Air ride systems have been on the market for quite some time now and have gained popularity for every application, from bone stock to ground-up custom. There are many benefits to having an air ride system on your bike: It's easy to quickly adjust your ride height with the touch of a button, or adjust the ride quality-softer or stiffer-as needed, for solo or two-up riding, and best of all, the wow factor of instantly dropping your bike to the stops when you arrive at the local hot spot.
On the flip side, there can be some negative aspects to an air ride system. Two of the most common problems are finding a good place to hide/mount the compressor (you think they raise themselves magically?). This can be especially difficult on custom builds where extra space is often at a minimum. The other problem can be a leaky system, which can be caused by several things, such as loose or improperly sealed fittings and poor plumbing of the air lines. Sometimes, even if you've had a properly sealed system, after time, rocks and road debris can nick or cut into the air lines, causing the system to constantly lose pressure.
With these problems in mind, Custom Cycle Control Systems (CCCS) developed a unique air ride system called the Simplified Air Suspension (SAS) for Softail models. The greatest thing about this system is that it features an internal compressor with no exposed air lines. These two features make installation quick and easy, and the internal pneumatic seals resist leaks. The fact that everything is inside the sealed housing means it will simply bolt up in place of your stock shocks without taking up any more space. This is a key element, especially for those who have or are building custom Softail-style bikes but don't have space to mount an external compressor. Basically, all it consists of is the air ride housing and wire harness for power-it's that simple. We took a trip over to Mercury Customs in Irvine, CA, to photograph shop owner Joe Takai and tech Robert install a SAS unit on a '96 Softail.
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This is the SAS-99 for '99 and earlier Softails ($1,649). CCCS also offers a unit for '00 and later Softails. The SAS system comes with everything you need for installation. A) SAS billet housing, B) Adjustable rod ends and hardware, C) Filtered Air Breather, D) Wire harness and protective shroud, E) Installation instructions, F) Optional CCCS air system controls with housings ($35.00 each).
Joe and Robert started the installation by screwing the adjustable rod assemblies onto the swingarm side of the SAS housing. To help protect from miles and miles of abuse from road debris, the sealed ousing is made of6061 billet aluminum and covered in a hard anodized coating.
3 >With the rod assemblies installed, the power/wire harness was slipped into the SAS unit.
4 >Before installing the SAS, as recommended by the installation sheet Joe and Robert connected the wire harness to a battery to ensure the piston rods were fully compressed.
5 >Next, the stock shocks were removed. Previously we had installed a White Bros. Adjustable Lowering kit onto our stock shocks. The swingarm rod ends on the SAS are adjustable as well. Robert used the stock shock to set the length on the SAS rods.
6 >The SAS unit was then slipped into position just like the stock shocks would mount. The unit was loosely bolted in place and hooked up to a battery so that the swingarm could be raised and lowered to check for clearance issues. Everything was clean, so threadlocker was used on the jam nuts on the adjustable rod ends, and then on the stock shock mounting bolts. Here you can barely see the damping valve. To adjust the damping for a stiffer or softer ride, you simply turn the screw clockwise until it's closed, then open the valve one to one and-a-half turns counter clockwise until the desired dampening is achieved.
7 >Next, the SAS wiring harness was routed up to the battery. For this application it was determined that going up through the center post was best; this routed the wires directly to the battery box.
8 >Before the wires could be soldered in place, the pump and dump controls had to be mounted. CCCS offers these aluminum button-style controls as optional items because some people may not want buttons and may prefer toggle style or any of the other options found at most auto parts stores. The CCCS button controls are pre-wired and feature billet housings that are radiused on the back side to easily mount to any bar or frame member.
9 >We decided to mount the controls on the side of the top frame rail just under the seat. To mount the controls, Robert simply drilled and tapped a 4-40 hole, then used the supplied screws to secure thehousing and button to the frame.
10 >Once the dump and pump buttons were in place, everything was wired up according to the instructions.
11 >Almost finished. The last thing was to install the supplied filtered air breather hose. This filter assembly comes with the hose, filter, and circlip. CCCS also provides one replacement filter.
12 >The filter hose was attached to the breather port on the frame side of the SAS unit. Then the filter housing was slipped into the other end of the hose and the filter was routed up and out of the way. The breather hose is how the compressor in the SAS gets its air, so it'simportant to make sure the hose isn't pinched or kinked. The filter helps keep the inside of the SAS unit contaminate-free. Since the hose only draws air in, the system won't leak if the hose is nicked or cut-it'll just take longer to air up.
13 >Here's a shot of the buttons installed; a perfect location to reach them easily when sitting on the bike.
14 >In less than an hour we had the system completely installed; a fraction of the time compared to most air ride systems. With the air completely dumped out of the system we set it up so that even if the SAS was to unexpectedly fail somehow, the fender wouldn't hit the tire and the bike would still be rideable. It measured approximately 9-1/4 inches from the top of the axle bolt to the bottom of the fender strut. With the system completely filled with air it measured about 11-1/2 inches, giving us a ballpark of about 2-1/4 inches of travel to adjust the ride height.
15 >We jumped on the bike and aired the rear to the desired height, then hit the road. The ride was smooth and very comfortable and like...well... riding on air. Actually, it was a little too much like riding on air, and was too soft. But we just rode back to the shop and threw a wrench under the bike and adjusted the damping. This was actually the only downfall we saw to this system-not being able to adjust damping from the controls as with most other systems. We will say this, though; we let the bike sit for a couple days, continually measuring to see if it lost any pressure, and it never dropped a bit. After three weeks of no noticeable pressure loss (unheard of from some systems we've seen) we gave up because we wanted to ride.