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“I had my fork and shock serviced in October of last year, so when should I do it again?” This query has crossed the mind of every mountain biker at some point, whether they took action to answer it or not. If you ride your bike in the dirt, and I sincerely hope that you do, you’ll need to have your suspension serviced at least once every season. Soil particles can sneak past the seals and contaminate the internal parts, and simply cleaning that out and changing the oil will keep your bike’s expensive squishy bits sliding smoothly. Fortunately, the oil changing instructions for most components are fairly painless to follow.
I spoke with my friend, Lionel Saez, who has worked in the MTB suspension tuning and repair world for several years now to find out how riders can determine when we need to service our precious suspension components. The best bet is to mark service intervals on your calendar so that you can’t forget when you last changed the oil and wipers, but even sticking to the intervals isn’t always sufficient. Depending on dust and mud conditions, you may need to clean the internals more frequently. Here are some indicators that your fork or shock needs a closer look.
It feels dry. The internal tube of your fork (stanchion) or shock should always be a little bit “greasy,” and if it appears dry you will need to open it up, clean it, and replace the oil and seals.
The fork or shock begins to feel harsh, and loses small bump sensitivity. This is due to added friction in the system.
The rebound and compression don’t seem to affect anything. Added friction also reduces the effectiveness of the system’s adjustments.
For rear air shocks, bubble noise or little to no action from the rebound adjustment can indicate there’s air in the oil, and the shock needs to be serviced.
The fork or shock is losing large amounts of air or oil. This is typically caused by a damaged seal.
Service intervals for most modern suspension
Service intervals are not an exact science. How you ride, the type of trails ride, and the weather all play a part in the story. The recommended service intervals are more of a baseline to make sure folks don’t let their suspension go unchecked until it feels terrible, or starts eating itself.
Fortunately, I ride between 10 and 15 hours per week, depending on the season, which by some recommended service intervals would see me swapping oil and wipers every 2-3 weeks and servicing the damper cartridge on a 7-10 week rotation. Since most of that riding is on clay, free of mud and dust, I don’t do it as frequently as advised. I tend to go by many of the indicators Lyonel mentioned more than a calendar, but it’s good to know when the manufacturer recommends a partial or full service. Check the recommended service intervals below to see if your squish is due for a deeper wash.
If not riding then I'm writing, or quite possibly cooking something. I play bass with nine-and-a-half fingers, eat vegetables and fruit, and prefer movement as frequently as possible. I find discomforts and challenges more useful than most things, particularly what emerges from them. If I died and could return as anything I would choose a camp fire.