Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Living in the Roadtrek - The Ride

I have talked about driving the Roadtrek and I have talked about parking the Roadtrek. Now, I will talk about the feel of the ride in the Roadtrek. I am only talking about the Roadtrek 190 Popular because that is what I have. The Sprinter chassis Roadtreks I am certain have a much different ride. The 210 models have an extended chassis and they will have a different feel to the ride. The Roadtrek 170 is on a shorter chassis and that ride may be different as well.

What we have discovered over the almost year that we have been traveling in the Roadtrek is that the ride is dependent on two things - the surface of the road and the amount of air in the tires. All cars, vans, and trucks should be dependent upon those two factors as well, but the Roadtrek seems to be particularly sensitive to both.

There is a sticker on the inside edge of the door of the Roadtrek and inside the cover of the manual that tells you the amount of air pressure that should be in the tires, placed there by Roadtrek and not Chevy. The sticker says that the front tires should be 50 psi and the back tires must be 80 psi. When we got the Chevy, and you may have read my article about this, we felt that the van was pulling to one side as we drove. We were certain that we needed an alignment and started on a roller coaster ride to get that done - in the end it was not done because one wise alignment shop told me to check the air in the tires. If the air is not even in the front tires, the van will pull to one side. I checked and the air in one tire was well below 50 in the front. I added air to both - both were low and suddenly the ride evened out. I had been in communication with Roadtrek about the need for the alignment and when I told them what I did and that all was well, I was given more specifics about what the air in the tires needs to be. The 50 psi in the front is what would normally be used for a plain Chevy 3500 van. Roadtrek kept this number but I was told that the ride of the Roadtrek will change significantly if that number is increased from 50 in increments of 5 psi to a maximum of 65 psi. I was told that over 65 psi in the front, the ride will start to degrade. I increased the front tires to 55 psi and I did see a difference. Just before our last trip this past December I increased the front tires again to 60 psi, and I felt a remarkable difference. I know that other Roadtrek owners go to 65 psi and beyond. I plan to stay at 60 psi at least for the first several trips this coming Spring and see if the ride remains good. While we are talking about tires, the back tires MUST BE 80 psi - from what I am told - NO MORE AND NO LESS. So I have tried my best to keep them exactly 80 psi. The reason I am told is because of the extra weight on the rear end of the Roadtrek from the conversion.

The ride of the Roadtrek changes dramatically with the road surface. We happen to live in an area where the road pavement is poor. There are pot holes, cracks in the road, and bumps of tar strips where attempts were made to repair other cracks. With the front tires at 50 or 55 psi, sitting in the Roadtrek as it was driven on these roads, you could feel every crack, hole, and bump, no matter how small. I have ridden on these same roads in a passenger van and various cars and SUVs and I never felt the road surface as I have in the Roadtrek. When the road is good, the ride is smooth and comfortable. When the road is like I describe, not only are you feeling the bumps but everything inside the Roadtrek that might move is set into vibration and motion. It can be a constant bump, bang, bump clunk, bump BANG. It has gotten a little unnerving just listening. When on local roads, I say to Meryl that the Roadtrek was never designed for New York roads. It can climb mountains, drive in the dessert, but if you get to NY be prepared for the noise and the bumps.

We have driven on the New Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and I-95. Each in the Roadtrek for the most part was smooth and a very enjoyable ride. Once in New York, however, where the road pavement must be some of the worst in the country, the ride has not been good at all. I must say that this was improved slightly when I picked the psi in the front tires to 60. Bad roads cannot be avoided, but be aware that you will notice them a lot more in the 190.

The Roadtrek does something else on some roads, that I am told is common with a lot of RVs. It is called "porpoising". We experienced it before we learned that there is a name for it. It comes from a road surface being uneven and varying in height as it goes along. The result is that the Roadtrek (and, apparently, other RVs) feel like a bucking bronco or as the name implies, like a porpoise jumping in and out of the water as it moves along, up and down, up and down. We first felt this on the Pennsylvania Turnpike where the road was under construction. It was wild and took me, at the wheel, by surprise. It is particularly a problem if you are driving at highway speed and the only way to stop it from happening as dramatically is to slow the speed down. It does not fully go away, but it is a much more tolerable ride.

There are devices that can be added to the Roadtrek and changes to the suspension system that are said to improve the things that I have been telling you about. Some change the shock absorbers to a ones that are designed for these problems. Some change the springs to a much heavier spring. Some modify how the coil springs and the leaf springs interact. There are even things to be added into the suspension of RVs that claim they will eliminate porpoising and some of the rough ride. So far, we will go along with what the Roadtrek has as stock and think about modifications off in the future.

None of this has kept us from enjoying our travel in the Roadtrek. Once out of New York, the ride is smooth as glass. We always know when we cross back into New York - which has more to say about New York, than it does about the Roadtrek. And since we are in the Roadtrek to get away from New York, we don't mind putting up with the "escape" route at all!


  1. My observations while driving the ERA are very similar, although I have more height. 9'11" ... 10 feet rounded up. Since I came from driving a luxury van it was quite a shock to me. BTW ... many of the roads in the Niagara Peninsula (Ontario) must be under the same road authority as you describe. They are in terrible condition as well.

    I had the same issue with tire pressure as well. I was running very low pressure as set out by Winnebago. When I went to the Mercedes dealer to get the van serviced they reset the pressure to 60 front and 70 rear. I have the dual rear wheels. As you indicated the increase is to compensate for the increase weight due to the RV conversion.

    It rides much better but I do monitor it regularly. I am thinking about get one of the TPMS (tire pressure monitoring systems).


  2. got my 2003 190 popular chevy with 18000 miles
    drove from key largo fla with eva (wife) and (marie) my daughter to the north west states 5 times and would stay for july,aug and part of sept.evry year.
    now I got 93000 and all I ever did for safty was front ceramic brake pads to stop on the down hills of the rockies better and not get hot.doing shocks this week,bilstein sport (its time)
    well over 400 nights spent in amazing places.over 500 hours on onan 2800 and all I had to do was drop it once and replace a regulator(200$ part from flight systems)
    local onan dealer wanted like over 2ooo to 2500 to fix it.
    we cruise the hwys at 75 or 80 and get 17 to 15 mpg with the 6.0 engine,(tires 80in the back 70 in the front great ride)on state roads climbing big hills I dont want to know mpg mabey 10 or 12 and run lower gear at 55 to 60 or you will get hot.
    we stay in alot of national forest and always dry camp(wish we had more water girls like long showers but we get by)do a holel every 4 to 6 nights. was going to do a lift but it would change things .on rough roads just slow it up and know your limits,its not a jeep.
    we have seen so many cool things and never stayed in rv parks.from everglades to the north cascades best little rv
    ever.I know this truck very well do all the work myself and would be glad to share any insights or
    help with any ?
    find my website and give me an email and Ill get back to you,thanks Bob..........
    Capt. Bob Fernicola Backcountry/Ocean Charters ,Key Largo Florida

  3. You need to know the minimum air pressure for your tires, the only way you can get this to get the weight carried by each of the 4 wheel positions. The coach should be loaded for normal travel, full of fuel, food, people, propane, water (the amount usually carried).
    The 4 position weights will tell you if you are heavy on one side and the axel weights. This allows you to try to balance them out. But most important it will tell you the amount of air to carry in your tires. Tire companies publish tables showing the minimum air required for a given weight.
    Sounds complicated but it is not. The companies that do this type of weighting will give you a report explaining everything in detail.
    Some RV service facilities have these scales, but this service is almost always available at rallies by FMCA, Good Sam, Escapees & probably others. Cost is around $35.
    This can also be done at a truck scale but it will be only for each axel, if you put one axel on each scale. Cost is about $10. This is better than guessing at your weight.
    The label on the door post is the mfg best "guess" under normal conditions. My label says 47 psi for front, but based on actual weight I needed 60 psi !!
    Sorry to be so winded.
    If you are lazy about checking your tire pressures, tire monitors are excellent.
    Harry Salit
    2008 Krystal Sprinter.

    1. Roadtrek is very specific about the tire pressure for the front and rear tires. The door sticker is Roadtrek's and not Cevy's or Sprinter's. Roadtrek's do have a tire monitor system as standard on the more recent models.

  4. We have a 2000 190 Poplar on a Dodge chassis. Our van seems to want to wander even on smooth roads. I gets worse when the surface is uneven or in a cross wind. I have had alignment checked as well as struts and steering damper. Any other with the same problem? Solutions?

    1. I have the 2000 190 Dodge chassis also. I have put on Bilstein shocks, all steering joints, a steering box stabilizer only to find out that even though this Dodge looks much like my '83 Dodge Xplorer (which handled flawlessly) Dodge redesigned the chassis for years something like 1998 - 2003 before they admitted the design was bad and changed it again. With the changes I made and good tires it takes a pretty good side wind to make it misbehave.

  5. We had this with our Chevy 190 when new. The van pulled to one side. We thought it needed to be aligned but an alignment shop determined that the alignment was fine, but the two front tires were not equal in pressure. Once we put both tires to the same psi the ride evened out. I have read comments about the Dodge RT needing a stabilizer bar added. You might get responses to this from Dodge RT owners on the forums and in particular, the "Roadtrek Owners Group" on Facebook.