There are a number of tips, tricks and procedures that can ensure your bike's suspension forks stay running smooth and strong, for as long as possible. In this Wiggle guide, we take a look...
Understanding fork lubrication
The most important part of maintaining your suspension forks, is keeping the fork well lubricated. This means ensuring there is lubrication inside the fork, and that this lubricant isn't contaminated by dirt from the outside.
Suspension forks use a unique oil-based lubrication system. The oil pools in the lower part of the fork legs, and from here it helps to lubricate the bushes and seals within the fork, allowing it to move smoothly and without friction.
To keep the oil in, and the dirt out, suspension forks contain a number of seals.
Firstly, there is the external dust seal; to help keep the muck out. This is then often complemented with an additional oil seal, and a foam ring, within the fork.
(The foam ring retains oil beneath the seal, and also collects any particles of dirt that get inside the fork. Foam rings in Fox forks use a lubricant called Float Fluid - this fluid is also present in air sprung forks, to help lubricate the air piston).
For the external seals to repel dirt effectively, and for the internal bushes to remain frictionless, they must both remain well lubricated. Many modern forks contain only 5 or 10ml of oil for lubrication; but this is all it needs to keep the system running smooth.
Keeping oil in and dirt out
To encourage the oil to lubricate the upper bushes and the seals in the fork leg, it is helpful to turn the fork upside down to let the lubrication run down.
Turn your bike upside down and allow 20 minutes for the oil to run down into the seals.
Clean your forks with water; a hose is best, but if you use a jet wash then turn the bike upside down first so, as not to force water inside the fork seals.
Be sure to remove all dirt from the fork stanchions and around the seals, especially between the stanchions and fork arch at the front of the fork.
The lubricant contained within the fork is all a fork needs to work well. Extra stanchion lubricating products are not necessary for fork maintenance.
Protecting your investment
Look after your suspension fork, and it will last longer and perform better. Here are a few key areas to consider, to protect your investment:
Mudguards - There are several mudguards available on the market now that fit below the fork arch - to protect the stanchions from dirt thrown up by the front wheel; these are a great help in our often mucky UK riding conditions. One of the best examples of these 'Enduro guards' is the RapidRacerProducts Enduroguard.
Cable rub - To help keep your new fork paintwork looking new, protective tape can be applied to areas prone to cable rub; mostly likely the stanchion that the disc brake hose runs up, and the crown of the fork. Consider using products like the Lizard Skins Frame Protector Patch Kit (Clear) to protect your frame and fork.
Stanchion scratches - Fork stanchions should be inspected every few rides, for impact damage or scratches that might carry dirt inside the fork. Any evidence of this should be brought to the attention of a suspension specialist for urgent treatment.
Forks need regular periodic maintenance.
We recommend cleaning and lubrication refills (lower leg service) every 25 riding hours, and a full service (strip down, seal replacement and full oil change) every 200 hours.
The more frequent lower leg service can be carried out at home, by the experience home mechanic. This suspension service involves removing the lower legs (with the bike inverted to retain the existing oil), then cleaning the foam rings and re-applying lubricating fluid. The process then involves cleaning and inspecting the dust seals, stanchions and bushes; before topping up the fork oil and re-assembling the fork.
One of the best ways to learn how to do this service, is to watch a workshop mechanic perform the service themselves; then you can learn the steps to carry out the service yourself, the next time around.