In today’s world of off-road performance, proper shock absorbers are as plentiful as ice cream flavors. Pick your color and you can find a fan base that says it is the best for whatever reason. In the modern technical environment, defining vehicle use and off-road purpose will help narrow down to the most appropriate shock products best suited for specific off-road applications or desired performance. Using Bilstein off-road shock absorbers as an umbrella example, we can see a large and diverse product offering that covers all of the corners.
Having options to choose from is a good thing. Having multiple purpose-built products from multiple manufacturers is a great thing. In this article, we are going to look at several specific shock categories and how an average customer can determine what shocks are right for their needs and applications.
When it comes to its off-road performance catalog, Bilstein lists at least fourteen different series, fitting in eight different categories, all of which are purpose-built solutions for specific levels of performance or function. If customers are uncertain about where to start, we recommend using the company’s year/make/model look-up. This will help when trying to source parts that would need to be vehicle specific. For custom applications, you will also find an extensive off-road catalog that is downloadable.
Why Are There So Many Bilstein Off-Road Shocks To Choose From
Starting with the classic blue and yellow B6 4600 monotube shocks to the top tier 9200 race series performance coilovers, Bilstein has something perfectly fitted for every application. This includes OEM replacement, lifted & leveled, performance, and motorsports equipment. The lineup also now includes B8 Control Arms that are designed and configured as bolt-on vehicle-specific upgrades for improved off-road reliability.
Before we dive into the Bilstein product series, we should take a quick look at a few technical notes, the different shock components, and OEM-certified shock mounts. Bilstein measures shock size by piston diameter. Industry standard measurements for off-road shocks specify the outside diameter of the shock body. For example and clarification, a 46mm, 60mm, and 70mm piston diameter would equal a 2.0-inch, 2.65-inch, and 3.0-inch outer shock body respectively.
The Bilstein Off-Road Tech Inside Is The Difference
Bilstein’s patented monotube piston has a 228% larger surface area over the average conventional OEM twin tube found on most factory-equipped shock absorbers. The monotube design features superior tube strength, better heat dissipation, and extended shock life, all while offering greater sensitivity and superior vehicle control.
Bilstein’s monotube shocks contain a one-piece aluminum rod guide and seal. This keeps dirt out while maintaining a near friction-free surface for longer shock life. A hardened chrome plated piston rod is super finished and is noted for its peak to valley smoothness measuring a mere .0002mm. The self-adjusting digressive piston instantly reacts to any road conditions, providing maximum motion control and comfort. The cherry on the cake is the floating piston that divides the high-pressure nitrogen apart from the column of hydraulic oil. This design prevents oil aeration (foaming), maintains viscosity, and retains full damping characteristics.
Bilstein’s direct fit and replacement applications are designed to use specified OEM-certified shock mounts. This eliminates the need for custom fabrication and makes everything bolt-on as an OEM replacement would. All direct fit Bilstein shock absorbers have extremely durable and long lasting OEM-quality materials and hardware. This includes; vulcanized neoprene rubber bushings, eye mounts, crossbar mounts, and large eye mounts. You can identify direct fit shocks for your vehicle using Bilstein’s year/make/model look-up.
One thing to note is that a mere shock upgrade or replacement does not mean your vehicle is ready to rage down the Baja peninsula, and it most certainly will not withstand monster trucking or hucking jumps of any kind. If you think any aftermarket shocks can offer that, go ahead and lock your keys in the freezer and keep reading. Now, on to the different Bilstein off-road product categories.
B6 4600 series
These classic shocks are great for a direct replacement option and are designed for stock ride height applications. The gas-pressure shock absorbers are a bolt-on upgrade in the way of increased consistent fade-free performance and comfort in all conditions. The 46mm monotube design features a digressive piston and comes with OE-quality hardware. Bilstein sells the B6 4600 series shock absorbers with a limited lifetime warranty.
B8 5100 series
The 5100 series covers a broad range of products focused on lifted, leveled, and vehicle-specific applications. All 5100 series shocks are zinc plated for extra resistance against harsh elements and ready to handle the extra demands, loaded or unloaded, a lifted vehicle may require. The baseline 5100 shock supports ride height increases of .5-inches up to 6-inches.
Bilstein 5100 Ride Height Adjustable
The B6 5100 ride height adjustable shock, is a practical alternative to a coil spring spacer with the added benefit of monotube technology. These shocks also offer increased suspension travel, can be adjusted to increase ride height up to 2.8-inches, and would utilize the OEM front coil spring and mounting hardware.
Bilstein 5112 and 5162 Kit Packages
Bilstein’s B8 5112 and 5162 products are bundled into vehicle-specific kit systems. Designed to gain 2-inches to 2.3-inches in increased ride height, these kits offer more ground clearance, increased wheel travel, and allows the use of up to 33-inch size tires. Mounting into the factory location with no modifications required, the B8 5112 and 5162 products provide a smooth stable ride on and off the road.
Much like the rest of the B8 5100 series, Bilstein’s B8 5160 shares the same zinc-plated high-performance monotube shock but with an added remote reservoir. The increased oil capacity effectively dissipates heat quicker and ensures long-term durability. Ride height increase options come in .5-inch up to 6-inches, and there are multiple remote reservoirs mounting options.
The 5125 and 5165 (remote reservoir) shocks are similar to 5100 and 5160 (remote reservoir) but in a taller package offering increased shock travel from 4.5-inches up to 14.3-inches. These are custom-fitted applications available in stem-to-eye and eye-to-eye mounting configurations and are factory rebuildable.
B8 6100 series
Stepping it up into the 6112 series is where the serious off-roader should start. All other shocks listed prior were utilizing a 46mm shock body. These 6112 shock absorbers feature a large bore 60mm digressive piston for improved ride comfort and increased damping control over rough terrain. An integrated adjustable billet hard-anodized spring seat and included spring supports zero to 2.9-inches of lift. Designed for use with late-model trucks and SUVs using coilover suspension, the OEM top mounts and isolators offer trouble free operation. These are sold in pairs with everything you would need to complete the swap.
M 7100 series
These 7100 products are the old school heroes of off-road racing with .5-inch large Heim joint mounts. Available in multiple lengths and valving, with or without reservoirs, and as a coilover configuration or standard shock body, the M 7100 and 7100 classic are perfect to meet the demands of motorsports and off-road recreational vehicles. The M 7100 shocks (8-inches to 14-inches of travel) are completely owner rebuildable, while the 7100 classic (5-inches to 10-inches of travel) is factory serviceable. These are ideal for VW-specific off-road applications.
B8 8100 series
The 8100 products are easily distinguishable over all other shocks so far. All components are billet machined and designed for competition-level performance. The 8100 shocks are available as a smooth body, dual tube bypass, and coilover (B8 8125) configuration. Each shock features an external 60mm remote reservoir connected by a size -8 high-temperature hose. These big boys are owner rebuildable, come with a two-year limited warranty, and run heavy-duty 18mm piston rods for extra brute tensile strength and a smoother ride. The smooth body and bypass 8100 shocks are designed to be direct fit for easy installation with vulcanized rubber mounts offering unheard of bolt-on performance.
It should be noted the dual tube external bypass offers position-sensitive damping with independent adjustment for rebound and compression. This allows for incremental changes in damping force for precise adjustments. Additionally, the Bump Zone eliminates the need for a hydraulic bump stomp by increasing the bottom-out control during compression stroke. The 8125 coilover shock travel is listed from 5-inches up to 16-inches and is available in 46mm or 60mm monotubes and configured for 2.5-inch 3.0-inch inner diameter coilover springs.
BILSTEIN B8 8112 (ZoneControl® CR)
These new puppies combine all the desired off-road performance offered across the 8100 and 8125 series shocks and combines them into a tight little single coilover direct fit suspension kit package. Through a triple piston design, position sensitive damping is achieved through both compression and rebound. To break this down, there are three different compression zones and two rebound zones, controlled by three independent pistons. The Bilstein B8 8112 totally evolved shock technology provides efficient hyper utilized zone control through the shock motion.
This vehicle-specific design optimizes wheel travel, delivers comfort during everyday driving conditions, and maximum control when pushing through large suspension inputs. It is an off-roader’s daily driver dream setup. Much like the 6112 little brothers, the 8112 system is designed for use with late-model trucks and SUVs using a coilover suspension via the OEM top mounts and isolators. The 8112 coilover is supplied as a complete kit, the spring is pre-loaded to the factory recommended ride height, and can be adjusted from .6-inches up to 3.5-inches of lift.
Bilstein Off-Road M 9200 series
The 9200 bypass (8-inches to 18-inches in travel) and coilover shocks (8-inches to 16-inches in travel) were strictly developed for professional off-road racing competition. These shocks step up to a case-hardened 22mm piston rod. All components utilize aerospace-class materials and are engineered to the tightest tolerances. Depending on the racing applications and needs, the 9200 shocks are available in multiple lengths and valving for a wide range of custom race applications. The three and four tube bypass shocks are sized in 60mm or 70mm and can be ordered with remote or piggyback reservoirs. The coilovers are available as 46mm or 60mm piston diameter configurations and accept 2.0-inch or 2.65-inch outer body diameter coilover springs. For extra high-performance applications, Bilstein recommends upgrading the 60mm remote reservoir with the anti-cavitation valve designed to virtually eliminate potential shock fade.
Bilstein Off-Road Bump Stops
Bilstein’s thick-walled monotube bump stops feature a 1.25-inch hardened chrome shaft and are available in 2-inch, 3-inch, and 4-inch travel lengths. These are nitrogen pressure adjustable, and come with extremely durable Delrin® strike pads. The bump stop body is 2-inch outer diameter for universal frame bracket fitment.
B8 Control Arms
As Bilstein evolves and grows its off-road product line, the company has paid special attention to developing ready-to-go kit packages. Part of that expansion was the inclusion of fabricated upper control arms (UCA). Off Road Xtreme ran a feature on Bilstein’s B8 Control Arms recently, but the line continues to grow. These 4130 chromoly steel fabricated Bilstein UCAs are designed to correct suspension geometry and increase usable suspension travel on lifted trucks and SUVs. They are CAD designed with increased castor angles already implemented. The improved ball joint cup allows for an additional 1-inch of travel over stock. With the polyurethane or Delrin® bushings and heavy-duty OEM-quality sealed ball joints, the Bilstein B8 UCAs are a premium upgrade that should not be overlooked.
What Else Is There?
Bilstein Shocks Absorbers is not the only player in the game. As the off-road industry grows and evolves, we have seen multiple shock manufactures come into play. Like Bilstein, the major producers and boutique shock makers are also bolstering direct fit vehicle-specific products. Across the board, certain vehicles are more inclined to receive interest and support from the aftermarket industry. Off Road Xtreme advises to carefully research a vehicle before purchasing to determine its off-road viability and available aftermarket upgrades.
At the end of it, performance and reliability is what most off-road enthusiasts look for. We can acknowledge any company that has a fifty year history established in off-road motorsports, with a legacy of winning accolades, is successful. We can trust this will cross-over in their current product offering that bolts on to our modern vehicles.