There is a system to installing your front wheel yet the proper steps are often ignored. Following the right steps to install the front wheel is one of the most important things you can do to your machine in terms of safety and suspension performance. When your front wheel is installed incorrectly your forks work poorly and cause wear on expensive parts. If you follow the rules below and perform them in order, wheel installation is pain free.
Before you start make sure your head set bearings are adjusted, steering stem bolt is tight and both fork tubes are set to the same height. Torque the triple clamp pinch bolts to the manufacturers specification, usually 9 to 16 ft-lbs. The lower clamp is critical as your fork bushings slide past it and an over tightened clamp can distort your fork tube.
The first rule is to prep your front axle. If it has signs of rust or oxidation polish it smooth with fine sand paper or a Scotch Brite pad. Make sure that the end of the axle has not been mushroomed from a hammer because it will bind in the fork lug when you install it.
Motocross jumps, extreme terrain and crashing can bend an axle so check it on a flat surface to make sure it is straight. Inspect your axle lugs for nicks and oxidation because they can prevent your axle from moving freely when you install it. Apply a thin layer of grease on your axle before you install your front wheel and make sure your pinch bolts are loose. You should be able to install your axle by hand or with the light tap of a soft mallet.
The next rule is to tighten the axle nut before you tighten the axle pinch bolts.
On Japanese bikes tighten the axle using the proper socket on the nut and a hex wrench inside the right side of the axle.
If you don’t have the correct size hex wrench in your toolbox the backside of a 5/8″ spark plug socket will fit in most front axles. After you have tightened the axle nut you can torque the left side axle pinch bolts to spec, usually 12-16 ft-lbs. You should tighten them gradually and evenly. If these bolts are over tightened they can distort the axle lug out of round and cause the axle to bind in the future. After you have torqued the left side pinch bolts you can fully torque the axle nut. At this point, the front wheel, axle, nut, and collars have been tightened to the left fork leg and the right fork leg is loose and able to float on the axle.
The final rule is to align the right fork leg.
Start by making sure the right fork axle lug will move easily a few millimeters left to right over the axle.
You can put a flat blade screwdriver in the slot of the axle lug to help make it slide.
Once you are certain the lug is able to move freely on it’s own, compress the front forks a few times. This allows the fork leg to self align perfectly on the axle.
Once you are satisfied that the fork leg is aligned, torque the right axle pinch bolts to spec. Finally, compress your front brake lever a few times in case you spread your brake pads while you installing your wheel.