Suspension performance is affected by the seasons. Hot and dry conditions from summer are vastly different compared to the cold and wet of shoulder seasons and winter. Just like wearing a winter jacket and warm socks, you should also prepare your bike's suspension. It's easy to get caught up in the tech of bikes, but there's not a product in the world that's better than common sense. It's in our nature to want nerdy solutions to non-issues (I love my job), but when it comes to keeping your bike running in the winter, it can be pretty simple on the suspension side of things.
I recently stopped by Fox Factory's North Carolina office and caught up with engineer Josh Coaplen to hear what he recommends for keeping things moving in the winter. While I went in thinking I was going to hear a lot of World Cup-level ideas and processes, it turns out that almost anyone can do the most effective things.
Check Your Sag
It's easy to just grab your bike and go if it was working fine when you put it away from your last ride, but just because the settings are the same doesn't mean the outside air temperature is. Have a baseline for how much sag you run on your bike and make sure it's the same. The air pressure number may not always be consistent but your measured sag should be. Cold or hot temperatures make pressures change on air-sprung suspension. It probably won't be a huge alteration due to the temperatures, but you also have to factor in all the food you ate over the holidays... It all adds up.Adjust Your Damper Settings
The viscosity of the oil in your fork and shock can change depending on how hot or cold it is and the way that it moves impacts how your suspension behaves. There's a lot more to it than just that and there are different fluids that can be used which have different viscosities but, if you're swapping out damper fluid depending on the temps, there's a good chance you're already scrolling to the comments at this point. To keep it simple, think of it like a jar of maple syrup. When it's warm, it moves quickly and is easy to pour. When it's cold, it moves much more slowly. This is similar to how the fluids in your fork or shock move. For the suspension to work, there are tiny holes and shims that the fluid has to move back and forth through as the suspension cycles.
From your standard settings, you may have to move the compression and/or rebound out a couple of clicks to overcome the increased viscosity in the oil and air spring. You also may need to change the air pressure in your tires as the rubber rebounds differently and you ride frozen or wet terrain differently than you would dry dusty trails in the summer. It's not going to always be the case but if things are feeling off or if your suspension feels slow once you're outside, it may need to be dialed out.Run a Fender
Yep, it's that simple. Get fender and run it. For a lot of the world, the winter months mean that you're riding in mucky and nasty conditions and tossing a lot more mud and debris onto your bike than you typically do. All of the mud that gets on your suspension is pushing up against the seals every time it cycles so the more you can keep off of it, the better chance they have of performing as they should. If you do end up with frozen water and grime on your fork do not
run it into the wiper seals of your fork/shock.Clean Up Quickly
It's one of the last things you want to do after a cold and wet ride, but make sure you clean up your bike before the mud and water refreezes in the garage. When fluid freezes in and around the seals and expands, it can cause damage - the same goes for other parts of your bike. Just use common sense and wipe it off; it'll pay off end the end.
There are plenty of other ways to dial in your bike to make riding in the winter a better experience but paying attention to these few things will go a long way in keeping your bike running well. Also keep in mind that in some places, it may be best to take a little time off of the bike or ride different trails than you may in the summer - some trail systems don't hold up well to wet riding or are closed in the winter and it's important to respect that.