Stop! Drop! And adjust! That’s exactly how “adjustable shocks” have operated for over a decade, and before that, when “performance” shocks were hewn out of stone cylinders, they were tuned for the car’s handling, not the road surface it was on. In the early days, there was no adjustability, so if you wanted a performance ride, well, enjoy the ride you had – no matter what.
Technology has greatly benefitted the performance of our car’s engine. And now, thanks to an engineering group of enthusiasts at RideTech and DSC Sport, that technology has migrated to ensuring we can put all that well-tuned power to good use. Their new Instinct line of electronically-adjustable shocks has taken performance driving from “set it and forget it,” to a constantly-fluid adjustment strategy that not only considers the car, but also the road surface and the way the car is driven upon it!
The Instinct system is a complete network of sensors, ECU, and electronically-adjusted shock absorbers that keep the car in a constant state of control.
Electronically adjustable suspensions have been used by the OE’s for a while, and Instinct’s electronically-adjustable system has proven itself reliable in Formula One. Thanks to the trickle-down effect of technology, enthusiasts are now able to put that same tunability into every corner of their classic ride. We are very happy to say that the technology is finally here for those who enjoy driving a vintage car in a performance setting and having the utmost control, whether on the street or track.
While late-model OE’s and Formula One cars have used active suspensions for years, now, vintage musclecar enthusiasts can enjoy the additional benefits in their ride.
While some systems use a highly-developed, magnetically manipulated, variable-viscosity liquid called Magnetorheological Fluid (MRF) to adjust the shock’s rate of compression and rebound, the Instinct shocks use a tried-and-true monotube, gas/nitrogen-charged damper design with typical shock absorber fluid inside. What sets Instinct shocks apart is their use of an extremely high-speed shuttle valve, much like is used in a 4L60e transmission - but in a much smaller size.
Don’t worry, if your vehicle has a set of Magnetorheological shocks from the factory, RideTech also offers a plug-and-play tuning module called MagneTuner, for late-model cars that greatly improves ride quality and handling at the push of a button.
Adjustments to Instinct’s internal valves are made via a small wire harness that attaches to each shock absorber to allow the ECU to electronically adjust the orifice size of the shuttle valve instantly to adjust the shock’s damping relative to the vehicle’s current state.
Steve Chryssos, marketing manager at RideTech, explains that the valve can react much quicker to bleed pressure accordingly, and reacts as well, if not better than a Magnetorheological fluid.
How Does It Work?
Since Instinct adjusts for the differing dynamics that the car experiences, there needs to be multiple sensors as part of the kit, to help it register changes in the car’s driving.
Some of those sensors, like the three-way G-meter, read the car’s dynamics, while other sensors such as the throttle position sensor and brake line pressure sensor help monitor the driver’s wishes. By integrating both the human-interface and reactive inputs, adjustments to the shocks can be made that not only react to what the car’s suspension experiences, but also set up the shock’s adjustments to make the most of the predicted actions.
Being proactive instead of reactive allows the shock absorber to complement the driver’s inputs instead of countering unwanted actions within the suspension after the fact. This directly helps to reduce overall lap times during competitions where lower e.t.’s are the goal, and helps give a direct link between the driver’s wishes and the car’s reaction.
While on the street, the same concept that increases grip (keeping all four tires properly cemented to the road surface), also has a positive effect on ride quality and drivability.
The ECU takes information from the various accelerometers, throttle position sensor, and brake pressure sensor to help it interpret the driver's wishes. At that point, it disperses the information via individual leads to the shocks at each corner of the car to help manipulate the car into doing what the driver intends.
To make that happen, every component that changes the vehicle’s status needs to be considered. A lot of that necessary information can be obtained via the on-board accelerometer that is constantly reporting on the car’s current state. Beyond that, there are three other sensors to identify vehicle speed, brake pressure, and throttle position.
Acceleration (whether + or -), quantifies a change of motion, measured by how much speed changes in a set period of time (miles/hour x 2). Knowing how fast the car is traveling, and if or how much the driver wants to accelerate or decelerate, helps Instinct adjust the shocks on the appropriate corners of the vehicle to keep the car level, relative to the road surface.
The Instinct system utilizes a three-way G-load sensor to input the car’s attitude to the ECU. There are also various modes that allow the system to be tailored to differing driving styles with the push of a button.
The brake line pressure sensor does more than simply operate like a brake switch. Instinct’s brake sensor reads changes in the brake line’s fluid pressure, but how Instinct interprets that information is not linear.
Instinct goes by the Rate of Change of the line’s fluid pressure. The system is set to trigger at 200 psi, but can be adjusted to fine tune the system for the car’s particular application.
The Brains Of Bump Control
To make use of all this information, there must be a computer that gathers all the info and sends it out to each shock. This is done by Instinct’s ECU at the rate of every six milliseconds. This allows for a seamless correction to road variances and changes in the vehicle’s state of driving.
Putting it in layman’s terms, Steve explained it so even we could understand it. “Imagine a car going over a normal-sized pothole at 60 mph. Instinct has the ability to adjust and change the shock’s damping from one end of the pothole to the other.”
What makes the system so instantly adjustable is the communication between the ECU and the shocks. While it will not overcome issues with the chassis, with the proper setup, Instinct is able to walk that fine line between control and conformity at an astronomical rate.
When you take into account that Instinct does this constantly, at every corner of the vehicle, it becomes clear how advanced this union of fluid and ions can be. If that isn’t enough, you can check out any of the Goodguy’s Autocross events where the RideTech Instinct shock system is installed on many of the top cars dominating the class.
We spoke with Chris Smith, owner of Smitty’s Custom Automotive and Ridetech’s Race Team Manager, and he explained the spectrum of Instinct this way, “The difference is like night and day. In street mode, the 48 Hour Corvette rides like an Escalade and in track mode it’s like a full-on racecar!”
Several cars installed with the RideTech Instinct shock system have been dominating the Goodguys Autocross scene.
The level of sophisticated suspension tuning necessary to make positive adjustments to the car’s suspension requires a solid base of information about the car on which the system is to be installed.
For that purpose, there is a necessary consultation with the folks at RideTech to determine how the car is to be used.
You will need to call and set an appointment for consultation and be prepared to provide specific vehicle details such as corner weight, shock installed height, tire selection, suspension details, and intended use of the vehicle.
Also, things like motion ratio and spring force are all taken into consideration for proper installation. While the Instinct system is adaptive in real time, it cannot compensate for poor suspension design (e.g. improper spring rates, geometry, or alignment settings).
Smith agreed, “The closer the car is to a proper setup, the better the system works. If the car isn’t sorted out, Instinct can help, but if the car is set up properly, it’ll make you look like a Rock Star!”
Setting Up Your Instinct
There are a few core fundamentals that must be addressed when it comes to customizing your car with the Instinct Adaptive Shock system. The inclusion of the adjustable valve within each shock absorber will make each shock one-inch longer than the typical coilover shock assembly. This distance must be accounted for by simply changing the upper or lower mounting points to compensate for the difference in length.
The Instinct adjustable shock system is configurable via a laptop. Much like a fuel map for EFI, changes to a shock’s compression and rebound characteristics can be easily made by changing numbers in a chart.
With the constant adjustability and broad spectrum of damping available, Steve reports that a user can typically increase springs rates without affecting ride quality since the shocks don’t hinder spring movement. This is another reason for consulting with the folks at RideTech before the purchase.
The system will come to the customer with preloaded calibrations based on the pre-sale consultation about vehicle weight, suspension geometry, intended use, etc. If the customer wishes, they can download the free software and customize any portion of the factory calibration via a laptop to tailor the shock’s characteristics to their needs. Setting up the “tune” for the shocks is much like a calibration map for setting up an engine’s fuel or timing map for EFI.
Instinct has the ability to adjust and change the shock’s damping from one end of the pothole to the other.” – Steve Chryssos, RideTech
There is also a selector that allows choosing between three stored tunes within the ECU. That way, the system can be adjusted quickly to suit the end-user’s need for quick acceleration (launch), tight cornering such as autocross, and also for high-speed travel, as would be experienced in top-speed competitions like the Texas Mile, Open Road Racing or the like.
It bears mentioning that while Instinct’s tuning is broad enough to handle all these scenarios, they would indeed be different tunes, with the differences occurring at the flick of a switch.
The Bottom Line
When you think about it, no two potholes or track conditions are the same from lap to lap. Having a chassis that constantly changes to compensate for the infinite number of variables allows your suspension to operate in that “sweet spot” between loose and over-controlling.
Having a properly tuned, electronically-adjustable suspension will take into account vehicle parameters at the exact moment that they occur, and allows for a more refined control of the car’s actions; something that a knob-tuned suspension just can’t do.
This technology is no longer reserved for only late-model daily drivers or those top names in International race circles, but now, thanks to the folks at RideTech and DSC Sport, yesterday’s musclecars have just gotten a little faster as well.