Editor’s Note: This sponsored post was created in collaboration with Santa Cruz Bicycles.
Your bike suspension requires some maintenance to keep it running smoothly. At the heart of the suspension are the bike bearings and links which need to be serviced regularly.
You might consider lubing your chain as regular service (as you should) or you might consider a fork overhaul as regular maintenance, but one thing many riders overlook is checking on the condition of their bike’s suspension linkages—that is, the bearings and hardware they run on.
These parts of the bike do more work and take more abuse than they’re given credit for. And it shouldn’t take much effort to take a look at them and give them a quick servicing to keep them moving smoothly.
In this video, I’ll show you how to take apart a Santa Cruz Heckler’s VPP linkages, check the conditions of the bearings and axles, clean and grease as appropriate and put it together.
Santa Cruz has one of the best linkage and axle systems on the market. It’s very simple, very reliable and really, really easy to service. I’m not the world’s best mechanic, but with some very basic tools and 15 minutes spare, I can strip, examine, service and refit a Santa Cruz VPP system. This system is so good that Santa Cruz offers lifetime replacement bearings FOR FREE and backs up the bikes they sell by stocking hardware spares for a minimum of ten years.
This is why you probably see so many older Santa Cruz bikes out on the trails – they’re built extremely well and they’re built to be fixed and serviced. Like the clothing manufacturer Patagonia, Santa Cruz believes its bikes should be made to last.
I’ll show you how to replace bearings in a subsequent video or you can go here to this link to see how to do it (https://www.santacruzbicycles.com/support/tech) as I don’t think I’ll need to replace these ones just yet and there are some simple things I can do to ensure my bike runs well for longer.
1. Clean bike – It’s easier to start if things aren’t filthy. The bike doesn’t need to be sparkling and remember excessive bike cleaning is worse for a bike (https://www.santacruzbicycles.com/news/2012-joes-corner-lifetime-bearings – bearing treatment and washing from Joe’s Corner)
2. Put in a bike stand and take the rear wheel off
3. The only tools you’ll need are a 5mm, 6mm, and 8mm Allen key – You’ll need clean rags and some form of cleaner/degreaser for tidying things up (I tend to use a simple squirty bottle with water and a little dish liquid for cleaning the frame and some SC1 for cleaning after.
4. Remove the rear shock – I find it easiest to start with the rear eyelet bolt first for removal and then tighten rear eyelet bolt first when reinstalling it.
5. Remove the expanding wedges – This is the 5mm Allen key on pivots. You’ll see that the bolt holes in a wedge-shaped cone washer. These wedges job is to tighten into the collet axle and hold the axle in place but don’t tighten the torque upon the axle – a common mistake is tightening the 5mm Allen thinking it tightens the torque on a loose pivot axle. If The wedge should come out with the 5mm Allen but if you find the wedge stays in the frame then they are keyed with a 6mm Allen head to help removal (see image below). Place a 6mm Allen key in there and gently pry them out (twist as if loosening) and they should pop out. Note the thread locker on the 5mm Allen below. Clean this up and reapply when reinstalling.
6. Next, use an 8mm hex to loosen and remove the pivot axles – They come out easily. If stuck be very careful not to damage Allen surfaces. Once all the axles are out, place it all out neatly on your work surface and account for all the parts (see below). Notice the build-up of dirt in places. This was from a very clean, well maintained and recently washed bike and it’s still dirty down there at the linkage. All this dirt, grime, sand, mud, etc can build up and in some ways acts as grinding paste as the linkages and everything moves. It is normal to find it looking dirty, which is why we’re here to clean it today. I find it extremely satisfying wiping everything clean. Take rags and spruce it up. Don’t use heavy degreasers as it could get into bearings and remove the grease. What you’ll notice as you clean the linkage is the bearings are well protected by the dust covers and seals so the bearings should be clean.
7. The next step is cleaning all the frame surfaces – This is important because any tough material like grit or sand that does build-up on the frame surfaces where the linkages touch may wear the hardware or frame. Clean surfaces including getting inside the threads and where the axle passes through the frame and swingarm.
8. Once everything is clean now is the time to check the condition of your bearings – Simply stick your finger in there and try to turn them. It shouldn’t take much more than a light to medium effort to turn them backward and forwards. Do some full turns to see if there are any notches, which there shouldn’t be. Then try to push them lightly in and outwards. They should be solid. If the bearings are crunchy, tight, have notchy spots then you can likely tune them up but you may need to replace them. Don’t worry, that’s normal, bearings are an expendable piece of the system like a chain because they get a lot of use. Failure to maintain or replace the bearings can result in damage to pivot hardware (also replaceable if necessary – Santa Cruz keep all hardware parts for a minimum of 10 years), damage to other components like suspension damper unit, wear on the frame or just poor performance of the suspension which means you’ll be having less fun and getting less rad.
If you do need to replace the bearings then Santa Cruz bicycles offer free lifetime bearing replacement to the original owner of the bike. To claim your bearings go to the link on their website (https://www.santacruzbicycles.com/warranty) or go see your local dealer. If you’re extremely competent at bicycle mechanics and have all the necessary specialist tool it’s something you can do at home but it’s likely best to book your bike in
for a service at your local bicycle retailer. The bearings are free and there will be a service cost, but the peace of mind knowing a trained professional will overhaul your bike is priceless.
9. Santa Cruz VPP lower linkages come with a zerks grease port fitting so you can introduce new grease into the system – Santa Cruz uses single-sided radial bearings so the inside of the bearing basically is fully sealed by the system and lives in a bath of grease (more seal). Dirt and grime can enter your bearings from time to time, especially if you love to hose your bike a lot (remember, a sparkling clean bike doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the cleanest inside – https://www.santacruzbicycles.com/news/2012-joes-corner-lifetime-bearings). But the beauty of the VPP system is that you can pump new grease into the linkage without removing any bearings, and the new grease pushes out the older grease and replaces it.
Use a good quality hydrophobic grease. Attach the grease gun to the zerks fitting. Place axles back into linkage (not shown) and pump away until old grease is seen purging out of the bearings. Then stop, remove grease gun, wipe old and excess grease away.
10. The next step is placing the right grease in the right places on the axles – Use the same grease and dab a modest amount on the shoulders of the axles and on wedges. Avoid greasing the collet of the axle because this part needs to expand and snug up on the frame when tightened to ‘lock’ the axle in place. Grease on this part will mean it might not properly tighten and could come loose.
11. Once you’ve dabbed a little smear it around evenly using your finger (not shown) – Thread lock is also important but not shown here. Dab a little on the threads ON THE FRAME, not the axle because you might accidentally introduce thread lock to the linkage and axle as you pass it through the linkage and frame later when reinstalling. A touch on the 5mm locking hex is also useful but I don’t find it necessary if I’m checking my bolt torques regularly.
Once things are clean and greased then line it all up for reinstall. Below you can see the layout of it all. Linkage, dust caps, axles, wedges, small washer and 5mm bolt for locking it in place.
12. Basically start working backward – I start with lower linkage in first, reinstall one axle at a time (usually front triangle lower pivot, then rear triangle lower linkage axle, then upper links)
13. Torque settings are much easier these days since we moved to radial bearings – Basically, there’s a space between the two bearings inside the linkage so just tighten the axle until it stops. Easy. For bikes with radial bearings (post-2017 as standard) the axles need to be tightened to 20.3Nm (180 in-lb). Bike prior to 2017 with angular contact bearings should be tightened to 6.8Nm (60 in-lb). Do this with all three axles (two lower, one upper) first and then cycle the rear triangle through some movement to check it’s all moving right.
14. Lastly, reinstall the wedged cone washers by hand – Use a 5mm hex to reinstall the cone washer bolt and tighten it to 9.0Nm (80 in-lb). Remember these bolts just lock everything into place and should prevent the system from coming loose. It’s like tightening the stem bolts after checking or tightening a headset – it just locks it all into place but doesn’t put any torque on the system itself.
15. Reinstall rear shock (attached rear eyelet bolt first) – check things over, wipe down, reinstall rear wheel, go ride.
Exploded linkage diagram (from a Nomad5 but essentially very similar for all lower-link VPP bikes):
How to replace bearings:
Santa Cruz warranties and replacements:
Contact Santa Cruz:
– Bearing replacement webform https://www.santacruzbicycles.com/warranty “Santa Cruz Bicycles pivot bearings are warranted for life to the original owner of the bike. The return process is simple: Fill out the Warranty Bearing Replacement Form, upload a copy of your purchase receipt, and we’ll get a new set of bearings out to you within 48 hours!”
– Bike archive: https://www.santacruzbicycles.com/archive/bikes – where you can find out which model you have and which bearings, hardware or tools are correct
– Tech Sheets: https://www.santacruzbicycles.com/support/tech (the manuals)
– Bearing adjustment guide (Radial and angular contact bearings) https://www.santacruzbicycles.com/support/bearing-replacement-guide
– The link to Find A Retailer is here: https://www.santacruzbicycles.com/dealers