21.07.2010 Technical 3 Comments

Air bags 101

There are 2 different styles of airbags that are most commonly used:

Double convoluted bag

The double-convoluted bag has a high spring rate and has a fast rising rate (as the bag colapses, the spring rate gets stiffer). They are typically used in higher load applications like front suspensions, or mounted on a link bar under leverage to get more travel and still have an acceptable ride. If a double convoluted bag is mounted in a 1:1 position, for instance directly over the axle, your ride quality will suffer.

Sleeve style bag

Because of the way the sleeve style bag works, it has a lower spring rate and does not have a very fast rising rate. They are most commonly used directly over the axle, but do not have as high of a weight carrying capacity. The sleeve bags that you do see used in high load situations are quite large. The odd thing that I have found from using sleeve bags is that they work much better if the vehicle is heavier. For instance a minitruck would not ride as nice on sleeve bags as it would using a double convoluted bag mounted on the link bar. I have my theories, but they will have to be saved for another post.


Smart stuff

Before I go any further, let me explain how spring rate works. A spring with a 100lbs rate takes 100lbs to compress the spring one inch, then another 100 lbs to collapse the spring another inch and so on… So a 500lbs rock would collapse a spring with a 100lbs rate 5 inches, but that same 500lbs would collapse a 250lbs spring only 2 inces.

Killing brilliant ideas

Okay, there is a misconception about mounting oversized double convoluted bags directly over the axle in order to cheat and get a nice ride. Well, there really isn’t any reason why you couldn’t run a large bag on your truck, but a nice ride is not always what you will get. The theory has merit, but the problems are worse than they appear. A giant bag will take very little pressure to lift your vehicle off the ground and the first inch or so will feel acceptable, but only in a small operation range. You can’t raise the suspension any higher and expect a tolerable ride, in fact the higher you raise the suspension the worse it will ride. This isn’t too big of an issue for around town where bumps are hit at slow enough speeds, but at freeway speeds the problem becomes quite noticeable. Until you go over a bump on the freeway at 60mph in a poorly set up vehicle, you won’t understand.

3 Responses to “Air bags 101”

  1. luke fleming says:


  2. jrspruitt says:

    How does air pressure effect spring rate? I haven’t really seen much on this, does the air only change ride height, or does it effect the rate also? When designing the suspension is there a target pressure for a given ride height for say normal driving/optimal handling characteristics? Also is there an easy way to figure this out when deciding where bag mounts, in regard to height, would be located if it is the case?

  3. Eric says:

    This is great info for the beginner. Buy I do have a question. I have been exclusively using Universal Air Suspension Bags for close to 10 years. Now I am no Max Fish but I am an engineer by education and hobby fabricator. Where do you class Universal Air Air house II bags? They don’t work under the same pricipal as a sleeve bag. I have had many conversations with Oishi and Zach (who both have an unbelievable ammount of knowledge ) I just wanted your opinion.