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How To: Service A Headset

How To: Service A Headset

Ever wondered how to service and adjust your headset? If so, then watch the video above…

(And apologies for some of that video being a bit ‘cut and shut’ but some eegit deleted a load of the original video files and so we had to shoot some of it again.)

It amazes me how many people are scared of trying to adjust their headset, let alone strip it apart and service it. Maybe it’s because it contains those mystical bearing things? The fact is though that like the vast majority of jobs on a bike this one is actually really simple once you know how to do it.

If you’ve got a cartridge bearing headset then regular maintenance isn’t quite so much of an issue (although it certainly won’t do any harm and it’ll help keep any creaks at bay), but if you have one that uses loose bearings then a bit of a clean and re-grease every so often will help keep it running smoothly for years.

Aside from dirt and water infested grease the other biggest headset killer is poor adjustment, and this counts just as much for cartridge bearing headsets as it does loose bearing ones (although at least with cartridge bearings you are less likely to damage the cups themselves). Your headset should allow you to turn your bars nice and smoothly. If you over-tighten it everything will feel stiff and this will reduce the life of your bearings. On the flip side if it’s too loose then it will rock back and forth with each impact and braking force, effectively trying to smash your bearings to pieces each time.

Your headset should be tightened so that any play is only just removed, and if you feel any play start to creep in whilst out on a ride you should try and remove it as soon as possible. It’s an easy job that only requires an allen key or two. If you find that your headset feels rough even though you have only just taken the play out then your bearings are obviously shot. Whether this means a new headset or just some bearings depends on the type of headset you have, and what you find when you take it all apart…

Good luck! And if you’ve got any questions then just fire away…

Sponsored by ATG Training: authorised by the Association of Cycle Traders to provide Cytech technical training courses.

Dirt users are entitled to a 50% discount off Cytech Technical One Theory Online (down from £139.99 to £69.99). Just quote the code: DIRT001. The offer expires 30/9/12 and you can find out more and apply here.

  1. sx trail

    I use and awl to remove the conical collar.

  2. sx trail

    Thank for making this accessible for everyone.

  3. Will

    Holy rusted fork race Batman! That vertical bike trick just blew my mind!

  4. tea leaves

    charge blender, damn fine bicycle. they dont make it anymore dont you know. sad times

    1. ADHD

      Nope, it’s a shame. Instead they make hipster fixies, 29ers etc. but no blender. Bring back the blender!

  5. joe

    Dont think you used enough grease there kid………

  6. paulhaysom

    Yup, never seen this trick!

  7. Fishybob

    Maybe a silly question but do you need to put this much grease for sealed bearings headsets? The ones on my bike came assembled completely dry . I’ve since put a thin coat of grease but i’m still getting a few creaks

    1. Ed

      Not a silly question. The answer is no, you need nothing like as much with a cartridge bearing headset. In that case all you want to do is make sure that all the surfaces are covered in fine layer of grease. If you’re riding in really horrible conditions on a regular basis you might want to put a little bit more on the seals of the bearings, just to help fill up any gaps and try and stop any contamination even getting to the seals.
      The headset in the video didn’t use cartridge bearings and if you’ve got a headset like that I’d personally chuck as much grease in there as you can. The reason being that whilst I suppose the primary reason for grease is lubrication, it also does a bloody good job of keeping dirt and water out…but only if there’s enough to fill up any gaps.
      Grease is also cheap and you’ve got to be pretty anal to be worried about any extra weight. As for the type of grease you should use, definitely go for something nice and thick and sticky. Unlike wheel bearings you don’t have to worry about any drag issues caused by thick grease, you just want it to stay where you put it.
      As for you still having a few creaks after greasing up your headset with a thin layer of grease it could well be that it is the headset cups creaking in the frame. This is actually fairly common as so many headset cups are fitted without any grease on them, and they’re not faced properly, and it only takes a tiny amount of movement to create a creak. Unfortunately to see if this is the problem you’ll have to be a fairly competent mechanic with some decent tools, otherwise it’s a case of seeing your friendly local mechanic. Still you can obviously take a headset apart so at the very worst you can take your bike in without the forks fitted and then it shouldn’t cost much at all.


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