How to Lube and Clean a Mountain Bike Fork

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Mountain bike fork and front suspension with visible dirt

The forks on your mountain bike are the framework upon which your suspension system sits, so keeping them clean should be a priority, especially if you’re spent a day out on the bike or if you have put it through its paces on a dirt trail. 

Cleaning and lubing the forks isn’t too difficult a task but it is a necessity. It may look intimidating, but so long as you have the right tools with you, and a small dash of patience, you’ll be able to get it cleaned, lubricated, and establish a solid routine for keeping it that way. 

The last thing you want is to get dirt and grime down inside the complex inner workings of your mountain bike’s suspension. IF you don’t keep them clean and lubed, then it’s just a matter of time. Once the debris is down in there, you’ll notice the degradation of your suspension. 

What Tools Do You Need to Clean and Lube the Forks?

Don’t worry, it shouldn’t require a major trip to Home Depot to acquire the tools that you’ll need to do the job. 

  • A few clean rags or cloth
  • A syringe (like a turkey baster syringe)
  • Oil to lubricate the fork
  • Flathead screwdriver

That’s it as far as cleaning the forks go. The lube can be just about anything that you can put your hands on. Vegetable oil, WD-40, castor oil, or vaseline, any will do in a pinch, but it’s always best to purchase something specifically for the task, such as Tri-Flow.

Steps for Cleaning and Lubricating Your MTB Fork

Before you do anything else, you want to give your bike a thorough wash, including the immediate areas around the fork. You’re going to end up lifting the dust wiper and foam ring, so you don’t want excess dirt, mud, or any other debris getting dragged down into the suspension as you work.

Wiping down the mountain bike fork with a cloth

Clean The Fork

All you need to do, as far as cleaning the fork is concerned, is wipe it down precisely as possible with a clean rag. You can use some water and a mild detergent as well. This is a habit that you should get into, periodically cleaning the fork after each ride. 

It will go a long way toward ensuring that no dirt or debris ends up inside your suspension. Use the soap and water to clean away all of the dirt, mud, or any other debris in the immediate area of the fork.

Follow up by drying it thoroughly with a clean, dry rag. 

The Dust Wiper

Locate the dust wipers on each end of the fork by looking—from a top-down perspective—at the bottom of each fork. You should be able to slide a flathead screwdriver down under the dust wiper, which encapsulates the rod of the fork all the way around, and pull it up so that it’s accessible. 

Once you have it up, secure the gap that you pulled it out of with a piece of clean cloth to seal the opening and not allow any dust or dirt to fall down into the suspension itself. Now you’re free to completely clean the dust wiper all the way around. 

Slide the dust wiper up and down if you can to make sure that all of the dirt is cleaned away. 

Foam Ring 

The foam ring lies beneath the dust wiper and you will have to pull the foam ring up and out with the flathead by making sure that the dust wipe stays extended and out of the gap while you do so. 

Once the foam ring is up and out, clean it in the same manner as the dust wipe. Check the foam ring over for cracks or any splits in the materials. If there is any visible damage, you should replace the foam ring as soon as possible. 

Use the Syringe to Lubricate

Applying lubricant to the bike fork

Fill your syringe with Tri-Flow, another bicycle oil, or any other oil that you can use at the time. Carefully walk around the bike, laying down a bead of oil at the top of each dust wiper along the seam where it meets the metal of the fork bar.

After you have done each one, place plenty of the oil on a fresh piece of cloth or rag and carefully wipe down the stanchions, which are the smooth metal bars at the crown of the forks. 

It’s always a good idea to have a little bit of oil on each one so that they serve as a continual lubricant as your suspension moves up and down with the dust wiper. 

What’s the Best Lubricant for MTB Forks?

There are a few solid choices here, with one of them being the Tri-Flow listed above. While you can generally use any household lubricant, certain lubricants are simply made for bikes and the various parts on them.

WPL Forkboost Lube is perfect to use after a solid cleaning. It continues to work where you left off by cleaning as it lubricates. It is formulated to clean and remove rust, debris, and dirt down inside of the seals, especially in areas that you just can’t reach.

Finish Line Max is a spray, silicone lubricant that’s designed to condition and serve as a long-term protectant. While it won’t actively clean your suspension, like the WPL, it offers a more lengthy solution to lubricating your MTB forks. 

Tri-Flow is designed to penetrate tight areas, which makes it perfect for this application. It’s not as long term as Finish Line and it doesn’t clean to the degree that WPL does, but it will reach and penetrate deeper than either.

Final Thoughts

It’s not a tough job but it is a necessary one. If you discover that you’re having to lube your MTB forks frequently, it’s probably time to take your bike in and get it serviced. 

The interior of the suspension is designed with its own lubrication and if the parts are wearing out, that lubrication will escape.  When that happens, it’s time to take it in. Outside of that keeping your MTB maintained will go a long way towards keeping it out of the shop and that’s always a good thing.

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Paul Tuthill
Growing up in Scotland, Paul developed a love for the outdoors and a desire for adventure from an early age.