There is something about fall riding that makes it feel fresh again – the cool crisp air and the beautiful colors of the changing leaves makes you want to get out and ride! Here in the interior of British Columbia we are finally seeing the sky again after one of the smokiest summers in history, with record forest fires that choked us out all riding season. That makes now a great time for us to get back on the bike, and for all of us to prepare for the fall and winter riding seasons. Of course, if you don't take care of key components like your suspension, then you may not be able to make the most out of the late and off-season riding, or you'll stow your bike away and be ill-prepared to enjoy it when spring comes around. Here are a few points to consider when looking at your suspension readiness heading into this time of the year.
Take a good look at it
Make a visual inspection of your suspension before cleaning any components to identify if there are any problems and assess what you are dealing with. Any amount of dust or dirt collecting around seals can often expose an oil leak. Normally, I would recommend cleaning your seals ASAP, however, if you are concerned there is a greater issue, not just dirtiness, then leave it dirty and bring it to a professional at your local bike shop.
Problem areas you notice are more easily brought to a mechanic's attention with some of the collected dust in place. If there is a suspension piece accused of not performing, making awful sounds, or losing air and oil, your trusted bike technician can carefully inspect where the issue is generated from. Later, suspension cleaning can bring to light any additional problems or damage.
Performance enhancing service
After a season of riding your suspension can be left feeling less than optimal. As seals and fluid wear down you will feel a significant difference in performance, and cold temperatures can further amplify the effects. These are some of the common issues you may encounter:
- Change in compression or rebound function, adjustments not making much difference in feel.
- Rebound and compression dials stiff to turn, stuck in one position or loose and wiggly.
- Change in air spring performance, diving through travel, losing travel (not expanding all the way back up to full travel).
- Noises coming from Suspension, i.e. knocking, creaking, clicking, squishing sounds.
- Oil everywhere! How is there so much oil everywhere? (This is usually caused from a complete failure of the oil seals, a bit messy but one of the easiest to troubleshoot.)
Follow the regular service intervals and recommendations of your suspension brand. Most suggest getting your lubrication fluid changed every 30-50 hours of riding. A more comprehensive service and damper rebuild, appropriate once a year or around 100 hours, consists of a full overhaul of your suspension, including changing out all of the seals and oil. Suspension brands also want you to regularly clean around the seals and check the torque of your axle, crown bolts, and stem before every ride. This might sound like overkill, but they want to make sure you are in control of your own safety and they know these extra measures can go a long way towards the longevity of your suspension.
Warranty coverage and recalls
Fall and winter are great times to bring your bike in to your local bike shop for suspension service. Things are generally less crazy around the shop than during early or mid-season; there is less panic from riders dropping their bikes in for speedy repair. At this time of year, your service technician can be more attentive and do things like pursue the manufacturer about warranty on any issues that are discovered, or act on recalls or voluntary upgrades issued by the brands. For example, Fox has been upgrading Evolution series cartridges on certain model forks as part of a voluntary recall. Imagine bringing your suspension piece in for service and finding out you get a $500 cartridge upgrade for free! Things you will never know until you bring it in.
Winter riding and winterizing
Depending where you live, the winter months can be the time of the year where the riding is a little cooler, and the dirt is a little tackier. Maybe you take the hot summers off of riding and look to resume through the fall and winter. All signs point to this being a great time to get the old rig serviced with fresh oil.
If you come from further north, or wherever temperatures can go sub zero, you will want to consider a few more things. The cold is hard on your suspension, no way around it. Commuting on the road with the salt and sand, or forcing the sliders up and down past the seals in the frigid cold takes its toll. As temperatures close in on or go below freezing, oil can become more viscous and will not move through suspension valving as well, resulting in slower damping properties and a squishy feeling. Be prepared to adjust air pressure, compression, and rebound to compensate.
A common question is whether it's necessary to change suspension fluid/oil for freezing conditions, and the answer is no. Your suspension oil won't freeze, but it will be significantly more viscous at lower temps. You might switch to a lighter weight oil to help your suspension's dampening properties in the cold, but for most riders it's not convenient or necessary.
If you ride all winter in cold and wet conditions, then you just have to be prepared to service your suspension, and your bike in general, more often. The fun and change of pace are well worth a bit more work, but if you can't commit to the the maintenance, you might need to wait for it to clear up and warm up and then get back on the rig.