100 hours? Are you freaking kidding me?
Why should I have my fork or shock serviced every 100 hours / 6 months / 1 year etc etc…?
It’s often a surprise to many people just how often you are recommended to service your suspension or seat post. In fact most people simply don’t bother to keep to anywhere near the recommended service intervals. After all, what’s the harm right?
Well we spend all day, every day servicing shocks, forks and seat posts and we’ve seen plenty of damage caused by lack of regular maintenance that could easily be avoided. It’s not just damage to your expensive gear that’s the problem either; you also increase the risk of something going pop and then your fork or shock not working any more. When that pop happens is then going to determine just how bad your day is going to be.
Manufacturers are just trying to make more money out of us by recommending such short service intervals, right?
It’s easy to see why people think that service intervals are often a bit of a joke and are therefore just a ruse to make money. That’s quite a cynical point of view though and we like to think that it’s more to do with the fact that the manufacturers have tested their stuff A LOT and torn it down many times during their testing to see what the internals look like after X amount of hours riding, with cleaning, without, in dry dusty conditions, in muddy conditions etc etc and then after all of that they’ll have worked out what a good, worldwide average should be between servicing so that things are simple for everyone. You can imagine the absolute pain of a system based on where you live and what conditions you’d ridden in, having to work out ‘well I’ve done about 20 hours in the dry and then 70 in the wet so add the 1, carry the 8, blah, blah, blah’, so yeah, one number for everyone just makes sense. Sure you can get away with longer between services if you religiously clean your bike by hand after every ride but even that will not prevent the issues caused by certain aspects of what happens to your suspension between services.
The other point about where manufacturers set their recommendations is that they are aiming to be preventative in their service schedule, so you’re replacing seals and oils BEFORE they’re ruined, rather than waiting until something stops working or you notice that there is a little less Kashima on your stanchions than there used to be. There is a lot to be said for this approach as it basically stops all of the things listed below from happening.
What actually happens when you don’t service your suspension?
Short answer is lots of things start to go wrong, some noticeable, some not so much, at least not straight away. Longer answer below.
All forks have an upper and lower section which move against each other during compression and rebound as you ride along. There are bushings in the lower of your fork that need to be lubricated in order to move smoothly over your fork stanchion. This lubricant is replaced every time you have your fork serviced and sloshes around in the bottom of your fork keeping everything nice and juiced up.
Some of the things that can happen when you don’t service your fork include this lubricant becoming contaminated with dirt or drying up (really it’s just running low as it can get dragged out of the dust seals slowly over time). Your bushings need that lubricant to work properly and when that lubricant is not there or it’s full of grit the result is increased friction between the bushing and the stanchion. This is what causes the anodising (and more) to be worn off fork stanchions. This is probably the most costly issue to resolve on your fork (£330 for a Rockshox Pike Crown Steerer Upper for example). Also worth noting here is that your fork is going to feel less plush in it’s travel than it could if the lube was fresh and where it needs to be.
[OUCH – This is completely forked]
Other things that can happen when it’s been too long between services are worn air seals affecting both the positive and negative air chambers which can lead to air being lost (pain in the arse) or air being in the wrong place (crappy feeling fork or shock), which can cause issues like your fork or shock packing down or the dust seal on the left leg popping out mid ride when air gets into the bottom of the fork from the air spring leaking.
The other thing that gets refreshed during a service is the damping fluid. Now this is arguably the most important part of the service in the sense that the entire feel of your fork (and shock) comes from the damper. If you didn’t have a damper on your suspension your bike would feel like riding a couple of pogo sticks with wheels attached at each end. You would hit a bump and compress the springs completely and then they would immediately bounce back to full length and then you would bounce again and again and again with no control. The damper is there to put some control onto this otherwise uncontrolled system. It’s basically the use of oil being forced through small apertures to slow down compression and rebound.
The damping fluid is usually something like a 3wt or 5wt oil of a volume between 90ml and 240ml on bigger forks. This is not a huge amount of oil by any stretch and it takes a severe pounding during it’s life. This relentless abuse actually causes the oil to change, or degrade really, over it’s life which will mean that your fork will feel pretty different 6 months after servicing compared to how it felt fresh out the workshop. This isn’t necessarily a huge problem if you are keeping an eye on the fork and using the adjusters (where available) to dial out this degradation of the oil, but a lot of people don’t do this or don’t have a fork that is capable of adjusting damping enough (or at all) to compensate for this change. Really the best thing to do is change the oil regularly, we recommend every 6-9 months but at least once a year.
Everything mentioned above is true for shocks too and they are operating using a really small amount of damping fluid so fluid degradation has a bigger effect on performance if not changed regularly.
The final thing to consider when thinking about what might happen if you’re not on top of your servicing is that your fork or shock might fail catastrophically when you’re out and about. This could at best ruin a ride and at worst lead to a crash or leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere with a barely rideable bike. This does happen, we see it a lot with shocks in particular coming in to us with no damping fluid in them. This means that at some point a seal has failed and all the damping fluid has leaked out. You are now riding a pogo stick with no rebound damping and no compression damping either, so no lockout, nothing. Not the end of the world for sure but if you have to ride back 10 miles on that you’re probably going to be causing some damage inside the shock too which gets expensive real quick. If it’s your shocks air spring that has gone then riding back you’re going to be sitting on a tiny little o-ring which won’t last long with your full weight on it and then you will definitely be causing some damage inside. To be avoided.
To summarise, not servicing can lead to damage, failure, misery, random hair growth and otherwise avoidable crashes.
Is there anything that I can do myself to keep things running smoothly?
Yes! There is loads you can do to keep your stuff working properly for as long as possible.
It’s definitely worth cleaning your bike including your suspension and seat post after every ride. We know that using the jet wash is super easy and we do it ourselves on our own bikes. It is important to watch where you point the high pressure water jet though because that water can enter seals on your pivots, bottom bracket, headset and hubs as well as the dust and air seals on your fork and shock, so just keep it away from directly hitting any bearings or seals where you can.
We recommend dropping the lower legs off your fork every 6 months (at least), cleaning them out and replacing the lubricant and dust seals. The same is true for air can services on your shock. We do offer these smaller services as individual items at a much reduced cost compared to full services. We’ll be posting some how to videos for these minor services at some point soon for anyone that wants to undertake them at home.
Add a little drop of fork oil around the lip of the dust seals on your now clean fork, shock and seat post, cycle them a couple of times (up and down) and you’re good to go.
If you have any questions about your fork, shock, seat post, servicing and whether or not you need it then feel free to give us a call at the workshop on 0191 908 4159.