural and component fatigue can lead to inconvenient issues while traveling and, ultimately, an early trip to the salvage yard.
The concept is not rocket science, nor is it new, but the simplicity of the system is brilliant when applied to trailer suspensions. It solves an inherent design problem, whereby leaf springs are tied to equalizer shackles and frame-mounted hangers via eyes in the spring ends, restricting the movement needed to smooth out the ride effectively.
Leaf springs have been around for more than 75 years, and equalizers have been on the scene since 1945, and virtually nothing has changed. This legacy method of damping the ride seems incongruent with the evolution of trailers and fifth-wheels. While the equalizer does move the springs somewhat, securing the springs at both ends minimizes flex needed to cushion the ride and links the front and rear springs and axles, transferring the forces between the front and rear axles. For example, when the rear tires hit the same bump or pothole, the impact migrates to the front axle. The Comfort Ride breaks that connection, creating more of an independent-axle suspension action, which is known to be more effective.
The other issue is bushing wear. Stock bushings seated in the eye ends of the springs have a tendency to wear out prematurely, creating slop in the system that can affect axle alignment and lead to shackle failure. The bushings in the Comfort Ride springs are made by Never Fail and will last a lifetime. They are made of a super-hard material (proprietary secret) impregnated with molybdenum and graphite, and will conform to the shape inside the spring eyes. This is a far cry from brass or nylon, which will deform or wear out, sometimes after the first trip.
While the systems can be installed independently of each other, for the ultimate results, Roadmaster highly recommends utilizing the gas shocks, which bolt on seamlessly. High-quality gas shocks mitigate uncontrolled shock and rebound when traveling over uneven pavement where dips, potholes and other maladies tend to rattle the trailer structure.
Another key element in this shock-absorber system is the mounting position. Rarely are shocks provided by the factory, and they are often installed in a more horizontal position because of space limitations, virtually negating any benefit. The patented Roadmaster brackets solve this problem by keeping the shocks mounted closer to vertical, allowing them to better control spring rate by taking full advantage of the gas-regulated valving. The shocks are also positioned on an outward, 15-degree angle (spring to frame) to help with lateral movement and sway. Configuring the brackets this way improves movement front to back, side to side and up and down, something no other shock mount has ever accomplished.
Installing the kits may seem a little daunting to those who have not tackled this type of project, but in reality it is relatively simple, guided by precise instructions. The trailer frame will have to be lifted and placed on jack stands so the suspension hangs; floor jacks are used to stabilize the axles. Care must be taken with jack lifting points; it’s important not to lift the trailer by the axle. From here, the wheels are removed to gain access to the suspension, and it’s just a matter of unbolting old parts and installing the new ones. Everything fits like a glove, and only four holes are drilled into the frame on each side. Figure on about three hours of labor when the job is done at an accomplished service center.
To test the systems, we asked Redlands Truck and RV Performance Center in Redlands, California, to install the parts on a 2018 Keystone Montana fifth-wheel that was factory equipped with 6,000-pound Dexter axles. The techs at Redlands bank on their vast experience servicing and repairing motorhomes, and have recently moved into the towable space, so making the Comfort Ride swap was a piece of cake.
All the parts in both kits were proven by Roadmaster before release to ensure that they will hold up to years of punishment on the road. This is accomplished by using computerized Finite Element Analysis (FEA), which establishes guidelines to ensure superior product longevity, quality and safety. It’s the same type of testing used by NASA when prototyping new designs. The spring and shock components have also been field tested by a number of full-time RVers who have logged more than 50,000 miles. The equipment, which is offered to the OEM market under the All-American Suspension System nameplate, passed the brutal Navistar test track with flying colors.
While I have personally tested the system under a fifth-wheel for 15,000 miles on jaw-rattling highways, the most recent installation solicited the assistance of a professional long-haul truck driver who has logged more than 2 million miles of commercial driving. The driver, who owns the Montana, noticed an immediate seat-of-the pants difference in the way the system improved ride quality and chucking. On his cross-country trip, right out of the Redlands Truck and RV gate, he reported improvements in how supplies fared in cabinets, and continued to gloat over the ride and handling, especially in extremely windy conditions.
During my testing tenure, items were placed strategically inside the fifth-wheel and monitored for movement. Supplies previously disheveled after stints on the road remained neatly stacked with the new suspension parts in place, a strong indication that the “earthquake” inside the fifth-wheel has been tempered enough to make a big difference in ride quality. The components, which are maintenance-free, showed no signs
of wear in any of the test trailers.
I was so impressed with the system that I actually became part of the research and development team and have an equity position in the product.
Kits are available for axles rated at 6,000, 7,000 or 8,000 pounds. The system for the test fifth-wheel has a $975 MSRP for the Comfort Ride Slipper Leaf Spring kit and $550 for the shock absorbers. The parts are covered by a one-year warranty.
Roadmaster’s introduction of the Comfort Ride kits to the towable market represents one of the biggest developments in trailer suspensions since leaf springs were invented. Your trailer will thank you for the “support.”
Roadmaster, Inc. | 800-669-9690 | www.roadmasterinc.com
Redlands Truck and RV Performance Center
888-249-0124 | wwwredlandstruckservice.com
An RV/MH Hall of Fame inductee and publisher emeritus of Trailer Life and MotorHome, Bob Livingston has written countless RV technical and lifestyle articles and books, and created and appeared on the weekly television show RVtoday. A lifelong RV enthusiast, Bob now travels and lives full time with his wife, Lynne, in their fifth-wheel trailer. He continues to be a regular contributor to Trailer Life.