By Curtis Campbell, High Lifter Director of Sales & Marketing
Why run portal gear lifts? Let me begin by mentioning that I have been employed within the powersports industry for nearly twenty years and an offroad enthusiast. I don’t speak in technical terms so be prepared for most of what I write to be from a layman’s perspective. This article may cause a lot of cringes and self-inflicted face palms to you mechanically knowledgeable people out there as you read through it. You have been warned.
I was made for Offroad! The story of how my love for offroading began is not an original one. It originated in my youth riding my BMX bike down the dirt & gravel roads near my childhood home in rural Mississippi. The bicycle progressed into a go-cart and then into a Honda Big Red 3-wheeler (which by the way was not built for jumping roadside ditches, but that is a story for another time). As soon as I turned 15, I got my driver’s license (this was the legal age in MS at the time) and went straight from the 3-wheeler into a four-wheel drive truck. *This is where I was first introduced to the value of correct gearing when running tires larger than what your vehicle was originally equipped with and truly use it in an offroad capacity.
*Now, you are reading this to find out what the benefits of running portal gear reduction boxes (“portals”) are in the world of ATV’s and UTV’s and probably wondering what my childhood has to do with it. I am getting to that, I promise. Just bear with me a little longer as I explain how I came to understand how portals work and why they are important.
Okay, so back to my first four-wheel drive truck and how it is relevant to this. There are a lot, and I mean A LOT, of people who lift their truck or SUV, then immediately slap on the largest set of tires they can fit under it. They never think once about how this affects their vehicle. You see your vehicle, whether it is a truck, SUV or even an ATV or UTV has specific gearing that is matched to the size of the tire which the vehicle came with originally from the manufacturer. By using the right gear ratio for the tire size, the manufacturer is trying to provide the vehicle with the right mix of power/torque to the wheels for acceleration. This keeps the engine RPM’s at the ideal range throughout each gear depending on your speed when driving. This translates to less stress on the engine and driveline components and improved fuel economy.
Run Larger Tires. When you install larger tires on your vehicle and do not change the gearing to reflect it, this throws the ratio off. By adding a larger tire, you would think that this just means you now travel further down the road with each rotation of the tire than you did with the smaller tire, so you just made everything more economical right? Right and wrong. You see the larger, heavier tire means your engine must work harder to turn it, but yes it does travel further with each rotation of the axle. Basically, your vehicle now accelerates slower, but has a higher top speed than before. The opposite of what you need when offroading!
Gain Proper Gearing Low-end power or torque is crucial offroad. Whether you are climbing hills, rock crawling or blasting through mud holes, you need low-end power not top speed. Without proper gearing you will need more throttle to move your vehicle through these conditions, thus burning more fuel and creating more strain on your engine and driveline which may lead to premature component failure or breakage. Not good.
Now, an experienced differential mechanic can usually swap both front and rear gears out for you in a single day and have you out the door if we are talking about a truck or SUV. Because these gears are located within the transmission itself on most all ATV’s and UTV’s, it is a more complicated process and honestly not ideal because the thrust load created from running heavy tires can lead to case failure and an expensive repair.
Reduce part failures. This is where portals come in! They move the “load” of turning the larger, heavy tire from the transmission itself to as close to the tire as possible by replacing the hub itself. Now, the stress on your axles has been reduced at your transmission from the gear reduction the portal provides. Not only that, but with most UTV’s and ATV’s running a CVT transmission, you may find the clutches are unable to grip the belt tight enough when the engine is under load, allowing belt slippage. This leads to a “glazed” belt which begins to slip even more or in some cases, the belt can simply get shredded and torn apart within the transmission.
So, By installing portals and reducing the load from the transmission, you are reducing the chances you have of axle failures, belt failures, and even the more expensive and dreaded transmission failures.
You get both! Not only do you help prevent problems with portals, depending on which size you go with, you gain 4” – 6” of increased ground clearance. Adding larger tires just go even easier without the need to purchase a separate lift kit. You are basically gaining a lift and gear reduction in one package!
Look at what you need. I am not simply suggesting that you take a stock UTV, slap a set of portals on it along with the largest tire you can fit and hit the trails without worry. These portals are heavy and with that weight plus the weight of the larger tires you should really, and I mean really consider upgrading your factory control arms, trailing arms and radius bars (depending on your specific model you may or may not even have some of these) to stronger aftermarket versions like those offered by us here at High Lifter. This has been referred to as “portal proofing” your vehicle prior to installing the portals themselves. Kind of like your original gears, the vehicle’s suspension components were intended to support the original vehicle weight It is best to replace these components with stronger options before installing your portals.
I hope you now understand what portals do and why they are an ideal addition to your vehicle whether you are rock crawling, blasting up hills or chewing through that thick, “peanut butter” mud. See you on the trails!