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Business Analyst Stephen Campbell from the University of New England, in northern New South Wales, loves to travel.
Often this information technology specialist s travels are to the most remote areas imaginable including an epic trip recently to survey Madigan s line, named after the first white man to cross the Simpson Desert from east to west.
The car he uses for these demanding trips is what he euphemistically calls the 'Troopy', - a 2001 Toyota Troopcarrier RV. As Campbell notes, it's the only vehicle he owns, 'so it is important that it be comfortable as well as a capable off-roader.'
To assist his passion for discovery, he fitted a Ride-Rite air helper suspension incorporating airbags between the chassis and the rear axle, (because that is the main weight-carrying axle on the 'Troopy). The tough fabric-reinforced Firestone air springs used in the Ride-Rite system are identical in construction to the springs used in the most advanced pure air suspensions fitted in vehicles in Australia (and to air suspensions in semi-trailers, for that matter).
The Ride-Rite system, which can be inflated to different pressures to cope with different loads and weight distribution, is distributed nationally by Airbag Man in association with Firestone industrial product supplier Air Springs Supply Pty Ltd.
Steve installed the supplementary air suspension system because his 4wd had a habit of sagging at the rear end under some loads, and developing a very hard ride when the suspension was working to its limits.
For his latest venture into Australia's harsh outback - which took an entire month, traversing the famed and at times treacherous Simpson Desert the springs were pumped up from Steve s usual 5psi or so to between 35 and 40 psi. Inflation was varied depending on the weight carried and the terrain, both of which were extraordinary.
'We took 8 days getting from Armidale, via Moree, Cunnamulla, Windorah to Boulia. Then across the Plenty Highway into the Northern Territory, where we turned down the Explorers Trail to visit Arltunga and Ruby Gap. We had a couple of days to spare, so we drove through Alice Springs and traveled to Palm Valley, Goose Bluff, and back to Alice where we met up with our party.'
Campbell says that, before leaving Alice Springs, the vehicle was fully provisioned for 14 days. It had to be self-sufficient in everything over this period. So the fridge was packed tight ('barely enough room for the beer - nearly had to throw the meat out', he says) as well as all the non-perishable food. For the car itself, there were two cartons of spare parts as well as some heavy-duty recovery gear. Two spare tyres with wheels along with the Safari Tent completed the kit on the roof rack.
On top of this, he says, there was 120 litres of fuel in Jerry Cans to complement the 180 litres in the tanks, and 125 litres of water. He notes that this was stored where the rear seat had been removed to make sure the centre of gravity for the car was as low as possible.
This desert trip was to be a mapping survey for HEMA maps of Madigan's Line - as well as a trip to remember. (The line was named after explorer Cecil Madigan who was the first white man to cross the Simpson Desert from east to west in 1939.).
Campbell says the extremely rough terrain was a real test for the suspension. With air bags set at 40 psi as the party left Alice Springs, his car 'was the only one that sat level as we drove out through the bull dust towards Old Andadoo station.'
From here, the going even got tougher. For three days the car never got out of second gear, low range'. This trip has been described as 'the hardest desert crossing in Australia,' he says.
One of the many problems was the possibility of damage from not only the terrain, but also even the local flora. 'Between the dunes the spinifex catches the sand and builds up compared to the surrounding levels. So driving over the spinifex is like bumping through the moguls in skiing. Hour after hour of full wheel articulation, with the occupants being seasick. Then the dunes themselves need vehicle momentum to cross, because the sand on the crests is like powder.
Conditions such as these gave the suspension an even harder workout than normal desert, because the vehicle was carrying as much load as it had ever carried. He says the shock absorbers at one stage were too hot to touch.
As for the performance of the Ride-Rite system, Campbell was full of praise. 'The ride was great, considering the terrain. The ride would have been much harsher without the springs, and far harder on the vehicle.
At one campsite, he found the remains of another vehicle s springs that didn't make it - which made him happy he had the supplementary spring system, which is also suitable for hard-working utes, vans, light trucks and heavily loaded vehicles used by farmers and tradesmen (it s even used in luxury hire limousines for additional comfort).
Campbell says the Ride-Rite air bags proved not only their worth in keeping a fully-laden vehicle stable over rough terrain, but also demonstrated the sheer toughness of the air-bags themselves.
'The driving was demanding with constant concentration on picking the best route and trying to miss seemingly endless acacia spikes that went straight through the tires of the unwary. As well, they often broke off and impaled themselves under the car. Several times the springs took a direct strike, but the air bags were tough enough to withstand it.'
It was with relief coupled with regret, says Campbell, that the trip had to come to an end, but in terms of the Ride-Rite system, one of the best things he found was the ability to get a level ride, and therefore good wheel travel no matter what the load.
'I think this was one of the reasons that the 'Troopy was so good on
the dunes. The toughness was also great. I was a little concerned that I might end up with a spring holed by the acacia stems but in the end I had no worries', he says.
In terms of the Ride Rite system enhancing the stability and carrying capacity of the vehicle, Campbell says, 'They certainly have increased the stability under load.
The vehicle sits level, and with the wheel travel not being compromised by compressed springs, I don't have to worry about loads on rough tracks damaging the suspension, due to bottoming out, or having too little suspension travel. Also, because I can have different pressures in each air spring, I don't have to be as finicky on balancing the load from one side to the other. I can balance the vehicle from side to side purely by adjusting pressures.'
After this mammoth expedition into some of the harshest terrain this Wide Brown Land has to offer, Campbell says that he would recommend the Ride-Rite system to other 4x4 drivers using their vehicles over diverse terrain with variable loads. In fact he notes, 'if you carry heavy loads from time to time and don't want to put up with the harsh ride heavy duty springs give you, then the Ride-Rite air bags are the way to go. 'In terms of similar expeditions, he says he will be making more forays into the Australian outback and his Ride-Rite equipped 'troopy 'will be the car he will use.'
For further information, please contact sales at Airbag Man, 1/126 South Pine Road, Brendale, Queensland 4500, ph (07) 3889 6556, fax (07) 3889 6557. Alternatively, contact Air Springs or find further information via this website.