How To Repair Bicycle Headset Bearings

​If I were to ask you if you knew how to tell if your threadless bike headset was loose, could you tell me? I would guess that most people probably couldn’t and would just let their bike shop mechanics figure it out for them instead. Not all bike repairs need to be done at the bike shop though. This informative article shows you how to repair bikes easily, at home and with basic tools. Interested?

Bike Headset (Threadless versus Threaded)

​As you can see in the title, there are basically 2 types of headsets; threaded versus threadless. Before we describe the difference, let’s start with what a bike headset actually is and does?

According to the wiki article “Headset (Bicycle Part)”, your bike’s headset is basically the mechanism that allows your front forks and handlebars to rotate freely within your headtube. For a good illustration of the parts of a bike, including the headtube, see the article how to inspect your bike frame. Your bike’s headset consists of numerous parts (including bearings) that attach right to your bike frame.

The picture below shows you the attachment points on your bike’s headtube (note the 2 silver pieces on the black bike frame).

How To Repair Bikes – The Threadless Headset

According to the wiki article “Headset (Bicycle Part)”, your bike’s headset is basically the mechanism that allows your front forks and handlebars to rotate freely within your headtube. For a good illustration of the parts of a bike, including the headtube, see the article how to inspect your bike frame. Your bike’s headset consists of numerous parts (including bearings) that attach right to your bike frame.

​Up until the late 1990’s, almost all bikes had the threadless headsets installed. It was at this time that the threadless ones came on the market and started to become the norm (especially for higher end bicycles). Why?

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    ​These headsets are much cheaper for the bike manufacturers since the front fork no longer needed to be threaded as well to attach itself to the headset. This now meant that the same fork could attach to any other bike with a threadless setup.
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    ​The removal and replacement of these headsets are much quicker and easier.
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    ​Even though not threaded onto the bike fork, the threadless headset is actually attached more securely and rigidly than its threaded cousin.
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    ​The most significant difference for all of use that do our own wrenching, is that the threadless versions do not need expensive tools to replace or repair them (as compared to their threaded counterparts). A simple Hex key is really all that is required.

​Now that we know what a headset is and how it functions, let’s revisit one of my initial questions (i.e. would you be able to tell if your headset was loose).

In Bicycling.com’s article on Bike Headset Repair, they provide a very simple test to check for headset tightness (or in this case looseness).

How to Check Your Headset for Looseness

In Bicycling.com’s article on Bike Headset Repair, they provide a very simple test to check for headset tightness (or in this case looseness).

One of the main signs that your headset needs to be tightened is that it will be quite noisy while you ride. The noise is coming from your front forks bouncing back and forth between the headset. If left in this state you are going to have a major repair on your hands because of the damage that it is doing. If you cannot hear your headset “rattling”, you should also try this.

First off, grab you front brake with your left hand and place your right hand over the joint between the headset bearings. Holding your brake, rock your bike back and forth and feel for any movement (“play”) whatsoever in your headset (with your right hand). If you feel movement, you have a loose headset and need to do the following simple procedure.

Loose Headset No Longer (Do the Following)

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    ​Loosen your stem’s pinch bolts so that the stem can move unobstructed on your fork’s tube.
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    ​Give the top cap bolt a bit of a tighten by moving it one-quarter turn.
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    ​Tighten the stem pinch bolts back up and see if the headset still feels loose. If it does, go back to step #1.
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    ​Now that you’ve fixed the looseness issue, you must now check to make sure that you haven’t over tightened the headset. To check, simply lift the bike off the ground and tilt it forward. Push the handlebar to one side and let the wheel swing back down. If the wheel stops at any angle but straight down, then your headset is too tight. You will need to loosen the pinch bolts (again) and back off the top cap bolt about one-eighth of a turn. Once loosen, tighten the bolts back up and re-do the wheel drop test. Do this until the wheel ends up pointing straight down.

​It’s As Easy As That!

It’s As Easy As That!

There you have it, a simple process to check for headset looseness as well as a simple test for fixing the problem it you do find one. Do you have any comments or questions on bike headsets or bike maintenance in general? If you do, I’d love to hear from you! Comment on this article and let’s get the discussions flowing!

Ride hard but safely!

Robert Flaherty