Not long ago, we broke a rear shock rod on our JKU while wheeling. Since we had another trip planned in short order, we had to get it repaired fairly quickly. While the easiest thing to do (especially since we had optimized our shock mounts for the Bilstein 5160s we had) would be to just get replacements of the same, but instead, we opted to try out Metalcloak’s recently released “RockSports”.
The following Monday we called up Metalcloak and luckily they had a set in stock. We had them rushed to us, but to be fair, normal freight would’ve likely been fine. The main reason for the rush was we needed time to repaint them. I know this sounds trivial, but I hate the red (stock Rubicon looking) shocks.
They arrived exactly when promised and were packaged fairly well. Unfortunately, and like every other bar-pin style shock, the rears had some box damage from the pin. This said, the damage seemed only to be to the box itself, so this wasn’t really a big deal.
After a quick painting of silver to match our Jeep, the installation went well and is very easy. We did notice that the pin widths seemed wide and we actually had to do a little bending of the mounts and/or grinding of the pins to make the switch. Initially, we thought this was due to the Bilstein pins being narrow, but when I compared them to a set of OE shocks I had at the shop, we did in fact find them to be about 1/16” wider.
For the travel, we totally lucked out and no adjustments were needed. The Metalcloak Rocksport front shocks had nearly identical collapsed and extended lengths as the Bilsteins we removed. The rears were just a bit longer in both the collapsed and extended lengths but our set-up was fine with this and we welcomed the additional 3/8-1/2” down-travel we would gain.
Here you can see one of the old Bilsteins in the rear and the new Rocksport replacement. If you look hard enough, you can see the Rocksport side of the axle is just a touch lower.
Before we dive into our testing and performance review, we wanted to share just a bit about our test rig and set-up. We are running Metalcloak 3.5” True Dual-Rate coils and all eight Metalcloak control arms. For several reasons, we do not run Metalcloak steering or roll correction components. We run 37” Goodyear MTR/Ks. Our set-up has a pretty low center of gravity with about as much down-travel as you can pull off while maintaining front driveline angles (pictured below). The Jeep had about 35k miles on it at the time of the shock change. This Jeep is not daily driven, but does see plenty of highway miles and heavy trail use at the end of those miles.
We understand that ride and handling are completely subjective and are very much a perception item. But remember, we have used this Jeep pretty diversely with very few changes over the past 20k miles. So, any recognized differences will be completely attributed to the shock change.
Having said the above, our only real measure will be in comparison to how the Jeep was with the Bilsteins.
We mentioned early on that we had another trip planned in short order. The destination was the first Nitto/Discount Tire/EVO Jeep Experience in Texas, so we would have 1800 miles of pavement, two days of epic wheeling, and another 1800 miles home… all in four days. This isn’t the first time we’ve done this type of weekend warrioring, but the distance and trail types would be perfect for testing.
Pavement performance was exactly what we expected. Ride is smooth; unfortunately, this is at the sacrifice of stability in the curves. Large bumps also seemed to create more instability than we had expected. We had never previously experienced the rear of the jeep hopping sideways after a bump or pot-hole but have on several occasions since the change.
My biggest concern on the trail was their ability to control the tire in mixed traction with loose soil. If you are not sure what I’m talking about watch the video below.
There are lots of variables that can cause this wheel-hop. But it is one of the toughest things to control and it’s all of the shocks responsibility. We actually did this very hill and, while we watched the tires as much as we could, we experienced very little hop. This came at a bit of a surprise given the much lighter compression valve rate that we knew the shocks had. Overall, our trail and even road opinion was pretty favorable.
Unfortunately, as our testing has continued, our opinion has changed. We have now put close to 5k miles on these shocks. Our recent adventure was a mix of terrain and their stability and control over miles of dirt/gravel was pretty bad. What’s worse is when we returned to the pavement, they have never returned to form. We now experience poor control and stability over the smallest of bumps. It’s almost as if the Jeep has no shocks at all.
It is important to recognize that these shocks are very inexpensive. All four can be had for under $300 directly through Metalcloak. Still, ours are almost completely used up and we need to replace them very soon. So, while they are inexpensive, replacement at every 5-10k miles adds up quickly. Running them with lighter/smaller tires or on more pavements may add to their life, but who knows by how much. Adding a second $300 for replacements and you could’ve bought a much better shock to begin with that is sure to last much longer.