Bikepacking with a Suspension Fork: Setup, Service, and Reliability

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Whereas a variety of trendy bike requirements and applied sciences are broadly adopted at this level, some people may nonetheless query whether or not it’s okay to go bikepacking with a suspension fork, notably on extra-long journeys. Others might need questions on upkeep, service intervals, reliability, and setup. To check all this, we put over 1,500 miles on a fork throughout an enormous bikepacking journey, then met with a veteran suspension professional to see the way it fared, reply some questions, and do some science…

It wasn’t that way back when large bikepacking journeys referred to as for strict adherence to previous bicycle requirements. Mechanical brakes, 36-spoke wheels, QR dropouts, and nil transferring suspension elements have been all tactical picks made to make sure that your bike was bombproof and subject serviceable wherever your travels took you.

However issues have modified. Elements are extra dependable. And the world is a smaller place—that’s, by way of having the ability to entry elements and repair. Both manner, a variety of people are nonetheless skeptical of some trendy applied sciences when planning for a protracted and distant bikepacking journey. Hydraulic brakes, dropper seat posts, and suspension forks all come to thoughts. On our Baja Divide journey—after which on to Oaxaca—final winter, Virginia and I introduced all three of these “dangerous” parts.

  • Baja Divide pack lists, Logan and Virginia
  • Baja Divide Rigs, Nordest Sardinha

We weren’t haphazard about it, although. Earlier than setting out, we took a couple of precautions to examine, service, and ensure we had the best instruments and spare elements readily available in case of points. One such guidelines merchandise was getting our forks correctly serviced by a trusted technician.

Randy Collette is a neighborhood small enterprise proprietor right here in Brevard who runs MTB Suspension Service (DBA as Collette Machine and Software). Randy has been within the suspension recreation for practically a decade, beforehand working at one other suspension specialist firm, the place he serviced and upgraded forks and shocks, and even developed modern methods of doing so earlier than the foremost bike suspension gamers supplied service assist applications. Randy handles the vast majority of the “heavy-lifting” suspension work for our native bike store, too.

Bikepacking with a Suspension Fork, Servicing a Fox34 Fork

Randy serviced each of our forks simply earlier than we left on our journey to Mexico. I used to be working a Fox 34 110mm, and Virginia had a RockShox Pike 120. After we obtained dwelling some two and a half months and 1,600 miles later, I introduced my fork again to Randy and had him tear it down and see the way it fared. For the report, these weren’t easygoing miles, both. There was a variety of rocky, dusty, and even salt water caked rugged grime roads in Baja, absolutely loaded. Then, there was extra bikepacking in Oaxaca, in addition to a variety of day rides that have been even dustier and rougher at occasions. I anticipated the fork to be shot, blown, dry-rotted, and filled with sand—particularly after one thing alongside the way in which ripped off one of many steel mud seal retainers, one thing Randy mentioned he’s by no means seen in all his years doing this. After I watched him pull the lowers and punctiliously examine every part, I used to be shocked. In Randy’s phrases, the seals, oil, and foam rings all “seemed prefer it may have been ridden as soon as.”

  • Bikepacking with a Suspension Fork, Servicing a Fox34 Fork
  • Randy Collette Suspension Service

Clearly, I used to be delighted by this. It not solely bolsters my belief in one among my favourite trendy parts, it drives one other stake within the coffin of issues to fret about whereas out bikepacking. With that, I made a decision to ask Randy a couple of questions on suspension fork service intervals, reliability, failure potential, efficiency, and different considerations that I’ve had through the years. We additionally ran some experiments with clamp-on mounts to handle a priority many readers have introduced up through the years. Learn on for a information to bikepacking with a suspension fork with insights from Randy offered all through.

Service Intervals vs. Bikepacking

First, the elephant within the room. What are sensible service intervals for a suspension fork, and the way does that work whereas on a protracted bikepacking journey or grime tour? It’s definitely one thing I hadn’t fairly wrapped my head round previous to this experiment. Fox recommends a service interval after each 125 hours of using, or yearly (whichever comes first). Rockshox recommends a decrease service each 50 hours and a damper/spring service each 200. I clearly blew these numbers out of the water on this fork. After I requested Randy about this, he advised, “Constant using with out washing is nice for the fork and retains lubricant transferring round the place wanted. When the bike sits for awhile, seals dry out and the fluids all sink to the underside. When the fork is ridden intermittently after which let sit, it experiences extra friction and permits extra contaminants to enter. Excessive-pressure washing simply sends water previous the mud wiper into the fork, and that is worse when there isn’t correct grease and oil to protect in opposition to water.” 

Randy added, “In my common expertise, I don’t see each product make all of it the way in which to these producers service numbers with out incurring put on. My recommendation is normally annual service a minimum of and extra frequent relying on the way you’re using. Contemplating, I believe the producers suggestions are very acceptable.”

Our journey was lengthy, and went above the recommend hourly interval, however what about somebody doing one thing like a six-month journey? Randy mentioned, “Your fork would have fared the identical after six months in that area, however most likely not if you happen to have been using La Ruta de Conquistadores [in Costa Rica]. For those who have been going someplace moist for six months, we may have a look at an oil seal beneath the mud wiper. Or say, ‘I’m touring the world for six months and I’m high quality with $300 of service once I get dwelling.’ It’s all about stability. And issues occur. So, if a extreme sufficient breakdown happens, typically we’ve got to be extra versatile about killing an element for the sake of journey. Or discover a store.”

Get a Skilled Service

Contemplating the pristine situation of this fork, it’s essential to notice that I had Randy put together it for our journey after which checked it after we returned. That brings me to a different piece of recommendation Randy gave me: “All the time get an overhaul when the fork is new so you will have a baseline.” That typically requires a technician—Randy on this case—to take it aside, lube appropriately, and reassemble rigorously (and figuring out the location of the decrease bushing—which we’ll speak about within the “mounting stuff to your fork” part). And if it’s not new, that additionally consists of cleansing it totally, inspecting it, and if needed, changing elements.

Why do that when it’s model new? Briefly, forks aren’t at all times lubricated correctly once they come straight from the manufacturing unit. Typically oil ranges are low, for instance. And, bushings and wiper seals are normally dry. Merely greasing them makes an enormous distinction in sturdiness, particularly in moist areas. As some folks have reported, producers don’t do that as a result of when a buyer sees grease on the fork stanchion they suppose their new costly fork is leaking.

  • Servicing a Fox34 Fork, Randy Collette Suspension Service
  • Servicing a Fox34 Fork, Randy Collette Suspension Service

It’s additionally essential to have somebody who is aware of what they’re doing service your fork. Most bike retailers supply suspension service, however the consideration to element is determined by the mechanic’s expertise. To not downplay bike mechanics, by any means, however I consider it the identical manner as I do when hiring a wheel builder: it’s one thing anybody can do with the best instruments, a guide, and YouTube, however I would like somebody who’s an professional on the topic to construct and keep sure specialty parts, particularly earlier than an enormous journey. The standard of workmanship may imply the distinction between ending the journey or having to stop. Randy is a kind of specialists I belief, as evidenced within the continued dialogue, “… as a result of our local weather is particularly unhealthy, I’d by no means do a lowers service if I hadn’t already gone by way of the entire fork. One moist Pisgah journey may cause extra put on than a yr of using someplace dry. Nevertheless, tremendous high quality mud from the excessive deserts might be problematic as nicely, so it simply is determined by the rider and the local weather. You’ll be able to higher put together the suspension earlier than a visit relying on the place and the way lengthy.“

Tuning Your Fork

It’s broadly accepted that step one in establishing your suspension fork is by utilizing sag. Sag is the quantity suspension settles with the rider (and equipment) weight in a impartial stance. It’s a reasonably easy metric that gauges the stiffness of the air spring proportional to the load—your weight plus the bike’s weight and equipment hooked up to it. For these unfamiliar, it’s pretty simple to measure your fork’s sag. You merely regular your bike in opposition to a wall (normally utilizing a handlebar finish as a stabilizer), sit on the bike, after which bounce round a bit of, settle right into a using stance, and transfer the sag gauge rubber O-ring to the underside of the fork stanchion. Then you definately gently dismount and permit the fork to decompress. The proportion of vertical house underneath the O-ring on the stanchion is the sag proportion. Some forks have gauge markings, but when not, you should use a measuring tape to determine the sag proportion. Most producers suggest 15-20%. I at all times go for 20%.

  • Tuning a suspension fork
  • Tuning a suspension fork

Though most producers additionally present a stress chart primarily based on rider weight, suspension tuning isn’t an actual science. In my view, sag is the perfect device we’ve got for suspension setup as a result of it’s a ratio that may be utilized to bikes with a load. It’s definitely not the one metric to contemplate, however it’s the simplest approach to start tuning your fork.

Adjusting stress primarily based on the addition of bikepacking gear is fairly simple. For overnighters and smaller journeys, I typically don’t change the fork’s stress. However, I typically pack gentle on the entrance of the bike, with a light-weight tent, quilt, and sleeping pad as the one gadgets within the handlebar bag. For an extended journey, comparable to in Baja, I tune the fork by adjusting stress primarily based on 20% sag with the bike loaded. After I requested Randy if he had any suggestions, he advised, “You may additionally begin by merely including 10psi to your fork for common bikepacking. Be sure to’re pleased with how the bike operates earlier than you add a touring package so you already know what really feel you need. Additionally, ensure that your bar roll is above the fork crown or it would contact the tire. That being mentioned, the producers’ recommendations are an important place to begin, however they’re simply a place to begin. Sag isn’t your air stress setting. It’s the place you begin searching for stress setting. Simply bear in mind, these items solely apply to a correctly serviced product as your place to begin. Many individuals who ask me for customized tuning had a shock that simply wanted a rebuild.”

Bikepacking with a suspension fork

Is There a Most Dependable Fork?

I’ve used a wide range of forks on lengthy journeys. My first time long-term bikepacking with a suspension fork was throughout Spain again in 2015 with a Fox Float 34. Nevertheless, I knew there could be a few trendy bike retailers en route, in case I wanted a service. In 2016, I set out on an expedition by way of Kyrgyzstan with a RockShox Yari. Since then, I’ve been assured in taking any first rate fork out on a visit and haven’t had any points with any of them. I really feel like most name-brand forks are fairly good. That mentioned, I typically desire a higher-end Fox 34 or RockShox Pike as I discover each function at a really excessive degree and are comparably light-weight. I plan on following up this publish with a comparability of the 2.

I requested Randy if he thought there was a “most dependable fork” and he replied, “I don’t suppose one fork is inherently extra dependable than the opposite, though Fox is finest at making elements obtainable. Crucial factor is having a educated particular person put together the fork first. I wouldn’t take any suspension product out of a manufacturing unit field and go on a visit with out making some modifications to help sturdiness and lubrication. I really feel like so long as you retain transferring, a well-prepped suspension fork will make it by way of a protracted journey. General, upkeep and correct construct are what matter. Not the model, mannequin, or worth. For journey and transportation, you want the sturdiness and reliability that comes from a top quality service. Possibly I’m biased.”

Mounting Cages to a Suspension Fork

DIY Upkeep: Spares and Instruments

There are a few extras you’ll need to carry in your toolkit if you happen to’re on an prolonged bikepacking journey with a suspension fork. The principle merchandise is a shock pump. Usually talking, tire pumps don’t present sufficient stress to correctly inflate a fork or shock. I’ve managed to do it with a Lezyne Micro FloorDrive, however it’s not really helpful. Thankfully, there are a couple of small and light-weight shock pumps available on the market. Listed here are a number of we’ve discovered. Word that we suggest shopping for these at your native bike store, however if you happen to can’t for no matter motive, we’ve offered hyperlinks and costs the place we discovered them on-line:

  • Birzman Macht: 240x25x30mm / 84 grams / $40 (at AMZ)
  • Topeak Microshock: 210x20x20mm / 48 grams / $28 / Particulars
  • Lezyne Digital Shock Drive: 225x35x20mm / 110 grams / $80 at Jenson

“I at all times carry a valve core device and a spare core. The tiny shock pump from Lezyne works very nicely. I prefer to have a fender to maintain grime off the stanchions and wiper seals, too. I additionally like to hold a tiny set of pliers, just like the XS Knipex Cobra,” Randy added.

I couple different gadgets I normally keep it up bigger journeys that would come into play are Gorilla Tape and a metal hose clamp. Gorilla Tape may come in useful for lots of issues, however one state of affairs, which is uncommon, is a cracked decrease. As illustrated within the grizzly photograph above, it’s not out of the query {that a} rock can tear a gap in a magnesium decrease. This fork nonetheless may work, nevertheless. The bathtub oil would leak out, however you can simply tape over the outlet and maintain going. I carry a hose clamp in case of a dropper publish failure, however that chilly theoretically be utilized to a fork stanchion within the occasion of an air-spring failure (very uncommon, see Lightning Spherical Q&A beneath).

Bikepacking with a suspension fork

Is it okay to mount stuff to your fork?

It’s pretty commonplace to see bottles and numerous baggage hooked up to the legs of a suspension fork. However is it unhealthy for a suspension fork? Gadgets saved on this location vary from water bottles to smaller stuff sacks for instruments and spares, and from medium-sized gadgets—like a a Jetboil or sleeping pad—to bigger cargo cages with dry-bags strapped in. Chances are you’ll not want this further storage, relying on the size of your journey, how a lot water you require, and the storage capability of your rear baggage and body bag, however it’s price contemplating.

What’s one of the simplest ways to connect cages and mounts? The traditional methodology is to make use of metal hose clamps to lash on a cage, normally with a layer of internal tube rubber used to guard the fork. You too can tape on a cage, which we’ll contact on later. As of late, there are a variety of good choices for clamping on mounts. Listed here are a few our favorites:

  • Baja Divide Rigs, Why Wayward
  • Hose Clamp Bottle Cage

I’ve been mounting bottles and numerous baggage to suspension forks for practically a decade and haven’t had any points in consequence, so I used to be stunned to listen to Randy’s trepidation. And though he was admittedly reassured after trying out the Tailfin SFM, one among our favourite merchandise to connect cages, we determined to conduct a couple of experiments. As Randy talked about “Though I believed that product was very cool, it’s essential to not put clamping stress close to the bushings, if attainable. It may harm them and even break the fork in some instances. These lowers are magnesium, which is likely one of the strongest structural metals, however it doesn’t take a lot drive to alter the match of the bushing to the stanchion.”

Mounting Cages to a Suspension Fork

  • Mounting Cages to a Suspension Fork
  • Mounting Cages to a Suspension Fork

To check this, Randy had a an higher meeting (crown and stanchions) and magnesium decrease of a Fox Rhythm fork in a elements bucket. He clamped it right into a stand and demonstrated how the bushings permit the stanchions to maneuver freely inside the decrease. Briefly, every fork leg has two steel ring-shaped bushings (above-left) which are normally press-fit into the magnesium decrease. One is slightly below the wiper seals on the high of the leg, and the second is positioned about 4-6″ (10-16cm) beneath it, relying on the fork’s journey. These are the contact factors that maintain the stanchions in place; they permit the stanchions to maneuver easily however they’ve near-exact tolerances that cease any play from occurring within the interface.

The idea was, if a clamp-on mount—such because the Tailfin SFM or the King Cage USBs—is put in proper on the bushing, the clamping drive may switch to the bushing, thus constricting on the stanchion and affecting the efficiency of the fork, and even inflicting lasting harm. Right here comes the science.

First, we measured the place the bushing was inside the decrease. Sadly, there’s no actual approach to decide this with out opening up your fork. You’ll be able to guesstimate, however it’s finest when you’ve got a technician mark this for you if you get that first service. We made a bit of mark on the decrease after which clamped the Tailfin SFM proper on high of the decrease bushing. We torqued the bolt to Tailfin’s max spec, 3nm. I used to be stunned to see that this prompted fairly a little bit of compression and tremendously diminished the convenience at which the stanchion moved inside the bushing, to the purpose the place it didn’t transfer in any respect with no little drive. We then diminished it to 2nm and there was nonetheless noticeable stress. At 1nm the quantity of motion appeared regular. We tried transferring the SFM off the bushing, upward, between the higher bushing and the decrease. At 3nm, there was noticeable compression, and at 2nm, it felt nearly fluid and regular with just a bit constriction. We tried the identical experiment with the King Cage USB mount and had the identical outcomes.

Three Options

Ultimately, the added constriction that 2-3nm imparts on the bushings isn’t probably going to “kill” your fork on a bikepacking journey. Nevertheless, it’s finest to take precautions for optimum efficiency and to not trigger any harm. Choice 1: The plain answer is simply to maintain stress gentle (like 1.0-1.5nm and attempt to keep away from clamping on the decrease bushing. The chance of such gentle clamping drive is having a cage and bottle/gear rotate into the spokes of your entrance wheel, which is fairly harmful. The Tailfin felt fairly sturdy at 1nm, nevertheless. You may probably wrap a wind or two {of electrical} tape across the mount to make sure that it doesn’t rotate. Choice 2: Maintain it at round 2nm and use the highest and backside mounts on a 3-bolt cage, just like the King Cage Manythings Cage; this might probably create sufficient house between the 2 SFM mounts so they might be above and beneath the decrease bushing. Choice 3: Use the tried and true electrical tape methodology (discover that right here). There isn’t any stress with adhesive tape and it really works nice.

Personally, I believe it’s not a lot of a threat and I plan on persevering with to make use of the Tailfin SFM mounts, attempting to maintain them off of the decrease bushing (and clamp them to 1-1.5nm of stress). When two are put in, the rubber shim that’s embedded within the mount actually does an excellent job of retaining it from rotating. As Randy advised, “Ultimately, it’s all about weighing the dangers and advantages. I’ve no drawback utilizing the mounts, and suppose having that storage choice is nicely definitely worth the threat. No element goes to final perpetually, and I like the idea of utilizing the Tailfin mounts to strap my Jetboil to the fork.”

What a couple of lock out?

I bear in mind pondering that being able to lock out the suspension was an absolute necessity again once I first began bikepacking with a suspension fork. I’ve lengthy since deserted that preconception, however it’s nonetheless one thing to contemplate. Some people may need a lockout for extra environment friendly climbing—normally that’s extra essential with an extended journey fork (140mm+). For me, that doesn’t make sense as I’m very delicate to stack top and geometry, so when a fork is unsagged and locked out, it merely throws off the bike’s geometry. That is extra of an element with a hardtail, in fact.

The fact is, forks have gotten much more environment friendly through the years, and most of the trendy dampers don’t even supply a lockout. Neither of the 2 main “path” dampers—the Fox Grip 2 or the Rockshox Charger 3—have a lockout function. They’re extra geared towards adjustability and efficiency with high- and low-speed compression dials and different options to tune the texture of the fork, notably for descending. There are nonetheless a couple of forks with lockouts, nevertheless. Here’s a checklist of a few of the higher choices within the XC/Path vary, that are most likely most relevant to bikepacking:


  • Fox 32 (FIT GRIP)—Open/Agency
  • Fox 32 Stepcast (FIT4)—Open/Medium/Agency
  • Fox 34 (FIT4)—Open/Medium/Agency
  • RockShox SID Final (Charger Race Day)
  • RockShox SID (+/Choose) (Charger RL)

No Lockout

  • Fox 34 (Grip 2 Damper)
  • Fox 36 (Grip 2 Damper)
  • Rockshox Pike (Charger 3)
  • Rockshox Yari RC (Movement Management)

Word that the FIT4 isn’t a real/stable lockout, however the agency setting comes shut and improves pedaling effectivity. Sometimes, people considering the lockout vs. not conundrum try to resolve between the Grip 2 damper or the FIT4 on the Fox 34 or 36 forks, or attempting to resolve between a Pike and a Fox 34. I opted for the Grip 2 on the Fox 34 that I examined for this text. The efficiency good points are noticeable, and I just like the adjustability. I additionally don’t see a variety of benefits in a lockout with a short-travel fork, a small and light-weight entrance bag, and correct tuning. After I requested Randy his ideas on the 2, he advised, “FIT4 is extra of a pedal damper, and Grip 2 is decidedly extra oriented towards descending. So, which one issues extra to the rider? Do you like pedaling efficiency or descending efficiency? Each are high quality dampers. I believe for bikepacking, the FIT4 with a lockout is just a bit extra versatile as a result of you’ll be able to flip a lever and have a stiffer fork for including weight to the bars or carrying some further meals or using uphill on pavement for 3 hours.”

Lightning Spherical

I requested Randy a couple of extra random questions that I used to be interested by:

Do forks ever fail?

It’s very uncommon, however the worst case state of affairs entails dropping air within the spring—a cracked air spring or inner scratch or abrasion. The worst factor that would occur is that you must experience the fork within the compressed place—suppose the top tube angle of a 90s mountain bike. Nevertheless, the bike would nonetheless be rideable, so it’s not “journey ending.” The principle causes of failure or harm I see are from improper service or the improper use of motorbike roof racks inflicting drop-out harm.

What do you consider the Quarq Shockwiz, a high-tech shock tuning gadget?

The Shockwiz is nice if all of the instructions are adopted. It’s not appropriate with all merchandise, however it’s the perfect answer when stable particular person recommendation isn’t obtainable. Any service middle may even give you the chance that can assist you.

Is there any efficiency or reliability benefit primarily based on the quantity of journey a fork is ready up with? For instance, is a 110mm fork extra dependable than a 130mm fork?

Shorter journey forks are extra sturdy than longer journey forks, given the identical chassis. It’s merely a shorter lever that has the next drive wanted to buckle it. There’s a lot much less stress on the headtube, steerer, stanchions and bushings, and shorter forks resist torsional forces higher as nicely. Assume turning the bar to pop the wheel out of a rut.

Does hanging a motorcycle vertically on a wall have any sick impact on a suspension fork?

Nah. If something, it’s higher, as a result of it turns the fork barely the wrong way up and permits the oil to sit down larger within the fork lowers and maintain the froth rings soaked. 99% of the time, gravity is forcing the oil to the underside and the fork depends on stress construct up because it strikes to push the oil as much as the highest bushing and foam ring. Somewhat the wrong way up time is nice. That is assuming the seals are all intact.

For those who needed to decide a suspension fork for a bikepacking journey, which would it not be?

Personally I’ve a RockShox Lyrik that’s nonetheless superior after 6-7 years of use, however it’s been serviced 2-3 occasions per yr. I’d take it simply because it’s confirmed. I might be completely pleased with a well-prepped Fox 34-36 or Rockshox Pike for any large journey, can’t actually go flawed with the present choices from Fox or RockShox.

Conversely, what’s your favourite fork for using our trails round right here in Pisgah?

For common path using right here, I experience an Ohlins RFX 36 with their heaviest coil. As a result of after servicing suspension all day, I don’t need to test something alone. I actually just like the traction from coil suspension on moist roots and rocks and ice.

Due to Randy Collette for serving to out on this one. For those who’re native in western NC and need to ebook Randy for a fork or shock overhaul, service, or restore, discover him at You probably have any extra questions or recommendations about bikepacking with a suspension fork, please go away a remark within the dialog beneath.

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