My personal mountain bike is currently a 2005 Giant Reign 1. Because I typically have a few test bikes to ride during the season, I rarely get to ride my own bike. So, when a few friends and I decided to slip out early and hit the Park City Mid-mountain Trail back in October, I grabbed my bike and tossed it on the rack without thinking much of it. After all, that bike hasn’t seen a ton of dirt in the past couple of years–it’s mostly been hanging from my garage wall.
We show up at Deer Valley and unload. I gear up and hop on my bike. With every pedal stroke and small bump, I can feel the rear shock just blowing through its travel. I think to myself… “hmmm… it usually doesn’t lose air like this so quickly.” But, I hopped off and pumped a few more psi into the compression chamber thinking I didn’t have enough air in there.
I hop back on my bike and the extra air didn’t change a thing–it was still blowing through the travel and bottoming-out shock under normal pedaling. I didn’t have time to deal with a blown shock right now… we were saddled up for a fall epic and my bike pedaled like a slug. Arghhh!
In the end, I rode it out–blown shock and all. The I called Manitou for assistance. They pointed me to Jerry Vanderpool at Hippie Tech Suspension in Boise, Idaho, who took my 2005 Manitou Swinger 3-way Air shock to the spa for a rubdown.
The diagnosis was an air leak caused by minute scratches, thus breaking the natural air seal, causing me to blow through the travel too quickly. After a couple of weeks and a quick phone call, Jerry had my newly-pimped Manitou Swinger shock delivered back to me with updated stickers and everything–great service and excellent repair quality. The shock does perform better than new.
Mountain Bike Suspension Maintenance and Tuning
Mountain bike suspension designs have gotten more and more complex over the years. 2-way adjustable shocks have given way to 6-way adjustable shocks with compression, rebound, top-out, bottom-out, high-speed and low-speed adjustments. With all those adjustments, how’s the average rider expect to get a showroom-like ride out of their bike every time they go for a ride?
After chatting with Jerry for a few minutes, I asked him that very same question. He answered that question the same way I would… get your sag (or compression pre-load) right and you’re 90% there. Leave the rest for lazy Saturday’s when you don’t have much else to do. Once you get your sag properly adjusted to your weight and riding tastes, everything else can be tweaked from there.
And, as far as maintenance, shocks and forks take a beating these days. Just like you take your car to Iffy Lube every 3000 miles, you should really consider sending your shock in for a little lube and love every year. If you do, you’ll be less likely to have to ride a slug on some of the most choice singletrack in Utah.
An Interview with Jerry “The Hippie” Vanderpool
I asked Jerry at Hippie Tech Suspension to do a little Q/A session on his company and mountain bike suspension maintenance. Here are some highlights from that Q/A session.
What types and brands of bike shocks do you repair? Do you also repair/tune suspension forks?
Jerry: We try and service as many forks and rear shocks as we can from the early 90’s to current 2008 stuff. Brands currently serviced are Rockshox, Marzocchi, Manitou, X-Fusion and Specialized.
Who is your typical customer?
Jerry: People with products that are just plain “Blown Up” and leaking oil all of the place, all the way up to a DH or XC racer who needs specific tuning for their size and needs.
What types of problems are you typically seeing with today’s shocks? What simple things could be done to make shocks perform better?
Jerry: Overall lack of preventive maintenance is a real issue. People just don’t get their shocks or forks serviced as needed or recommended (do people actually read their service manual?). Just wiping off the wiper area at the shaft on a fork or rear shock every ride will reduce the chance of FINE dirt particles sneaking into the unit.
Do you perform modifications to “pimp my shock” and make it work better than new? What types of mods do you do?
Jerry: We take every shock on a “case-by-case” basis and adjust the repair according to damage, wear and rider tuning need. So every shock gets a great deal of love!
What do you hear back from customers after you’ve fixed or tuned their shocks?
Jerry: That their shock works better than brand new and is AWESOME!
What’s the most important piece of advice to properly setting up today’s mountain bike suspension designs?
Jerry: Use the age-old starting point of properly setting their sag first, then work to rebound and compression next. But only after the sag is correct! (refer to your owner’s manual)
How long have you been tuning, repairing mtb suspension?
Jerry: As a professional for about 10 years, so I’ve seen all the old elastomer technology all the way up to the latest and greatest stuff.
Can you give me a ballpark range for your services?
Jerry: It all depends on what you want and need. I have seen things range typically from $75 to $150. But special builds or units with great damage have ran over $500.
How can you be contacted and where are you located?
Jerry: We are located in beautiful Boise, Idaho! We can be reached at (208) 724-8949 or www.hippiesuspension.com.
Anything else you can think of?
Jerry: Ride hard, ride often and take care of your suspension or it will not take care of you!
The Bottom Line on Suspension Tuning and Repair
On the whole, mountain bikers are neglecting their shocks big time! Spending several thousand on a sweet new bike, but not doing the little things that will make it last and make it ride properly for years to come seems about as silly as not changing the oil in your car every 3,000 miles. So, take it from Jerry… a little post-ride love and annual tune-ups will keep you from having to ride a blown shock on one of the most epic singletrack in the state.
More Info: Visit www.HippieSuspension.com