A bit of elbow grease can save you time and money
The oil in your forks and shock wears out. This oil not only lubricates your suspension's expensive internal bits but is also a key component of damping. As the oil's viscosity breaks down, suspension performance fades. Sporting riders should have their forks and shock serviced yearly, while stead racetrack addicts need this service twice a season. Rather than transporting the bike to your tuner of choice and paying his labor rate to remove and install its suspension, why not perform this part of the job yourself and simply ship the forks and shock in for service?
Removing and reinstalling sportbike suspension isn’t that hard a task, however there some tricks to doing it right. First and foremost, get the shop manual for your bike and use the torque setting provided. When it comes to suspension, people usually err on the tight side. Snapped bolts, binding pivots and deformed parts are the usual result. If you stick to the factory recommendations when reinstalling these components, you’ll be fine.
To begin, think about where you’ll be taking things apart. Unless you are doing this teardown at the track and your tuner is going to do the rebuild that night, your bike will probably be sitting there with no wheels on it for days or weeks. Select a spot that’s out of the way, yet gives you enough room to work around the bike as you remove the components. Next, you’ll need a way to prop the machine up. The best solution for the front end is a steering stem stand, available from many sources. If you happen to possess a Pit Bull front stand, the company sells a piece called the Forklift Converter that will clip to the stand you already own and allow you to pick the bike up by its steering stem. Out back, it is best to lift the machine via a conventional swingarm stand and then find a way to support the bike by its foot pegs. Pit Bull offers Jack Stands for this purpose. We’re using Pit Bull products in the shots accompanying this article.
Once you’ve got the bike securely raised, go ahead and remove the wheels. Some will tell you that it’s unnecessary to remove the rear wheel before taking off the shock and while this might be true for some models, you’ll find that the job is both easier and safer if you get the bulk and weight of that fat rear hoop out of the way before you start. Next, consider how you’ll support the calipers for the duration of the project. While it won’t necessarily hurt your brake lines to have the calipers dangling off them for a moment as you change wheels at the track, letting them hang for weeks by the lines just isn’t a good idea. Simply find some kind of box or stool to lay the calipers on while the forks are away for service.
With the front tire removed, it’s very easy to take off the fender without scratching it. Put that puppy immediately on a high shelf. It’s a known fact that fenders, when sitting on garage floors, have almost a 100% chance of being kicked, stepped on or otherwise crushed.
Before beginning the removal of your forks, measure and document their installed height. This is very important because if you don’t put the forks back in the same spot, your bike’s ride height and geometry will be affected. Next, you’ll loosen the clip-ons enough that they move easily on the fork tubes. Here’s a trick. Use a paint marker to draw a line on the upper triple clamp that aligns with the split in each clip-on. Now you can put them back in exactly the right spot upon reassembly. Leave the paint stripe for future reference. This can come in very handy later if you find yourself rebuilding a bar assembly after a crash.
At this point, all that’s holding your forks in the triple clamps is the pinch bolts. We like to break loose the lower triple clamp bolts and then re-tighten one on each side until it is just snug. Next, we loosen the top bolts. Now for another trick: Stick a zip tie between your teeth, loosen the snug bolt on the lower clamp and begin to slide the fork down and out. When you’ve got the fork far enough down to be out of the clip-on, snug the bolt again to hold it there and zip-tie the clip-on to the upper triple clamp. This keeps the handlebar assembly in place, preserving cable, hose and wire routing while it also prevents the clutch or brake master cylinder from flipping upside down and admitting air into the lines. Now you can go back, loosen that bolt once more and slide the fork the rest of the way out. Simple, huh?
Moving rearward to the shock, start by inspecting the upper and lower shock bolts. Usually, the upper bolt is accessible but the lower one is buried in among the suspension linkage. Designs differ, so you’ll have to decide for yourself which strategy to take. Sometimes, by removing the upper bolt, the shock will then drop low enough that you gain the needed clearance to remove the lower one. Other times, you’ll find it necessary to remove the link plates. On rare occasion, the rocker assembly will need to be removed as well. Again depending on the model you’re working on, the exhaust may also need to be loosened or completely removed to gain the necessary room to remove that pesky lower bolt. Because this part of the job is way more complicated than it looks, you’ll be glad later that you got the rear tire out of the way first.
Since the bike will be apart for a period of time, your final task is to support the front calipers so that they aren’t hanging from their lines and make sure that the swingarm hasn’t ended up in a position that will crimp or kink the rear brake hose. Bok up your axles and fasteners, stow the bodywork out of harms way and warn the family not to knock your baby off the stands while she’s vulnerable. Better yet, string caution tape around the machine. Spouses love that…