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Mountain Bike Suspension Maintenance

If you’re an avid mountain bike rider you’ve likely already spent countless hours in the saddle since trails started drying in March. All of this riding can take a huge toll on your bike, and it could be time for some mid-season maintenance. Sure, a basic tune-up and a brake bleed will get your rig feeling better, but if you really want it up to snuff you should consider servicing your suspension. More specifically, I’m talking about the fork and rear shock. A suspension service can greatly improve the quality of your ride and reignite that smooth, buttery feel the bike had when you bought it. 

There are a number of signs to indicate that your fork or shock needs some love, here are a few:

  • Dryness: The stanchions, or outer tubes of your fork or rear shock should always be a bit greasy from a thin layer of oil on them. If these are dry you’ll likely need to change the oil and seals.
  • Stickiness: If your suspension feels sticky or draggy while you’re riding, it’s a good indication that it’s time for service.
  • Loss of Air or Oil: This is a sign of a damaged seal which will greatly affect the performance of your suspension.
  • Useless Rebound/Compression: Those knobs on your fork and/or shock are actually supposed to change your suspension’s performance. These are called rebound and compression adjustments. If they’re not affecting anything as you adjust them, it’s time for service.

rusted stanchionThis fork has seen better days.

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Now that you know some signs that your fork and shock need service, let’s talk about what suspension maintenance actually is. The basic components of mountain bike suspension are the fork (front suspension) and shock (rear suspension). On a full suspension mountain bike, these work in unison to help absorb impacts from terrain and provide an overall smoother ride.

mtb fork

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Anatomy of a Fork

mtb shock

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Anatomy of a Shock

The shock and fork have two main parts - the damper and air spring. A damper service (or overhaul) involves replacing the oil and seals. The oil is responsible for coating the stanchions of your fork/shock, while the seals prevent dirt and crud from getting inside. An air spring works like a plunger within the stanchion tube, pushing back against a pressurized chamber of air each time it compresses. The air spring has its own set of seals that wear over time and need to be replaced periodically. High grade oils are used to lubricate the air spring, which also need replacement after wear.

Maintenance Frequency

By now you’re probably asking yourself “How often should this maintenance be performed?”. Fortunately I have an answer for you, and that answer is: it depends. Aside from the warning signs mentioned above, two main factors that will impact the regularity of suspension maintenance are riding conditions and frequency of use. Think about where you ride, the conditions of the trail, and how often you’re riding. Things like wet/muddy conditions and excessive bike park laps will almost certainly require more regular maintenance intervals. A good rule of thumb is to service your fork lowers every 50 hours of riding and a damper service every 100-200 hours. However, each manufacturer has their own suggestions. For example, Fox recommends replacing seals and oil every 50 hours and a damper service at 125 hours, and Rockshox recommends lower leg service at 50 hours and damper/spring service at 100-200 hours. 

I hope this article helped you realize the importance of servicing your mountain bike suspension. It is truly an integral part of your bike and will greatly improve your ride quality if properly cared for. Here at Guthrie’s we offer a variety of suspension maintenance services. You can check our Bike Repair & Service page for a comprehensive list. If you’re unsure of whether or not your suspension needs some love, our staff will always be happy to take a look and provide a recommendation.