How To: Stanchion Salvage
Crashing and mountain biking go hand in hand. Everybody does it from time to time; it’s part of the learning process and you don’t gain new skills without testing your limits from time to time. Most of the time you'll dust yourself off after a roll in the dirt. Maybe you'll have a bruise or scrape but they heal soon enough. If you're unlucky, the bike will cop some damage and they don't heal, not without making your wallet lighter first anyway!
The following fix may not be approved by suspension manufacturers but our experience has shown that it's a workable solution, at least in the short-term. Do a thorough job and your fork will still perform as intended without impacting on anything other than the aesthetics.
What You'll Need
To make a clean and tidy repair without exacerbating the damage, it's best to head to the hardware store. Grab a fresh pack of box cutter style blades as well as some 1,200 grit emery paper - that's the extra-fine stuff. You'll also need disc brake cleaner (or isopropyl alcohol) and some nail polish (choose an appropriate colour). Some finishing polish is also a good idea. If the damage is substantial, especially if it was ridden prior to noticing the scratches, it's worth giving your fork a strip-down and lower leg service. You may even need new wiper seals, so additional tools, oils and suspension grease will also be required.
Step 1 - Start by running a sharp, clean blade over the damaged area, using a brand new blade if possible. You should feel any raised edges. Swipe the blade back and forth to shave off any raised metal and flatten the area. Clean the blade frequently and continue until it glides over the surface without snagging.
Step 2 - The blade used in step one should deal with any sharp edges that protruded from the surface. Giving the area a once-over with some fine 1,200 grit emery paper will soften the edges on any depressions. As much as possible, focus your efforts on the scratches without sanding away an undamaged portion of stanchion tube.
Step 3 - Feel the area with your finger and give it a scratch with your fingernail - it should be pretty smooth now. If you're happy with your handiwork, give the inner leg a clean with some disc brake cleaner or isopropyl alcohol. This will flush away any metal debris and prepare the surface for the following step.
Step 4 - Select a colour that closely matches your stanchion and paint the scratches with some nail polish. The aim is to get it into the bottom of each scratch - it'll serve as a filler - but it is hard not to paint a bit of the surrounding area, so don't worry if you do. Some people also recommend epoxy resin for this application, but I've had good success with nail polish, and the fact it comes in a wide range of colours doesn't hurt either.
Step 5 - It's really important that you allow the nail polish to completely dry and harden. Grab the 1,200 grit emery paper and give the surface a wet sand. Frequent rinsing with water helps to flush away the particles and provides a cleaner finish. Rub away until the painted surface is no longer raised above the original stanchion.
Step 6 - As a finishing step, use some polish and a soft rag to clean off any remnants after sanding. This will leave a super-smooth finish. For smaller scratches (not deep gouges like our fork had), a good polish may suffice. Even a light sand with 1,200 grit wet-and-dry followed by a polish will do a decent job of restoring lighter scuff marks.
Step 7 - And there you go, this is how our fork turned out after we'd finished. As stated in the intro, we're not suggesting this as the ideal solution, and badly scratched stanchions will still need replacing at some point, but this simple fix is far better than continuing to ride with sharp edges that can cut away at your seals and bushes.