Full and utterly not shocking disclaimer: The advice in the forthcoming article WILL (not maybe, probably or might) void any SRAM/RockShox factory warranty on your fork. If you’re not comfortable reading service manuals and/or if the thought of beating your forks with a mallet makes you ill, don’t try this at home. If you’re ok with those things, by all means, try this at home.
I recently purchased some stickers from AHTBM which read, “My Life Is a Cautionary Tale.” Those words echoed in my head as I stood on the deck of my apartment beating the lower legs off my 2014 RockShox XC 32 29er forks. Up until this moment, the forks had another year left on their factory warranty.
Let me back track to explain how a man in his late 30’s gets to the point where he feels the need to take a plastic mallet to a perfectly good suspension fork:
I purchased a squishy bike on clearance from my LBS late last summer. Obviously, a budget bike isn’t going to be spec’d with a high end menu of parts. In the case of the Fuel EX 5, that means a fantastic Monarch R air shock in the rear and a coil XC32 fork up front with a 15mm thru axle. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with either of those products on their own, the mix of a tunable air shock on one end and a basically non-tunable coil on the other end makes the bike do sketchy things when the terrain gets sketchy at sketchy speeds.
I’ve been a fan of RockShox products for years, mainly due to their easy maintenance. In the case of the XC32 coil, there is basically no maintenance to be had and changing spring internals to help “tune” the fork to the rider’s weight is a 10-15 minute process with spring kits running about $25 from my LBS. Changing the firmness of the springs on this fork really does make a significant difference. You can even adjust travel from 100–120mm by adding or removing the rubber spacers included in the spring kits, which is a nice feature on such a wallet friendly fork.
But I was also aware that RockShox makes a Solo Air version of this fork, which I could purchase for a couple hundy. However… I heard rumors on the ol’ interwebs that any rider worth his blood alcohol level could convert one of these babies for around $70. Since the Solo Air system is a self contained cartridge system, it appeared to be a simple plug and play process as the IT nerds say. I found out that it really is pretty much plug and play, but with fork oil and hammers involved.
Things you’ll need:
1) A copy of the SRAM/RockShox service manual
2) A SRAM/RockShox Solo Air cartridge for the XC32 fork (DUH!!). I managed to finagle one from Bikewagon for about $55.
3) A long handled 5mm hex wrench, or in my case, a ratchet with a long extension and 5mm hex attachment. More on tool length to cum.
4) A 2.5mm hex wrench
5) 24mm wrench or socket. An adjustable Crescent style wrench will do the trick as well since this is just used to remove the top caps from the fork.
6) 15wt fork oil
7) Graduated fork oil syringe with about 5″ of rubber tubing. Brake bleed kits work great for refilling this fork. I tossed my brake bleed kit because I’m an idiot, so I used the body of an old ball point pen to get all up in there.
8) Not a requirement, but I also recommend a seal kit because you’re going to have the whole fork pulled apart anyway, so why not rebuild the whole damn thing, Capt. Halfassington?
9) A bike stand or at least a good bench vise. Remember, you will be beating things off with a mallet, and everyone knows that beating off requires good grip.
10) A rubber tipped or plastic mallet
11) Last, but not least: a drip pan. There won’t be a lot of oil that comes out with this procedure, but you probably don’t want fork oil all over the floor. But if you don’t mind a little floor lube, who am I to judge?
In hindsight, I recommend removing the fork completely from the bike. Just makes shit easier to work on. I kept the fork attached to the bike, so it’s definitely possible to do it, but I think it would have been easier to remove the fork before proceeding.