Expert tuners help riders get the most out of forks, shocks and dropper posts.
Dirtlabs technician/owners Mike Lubesmier and Mike Howse sneak out for a quick shred between rebuilds at their Boulder, Colo. shop.
Tearing into the suspension of a new bike before even throwing a leg over it might sound like complete madness, but motocross racers certainly don’t think so. Our gasoline-powered brethren routinely ship their forks and shocks to specialized suspension mechanics for a tune, upgrades and a rebuild the minute they get a new bike home. Mountain bikers, well, we tend to take a less proactive approach, deferring that kind of work until our suspension spews oil, gets stuck down, or otherwise claps out.
Truthfully, unless you’re a high-level podium regular, or you’re at the extreme edges of the rider weight spectrum, rebuilding before you ride is overkill. Periodic maintenance is critical, however, and that service interval is the perfect opportunity to get your suspension dialed-in to your weight and riding style.
We recently sat down with Mike “Luby” Lubesmier and Mike Howse, principals of upstart DirtLabs suspension of Boulder, Colo. to talk all things suspension and get the skinny on set-up, maintenance, and what riders should be doing to keep their springs in good nick…
Mtbr: Describe what DirtLabs is and what it does?
Luby & Mike: DirtLabs is an independent, rider-owned, everything suspension shop with the intent to educate riders about the suspension on their mountain bikes, what each setting does…recommended service intervals, and perform services including tuning, repair, setup, warranty, and general service on forks, shocks, and now, adjustable seatposts as well.
Mtbr: How do your services differ from those available from the suspension manufacturers themselves?
Luby & Mike: Our primary objective is to offer the highest quality service with the fastest turn around so customers can spend more time on their bikes and less time in the shop. Because we work with a number of brands, we learn about issues that can cross over between manufacturers that the factories themselves might not see because they’re just concentrating on their own brand. All the manufacturers have great service centers setting a high standard, which we like to exceed.
Mtbr: Are you “factory-authorized”…what effect do your services have on factory warranties?
Luby and Mike: For the brands we service, DirtLabs technicians are trained at the factory so the manufacturer warranties remain intact. On top of that, DirtLabs offers a 90-day guarantee on our services. We currently do warranty work for Cane Creek and X-Fusion, and occasionally help both Rock Shox and Fox with warranty work. We also work on Manitou, Marzocchi, Maverick (very limited Parts), and Scott Ransom shocks. Dropper seatposts are a new category we’ve been ramping up our services on as well.
Mtbr: Why would people choose your services over factory?
Luby and Mike: Turnaround time and quality of work. In a lot of cases, factory direct service may take several weeks while DirtLabs aims to have each fork or shock turned around and either back on the bike or on its way back to the customer within one business day.
Mtbr: What are the most common services DirtLabs provides?
Luby and Mike: Our most common offerings are factory equivalent general maintenance to insure forks and shocks are running tip top so the rider gets the best ride possible for the longest time between services.
Mtbr: How often should people have their suspension serviced?
Luby and Mike: Service intervals vary from brand to brand. Some recommend service every 30 hours of ride time while others recommend equivalent service every 50 hours of ride time. From what we’ve seen, unless you ride an excessive amount, having general service every six months is typically enough to insure the smooth operation of the fork or shock.
Mtbr: What kind of training/experience do you have?
Luby and Mike: On top of training at the factories, we each have varying experience servicing and tuning mountain bike suspension. Luby, started at the Shock Treatment Center at QBP, which at the time was a warranty center for Rock Shox, Manitou and Marzocchi. From there he moved to Colorado to work for Maverick. Howse raced downhill at the pro level, and started servicing suspension in 1998. He’s constantly looking for ways to improve suspension performance.
Suspension tech Mike Howse goes to work on our forks in DirtLabs’ new, expanded workshop.
Mtbr: It is not uncommon for motocrossers to buy a bike and send the suspension out for tuning before it’s even ridden. Why is this a foreign concept to cyclists?
Luby and Mike: While there are mountain bikers who do send out their suspension immediately, most don’t. Consumers tend to think the inner workings of their shocks are too complicated to understand, and some shops perpetuate that point of view either because it’s hard to explain, or they may not be up-to-date on things. We encourage our customers to ask us about what the settings do and how to change them. Different trails can have very different characteristics, and we can help people adjust the suspension accordingly. Some people like to “set it and forget it”–and that’s fine…we won’t hold it against them–but we can help them find the best “all-around” settings for their weight and riding style.
Mtbr: What dropper seatposts are you supporting?
Luby and Mike: We currently offer complete rebuild service on the Rockshox Reverb, Crank Brothers Kronolog, X-Fusion, and Gravity Dropper posts. Due to parts limitations, we can only offer general maintenance on other brands like KS and Specialized. As with suspension, dropper posts needs maintenance as well.
Mtbr: What kind of special equipment do you have at DirtLabs?
Luby and Mike: We have tools relating to proprietary parts for each manufacturer, as well as dynos for testing each shock and fork that we service. Our new facility also has a machine shop we can access for “special projects.”
Mtbr: What maintenance should a consumer be doing to their forks and shocks between rebuilds?
Luby and Mike: The best thing we can recommend is keeping seal areas clean. Wiping down the fork or shock after each ride with a clean cloth or paper towel will yield the best results. Never use a pressure washer to clean suspension parts as they drive dirt under the seals, accelerating wear.
Mtbr: How often do you guys get out and ride?
Luby and Mike: Each of us try to get out a minimum of two mornings a week, but some weeks we’ll ride every day. For us, riding is a way of life, so even just commuting to work by bike can be the difference between a good and bad day.
Mtbr: What are your favorite trails both locally and elsewhere?
Luby and Mike: The only bad trail is a closed trail. Whether exploring the virtually deserted trails of Curt Gowdy State Park or descending the Whole Enchilada with the masses, the trail matters not, it’s just good to get out.
Mtbr: What bikes are you riding these days?
Luby and Mike: We’re currently partnering with Transition Bikes. We’ll be seen riding any combination of their Covert, Double, and Bank. Each of our bikes are SRAM equipped (XO and XX1) since both of us prefer SRAM, but you’ll see us testing different tunes and setups from all the different manufacturers.
Mtbr: Is there a better/worse time for servicing your suspension?
Luby and Mike: The best time to get suspension serviced is in the winter, to minimize disruption to your riding schedule. No matter how much we tell people that, our busy season is still April through August. But with our increased staff and expanded facility, our goal remains one business day turnaround on most work.
Mtbr: Do you have any advice/tips for suspension set-up?
Luby and Mike: Getting the sag set properly is going to make the most notable difference. From there, play with all extremes of the settings your fork has to offer so you can see what they do. Make note of favorable settings so when you continue to tinker, you have a base if the changes you make aren’t for the best. This is called bracketing. There’s different settings from fork-to-fork and shock-to-shock–people can give us a call (720-213-4742) and if we’re not too busy we can talk them through it. Also, Cane Creek offers a very helpful guide on setup at http://www.canecreek.com/resources/products/suspension/double-barrel/DB_Field_guide.pdf.
Major suspension manufacturers offer tuning and rebuild service, and have come a long way from the weeks-long turnaround that’s frustrated many a rider. If you’re willing to buck-up for expedited shipping, most US manufacturers will turn your rebuild around in a few days. They often offer upgrades at low cost as well.
In addition to DirtLabs, a number of other stand-alone suspension services do excellent work and offer quick turnaround.
Shops in destination towns like Whistler, Moab and Downieville not only do excellent rebuilds and tuning, but offer loaner forks and overnight turnaround meaning you don’t miss any trail time on that hard-earned vacation. We think the right time to have your suspension serviced is before a big trip, but if you get caught-out, it’s good to know you have options.
Typical service charges ($125-145 per piece) Includes:
- Full disassembly
- Components/internals cleaned
- O-rings/seals inspected
- Inspection of each part
- Tune damping to rider (if applicable)
- Fill with new Torco oil
- Grease and lubricate components
- Install new main wiper seals
- Complete reassembly and inspection
3046 Valmont Road
Boulder, Colorado 80301
Check out the gallery below to see the complete teardown of how DirtLabs breathes new life into a couple well-used forks.