Fork in mud

IMG_4010 Lots of newer rides this year are encountering the delights of Stanmer in winter and asking about the right kit and maintenance.

Screaming brakes, slipping tyres and  clogged chains are the  common fayre from now until about July so to keep you running smoothly here is a short list of the key things raised on the Thursday night rides.

Lights – probably need two (bars and helmet) especially if riding in front of something with a lighthouse set up as you sit in relative shadow.

Tyres – there seems to be no ideal tyre for the local mud and clay mix but lots of poor choices. Soft rubber, prominent side knobs, big clearance gaps in the tread and the right width all help. Narrow mud tyres are good in the worst conditions but less forgiving on roots, jumps, off-camber and half-dry trails. A wider tyre rolls slow uphill but offers a little more grip on the tricky stuff however insufficient frame clearance and mud jams up. If you are struggling for grip then a better tyre should help considerably.

Wheel size – 29er wheels do roll easier uphill and over obstacles but 26ers are nimbler in the tight stuff which gives you a little more room between the trees at times.

Cleaning – bucket or garden hose but not pressure washer is the safest option. Forcing water into bearings in the headset, bottom bracket, pedals and wheel hubs is best avoided. Dry your bike if you can with cloths or even air compressor and re-lube.

Lubes – I use RocknRoll Gold Lube summer and winter. Generally wet lubes offer better protection but re-lubing is key and a chain cleaner can help with this. Waterproof grease works well in headsets and for bottom bracket threads but I use a lighter grease for hubs, jockey wheels and pedals.

Cables – clean and spray lube exposed cable ends (only takes seconds), replace with teflon coated inners or swap to fully covered cables to help with shifting. Inexpensive and not difficult.

Wear and tear – a chain tool measures chain length between the links which increases with wear. Chain replacement may extend the life of chainrings and cassette with perhaps three chains to one cassette and crankset. Still going to wear out though.

Winter specific – some riders opt for rigid forks, single speed and lower maintenance while others hang the full suss and ride hardtails but suspension copes well in winter although it needs cleaning and checking. You should expect that anything that moves on your bike should be replaced if it starts to wobble or show signs of wear.

Hub bearings, bottom bracket bearings, headset bearings, suspension bearings and bushes are relatively cheap to replace compared to the hubs, frame, forks, shock and links they sit in.

Brakes – pads wear out much quicker in the mud as it can act as a grinding paste so buy replacements in advance. Sintered, metallic, semi-sintered , organic etc all refer to different pad materials. Some riders prefer the higher friction of the softer materials despite the higher wear and others opt for longer life or heat dispersement as the key factor. I use semi-sintered brakes all year round to offer medium braking and medium lifetime on all my bikes and check them often. Removing and cleaning helps and disc brake cleaner for the rotors is useful.

The manufacturers own pads offer matched performance to the brakes but copy pads can work well too. I use some copies but these can be inconsistent so if cheap pads struggle or make your discs scream then swap them out again.

Fork servicing – this is a common question but a lot of new riders avoid servicing until too late. Depending upon conditions of use, where you ride, how heavy you land, how big you jump, how fast you ride and a million other things service intervals vary but replacement is expensive too. As a rough guide most riders service forks each year but more often in heavy use. An interim oil change can help longevity and smoothness as well.

Several riders ask about wear and stanchions always crop up so I took some apart to explain. Both coil spring forks and those that use an air chamber are similar for servicing. Photo show Fox Air version.

Changing the oil. There are lots of videos and magazine articles specific to your own forks that offer a step by step approach to inspection and oil change but fundamentals are the same.

Remove the spring pressure, drain oil, take off lower legs, clean, lube, replace bits if required and re-assemble and refill. It looks complicated but is easier than it may look.

IMG_3989  It is easier to remove the fork from the frame which means removing brake and stem ( 4 bolts). Release air pressure at the top (and bottom perhaps) and remove all the bits at bottom of each leg.


IMG_3990  Re-fit end nuts a few turns and tap with soft faced hammer to loosen. You can use socket on end to help. The oil will now drain out.




Pull off the fork lowers.  Carefully remove top seals.



CaIMG_3991refulIMG_3993ly prise out foam rings too. The vertical lines just visible inside cause the wear marks on upper leg stanchions which are very common on well-used forks. Especially mine.

ReplaceIMG_3995ment kits for foam rings, seals, crash washers, oil and fluid are available. A bit of re-assembly with new bits, some syringing with the oil, re-fitting to the bike, reset air pressure and all your other settings (e.g. rebound) and test ride.

It is less difficult than it sounds. Kits and oil may cost £50 so perhaps your LBS or local specialist will offer a competitive quote. Previously several local firms have offered a discount to Brightonmtb so perhaps worth an enquiry. This is just an oil change and not a full service which would include a full strip down.

I am sure that I have not answered your particular question so just ask next week ideally as I struggle uphill completely out of breath.




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