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August 14 2017
By Tim Deakin

Tim is the Senior Journalist at routeONE magazine is also the title’s chief test driver, with considerable vehicle knowledge


Life's a breeze when your're floating on airbags

A less-than stellar ride when part-laden in often part and parcel of minicoaches. Glide-Rite has something that kills the problem stone dead: Rear air suspension, and it delivers other benefits, too

Glide-Rite recently moved headquarters to Birkenhead from Hampshire

Passenger comfort is of paramount importance, and one way to improve the sometimes choppy ride inherent in part-laden front-engined vehicles is by adding air suspension at the rear. That’s where Glide-Rite comes in.

“We supply custom-designed systems for different vehicles. They are created from parts that we hold and they are either dispatched as kits or are fitted by our technicians,” says Managing Director Carl Leake.

Glide-Rite works closely with EVM, and the Irish convertor’s technicians have been trained to fit air suspension on its Kilbeggan production line.

But the possibilities for Glide-Rite’s full air suspension kit - the more advanced of the two that it offers - are much greater than just Mercedes-Benz Sprinter-based minicoaches. It has a system for the recently-launched MAN TGE and Volkswagen New Crafter base vehicles, besides those suitable for many other models.

Glide-Rite recently moved its base from Hampshire to Birkenhead. While a presence is retained in Liphook, it now works primarily out of its 5,000ft2 Merseyside premises, which hold around £200,000-worth of parts.

It exports to Australia, South Korea and the United States, and it is, says Carl, busier than ever. So what are the benefits to going with rear air suspension on a minicoach or minibus?

Smooth operator

The simplest version of Glide-Right’s suspension allows the driver to adjust the ride height from within the cab. It’s aimed at goods applications, and for passenger-carrying work a four-bag, full-air product is preferable.

A conversion to full air rear suspension requires substantial work

Conversion to the latter from OEM steel springs requires substantial work, but Carl says that it’s worth it. An immediately noticeable benefit is a consistent ride height and quality, regardless of loading.

“Rear full air suspension is popular on top-end minicoaches. It takes a couple of days to fit the equipment to a converted vehicle because it includes replacement of the leaf springs with airbags,” he adds.

“Doing so improves ride quality by about 40%, as confirmed by extensive testing, and among that is a reduction of drivers’ exposure to vibration.”

Although comfort is the most obvious beneficiary of air suspension, there is also a major improvement in handling. Glide-Rite’s full air product is used in ambulances, and it vastly improves their ability to corner at high speed.

“The difference between air and steel suspension is like oil and water, and the full air version is completely autonomous. The driver won’t realise that the minicoach has air suspension until he or she drives it. EVM wanted no driver interaction, so the suspension self-levels on its own.”

The components

Examination of the parts needed to create a full air suspension kit reveals that they are considerable in number. Among them are an air tank, springs for the airbags to sit on, a compressor and many others.

“The important thing to remember with full air suspension is that the rear of the vehicle is floating. The airbags are the springs,” says Carl.

“Regardless of how many passengers are on board, it replicates full-load ride characteristics at all times.” The small compressor is a heavy-duty model that is suitable for prolonged periods of use.

Heavy-duty air compressor is fitted as part of the conversion process

“All of the vehicles that we offer a full air suspension conversion on are type approved; for example, for the 5,000kg GVW Sprinter we have a Letter of No Objection from Mercedes-Benz and we have a braking report from Millbrook Proving Ground.”

Addition of rear air suspension has no impact on base vehicle warranty. The kits have been designed on a bespoke basis for each model, and Sprinters with a rear overhang of more than 1.5m come with chassis strengthening supports.

“We know from experience that an extended Sprinter that is converted to rear air suspension may have problems if the chassis is not strengthened, which is why we supply the additional metalwork as part of the kit,” Carl explains.

Durability assured

It may sound complicated, but Glide-Rite’s air suspension product is relatively simple. That is proven by one recent encounter with a Sprinter that has it fitted.

The vehicle concerned is an 02-plate example that has covered in excess of one million kilometres, and it visited the Birkenhead premises for nothing more than a replacement airbag, which was provided off the shelf.

“That Sprinter had Glide-Rite suspension from new. Our focus has always been on longevity and proving that the system is up to the job,” says Carl. “Lots of our business for full air suspension on minicoaches is in export markets, but we are seeing a growing demand in the UK,” he adds.

And with the impending addition of the New Crafter and TGE to the minicoach line-up - for which Glide-Rite is already prepared - that’s likely to continue.

www.glide-rite.com



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