Front Wheel Alignment (Including Wheel Removal)
An often-overlooked factor when it comes to the action of your motorcycle’s front forks is the front wheel alignment. Specifically, this refers to the positioning of the right axle carrier on the axle. If the axle carrier is out of alignment on the axle, it can lead to a stiction-causing bind. The bind results in the forks being unable to move as freely through the first few inches of travel as they’re capable. In action, this will lead to a harsher feel over smaller chop.
It doesn’t matter if the forks are set up for pro-level motocross stiffness, or ultra-plush adventure riding. The stiction resulting from a bound axle carrier will lead to a harsher feel over smaller bumps and chop. Following the prescribed technique below will ensure that your forks move as freely as they’re able.
The following steps are for removing and replacing the axle and front wheel, then checking the alignment. If you do not need to remove the axle, and simply wish to check the alignment, refer this article’s sister post by Clicking Here.
Make sure your bike is on a stable stand and the front wheel is off the ground.
Loosen and remove the axle nut, then loosen all four axle carrier pinch bolts.
Slide the axle out to remove it. If your axle does not slide out easily, use a rubber mallet to lightly tap it out. Do not use a metal hammer, as this can damage the axle threads.
Clean the axle and polish it to remove any scuffing or build-up that may potentially bind the axle in the carrier. Also, check for any burrs or damage on the edge of the axle (non-thread side, especially) that may be catching the carrier. Lightly sand any burrs and polish any areas to make sure the axle is smooth. Re-grease the axle with a light coating of waterproof grease or assembly lube.
Install front wheel and fully slide the axle through.
Making sure the axle has slid through fully, lightly snug the axle nut.
Tighten at least one of the right- (non-brake) side pinch bolts. This prevents the axle from spinning while tightening the nut.
Now, tighten the axle nut. If you’re unsure of how tight to get the nut, refer to your manufacturer’s specifications.
Next, snug the left- (brake) side pinch bolts.
Then, loosen the right-side pinch bolts.
With the right- (non-brake) side pinch bolts loosened, make sure the axle carrier floats freely on the axle. This is absolutely crucial. Using your hands, push the axle carrier toward and away from the wheel on the axle. The carrier should move a few millimeters in either direction without much effort.
*Note: If the axle carrier does not move freely, remove the axle and diagnose the cause. As before, check for any scuffing, burring, or damage, and polish or lightly sand accordingly. Then, re-grease the axle and begin again from step 5 in this list.
Having checked that the axle is free floating, spin the front wheel with some force.
Firmly pull the front brake lever to bring the wheel to an abrupt stop.
The force of the wheel abruptly stopping should allow the axle to settle into its “happy spot” in the axle carrier. You can repeat the process of moving the axle carrier back and forth on the axle, then spinning the wheel and applying the brake, to make sure it finds the same spot each time.
*Note: The same effect can be created by compressing the forks while the bike is on the stand. The one caveat is that the front wheel needs to come back up off the ground in between each compression. This removes the pressure and weight from the axle carrier, allowing it to float to its happy place on the axle. This technique can be a bit cumbersome. Ideally, the axle carrier should float easy enough that spinning the wheel and pulling the brake lever to abruptly stop it will allow the axle to find its home.
Once you’ve determined the axle has found its sweet spot, torque the pinch bolts to the manufacturer’s specifications.
Get out and enjoy the ride!