This article was first published in AutoSpeed.
Last week I covered the development of a new
independent front suspension idea for a Human Powered Vehicle – semi-leading
arms. On paper, this approach seems to have the following benefits:
Gives appropriate negative camber increase on bump
(and so of the outside wheel with body roll)
Uses only a single suspension arm per side, so
will be lighter than a double wishbone system
Works with a spring motion ratio that can,
depending where along the arm the spring is located, vary from a low motion
ratio to a high motion ratio
Provides a large wheel travel
Increases castor with bump (but gives less castor
Leaves plenty of room for pedalling
And finally, to minimise bump-steer, the approach
looked like it could work with the pictured Greenspeed non-crossover steering
However, all those advantages were yet to be
tested in any way.
Camber is the angle that the wheel leans away from
vertical when the vehicle is viewed front-on.
If the top of the wheels lean inwards towards the
centreline of the vehicle, the wheels are said to have negative camber. If the
top of the wheels lean outwards, the camber is said to be positive. Camber is
measured as an angle expressed in degrees.
Toe refers to how parallel the wheels are when
viewed from above.
If the leading edges of the tyres are closer
together than the trailing edges, the car is said to have toe-in. If the leading
edges of the tyres are further apart than the trailing edges, the car has
toe-out. With toe-in present, each wheel is steering a little towards the
centreline of the car. Bump steer is where toe changes occur as the suspension
is moved through its travel with the steering input held stationary.
Castor refers to the angle of the steering axis
away from vertical when the car is viewed from the side.
Cars use positive castor. That is, when viewed
from the side, the steering axis is further forward at the bottom than the top.
The affect of this is that when the steering axis is extended right down to the
road, it touches the road ahead of the contact patch of the tyre. In other
words, the contact patch of the tyre is behind the steering axis. This gives
self-centring of the steering.
Semi-Trailing Arm Systems
While I’ve never seen any design information on
semi-leading arm front suspension, there’s some available on semi-trailing arm
rear suspension. So that’s where we’ll start...
Semi-trailing arm designs vary from car to car,
with one critical difference being the angle of the pivots (note: pivots, not
the arms themselves) when compared with a line across the car. A pure
trailing arm has a pivot angle of 0 degrees, whereas a swing axle has a pivot
angle of 90 degrees.
Semi-trailing arm suspension designs in cars use
very small angles – their pivot axis is much closed to being across the car than
along it. For example, one BMW used a 15 degree trail angle, while some other
references quote 25 degrees as being used in some manufacturers’ rear suspension
So what changes occur with different angles? The
first two factors we’re interested in are camber change and toe change.
The greater the trailing arm angle, the greater
the camber change. So maximum camber change is at 90 degrees (ie swing axle)
but no camber change occurs at 0 degrees (pure trailing arm).
The closer the trailing arm angle is to 45
degrees, the greater the toe change. At 90 degrees (swing axle), no toe
change occurs. At 0 degrees (pure trailing arm) again no toe change occurs. It’s
at the mid-angle where the max is.
If you want to do the maths, http://e30m3performance.com/tech_articles/susp-tech/rear_curves/index.htm is
the best resource I have found to mathematically explain what occurs (although
note I couldn’t make the toe equation work). But to really see what’s happening
with camber and toe, I suggest making a simple model of a suspension arm from a
bent piece of wire and then moving it through its arcs.
Semi-Leading Arm Suspension
If the leading arm suspension was to work with the
Greenspeed steering, what angles would the suspension arms adopt? The answer is
about 55 degrees – far more than car systems but because of the requirements for
more dramatic changes in suspension angles, not necessarily a problem in itself.
Using both a plumb bob-style angle finder and the
mathematical equation from the site above, a trailing arm angle of 55 degrees
and a suspension arm length of about 45cm theoretically resulted in a 5 degree
increase in negative camber per 50mm of bump from standard ride height (and of
course, a 5 degree per 50mm loss in neg camber in droop). So if the
static neg camber was 5 degrees, 50mm of bump would result in 10 degrees neg,
and 50mm of droop would result in 5 degrees of positive camber.
But what about toe changes? The model showed that
while there was some toe-out in bump and toe-in in droop, it was actually all
pretty small – small enough, I thought, to be able to be compensated for by
And castor? This also increased about 5 degrees in
bump and lost 5 degrees in droop. (And that is significant – no-one could tell
me the precise affects this would have in a straight-line when one wheel passed
over a bump...)
But the semi-leading arm design was giving changes
in camber that were in the right direction (camber loss in droop was more than
I’d like, but you can’t make the system response asymmetric as you can with
double unequal length wishbones) while the castor change, although again
dramatic in car terms, wasn’t a major dilemma – not when static castor is to be
about 10-15 degrees.
But that was just a model – what would the real
The next step was to make certain the bump steer
could be controlled - and not only that caused by the toe changes inherent in
the semi-leading arm suspension design but also ‘traditional’ bump steer caused
by the suspension arms and steering tie-rods being of different lengths and/or
using different pivot point placements. The best way to do this (and to check on
the other angle changes) is to build the suspension and steering – or at least,
have enough there that the results can be seen.
I built the suspension arm, tack-welding the ends
in place. I also sourced the Greenspeed steering and mounted the pivot in the
central backbone tube. Using a Greenspeed kingpin assembly (the company is happy
to sell any component parts of their HPVs), I could then set the system up with
the correct chassis height.
So what were the results?
Bump steer is best assessed by attaching a long
lever (arrowed) to the wheel, extending forwards and parallel to the ground. (Incidentally, in this view the front of the machine is closest to the camera.)
The lever is then lined up with a straight edge (I
used a wooden box), the steering held fixed, and the wheel and suspension moved
up and down through its travel. Any non-parallelness between the lever and the
box (when viewed looking down from above) indicates bump-steer.
Initially, some bump-steer was occurring but by
adjusting the height of the inner suspension pivot, this was soon dialled out.
In order that extremes could be seen, I used a wheel travel of plus/minus 75mm -
at a total travel of 150mm, more than I expect the wheel travel to actually
Here is the wheel at full droop. Note the gap
between the blue box and the lever attached to the wheel is even – that is, the
lever is parallel to the box edge.
The wheel at normal ride height – and the gap is
still even. Note the negative camber that has occurred in the change from full
droop to normal ride height.
Now the wheel’s at maximum bump – and you can see
it hasn’t steered much at all. And yep, that is now a fairly radical camber!
(See the “How Much Camber?!” breakout box below.)
Note that while this technique for judging bump
steer looks pretty primitive, it works extremely well. It’s also easy (by means
of blocks and clamps) to change the height of suspension pivot points or, by
washers, steering tie-rod end heights. If I ever build a full-size car, I’ll use
exactly the same approach.
With the suspension set up to test bump steer, it
was also an ideal opportunity to measure actual camber and castor changes. One
thing I learned from my first trike design is that it’s easy to get hung up on
taking these sorts of measurements. Clearly, as indicated by the space used here
and the time taken in the workshop, you must have a good handle on the angles –
but by the same token, at this stage of the build, a degree or two here or there
is nothing to worry about. So I was happy to use a simple hardware store ‘angle
finder’ to see what was going on.
Once again measuring the changes over a greater
wheel travel than will be used, camber at full droop was 4 degrees positive, at
normal ride height 5 degrees negative, and at full bump 15 degrees negative.
Measuring the castor showed 3 degrees at full
droop, 10 degrees at normal ride height and 15 degrees at maximum bump. This
degree of castor change is, AFAIK, completely unknown in front (steering)
suspensions. Given that uneven left/right castor can cause a car to pull to one
side, it’s a concern. However, I can’t see it causing massive steering inputs on
one-wheel bumps; in constant radius cornering (where the left/right castor will
be more uneven for a longer period of time), it may have an effect.
that the idea of semi-trailing arms is quite radical, especially in terms of the
castor change that results from suspension movement, I asked Whiteline
Suspension guru Wojtek Rogulski this question: What will be the on-road
affect of a front suspension that varies in castor with bump (more castor with
higher bump, less castor with droop)? (I purposely didn’t say it was on an
reply added some further positives that I hadn’t thought of:
variable caster will have equally variable dynamic camber change with steering
lock, in a favourable direction. That is, the amount of
additional negative camber on the outside wheel will be higher then
and amount of reduction of negative camber on the inside wheel. This should then
allow for less static negative camber for the same outcome - reduced compromise
between straight line and cornering set-up.
would suggest that some on-road effects would be increased steering weight in
off-centre position, increased self-steering, improved cornering and turn-in
post initial corner entry, and increased cornering speed.
this is dependant on suspension travel not steering lock, its effects will
depend on the amount of suspension displacement, which may or may not be
significant. But, I would still see this as a good thing
factors to consider would be possible wheelbase change, and effects on Ackermann
angle and scrub radius.
regard to his last points, scrub radius won’t change because the steering axis
inclination doesn’t change (ie the relationship between the kingpin angle and
the wheel is fixed); Ackermann may change a small amount, and wheelbase should
also change only minimally.
Without actually riding the vehicle on the road,
no-one knows whether a semi-leading arm suspension will work: there’s only so
much that can be gained from measuring angles and talking to people... Riding the design is sure to be interesting!
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