Tech FAQ: Smooth Suspension

A reader asks bike tech guru Lennard Zinn if it still make sense to cover the inner legs on suspension forks.

Dear Lennard,
I’ve been using Lizard Skins on my forks for many years. I take them off and lube the seals on a regular basis. But now I’m wondering if I’m just wasting my time. A riding buddy recently tore apart his forks after five years or so of abuse and found the lower steel bushings had worn the bottom of the fork legs to the point where they needed replacement. So I’m wondering if my attempts to keep the top seals clean is just a waste of effort – useless maintenance, since all the wear appears to occur down low, well inside the fork. Any thoughts?

Dear Steve,
This is a question many riders who’ve been around a while wonder about now that all manufacturers run their fork inner legs uncovered. Suspension forks no longer come with the accordion boots covering the inner legs, and hence installing Lizard Skins is no longer a “replacement” job or upgrade option. But does it still make sense to cover the inner legs?

I checked with Sander Rigney, RockShox research and design manager, and he said that he would by no means consider efforts to maintain fork seals to be wasted, as keeping the seals clean and lubricated will make a difference in maintaining smooth, consistent performance of a suspension fork.

However, Rigney strongly recommends against using Lizard Skins, saying that, “we don’t recommend this or any other type of boot with our current fork products. We’ve found that these products tend to trap water and contamination in and around the seal area more than if no protection were used at all.”

As for your friend’s experience after five years of riding – that’s a lot of use and abuse without service. RockShox recommends removing the lower leg to clean the fork bushings and change the oil bath lubrication fluid every 50 hours of riding. If you say your friend “abused” his fork, presumably that means that he rode it well over 50 hours in five years (10 hours/year).

It can be a messy job, and you need to catch the oil with a bucket and then dispose of it properly, but removing the lower legs and cleaning and servicing the bushings and wiper seals on most modern suspension forks is a relatively straight-forward procedure. Obviously, doing it on a regular basis at least somewhere in the ballpark of the recommended 50 hours will maintain the fork’s performance as well as minimize future costly repairs and greatly lengthen the time until replacement.

Have more questions about suspension forks? Check out  Lennard Zinn’s step-by-step video on how to remove your fork’s crown race as well as steerer tube measurement, cutting and preparation.

Technical writer Lennard Zinn is a frame builder (, a former U.S. national team rider and author of numerous books on bikes and bike maintenance including the pair of successful maintenance guides “Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance” – now available also on DVD, and “Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance,” as well as “Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes” and “Zinn’s Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists.”

Zinn’s regular column is devoted to addressing readers’ technical questions about bikes, their care and feeding and how we as riders can use them as comfortably and efficiently as possible. Readers can send brief technical questions directly to Zinn.

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