Heading out on our CA Adventure

Ahhh, the long awaited follow-up to part 1 is finally here. Lets just dive right in. The rear suspension…man, was this a disappointment. I simply didn’t account for the weight I typically carry back there which is usually at least a good 500+ pounds. As I mentioned in the previous post, this left me with no option but to add 3″ blocks to bring the rear up until I figured out what to do. I looked at several options, one of them being replacing the rear shocks with some long-travel ones. Although this approach would work just fine, I still had the concern with the weight and if the shocks would blow-out over time. In order to do it right, I really needed to beef up the rear springs. A good friend of mine had just recently purchased a Ford Raptor and while going over my dilemma, he suggested I have a chat with some folks he knew. I left my last post talking about some new friends in CA, the folks I’m referring to is Raptor Performance Group (RPG).

I first spoke with the lead engineer at RPG. He’s one heck of a cool dude.  I discussed my problem with him and he had some suggestions on how to not only solve my problem, but improve the performance and ride qualities at the same time.  The first recommendation was to replace the factory leaf springs.  RPG has worked with National Springs (down in the San Diego area) to co-develop a leaf spring for the F-150 that can not only handle the kind of load I carry, but to give owners a truly progressive spring that makes the truck ride like an entirely new vehicle. These leafs come in a Standard Duty (SD) version for folks that don’t require the load capability I need, as well as the Heavy Duty (HD) version for guys like me.  My springs were tuned to carry a constant load of about 700 pounds while still providing a kick-ass ride and bringing the rear end of the truck up to level without the use of the blocks.  Sounded like a plan to me.  Then he had to go open his mouth about this “Stage 3 Kit” that he has for the Raptor.  The Stage 3 Kit is basically made up of a frame support, Fox 2.5″ Air Bumps and the National Springs leafs.  Now up to this point I had heard of frames on Raptor being bent by guys in the desert going all Rambo over some big ass whoops, but I figured that was a Raptor.  Why would I possibly need such a thing on an F-150?  Well friends, lets hold that thought for a few and I’ll come back to that.  The next thing were these air bumps.  WTF is that you ask?  Good question, I didn’t have a clue either since I haven’t been a huge off road fan until now.  Basically, in a nutshell, these air bumps replace the stock piece of rubber that keeps the axle from plowing through your frame when your suspension compresses.  By utilizing these air bumps, you replace those OEM rubber bump stops and can eliminate running a stiffer shock and provide much better bottom-out control, which helps maximize your suspensions travel.  Sounded pretty good to me.  So now what?

Lucky for me I had just recently planned a holiday vacation to southern CA to take the wife and kids down to Disney Land.  Flying is just stupid these days and not wanting to get groped by the TSA, I figured I may as well make a killer road trip out of it and take the girls on an adventure.  It also gave me a good opportunity to test the “Eco” in the EcoBoost and see what kind of real fuel economy I would get with the big meats I had just put on the truck.  More on that later.  I told the guys from RPG that I would be in town during the break and they offered to meet me at my hotel, pick up the truck to do the install and drop it back off.  I thought, DAMN…now THAT is customer service!  Sure enough, the day came that I expected them and there they were, ready to transform the beast.  I looked at them with a raised eyebrow knowing this is my BABY and I am handing over to the keys to complete strangers.  Hell, my WIFE hasn’t even driven Ironhide!  But something told me these guys were legit and I was in good hands.  Secretly I was jonsing and having a complete internal meltdown because I really just wanted to be there with the guys doing the install and taking pics or helping wrench on the rig.  But daddy duties came first and I had to take the girls to see Mickey.  This was going to be one hell of a long day I tell you.

So as I watched Ironhide drive off into the distance, I sat there thinking…”Damn thats a good looking rig.  I hope it comes back…”  :P  No – but seriously, I was going out of my mind wondering what the kit would do to the truck when they were done.  As I’m sitting there at Disney in line for Space Mountain, the first of a bunch of pics from RPG start coming in on my iPhone.  There go the tires, then little by little I see parts of my rig on jacks, on the floor, I’m just thinking…”holy crap”.  Then they start sending the good stuff and I practically start hyperventilating.  It took all I had not to look like an idiot, but I’m sure people were wondering why I was sitting on a ride at Disney staring at my iPhone with a shit-eating-grin on my face.

Stock springs (with AAL) vs. National HD's

So what seemed like the longest day EVAAAARRRRRRR finally comes to a close around dinner time, the girls were wiped out so we decided to go back to the hotel.  The guys from RPG were already on their way to bring back Ironhide.  I met the guys back at the hotel and decided we’d all go to dinner.  Before we could even get out of the hotel parking lot, they start telling me ok…turn here.  I knew damn well the BBQ joint wasn’t in that direction but they had something else in mind.  We get on I-5 heading south to where they know are some NASTY bumps in the highway that I had previously driven through and just about knocked the fillings out of my teeth.  Right when I braced for impact and white-knuckled the steering wheel, I felt like we were floating on marshmallows and the ass end of my truck is just cruising over these bumps like nobody’s business.  I just looked over at these guys with a gaping wide jaw slammed to the cab floor of the truck and they just sat there smiling.  They knew they had me.  I just simply couldn’t believe what a transformation a set of springs could do to this truck.  Not only did I have the normal gear I carry in the back, I also had the old springs in the back adding a couple hundred MORE pounds, PLUS two more full grown dudes in the cab. MONEY baby…it was MONEY.  Or as Jarrett likes to say…”it was LEGIT.”  So that was the first part of the demo.  Then we hit a couple of other areas where I could really squash the suspension.  As we hit that, I hear the bumps getting slammed.  I had no idea what it was and Corey says…there they go, now I knew what the air bumps sounded like as the axle was plowing through the rear on it’s way to hit the frame.  Although I couldn’t SEE the bumps in action, I somehow had a MUCH higher level of comfort now knowing those were there.  The truck is now just simply…A BEAST.

So as we get to the BBQ joint and we are outside looking at my rig, that’s when Corey says, so I have a little bit of bad news for ya.  I thought, uh oh.  That’s not exactly what anyone wants to hear in this kind of situation.  Corey proceeds to tell me that my frame was bent about 1/4″.  I looked at him like “Huh?”  Turns out that it’s not too hard to bend these frames under the right conditions. Jumping it is of course one of those (which I had not done), but in my particular case it was something as simple as hitting a speed bump too hard while carrying a lot of weight in the back. It’s that simple folks.  That’s where the Frame Brace comes into play.  While mounting the brace there is a section of the brace that comes in contact with the frame and if your frame is bent even the slightest, you’ll be able to see daylight through that section.   Measure the daylight, that’s how much your frame is bent.  Thankfully, by adding the RPG brace to the frame, not only do I not have to worry about the bent issue, it will now protect my frame from ever bending again.  This is yet more peace of mind that I’m protecting my investment and won’t do anything to the rig that will tweak the frame while I’m out in the middle of nowhere.  There are a couple of great write-ups on the Ford Raptor Forums that go into even more detail about the RPG Stage 3 that are worth taking a look at: http://www.fordraptorforum.com/f5/rpgs-stage-2-kit-rear-frame-support-fox-air-bumps-10553/

Goodbye CA... :(

I can tell you without reservation that this has made the most AMAZING difference in the ride of my truck.  If you’ve ever had your teeth just about rattled out of your jaw when cruising in the right lane of a highway that’s real bumpy, you know what I mean.  Going over some whoops is a reality with this suspension.  Being able to get rid of the blocks also made it much safer.  So I’m feeling pretty good with the truck and suspension overall.  Next month I’m planning to head down to Vegas for the Mint 400 and hoping to meet up with the RPG crew down there.  Jarrett has already told me to “lighten up the truck” and take out everything I don’t need.  I think he has plans for Ironhide to meet the desert and catch some air.  :)  I’ve also been given a heads up that they are working on some additional “upgrades” for the F-150 and my wallet is already sweating the thought of what these guys are up to.  If I had to pick one item I want to upgrade next would be the rear shocks.  Although I’m doing quite ok with the Fox 2.5″ Piggy Back Shox, what I really want are some 3.0″ long-travel bypass shocks. I’m pretty confident that moving up to the long-travel shocks would complete the rear end of the truck.  I’m thinking for the front end, some nice new tie-rods might be in order as well.  RPG has an amazing set of products that just absolutely kill the competition if you ask me.  I’m looking forward to establishing a long-term relationship with these guys.  I’m a pretty happy customer and that’s not an easy thing considering how picky I am.  And so my California Adventure comes to an end and back to WA state we went.  I have to say, I really fell in love with the Orange County area of CA.  I miss it quite a bit and look forward to getting back there on another trip and having RPG add some more beefy parts to my rig.  Thanks a million to Corey and Jarrett for completing an awesome adventure for me.  Until next time…keep the antenna side up!