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Old 12-04-05, 09:59 PM   #1
TallRider
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I recently bought a late 80's Centurion off of eBay, and have been overhauling it in my spare time. After stripping the frame and applying frame saver, I just repacked the headset. It's a 105 threaded version with cage bearings. Pretty standard design for the time, relatively light with steel bearing races. The races themselves are smooth, not pitted at all, and the bearings look to be in fine shape - not perfectly smooth, but close with few scratches. The bearings are in retainers, and there's not any bearings missing.

After I packed the headset with grease and began adjusting it, I found that there was no happy medium between "loose with play" and "tight so won't turn easily". If it's tightened so that the fork turns comfortably, there's a fair bit of play when I hold the fork tips and alternately pull and push them with respect to the main frame. If I tighten the headset enough so that there's no play - and I can barely get it this far - then the fork doesn't turn easily. Though, in this state the fork still turns smoothly - the resistance is constant - but there's a fair bit of resistance.

Now, I don't think that the amount of resistance will make steering difficult, and riding no-handed should still be fine. However, I'm worried that
(a) the headset might be too tight, which will cause it to pit and wear out
(b) or perhaps the bearings are worn down and aren't wide enough to properly fill the open space betwen the male and female bearing races, thus resulting in the play

So, does any of this sound problematic? I've got a fair bit of mechanical experience, but haven't worked in a shop in 10 years and haven't had this issue with threaded headsets in recent experience. I overhauled the LX headset on my good bike this summer - it has cartridge bearings and I can get it adjusted so that there is no play and the fork spins 10 rotations with a good flick of the wrist. But it's a very different (and more expensive) design.

Last edited by TallRider; 12-04-05 at 10:34 PM.
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Old 12-04-05, 10:17 PM   #2
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Are the cups tight in the headtube?

Is the fork crown-race on the fork securely?

Make sure that the bearing-retainers aren't in backwards...
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Old 12-04-05, 10:18 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DannoXYZ
Make sure that the bearing-retainers aren't in backwards...
Good thing to check, but they're in correctly. And if they weren't, I don't think it would spin with constant resistance.
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Originally Posted by DannoXYZ
Are the cups tight in the headtube? Is the fork crown-race on the fork securely?
I haven't tested the cups or fork-crown race, but I didn't remove them from the bike or do anything that would loosen them (unless application of frame saver would affect stuff here, which I doubt).
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Old 12-04-05, 10:21 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by timcupery
Good thing to check, but they're in correctly. And if they weren't, I don't think it would spin with constant resistance.
Did you use loose ball bearings or retainers and are they in correctly. If you used loose bearings and have too many in that would cause what you have described.
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Old 12-04-05, 10:22 PM   #5
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If the cups and the crown race are not loose, my money would also be on the bearings. Either upside down, wrong cage(Some of them will contact the race) or wrong size. The only other thing I can think of is a seal is upside down.

Even if the bearing cages are upside down they will still be suprisingly smooth as long as there is plenty of grease in there.
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Old 12-04-05, 10:23 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gm1230126
Did you use loose ball bearings or retainers and are they in correctly. If you used loose bearings and have too many in that would cause what you have described.
Retainers. And yeah, they're in correctly.

The bearings are the originals that came in the headset; they looked to be fine, I couldn't see any reason to not re-use them.

Also, I assume that the top and bottom races and bearings are equal (they look it), but just in case, I switched the bearings+retainers between top and bottom. Symptoms exactly the same, though.

Last edited by TallRider; 01-04-06 at 05:59 PM.
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Old 12-04-05, 10:29 PM   #7
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Did you forget to put back a bearing or two?
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Old 12-04-05, 10:32 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BostonFixed
Did you forget to put back a bearing or two?
Bearings are in retainers; they're all in there.
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Old 12-04-05, 10:40 PM   #9
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Do you have a finger caught in the retainer?
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Old 12-04-05, 10:42 PM   #10
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The Shimano retainers are weird, they're the reverse of normal kind. The solid ring of the retainer actually faces down into the cup, so that the fingers curl up at you. Easy test is to use loose bearings and see if it still does it.

Could also be they substituted another top-race from another headset and the adjustable cup doesn't quite fit it properly... or the crown-race...
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Old 12-04-05, 10:49 PM   #11
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I'll try flipping the retainers (or at least look at them again, to see if flipping would make any sense), but I'm pretty sure they're in correctly. I may buy new (loose) bearings after I've exchausted everything else.

But I'll have to pull both of my big toes out of the retainers first

Quote:
Originally Posted by DannoXYZ
Could also be they substituted another top-race from another headset and the adjustable cup doesn't quite fit it properly... or the crown-race...
This is something I'll have to look at. The fork and the headset are both original, so I doubt this is the case, but that fits the symptoms. The play is at the bottom race, not the top race (and this bike has a 21cm head-tube).
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Old 12-04-05, 11:23 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DannoXYZ
Could also be they substituted another top-race from another headset and the adjustable cup doesn't quite fit it properly... or the crown-race...
Quote:
Originally Posted by timcupery
This is something I'll have to look at. The fork and the headset are both original, so I doubt this is the case, but that fits the symptoms. The play is at the bottom race, not the top race (and this bike has a 21cm head-tube).
Actually, this seems to be the problem. Good call. There's a lot of play at the bottom race, and it's because of the crown-race being too small. As more evidence to this point, the crown-race is silver, while the race in the top of the head-tube (the one that does fit fine, and has no play) is black. So it appears that the crown-race isn't original to the headset.

So, what's the odds of finding the correct race for this through my LBS? If so, I'll do that - it's a nice headset - but it's probably easier and cheaper to just install a new headset. I've got a YST threaded 1" headsit sitting around. Not quite as nice as the 105, but it's good and not too heavy.
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Old 12-05-05, 04:34 AM   #13
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My guess is someone threw in the wrong size bearing retainers at some point.
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Old 12-05-05, 05:08 AM   #14
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I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but my bet is that your frame has an ovalized headset. If you ride a bike with a loose headset for too long, it will reshape the ends of the headtube. Get a good caliper and try measuring the top of your headtube front-to-back and side-to-side.
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Old 12-05-05, 08:50 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Moose
My guess is someone threw in the wrong size bearing retainers at some point.
I don't think this is the case; the bearing retainers are exactly the same top and bottom, and the top one fits perfectly, and the bottom one is loose. Also, the crown-race (which I think is the cause of the looseness) is silver while the race at the top of the headtube is black; the crown race looks like it's a different product than the rest of parts of the headset.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Retro Grouch
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but my bet is that your frame has an ovalized headset. If you ride a bike with a loose headset for too long, it will reshape the ends of the headtube. Get a good caliper and try measuring the top of your headtube front-to-back and side-to-side.
I'll check on this. Hope it's not the case. If this comes from having a loose headset generally, would it also be caused by this "special" sort of looseness from having a crown race that's a bit small?
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Old 12-05-05, 08:55 AM   #16
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if the thing aint ovalized, repack it with loose balls. can't really go wrong, and will spin better.
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Old 12-05-05, 09:14 AM   #17
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to test the ovalized idea, if you don't have quick access to calipers, check for play front-to-back then side-to-side.
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Old 12-05-05, 09:25 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by genericbikedude
if the thing aint ovalized, repack it with loose balls. can't really go wrong, and will spin better.
Will loose balls allow me to use a race that's too small?

Edit: just talked to mechanic at my LBS, and the answer to this is No.
Also, he said that if the head-tube were ovalized, then I should be able to just pull the cup out of the bottom of the head tube... which I can't. So it looks as if this isn't ovalized.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bikebros
to test the ovalized idea, if you don't have quick access to calipers, check for play front-to-back then side-to-side.
This isn't a perfect test because there's play to begin with, but it seems that there's a little more play front-to-back than side-to-side... but that might be just because I'm more easily able to brace the frame in front-to-back plane. Not a big difference.

Last edited by TallRider; 12-05-05 at 09:50 AM.
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Old 12-05-05, 10:24 AM   #19
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Why reuse bearings when they're so cheap? Throw away those retainers and put new loose balls in it.
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Old 12-05-05, 10:33 AM   #20
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Prior to you disassembling and repacking the headset when you got the bike, how did the headset adjustment feel?
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Old 12-05-05, 10:44 AM   #21
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Your bike has the original fork, as I recall from the photos, so it seems unlikely that they put an alien crown race into it. The finish on the upper and lower crown races is not necessarily going to match. It's been a long time since I dealt with that generation of 105, so I don't recall whether it matched on 105.

I've seen SOOO many newbies get their retainers upside down and be firmly convinced that it's in the right way because it "looks right" that way. So I'm with the guys opining that's what happened there.
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Old 12-05-05, 11:11 AM   #22
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a bent steerer tube can cause similar results, binding in conjunction with looseness.
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Old 12-05-05, 11:26 AM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by timcupery
if the head-tube were ovalized, then I should be able to just pull the cup out of the bottom of the head tube... which I can't. So it looks as if this isn't ovalized.
Not true. It can be ovalized and still hold in there tightly. I had an ovalized tube that resulted in a lot of play front to back. It was solved by pressing a shim, cut from a soda can, into the head tube along with the cup.
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Old 12-05-05, 12:05 PM   #24
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I think the doomsday sayers may be a bit premature. Before you start measuring for ovalized headtubes etc, just put loose balls in there. Its the simplest test. And if you haven't already, be sure all the cups and races are secure.
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Old 12-05-05, 12:29 PM   #25
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@Dirtdrop and San Rensho: I'll put loose balls in, at least on the bottom. Those are the bearings that experience higher stresses. But it's still weird that the bearings with retainers aren't big enough to fill the gap between crown-race and bearing cup, when these are the bearings that came with this era of Shimano headsets.

@nick burns: good question, but I didn't carefully feel the headset and fork play before stripping the bike down. It felt fine, but there wasn't any careful inspection.

@mechBgon: you're right, the diff finish isn't necessarily an indicator that the crown-race isn't the original 105. But combined with the clear bad fat, it seems more likely.
However, the fact that all of the other parts on the bike are original, and that no bearings were pitted and the caliper brakes were susprisingly clean (I barely needed to touch them, certainly no overhauling), it does seem unlikely that the crown-race was ever replaced. That said, why is it clearly loose then?

@dafydd: I'll check on the possibility of a bent steerer tube.

@jbone: good to know that an ovalized head tube could still hold the bearing cup tightly. That was my intuition on this, but I don't have nearly the experience that this mechanic does.
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