As cyclists we’re responsible for knowing the state of our equipment. Periodic bike inspection is an absolute must. A crash demands an immediate exam — especially when there’s been an impact involving the front end.
The fork is probably the strongest single element of a bike. It takes a lot to damage one, but you must be absolutely sure all is well. After all, not much in life is scarier than a fork failure, and you don’t want that on your mind — like at descending speed. Let’s look at two main ways forks get broken:
Front Wheel Impacts. This includes riding into a curb, into a nasty pothole, or into any other immovable object. You don’t need to be going fast or even crash to ruin a fork. If you suspect it was damaged by a hard hit, get on the cell phone and call for a ride. Yours is over.
With a carbon fork, the damage may be internal and unseen. The fork must be pulled from the frame to check for injury to the steerer tube, the fork legs or the crown. A simple look while it’s still in the frame is not enough. Take it out and put it under a bright light.
You’re looking for cracks, dents, dings and bent or loose dropouts. Gouges, discoloration, peeling, delamination — all spell impending disaster. So do buzzing sounds from inside the legs during riding. And then there’s the tell-tale sensation that the bike doesn’t steer or behave like it used to. If you lack the experience to do this kind of inspection, take your bike to the most experienced mechanic at your Local Bike Shop. He/she might just save your life.
With a steel fork, a big frontal impact will generally bend the fork (or more likely the frame). I have seen steel forks bent to ridiculous angles, but I’ve never seen one fail catastrophically under a rider. That’s a testimony to steel’s ultimate strength and forgiveness.
If you’re riding on an aluminum fork you should have replaced it eons ago. Aluminum forks become mushy and flexible over time. I’ve never thought aluminum is a good choice for a fork. The only time I had a bike with one, I worried so much that I got rid of that rig after only two months. The fork was way light and it was good on rough pavement, but it seemed like an accident waiting to happen.
Garage Calamities. I hope this has never happened to you, but it’s happened to plenty of tired riders driving home with the bike on top. One push of the garage door’s remote button and in a nano-second . . . disaster! After calming down, you need to take the bike (and what remains of the roof rack) to the LBS. It’s going to take time to check everything that could be damaged. If it’s only the fork you were lucky in the extreme. Make your next stop at the auto body shop, then drop by the local construction contractor to arrange for a repair estimate. Don’t forget to mention that the garage door no longer works.
Never, ever take a chance on fork failure. Sure, a good bike’s fork is expensive to replace. But that pales in comparison to the pain of a crash and cost of an ER visit.
It’s like the lady told me when I was looking at a Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy for $400: “If you can’t afford to buy the puppy, you can’t afford to own the dog.” She was right. Over the lifespan of that dog, 400 bucks was nothing.
With our bikes it’s the same. We must maintain our equipment and spend what it takes to replace anything that’s questionable. Especially the fork.