Previewing Qubie’s future?

Today I got the pleasure of (again) meeting Bill Goldman, a fellow Tiffin owner and outdoor recreation enthusiast, long-suffering maintainer of the Tiffin Open Roaders  Group on Facebook, and incredibly kind and overall awesome guy for a very special “trip”. We’d crossed paths before out at Jordan Lake and have conversed many times about all things RVing. But today was a day I’d been looking forward to for quite a while.

See, there’s one very key difference between Bill’s coach, Rocky, and ours. No, it’s not the model (though they’re different) or the age (his is a year younger)… it’s the suspension. Yes, Bill was one of the first brave souls to get the LiquidSpring CLASS rear suspension installed on his coach. I have been very keen to try the system since I heard of it, and Bill has been very open about his willingness to let us try it in his coach. Yeah, I know! How exceptionally cool is that?

The great comfort/handling/stability ride chase… continued

I’ve done almost everything possible to make Qubie ride as well as possible. There’s the Sumo Springs we had installed at the factory, the steering stabilizer I had installed by the dealer (and which I reinstalled myself because it was installed incorrectly, then replaced myself when it went bad), the rear track bar I installed myself to help, and the Koni shocks I installed to replace the stock ones. They were all incremental improvements but nothing was ever “night and day”. Nothing ever stunned me with how much better Qubie rode.

I’m okay with Qubie’s ride and handling. I feel good driving her and she’s mostly comfortable. But “okay”, “good”, and “mostly” are hard to defend when you’re looking toward a future where you want to travel more. And this is me… Cat is a different story. She’s driven Qubie a couple of times, but is definitely not confident in the handling of Qubie. There’s a lot of input required, road swells and dips can raise the pulse a bit as Qubie bounces around and wallows. To me it’s manageable and expected, but for Cat when she’s driving (and, she admits, sometimes even when I am) it’s frankly terrifying. She constantly thinks we’re going to careen off the road into the trees and to our deaths.

How LiquidSpring is different

2017_F450-550The LiquidSpring CLASS (Compressible Liquid Adaptive Suspension System) is a very different beast from the standard, passive shock and spring suspension on the Ford chassis. About the only thing that remains the same in the suspension once they’re done installing is the axle. What you are left with is a system that, to my mind, is actually better in theory than what the diesels are offering.

The only real advantage the higher-priced diesels have over this system is the independent front suspension. The largest claim to fame for diesels’ ride is the “air ride” suspension system. Which, at its root, is really just a bunch of air “pillows” that the house rides on. In practice, they’re static, meaning that once they’re inflated while underway they’re at a static pressure. Sure, they provide cushioning and people have sworn up and down that they’re the epitome of comfort. It was one of the main reasons we’d been considering diesels when looking at our future.

But I think the CLASS system could be better. Why? It’s an active system… the “a” in CLASS is “adaptive”, which is accurate but I still think “active”. There’s a processor and sensors actively monitoring all the variables in the ride and actively modifying the dampening of the system many times a second. Rather than riding on a static balloon you’re riding on a balloon that squishes and expands at varying rates to both increase control and drivability as well as comfort.

I haven’t yet pulled the trigger, but I was waiting for something

I was a believer in the theoretical improvements of the CLASS system ever since I heard of it. But I have not yet pulled the trigger on it. Why? It’s only available for the rear suspension for the Ford F53 platform. You’re still stuck with the stock shocks, springs, and solid axle front F53 suspension everyone knows and loathes.

Also, this is not an inexpensive upgrade. Retail is around $13k. Yeah. Given that we’ve been trying to determine whether Qubie was the right long-term move for us with our traveling plans, that’s a large investment.

I’ve held ever since then that when LiquidSpring gets a solution for the front and rear I’d have to reevaluate.

Well now.

According to Wayne Wells, the LiquidSpring representative, we are getting very close to that day. While there’s nothing official yet, he has intimated that late Q1, early Q2 could be a very interesting time for F53 owners.

Now we’re getting interesting

Cat and I tend to think and rethink things quite a bit. We don’t usually jump into things without thinking through every angle and option. With this whole “future plans” thing, one of our top options has always been “stick with Qubie”. We love everything about her, we know her inside and out, I watched her being built from bare chassis to complete RV, she’s a good choice.

But we just aren’t satisfied enough with the ride and handling. That’s literally the one thing that made us look at other options (okay… we’re also almost certainly going to retrofit a washer/drier combo into her, but that’s not the main thing). However, if this CLASS system is all it’s cracked up to be and it’s available as a rear and front solution, we have a huge potential upside here.

I just didn’t know if it really worked like I imagined it would work in theory.

Time to take Bill up on his offer

With the impending announcement, I wanted us to get a feel for what the system felt like. Since Bill had so graciously offered to let us drive Rocky around a bit (!), I figured I’d take him up on it. So today the three of us piled in the car and met Bill at Rocky’s storage facility. Unbelievably, Bill had planned out our driving route to feature all the nice things we could traverse to really experience, from bridge expansion joints to rough roads to speed bumps.

(I’ll take a little aside here to again thank Bill for his kindness. You meet a lot of good people RVing, but I don’t know that I’ve met a more genuinely pleasant, cheerful, and gracious one than Bill. If you have the opportunity to “make your manners”, please do so.)

Bill wasted no time and soon was demoing the system’s ability to kneel and raise the rear while stationary (and at very low speed). Very useful for those sites out at Jordan Lake with the sloped rear. After that it was time to head out.

I admit, I had gotten myself very excited about this demo. I was so optimistic that this would be the solution to our handling and comfort problem. But I was also worried that I’d be underwhelmed. Again, I’ve done every other improvement I could think of and had high hopes that I’d be satisfied, only to be brought back down to earth. Was this going to be the same?

The verdict

I’ll only tease you a little bit. When we got back into the car to leave Bill and Rocky at the storage facility my daughter kind of laughed and said “Dad, you were very entertaining to listen to while you were driving.” Why?

I could not stop exclaiming over the incredible differences in handling! Loudly. With incredulous guffaws and laughter.

Seriously, those of you looking for that “night and day” difference, this is it. I also kept exclaiming “and this is only the rear!” Because the front was identical to Qubie, down to the Koni shocks. Even with that, the suspension felt like a completely different animal.

The two most impressive things I felt, where I literally couldn’t contain my astonishment, were:

  1. Speed bumps. Bill found us a neighborhood with three or four speed bumps. I literally couldn’t believe the difference in how the front and rear handled these things. The front was… the front. We went over the bump, the front sure felt like we went over the bump, we continued on. And then the rear just floated over the bump. I admit, I made excited, joyous noises over every one because it was so unexpected. It was as though there was no bump whatsoever. Certainly not the speed bump feel I was used to.
  2. “Whooptidoos” on the road. Either before or after bridges there are often dips or humps that can confound the simplistic suspension on Qubie, causing often alarming bouncing and jouncing around with quite a bit of follow-on movement even after the initial movement. We had several of these we traversed and, similar to the speed bumps, the coach handled them well and with little to no drama.

And again, that’s with only the rear done! I’m very, very optimistic that when the front suspension solution is available the end result will be even more astonishing. In Rocky, the rear is still “hampered” and impacted by the relatively uncontrolled motion of the front. Frankly, it’s bordering on magical that the rear is able to exert that much influence over the ride of the coach given it only controls half the overall equation. When the front and back are under the control of an active, intelligent system I can’t help but think we’ll have a ride that at least equals if not exceeds the touted and lauded comfort of diesels with their air ride systems.

I actually expressed to Bill and Cat that I feel a little sorry for people that get LiquidSpring suspensions installed as a factory option. They’re missing out on the incredible difference with and without. I think to really appreciate the system it helps to know just how bad it is without it.

What’s next?

I think I want to experience the full system, front and rear, before plunking down the cash. Given the cost of the rear I imagine the full cost of the system will be somewhere between $20k to $24k. That’s a really significant investment and I can’t in good conscience jump the gun without a trial.

But, if it really does do what I think it will do I truly feel it’s the direction we’ll go. Even given the expense it’s still significantly cheaper than it would be to upgrade to even the least expensive diesel pusher with air ride. And we still like Qubie better than those more expensive coaches! It’s literally just the ride and handling! So if I can get ride and handling better than the big, expensive diesels for a fraction of the investment… I’d be a bit silly not to.

A different phase

We took Qubie out to our favorite local lake this weekend as we’ve often done since we’ve had her. These trips have gotten more rare recently, and I’ve had to reschedule many of them. Why? Having an active teenage daughter makes for busy schedules!

She actually isn’t out here with us this time as she had plans, so it’s a bit of a parent’s getaway for us. I imagine it will be like that more and more as time goes on which is quite bittersweet. Sure, when we first imagined RV life it was more of a couple thing but we moved that timetable up and it’s been an awesome family thing. Now, that’s what we’re used to so that makes this transition a little sadder.

That’s not too say we don’t enjoy Qubie when it’s just the two of us. We got to enjoy the lake, have a nice dinner, plenty of good couple time. And I imagine we’ll get used to our “new normal” over time. I guess mostly we can’t believe we’re pretty much already at that place in our lives.

Just a quick appreciation post

Long time readers might recall that one of the primary reasons for us getting Qubie was attending obstacle course races. Well, this weekend I got to use her for just that purpose with a quick trip up to West Virginia for the Spartan Super at Summit Bechtel Reserve.

Unfortunately this was a solo trip due to scheduling since school started Monday for both my girls, one attending and one teaching. My race was Sunday this time so with the turn around it would have made it unpleasant to complete the race, break camp and get home in a reasonable time. So it was just me this time without my usual cheering section.

I’m once again mostly posting in appreciation of Qubie. Sure, it was a quick, fairly easy trip… about 4 hours of travel each way with my choice of two Flying J stations to gas up (I don’t like being under half a tank). But even so, just an easy, problem-free trip where everything just did what it was supposed to.

I drove up Saturday with a delightful lunch stop at the Virginia welcome center. That’s always a treat… put my food in the convection oven for 15 minutes, read a bit, stretch my legs, hit the restroom, have lunch, check Subie the toad, and get back on the road. I reached my weekend home at Little Beaver State Park at around 5, got checked in and into my site where I had to spend a bit more time than usual getting Qubie up on all my leveling blocks due to a bit of slope. Eventually both me and the leveling system were mostly satisfied — she wasn’t perfectly level but I was a little too near being off the ground in the rear for my comfort so I dropped the rear a touch — so I flung out the slides and completed my setup. It always makes my happy when the slides do what they’re supposed to after that one trip.

Spent a quiet night Saturday prepping my race gear, set my alarm for Sunday and hit the sack. Sunday arrived and I had a good if challenging race in the morning, returning to Qubie at about 1pm. Qubie provided a wonderfully comfortable base to recuperate that afternoon, with a nice hot shower and inviting bed to nap in for a bit.

Monday just involved a relaxed, unhurried return trip home. Got Qubie safely ensconced in her storage by about 3 and called it a successful trip.

Thanks again, Qubie, for being our reliable, comfortable, wonderful rolling home and base camp. I really look forward to taking more opportunities like this in the future.

Dewinterizing in May?!

I’ll be honest, Cat and I have been chomping at the bit to get Qubie back out but circumstances have not cooperated with us. We had trips scheduled in March and April that we had to move due to conflicts, then one last weekend that the park cancelled due to a sewage problem. Now it’s May and Qubie hasn’t moved since December!

Finally, this weekend arrived with no conflicts (aside from some forecasted bad weather), so we weren’t missing out from any more trips! I snagged Qubie from the storage place, firing up the generator for some exercise, and drove her to the house where I sanitized the fresh water tank and set about clearing the “pink stuff” from the water lines. That went super smoothly — I’ll be using that winterizing method from now on! — and once I got the water filter and my stuff loaded up it was time to head to Jordan Lake, our old standby.

We booked a site we’ve never been in so that adds a bit of uncertainty, but I backed her in easily, got up on some leveling pads due to a bit of slope, got her leveled, slides out, everything set up with zero issues in no time flat.

I was telling Cat that, knock on wood, I’m really very happy with Qubie’s reliability, and that I think I’ve definitely reached a place that she’s our long term RV. I will almost certainly look into Liquid Springs once they get really good at the front and back mods as I think that will take the handling and ride comfort to where we’d find it acceptable for cross-country trips, but aside from that she’s a delight. Sure, something could go wrong later today, but that’s life. Overall, to call her anything less than reliable would be dishonest.

It doesn’t hurt that we just love the interior even more than newer models out even more expensive coaches.

Now, bring on the rain later to rinse off some of this spring pollen!

Virginia and back, everything comes full circle

The long-time reader might recall the seed that led to this entire RVing adventure for us.

A single seed

Running the 2014 Charlotte Spartan Sprint
Running the 2014 Charlotte Spartan Sprint

I run Spartan Races. I like running them. I run most of the ones within easy driving distance from our house. I’ve strongly considered expanding the radius I’m willing to go, but that becomes a bit more challenging. My girls almost always accompany me, which means dragging them farther away. It means more time, more hotel costs. But that started a thought.

“It would be pretty fun to travel around the country and do races all over the place.”

That was the seed.

So it always gives me a particular kick to take a trip in Qubie for the purpose I originally envisioned enjoying her for. I got to do that this past weekend with a trip to central Virginia for the 2018 Virginia Spartan Super obstacle course race. We had a lovely, perfect day for driving Friday afternoon for the short, 3 hour trip to a cozy campground, James River State Park. I’d booked a truly enormous pull-through site a long time ago and it worked perfectly for us. I didn’t even unhook Subie, just drove right into the site with her still attached.

We had a restful evening, slept well, and Cat and I proceeded to get well and truly lost on the park’s trail system the following day for our daily exercise. We weren’t completely lost, but my planned 3 miler to shake the legs out in preparation for my race the following day turned into an almost 7 miler because of some poorly marked trails. I talked to one of the rangers later that day who, when hearing of my story, said “oh yeah, that section of the trail [that we needed to take to return to the RV campground] got closed down a while back and we never updated the markings.” No, you sure didn’t.

We spent part of the afternoon exploring nearby Lynchburg where, honestly, nothing was going on. Cat got it in her head that it was home to Virginia Tech so we thought we’d take Julia on a sort of college visit, but subsequent Googling showed us our error (it’s in Blacksburg). After finding a geocache and wandering a bit, we made the tactical decision to head back to Qubie and have a quiet evening at the campground rather than extend the visit.

Finishing with the traditional double-pointy fingers over the fire jump.

Sunday morning we piled in the car and went to the race venue at Infinity Downs. I had an enjoyable race, performed pretty well, and the girls were awesome in their support. I didn’t waste a whole lot of time afterwards since we still had to get home, so I got briefly cleaned up forgoing the traditional after-race free beer and we drove back to the park. After showering, a quick lunch, and breaking camp we were back on the road home. I have to say, with very, very little exception our route through Virginia and North Carolina took us on very nice roads and Qubie was quite comfy, primarily Virginia 29 and 86. Good surfaces and smooth sailing.

We got home at roughly 6PM, got Qubie unpacked, and had the evening to relax before starting the week again. Perfect trip!

Musings revisited

I’d mentioned previously that we’ve started thinking more about our future plans when Julia no longer travels with us, and how it might be time for an upgrade but I had been backing away from that recently. This trip even more firmly cemented it. I think I’m almost completely convinced that Qubie is just right for us, now and in the future. We were sitting in her this weekend and I looked around and there’s nothing I’d change! Moreover, none of the current Tiffin models even up to the Allegro Bus are as appealing to me! Why “upgrade” to something I like less?

So, unless something changes drastically in the next few years, Qubie will remain our lovely rolling home. I can’t wait to see where she takes us next.