A little over 6 months ago we fit the ICON Vehicle Dynamics Stage 4 lift to our Project JK, 13000 miles and 2 articles later it is time to talk about how it does off road.Back in August we talked about how the system performed on road, how the shocks had various levels of adjustment and what benefit that gave. We also talked about why paying more money for a lift was worth the investment. You can read about all of that here.
Why do we always publish the on road review first? It’s a common question from readers and even manufacturers and here is the answer. From that $200 budget boost to the $10,000 dollar custom lift they all work off road at low speed “good enough”. What do we mean? Flex is easy to get, controlled flex is hard to get.
Flex, articulation, suspension travel are all terms people use to describe how far a vehicles wheel can drop or rise in relation to the body. More flex means more travel, and more travel equates into traversing more difficult terrain easier. Sort of. Too much travel, or uncontrolled travel can lead to dangerous off road driving. The vehicle becomes unstable, the suspension moves too easily and does not resist movement to keep you upright. You want your suspension to maintain contact with the ground through your tires in a controlled manner. Not enough dampening in your shock and the wheel leaves the ground, too much dampening will cause the shock to resist moving and that will transfer that energy into the chassis lifting the vehicle instead of the axle and wheel moving. Even at slow speeds these setting and factors matter. If you drop off an obstacle you don’t want your suspension to just drop the vehicle. You need it to slowly absorb that fall allowing the suspension to drop equally from front to rear. If it didn’t you would have a wheel with no traction of completely off the ground from “falling” off the obstacle instead of climbing off of it.
Another example where this helps is if you think about driving on a side hill obstacle. One where the vehicle is on a steep banking. If your suspension has a ton of flex and not enough resistance the body of the vehicle will start to tip rapidly to the low side, this causes an overall weight shift and the next thing you know you are on your roof. Conversely a vehicle too stiffly sprung will not shift enough weight onto the low side to maintain traction and you slide off the obstacle. Good shocks that control the weight shift, that can dampen the springs need to release its kinetic energy are a must to safely traverse the obstacle.
Sway bars are another way to combat this situation, but most people disconnect the front so you lose some of that control. That’s why we discussed off road sway bars in a previous article. They truly can save your bacon.
How does the ICON system flex?
We did not do a Ramp Travel Index (RTI) score. Unless you are bench racing with friends it is a mathematical equation to attempt to guess at how capable a vehicle is off road. In the grand scheme of things it means nothing. It’s like trying to use dynamometer HP figures to determine who wins a drag race.
So instead we used it on the trail. Traction is the name of the game off road and keeping the wheels in contact with the ground is how you get it.
That’s a large washout we are sitting in and you can see the tires are fully planted, there is more travel left, and the Jeep is dead level. Shocks that can slow down the body bounce and roll while letting the springs do their job are what makes this smooth and enjoyable versus rough and bouncy. A less expensive system will traverse this terrain but with a bit more drama and less control. To do that all day shocks need to stay cool and with a giant 2.5 inch diameter and remote reservoirs the ICON system does just that.
If you have ever pushed your vehicle hard over rough terrain and felt that as the day wore on the ride got rougher; you were right. The shocks fade as they heat up, the oil, or air, or gas inside heats up and the shocks doesn’t work as well. You don’t have to wheel at high speed to experience shock fade, rough terrain even at low speed with 1000s of mini movements are just as trying to s suspension as rolling fast.
Remote reservoir shocks are not in everyones budget and we know that. What we are saying is they are worth the money, that is worth saving for a better suspension, and you will be happier for it.
ICON’s system is not cheap, it’s not small, and it will transform your vehicle into a trail dominating, road mile eating, magic carpet.
There isn’t a terrain feature we have thrown at it that we have not handled. Not just handled but handled smoothly, with tons of traction, and always feeling in control. Rocks, hills, logs, gravel, side hill, off camber, you name it, it always left us feeling in control. We have wheeled with budget lifts and been beaten up from bumps, felt tipsy on trails, and left feeling abused after a day of hard wheeling. With the ICON system you still get a work out but you are ready to do it again as soon as you finish. That’s a testament to comfort and quality.
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