Here’s Why Your Motorcycle Shock Is Leaking

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The suspension system on a motorcycle has some important components to ensure a comfortable ride. These components, including the shocks, get worn out over time and may need to be replaced. Some of that wear may be indicated by leaks.

Why is my motorcycle shock leaking? Your motorcycle shock is leaking because it is worn out and the o-rings need replacing, damage was caused from bottoming out, or corrosion has occurred inside.  A motorcycle shock leak means the hydraulic fluid is escaping which leaves the shock to be less effective and should be repaired as soon as possible.

Riding your motorcycle should be fun and comfortable. A leaking shock could mean a bumpy ride and it will make it uncomfortable for you. Understanding why your motorcycle shock is leaking will help you understand what actions need to be taken to keep your motorcycle in great shape. 

Reasons A Motorcycle Shock Leaks

First, let’s explain how a motorcycle shock works so you can better understand why and where that leak is coming from.

Disclaimer: In America, the term “shocks” on a motorcycle are usually referred to the rear shocks and the front shock mechanism is referred to as the front forks. Those of you outside of the U.S. may also refer to the front forks as shocks. The principle is the same in this article and is applicable to both rear shocks and front forks. The front forks of a motorcycle also have a spring, they’re just inside rather than outside like the rear shocks. That being said, sometimes rear shocks don’t have a hydraulic system at all and just have a spring. This is usually seen on older motorcycles.

Motorcycle shocks are an extremely important component; they were created to absorb the energy created by bumps you hit in the road while riding and provide more comfort. A leaking shock means it’s not going to work properly. Without a properly working shock, you are left with an uncomfortable ride and also placed in danger as a rider. Shocks should absorb bumps in the road, but when they don’t work, that means you absorb the bumps.  This increases your risk of falling off, yikes!

A motorcycle shock, also known as a “dampener,” has two main components: a spring and a piston. During a motorcycle ride, you’ll hit some bumps which will cause the shock to move up and down.  This will compress the hydraulic fluid inside the piston which, in turn, will cause the piston to move slowly and absorb a lot of the vibrations caused by the bump.  Essentially, it dampens a lot of the energy a bump can cause on a motorcycle.

The most common reason that a shock leaks is simply because it’s worn out. After taking so many thousands of bumps, the shock will begin to break down and let out the fluid that’s inside. The o-rings are usually the first to go so be sure to check those first.

Another reason why your motorcycle shock could be leaking is that you may have recently hit a huge bump. This could have caused the shock to “bottom out”. This means the shock was pushed beyond its designed limits and damaged some components as a consequence. 

Bottoming out your motorcycle shock can also happen if it is overloaded. This means the weight that the motorcycle is carrying is too much for the shock. If you are planning a long trip on your motorcycle, be sure to pack light and consult your owner’s manual about your motorcycle’s weight limit.

Lastly, one of the most common reasons a motorcycle shock leaks could be due to corrosion.  This is usually caused by water that finds its way inside of the shock and starts rusting and damaging components.  It can also corrode the outside casings which exposes the inner parts to the elements. Once the rust starts happening, the structure is compromised and its effectiveness is greatly impacted.  

What To Do Once A Motorcycle Shock Starts Leaking

Once you notice a leak in your motorcycle shock, it’s important to address it as soon as possible. Your motorcycle shock keeps you in your seat and you probably want to keep it that way. If you didn’t have a working shock to absorb those bumps, you could very well get thrown off your motorcycle.

A leaking motorcycle shock looks a little different than a normal leak. You will see that dirt and debris have begun to gather on the bottom part of the shock where the seals are because the oil is attracting it. The shafts will be oily when normally they should be completely dry.

Make sure your motorcycle shock is not leaking onto any other parts of your motorcycle. In most cases they won’t, but it’s a good idea to check since hydraulic fluid can cause corrosion for those other parts.

If your motorcycle has a good bit of miles on it, it may be a good idea to rebuild or replace the shocks as soon as you can. It is possible to keep riding with a leaking shock, but it should be addressed as soon as possible so further damage doesn’t happen to the rest of your motorcycle.

A shock leak is a good sign that there may be other maintenance items that need to be addressed on your bike as well. Inspect your motorcycle for other parts that may need some attention.

Can You Fix A Leaking Shock Or Do You Have To Replace It?

When it comes to deciding the proper repair for your motorcycle shock, it is important to consult your manual. Sometimes you can rebuild your motorcycle shock. This will depend on the design of the shock that is currently on your motorcycle. 

Many motorcycle shocks will be rebuildable. If you decide to rebuild your motorcycle shock yourself, be prepared to study how to properly do this. Each shock will open and come apart a bit differently. 

Some shocks may not have rebuildable parts available. This means the only option would be to find a new shock replacement.  There may be shocks from other motorcycles that can fit your application that are rebuildable if your shock has been discontinued.

It is important to always consult a motorcycle technician if you’re unsure about a certain shock fitting your bike.  This may be as simple as contacting your local dealership over the phone and having a quick conversation. The last thing you want to do is get thrown off your bike for using the wrong shock. 

This concept is also important to remember when using parts to rebuild your shock. There is a different stiffness across each type of shock. Using the wrong part to rebuild it could cause you to feel every bump in the road. 

There are a few different companies you can mail your shock to and get it rebuilt if you do not feel comfortable rebuilding it yourself. This is a good in-between of not being able to rebuild it yourself but don’t want to pay for brand new shocks.

How To Prolong The Life Of Motorcycle Shocks

Your motorcycle shocks require little to no maintenance. However, there are a few things you can do to prolong the life of your shocks.

The first and most important thing is avoiding harsh bumps. This means when you are riding on the road, avoid potholes, objects in the road, and bumpy road situations. Sometimes your route may take you on an old abandoned road that has plenty of bumps. The more bumps you hit, the faster your motorcycle shock will wear out.

Keeping your motorcycle on a designated road also helps prolong the life of your motorcycle shocks. Most motorcycles were designed for road use only with the exception of a few. This means they are supposed to be driven on paved roads. Taking your motorcycle offroad or riding it on an offroad trail will significantly decrease the life of your motorcycle shocks. 

Not only does this wear them out sooner, but rocks or other debris are easily kicked up which damages the outside of the spring and/or piston which will cause premature failure.

A driving habit that you can develop to prolong your motorcycle shocks is to drive smart. Harsh braking or sudden stops can also cause premature shock failure. Know that taking your motorcycle to the track will put extensive wear on components including your motorcycle shocks. 

Lastly, crazy stunts can cause wear on your motorcycle shocks. Avoid doing wheelies or related stunts to prolong the life of your shocks.

Regardless of your choice to buy a new shock or to rebuild it, it is important to get it done when you can and do it right. Take care of your motorcycle and it will take great care of you when you are on the road. Ride safe, have fun, and cruise on! 

This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.

Kyle Cannon

Kyle currently works as a mechanical engineer and graduated with a minor in automotive engineering. He loves restoring motorcycles, has a vast knowledge of how they work, and has sold his restoration projects to customers from all over the United States.

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