The fork is one of the more complex components of a mountain bike. It takes a beating whilst adjusting to the contours of the trail, keeping its rider comfortable and more importantly, in contact with the ground.
Due to the nature of forks, they degrade over time as does every component of your bike. Keep reading to find out how long a MTB fork typically lasts, how you can prolong the life of your fork, and how to identify when a fork is done for.
How Long do Mountain Bike Forks Last?
A new mountain bike fork from a reputable fork manufacturer should last at least 3 years of hard usage with proper maintenance and no significant damage from crashes. Most casual mountain bikers can expect a good quality fork to last 5+ years, again assuming the fork is properly maintained.
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Similarly to every component on a bike, it’s pretty difficult to give get an accurate answer when asking how long a fork will last. There are so many variables at play (that we’ll dive into later in this article) that there is no one size fits all answer.
That said, I’ll do my best to help you out. The timelines I suggest in this article are based on my own experiences with forks, those of my friends who ride, and from scouring forums to see the general consensus from mountain bikers around the world.
As a very general guideline, a good-quality fork should last in the region of 3 – 5 years or more provided it’s looked after properly. (Fox is one example of a really good-quality fork manufacturer, but they come with a hefty price tag. Check out this article to find out why Fox suspension is so expensive.)
3 years is on the low end for a new fork, but if you’re out on your bike multiple times per week for hard rides you should of course expect to be replacing your fork more often than someone who rides once a week with less intensity.
The closer you push a fork to its maximum performance, the quicker it will degrade. Let’s face it, this is the same with virtually everything. Just look at top athletes, they push their bodies to the limit and are often plagued by joint issues and other wear and tear as a result.
As I’ve mentioned, I’d expect a fork to last a casual rider around 5 years on average.
I really can’t stress this enough – the absolute best way to get the most out of your fork regardless of how frequently you ride is to make sure you look after it properly. That means regular cleaning, servicing, and even replacement of the components that typically wear away the quickest.
When Should You Replace Your Bike Fork?
A mountain bike fork should be replaced when it stops performing properly and begins to affect the handling and comfort of the bike. Whilst a full fork service should be carried out prior to replacing a fork, if the performance issues persist following a service then it’s time to replace the part.
First off, let me be clear that I’m not encouraging you to replace your forks at the first sign they aren’t performing 100% as they should. The first port of call when you feel your fork isn’t quite as smooth as it used to be is to service it.
A service can be anything from a basic clean-up of the lower stanchions and re-lubricating, all the way through to a full service where the forks are fully stripped down. (We covered a number of frequently asked questions about MTB stanchions in this article.)
Here are a few telltale signs that your fork needs servicing:
Your fork regularly bottoms out more easily than it used to. This could simply be that you’ve changed your fork settings and need to tighten it up again to prevent hitting maximum travel too early.
Alternatively, it could mean there’s a fault with the damper system. Damper issues typically require a full service and specialist tools to rectify.
Your fork doesn’t have as much travel as it used to. This can be a result of oil leaking into the lower stanchions. When enough oil builds up the fork physically can’t compress until it’s drained.
Draining the oil can be achieved with a lower suspension service only, however fixing the issue causing the leak will likely require you to replace some of the internal components.
Your fork feels ‘crunchy’. If your fork doesn’t feel as smooth as it used to and seems to jolt around, unable to travel smoothly, this is likely a result of dirt and grime building up in the fork. The best thing to do here is to remove and fully clean the lower stanchions, replace the seals, and lube up the fork.
There are of course other signs that your fork needs maintaining, but these are some of the most common ones. If your fork is experiencing degraded performance even after you’ve fully serviced it then it’s time to replace it.
It’s also worth mentioning that any significant denting or damage resulting from a crash to the upper or lower stanchions is likely to affect your fork so badly that it needs replacing.
How Often do MTB Forks Need Servicing?
MTB forks should have basic service including a thorough cleaning, relubrication, and replacement seals after every 25 – 50 hours of riding. A full service once per year is typically sufficient to keep a fork in good working order.
How often your forks need servicing depends on how hard you ride AND the conditions in which you typically ride.
For example, I typically ride trails that are muddy or dusty, usually muddy. Therefore, to extend the life of my forks I make sure I clean my fork after every ride so dirt and mud aren’t being pushed down into my suspension.
Whilst cleaning your forks after every ride can seem like a pain, it’s well worth it if you double the lifespan of your fork.
As for a full service, the generally recommended advice is once per year. Personally, I have a caveat to add to this. A full fork service is beyond the capabilities and toolbox of most mountain bikers, and paying to have one done at a bike shop can be pricey.
Therefore, I’d say you should get a full service once per year if you have a higher mid-tier to top-tier fork. Spending $100 – $200 per year to keep a $1,200 dollar fork in top condition is worth it. Spending the same amount on a $350 fork doesn’t make as much sense to me.
Therefore, I’d say if you’re riding with a more entry-level fork you should be cleaning it regularly, replacing the seals, and servicing the lower stanchions as necessary, but only carrying out a full service when you start to feel the performance of your fork declining.
That way you can save your hard-earned cash, and when the time comes for a full service, ask yourself if it’s worth servicing the fork or putting that money into a better one.
(If you’re interested, I covered whether or not expensive forks are worth the money in this article. It’s worth a read if you’re unsure what the extra cash buys you on an expensive fork.)
How Often do MTB Fork Seals Need to be Replaced?
Mountain bike seals should be replaced around every 25 – 50 hours of riding time. The optimum time between replacing the seals depends upon the terrain and weather conditions when riding and how often the forks are cleaned. Wet, muddy conditions will accelerate seal degradation.
What Affects How Long Mountain Bike Forks Last?
We’ve already discussed how proper maintenance and cleaning are essential to maximizing the lifespan of your forks, but that isn’t the whole story. There are other factors affecting a fork’s lifespan that are useful to understand.
Weather and Terrain: The weather and terrain you ride on effects how much dirt and grime gets into the internals of your fork. Wet and muddy or even dusty conditions can accelerate the wear on certain components.
Although the components affected first are typically easy to replace, over time the performance of your fork will diminish regardless of how diligent you are with cleaning and maintenance.
Frequency and Intensity of Riding: It’s self-explanatory really that a fork that’s used twice as much will degrade twice as fast if all other factors are equal. The same goes for ride intensity, if you’re pushing a fork to its limits multiple times per week you should expect it to lose performance more quickly than if you were to ride casually.
Bodyweight: I suppose this falls under ‘ride intensity’, but it’s important to know that if you’re heavier the stress on your forks will be greater, likely resulting in them not lasting quite as long.