Help adjusting headset

Discussion in 'Cycling Equipment' started by streetwaves, Jul 6, 2011.

  1. streetwaves

    streetwaves New Member

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    Hey guys, I replaced the stem on my bike and now the steering feels slightly rough, or just not silky smooth. Bike is only a couple months old. What's the problem? Too tight, too loose? I've tried adjusting that but to no avail. Thanks!
     
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  2. daveryanwyoming

    daveryanwyoming Well-Known Member

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    Too tight.

    A good way to check for the opposite, too loose is to stand facing the bike from the front, squeeze the front brake and try to rock the bike towards and away from you. If the headset is loose you'll feel and perhaps hear the excess play as a sort of ticking.

    Loosen the stem clamp bolts, loosen the preload adjusting top cap until you can feel the excess play as described above. Then slowly increase the bearing preload via the top cap until that excess play disappears, give the top cap perhaps an extra quarter turn from that point and secure the stem clamping bolts to lock it all down. Double check for smooth operation of the headset and you're finished.

    If there's still an issue then either one or both bearings are worn, they need some grease or perhaps something happened during the stem adjustment and everything isn't seated properly and flush. If that happens then take it back apart and inspect the parts then grease and reassemble everything carefully and readjust the headset.

    -Dave
     
  3. kdelong

    kdelong Well-Known Member

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    I am assuming that this is a threadless headset. Newer bikes seldom come with a quill headset.

    Anyway, it sounds as if your adjustment is a little tight. Loosen uo the bolts that clamp the stem to the steerer tube. Loosen the top cap bolt slightly and then tighten up your stem clamp bolts. Do this a couple of times until you get the rotation feeling smooth again. Then you want to check to make sure that you haven't loosened it too much. To do this, grasp the handle bars and the front wheel and alternately push and pull them in relation to each other, looking for any lateral play. Another way is to grasp the handlebars with the front wheel on the ground, pull the front brake and then move the bike forward and backward like you were trying to roll it. If the headset is too loose, you will feel the steerer tube wiggle slightly when you switch from forward to backward.

    Or what dave posted while I was writing this.
     
  4. streetwaves

    streetwaves New Member

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    Thanks guys, but I just tried that and it didn't help. I took everything off, and there was lubricant inside so that wasn't it. I tightened it just enough so that it wasn't too loose, and it felt even worse than before. I then tightened it more and it improves slightly but still not silky smooth. What the heck? It's a cane creek threadless and the bike is practically new. Loosening makes it worse, buy overtightening it seems dangerous and only seems to help to a point and then it reaches a plateau.
     
  5. davereo

    davereo Well-Known Member

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    You may have overtightened your cap to the point that your bearings have indented your bearing races or the balls have developed flat spots. If this is the case you will need to replace your headset.

    The advice given by others should have corrected your problem.

    In the future one trick that I use when reassembling my headset is I insert the long end (handle) of the allen wrench into the cap screw and tighten with the short end with my fingers as if it is a wing nut. This prevents you from developing enough torque to damage your bearings.

    Follow the procedure of checking recommended by previous posters.
     
  6. p38lightning

    p38lightning New Member

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    Before you replace the headset go down to your local shop and by some loose balls the same size as the caged balls in your headset. Be sure to get a greater number than in the caged ball retainers. Grease up your cups and stick in the balls leaving space for at least 1 ball, re-assemble and adjust as the others have suggested. Might fix it.
     
  7. davereo

    davereo Well-Known Member

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    Agreed +1
     
  8. alfeng

    alfeng Well-Known Member

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    FWIW. I had a problem adjusting ONE headset which I found perplexing ...

    It turns out that the "bottom" contact surface of the STEM I had chosen needed to be faced ...

    • I was flipping the particular stem over to lower the handlebars by whatever fraction of an inch doing so did ... the "top" contact surface (which had been on the bottom, before) was "okay"

    So, presuming the bearings are still "okay" on your headset, try putting your old stem on the bike ... if you can adjust the headset, then your stem may also need to be faced.

    A good FLAT FILE and some patience will remedy a stem whose lower contact surface is not square ...

    BTW. You can use a piece of notebook paper to check whether-or-not the stem is square.
     
  9. kdelong

    kdelong Well-Known Member

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    Are you talking about rubbing graphite on the face of the stem and then pressing it against the paper to leave an impression. If it is oblong, the stem needs faced and if it is round, the stem is OK?
     
  10. alfeng

    alfeng Well-Known Member

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    What you are suggesting might work, but it is too subtle for me ...
    INSTEAD, I used the same technique that I have previously recommended for testing whether a BB shell is square, or not:
    • I simply roll a fresh piece of typing/copy/notebook/whatever paper into a tube ...
    • the rolled up paper is inserted into the stem in lieu of the steerer & allowed to unroll so that its OD equals the ID of the stem/BB/whatever ...
    • ONE edge of the rolled up paper is then set flush alongside the surface being checked-for-square ...
    • the OTHER edge is squared ...
    • then, ANY deviation between whatever edge is being checked & the paper is assessed

    The particular stem (Bontrager ,,, nice quality control!?!), BTW, which was giving me problems had a deviation of over 1mm, so there was NO WAY that I could get the headset (Campagnolo) properly adjusted.

    • the inner diameter of a stem is small enough that you could just take a cardboard TP core, cut a slice parallel to its axis, insert it into your stem, and check-for-square in the manner described above.
     
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