March 2, 2007: Cannonball's Tech Tip's -- #3: Forks
Romulus and I are going to attack Mt. Tam tomorrow. It will be the first time I've ridden the ProCal in five months, since our third annual Daylight Savings night ride last October. Whilst taking the ProCal out of winter drydock, I was reminded of a tip for proper off-season storage of suspension forks.
Tech tip: To keep suspension fork seals lubed and supple, store your mountain bike upside down during extended periods of non-use.
The reason for this is that the internal components of your suspension fork include critical rubber seals, called main seals, and foam rings. Main seals retain internal fork oil and must remain lubricated for optimum performance. The foam rings are saturated with oil, which is applied to the upper tube of the fork arm as it passes through them. Without constant lubrication, the seals and rings become dry and cracked and eventually start leaking messy fork oil all over your fork stanchions and fork arms. This is accompanied by decreasingly crappy performance and ultimately, total system failure -- at a replacement cost to you of about $750.
When the fork is compressed out on the trail, fork oil is forced up through several different chambers in each fork arm. Both the foam rings and the main seals are constantly soaked in fork oil during a ride.
Ah, but at rest, the fork oil within a set of forks collects in the lower leg of the fork chassis. Over time, the foam rings and main seals at the top of the fork arms dry out. If you don't keep them lubed, the first big hit on your first spring ride is going to burst your brittle seals and the next thing you know, your whole bike is disassembled for two critical weeks leading up to the spring races while you wait for the forks manufacturer to replace the seals at the factory.
So avoid the hassle and keep your foam rings and main seals moist by storing your bike upside down during extended downtime. Your forks and your bank account will thank you.
One last note on forks maintenance: Just don't do it.
Unless you're a shop mechanic or your dad is a television repair man with a killer set of tools, fork maintenance is better left to the experts at the factory. That's right, the factory. Not even the blokes at your local bike shop are really qualified to work on today's high, high, high-tech forks.
There's really only three things that a layperson (not a professional mechanic) should even think about doing to maintain their forks.
So, just keep your stanchions clean and do the annual maintenance, and your forks will keep on saving your ass from flying Ws for years to come.
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