Tech Tip: Front Fork Alignment

Big forking deal

Front fork alignment is one of those crucial adjustments that are too-often overlooked. Most telescopic forks are a bit on the flimsy side, and this is particularly true of the traditional female-slider style of fork found on most cruisers. Very often, these can be twisted out of alignment either by improper installation or after they've suffered an impact that imparts a twisting motion. Consider what happens when a heavy cruiser is dropped squarely on the handlebar, and you'll have a good idea of what I mean. Fortunately, checking and aligning them takes only a few minutes.

Start by jacking the bike up so the front wheel is off the ground; a half-inch or so will do it.

If the forks have been removed from the bike:

**1 **Set the fork height in the upper clamp, and then tighten the pinch bolts in stages to the proper torque. If you're not convinced that the heights are equal, slip the axle into place. If it doesn't glide smoothly through the forks, one leg is higher than the other, so readjust them until the axle slides through them with little or no effort.

2 Install the front fender-but don't tighten the bolts.

3 Install the front wheel and axle. If the axle threads into the fork, thread it in loosely; if it uses a nut, just snug the nut down by hand. Do not tighten the axle pinch bolts.

4 Spin the wheel as vigorously as you can and abruptly clamp on the brake. Holding the brake lever on, tighten the front axle

**5 **Lower the bike onto the ground, and, while holding the front brake, gently pump the forks a few times. You did remember to tighten those upper pinch bolts didn't you?

6 Tighten the lower clamp's pinch bolts, followed by the axle pinch bolts.

7 Tighten the fender bolts.

That's it bub, the forks are now aligned, but wait: there's more.

If you suspect the forks are tweaked but don't want to go through the whole shebang, there's a short cut.

Support the weight of the bike on the jack or center stand, and loosen the front axle. Remove the lock nut, and then try to slide the axle out of the fork. If it comes away with little effort, the forks are in alignment. If the axle has to be pounded out, it's a safe bet the forks are slightly tweaked. Of course that presumes the axle hasn't been rusted into place.

To correct a slight misalignment, loosen everything but the top clamp pinch bolts (you don't have to remove anything), and start at Step #3. Anytime the wheel is removed, perform steps #4 and #5: that'll center the wheel in the fork and provide better suspension and braking action.