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After several decades most of the industry has agreed on service intervals:
• Relube your rear shock air-can and your fork lower legs every 25 hours
• Replace wiper and air-spring seals every 50 hours
• Full overhaul every 200 hours.
We mostly agree but have some other guidelines:
Firstly, hours don't really matter, intensity and environment do.
Riding in the dry and clean you can sometimes go longer, riding in the wet you need to maintain more.
The more you have to clean your bike the more you have to look after your suspension (correlation, not causation).
Shocks and forks that use full travel keep themselves lubed better than those which don't.
Keeping your fork stanchion tubes and rear shock body clean (but not degreased) helps service intervals and seal life.
The better you maintain your suspension the better it will work and the longer it will last. You can get 3 seasons from a quality set of seals in most riding conditions but you'll need to clean and relube 4-6x to get that life. The average rider in a good riding season should be cleaning and relubing their fork or shock internally about twice a season; once at the start of the season and once in the middle. If you ride through wet winter then double that to 4x a year.
You will get a feel for how often your bike needs it and how the suspension performance degrades in between.
The average bike these days has air springs front and rear with hydraulic cartridge dampers in the fork and rear shock. This means you can clean and relube the rear shock air seals and the fork lower legs and air spring without disturbing the damper.
The first step is always inspection. How does it look and how does it feel?
Stanchions and shock bodies should be glossy. This is because the oil and grease leave a very thin film of lube.
No gloss means no lubrication film and it's not sliding that well.
The suspension should move freely and smoothly.
If it looks dull, give the fork or shock a few good pushes up and down, if it improves with use you're okay. If it doesn't then it's maintenance time.
• If the fork or shock feels dry and sticky, nothcy or squeaky - it's time.
• If the fork or shock leaves oil rings behind after being cycled - it's time.
• If the wiper seals are perished and showing cracks or crazing - it's time
• If the tubes are clean and glossy and it all slides smoothly then you're probably okay.
Fork stanchions and shock bodies need to be clean. Any caked on dirt might be pushed out the way on a slow compression, but hit something fast and some of it will get past your seals. This will not only cause damage to the seals but also make grinding paste inside your fork or shock.
Wipe your stanchions and shock body clean with a dry cloth, taking off layered on dirt but not using any cleaners which will take away the fine oil film.
After you have cleaned your bike the stanchions or shock body can look dull as the oil film has been stripped away. A few pushes on the suspension should return it to glossy.
Do not apply any lube to the outside of the seals. It just attracts dust and makes grinding paste.
Oil degrades from clear and transparent when new to dark and cloudy when heavily used. This is fine and doesn't mean the oil is contaminated. Degraded oil can simply be drained out and refilled.
If dirt is getting in through seals you will see it packed between the lips of wiper seals. If dirt has got into the shock air can or fork lowers then they need carefully cleaned out with new seal kits fitted.
This is literally taking the lower legs off the forks, the air can off the shock, cleaning out the old grease and oil and relubing. We recommend Slickoleum grease for rear shock air-cans, Slickoleum grease for fork wiper seals/bushings and Supergliss for fork lower legs.
• First check service manuals for lube quantities.
• Depressurise before you do anything else.
• Drain and then wipe everything with a clean rag or paper towel. Be careful not to leave fibres behind. It's better not to use cleaning solvents or water/detergents, if you do make sure to dry it all out totally.
• Rub grease into the face of each seal and bushing and a thin film inside the shock air-can and on the shock damper body. It will be collected by the seals on reassembly.
• Squash foam rings between a folded paper towel to clean them and replace if they are contaminated. Dripping oil back into them in place is the least messy way to reload them with oil.
• Check condition and function of damper and air-spring while you're in there.
• Change fork wipers or air can seals if they need it.
Similar to Step 1 but one step further. The air spring inside a fork is usually in the left leg and retained by a circlip or screw on cap.
• Depressurise first.
• Take off the top-cap.
• Pull the air shaft out the bottom. Push paper towels through the stanchion with a rod that can't scratch until inside is a mirror finish.
• Relube in the same way as above, rubbing grease into every seal and filming the inside of the stanchion tube and air-shaft. Slide the seal-head up and down to get old oil/grease out and work new grease in.
• Grease stays in place better in air springs than oil does. Oil tends to just migrate down and fill up your negative chambers.
This is done on demand if you notice problems during the above. If the damper is slurpy, won't compress all the way, has a swollen bladder or other issues then it needs a full service. A good home or shop mechanic can service a fork damper but only the absolute best home or shop mechanics can service a rear shock damper.
We have all the seals, parts & lubricants that you'll need to carry out your own suspension service.