Your motorcycle wouldn’t be the same without the forks. The forks work as the suspension in your motorcycle for a more comfortable ride behind the wheel. The suspension eases the bumps of the road to help you stay in control of your bike. Many riders overlook the value of this important part. The fork usually doesn’t get as much attention as the tires, brakes and battery, but it still needs to be maintained, nonetheless. You may want to upgrade your suspension system if you plan on taking your motorcycle off-road. Learn how to keep your forks in great shape for a safer, more enjoyable ride.
What Is the Motorcycle Fork?
If you’re unfamiliar with the forks on your motorcycle, you’re not alone! They are connected to the axle on the front wheel of your bike. The fork has two prongs that go around either side of the wheel. The suspension sits between the front wheel and the rest of the motorcycle to help absorb any turbulence of the road. It is made up of two pistons, which is what most people mean when they say “the forks.” Each piston has a spring, oil and other internal components, all of which may need to be maintained.
The suspension does more than just soften the bumps in the road. It also provides traction by keeping the front wheel stable.
There are two kinds of motorcycle forks: traditional and upside forks. Traditional forks have a tube at the top and a sleeve at the bottom. On upside down forks, these parts are reversed with the sleeve at the top and the tube at the bottom. Traditional forks are less expensive and easier to maintain than upside down forks. However, upside down forks have less unsprung mass, which helps the suspension system react quickly to any changes in the road.
Both kinds of forks need oil to function properly. Fork oil reduces friction and wear and tear inside the pistons. This helps extend the life of the spring and shock for a better suspension system.
Motorcycle Suspension Upgrades
Conventional motorcycles tend to have forks with dampening rods. These rods absorb the shock of the bump of the road. The dampening happens when you go over the bump. The fork is then compressed as the oil gets pushed through a small set of holes.
More sophisticated motorcycles tend to come with cartridge forks. They have a small cylinder, or “cartridge,” inside the piston that acts as a shock absorber. As the piston slides through the cartridge, the oil is pumped into the tube and the fork is compressed, which provides the dampening effect.
Cartridge forks are considered more reliable than conventional dampening rods. If you’re looking to upgrade your suspension system to help smooth out the bumps in the road, you can try using cartridge emulators – or “golden valves” – instead of using cartridge forks. They improve handling and are less expensive than replacing your dampening rods with cartridge forks. For example, gold rods and emulators tend to cost around $150, while new cartridges can cost upwards of $800.
Best Ways to Maintain Your Motorcycle Fork Suspension
You should always be on the lookout for possible issues with your suspension system, including sudden changes in handling, less traction and harsher bumps behind the wheel. If your suspension system fails, you could suddenly lose control of your bike. Use a Bluetooth motorcycle helmet to call for help hands-free in an emergency.
It’s not safe to ride with a bad or failing suspension system. Add these items to your motorcycle maintenance to-do list to keep your forks going strong:
- Change Your Fork Oil
One of the first things you can do is change your motorcycle fork oil. The oil will get dirty and start to deteriorate over time. This slows down the dampening process. You’ll need to change your fork oil according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, usually around every 10,000 to 20,000 miles.
- Replace the Fork Seals
The fork seals keep oil from leaking out of the piston. They can become “pitted” or damaged over time as rocks and other debris hit the forks, assuming they are exposed to the road. You can try sanding back the pitted area or adding some WD-40, but you may need to replace the seal all together if the oil is leaking. You can also get your forks re-chromed to help reduce wear and tear. Watch out for signs that your seals are leaking, including traces of oil on the fork stanchions near the dust seal. You can run the forks a few times to see if it was a leak or just dirt from the road.
The seals may also fail naturally over time. The pace of degradation all depends on how you use your motorcycle. Driving over unpaved roads or lots of potholes will only force your forks to work overtime, which only increases wear and tear. The harder you are on your suspension system, the more often it will need to be repaired.
- Upgrade Your Suspension System
If your motorcycle wasn’t built to go off-road, you should probably stick to paved surfaces. Driving over holes and bumpy surfaces like tree roots and rocky terrain will only damage your suspension system – unless you’re willing to upgrade. Consider shelling out for the full cartridge forks or go with the cartridge emulator to improve suspension performance.
You may need to hire a professional when replacing and servicing your motorcycle forks. The last thing you want to do is damage the pistons by mistake.
Make sure your forks are in excellent shape before taking off on a long adventure. Pack Bluetooth motorcycle helmet speakers along for the ride to give yourself some extra peace of mind.
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