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Bicycle Mechanics Broken bottom bracket? Tacoed wheel? If you're having problems with your bicycle, or just need help fixing a flat, drop in here for the latest on bicycle mechanics & bicycle maintenance.

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Old 12-18-07, 08:40 AM   #1
Blinksaw182
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Threaded headset adjustment? Sealed?

I have a mid 90's mountain bike that I'm using as a bad weather bike. I can't seem to get the headset adjusted right. If I get all the play out it, then it seems too tight. If I make it spin smoothly without any obvious movement (grabbing and shaking the stem), it shudders when I hit the front brake. It did have 22 caged bearings before and I replaced them with 25 loose bearings. Could that have something to do with it? So I basically have two questions: 1. Is there something I'm missing here that's keeping the adjustment from happening? Is the headset just worn and I need a new one? 2. I have seen a threaded cartridge headset from Shimano. It's the only kind I've seen. Is there any adjustment needed there or is it just tighten and go? Thanks in advance for all the help.
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Old 12-18-07, 09:28 AM   #2
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I have used the old style but not bikes with front brakes. I have the Shimano sealed cartridge on my Xtracycle and the adjustment is still the same as the older style but a different style of bearings. Mine was easy to get right on the adjustment but sadly after a year, it has indexed/brinnelled itself.
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Old 12-18-07, 09:32 AM   #3
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It's possible you've put too many loose balls in the cups. For headsets, you should fill the cup with balls until the last ball won't sit down properly in the cup, then remove that last ball plus one more. If you don't do it this way, the headset will bind, which may be what's happening when you say it's too tight.
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Old 12-18-07, 09:43 AM   #4
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Good advice above.

Or the balls are the wrong size.

Or, even with the right size and number they are not sitting nicely in the races when you try to adjust it. This is hard on a headset sometimes.

Or, you need another spacer in there because the cap is bottoming out on the steering tube before it is totally firm.

Or, the races and cones are just too far gone.

Remember that since there is no power transfer through the headset (unlike BB or hubs) if you have to, you can err on the side of making it too tight. The worst that can happen is that you will trash an already comprimised headset. Go feel a blingy Chris King headset sometime and notice how there is a ton of bearing resistance. Because you have the leverage multiplyer of the handlebars to steer with you can put up with a lot more resistance than you might guess. To be clear, on a headset like this you ideally want very little resistance so the bearings last a long time, but since yours already has worn races (I presume, since you got rid of the bearing cages) you might give it a go.

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Old 12-18-07, 10:03 AM   #5
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+1 on the above. As you're already living on borrowed headset time, there's no downside to tightening it up and riding the hell out of it. A replacement can be had down the road for ~$20.
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Old 12-18-07, 10:06 AM   #6
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I would say worn races. Had that problem before. Buy a new headset.
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Old 12-18-07, 10:50 AM   #7
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I would say worn races. Had that problem before. Buy a new headset.
Even if the headset is badly worn, since the OP has switched to loose balls from cages he should be able to get a good bit more life out of the headset.
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Old 12-18-07, 11:04 AM   #8
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Even if the headset is badly worn, since the OP has switched to loose balls from cages he should be able to get a good bit more life out of the headset.
Well it seems that it is not working - if it is tight then it binds - if it is just right then it clunks when stopping - for around $10 the problem will be solved.

If it is not that, then it is also possible that the steerer is slightly bent at the crown... Maybe..
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Old 12-18-07, 11:12 AM   #9
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Well it seems that it is not working - if it is tight then it binds - if it is just right then it clunks when stopping - for around $10 the problem will be solved.

If it is not that, then it is also possible that the steerer is slightly bent at the crown... Maybe..
It's also possible that there's simply too many balls in the cups. That's what I would check first. I agree, headsets can be replaced inexpensively. But the OP should figure out why this one doesn't work, first. And if the steerer is bent at the crown, what good would a new headset do?
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Old 12-18-07, 11:19 AM   #10
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It's also possible that there's simply too many balls in the cups. That's what I would check first. I agree, headsets can be replaced inexpensively. But the OP should figure out why this one doesn't work, first. And if the steerer is bent at the crown, what good would a new headset do?
I suppose it is possible that there is one too many bearings inside the headset, and I will agree that it should be confirmed that there are not too many bearings before purchasing a new headset.

If the steerer is bent at the crown, then he will know that the steerer is bent at the crown when replacing the headset. It is a $10.00 bent steerer diagnostics test.

Unless ofcourse the OP is not installing the headset correctly. That is a different story altogether.
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Old 12-18-07, 11:33 AM   #11
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If the steerer is bent at the crown, then he will know that the steerer is bent at the crown when replacing the headset. It is a $10.00 bent steerer diagnostics test.
Okay, that makes good sense.

The only reason I responded to your earlier post was that you seemed to determine that a new headset is needed without really enough info in the OP to determine that. It may well be that the headset is so far gone that even the switch to loose balls won't help it. But then again, that may not be the case at all. When seeking mechanical solutions, I firmly believe in trying the simplest, and if possible the cheapest, things first. Putting one too many balls in a headset cup is not uncommon at all, because headsets are different than other bearing assemblies on a bicycle. They should have n-2 balls (see my explanation in my earlier post), whereas the other assemblies, if loose ball, should have n-1.

Last edited by well biked; 12-18-07 at 04:58 PM.
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Old 12-18-07, 05:08 PM   #12
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Thanks for all the responses. When I replaced it with loose bearings, everything had been working fine. This is a bike that I have been riding. I just thought after 10 years it might be time for some new grease. I think the problem might be two-part. I think because I don't have a work stand I may have not tightened it up enough when it was on the ground (because of the angle). I also think I may have put too few balls in. Another post I saw said 25 loose balls for a 1" headset, but I have 1-1/4" I just realized. Could this be causing the problem? When I put the balls in I didn't actually put them all in and take a few out. I put them in until I thought I could put in only two more whole balls. Does that mean I need to put in one more? Again I appreciate all the help.
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Old 12-18-07, 05:29 PM   #13
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The headset should be "missing" 1 ball, if you want to think of it that way. That is you could fit 1 more ball, but you don't.

Do you have a 1 1/4" or 1 1/8" headset? 1 1/4" is pretty rare. I only ask because if you have a 1 1/4" even if you don't need a new headset right now check ebay for one because I got a nos deore xt 1 1/4" headset for around $30 on there not too long ago. If the place still has them, you ought to scoop one up.
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Old 12-18-07, 05:42 PM   #14
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is changing from caged bearings to loose balls (huhuhu he said loose balls) a performance upgrade??
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Old 12-18-07, 05:43 PM   #15
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My mistake. Yes, it is 1-1/8". I will put in one more ball (maybe two, I'll actually put them in and take out one this time.) I'll let you all know how it goes. Thanks again.
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Old 12-18-07, 05:45 PM   #16
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i just dis-assembled my bottom bracket and cleaned everything up; greased the bearings; re-assembled and it still still felt like a meat grinder.....no play and very free wheeling; but very rough.....ideas??
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Old 12-18-07, 06:05 PM   #17
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i just dis-assembled my bottom bracket and cleaned everything up; greased the bearings; re-assembled and it still still felt like a meat grinder.....no play and very free wheeling; but very rough.....ideas??
Worn.
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Old 12-18-07, 06:42 PM   #18
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is changing from caged bearings to loose balls (huhuhu he said loose balls) a performance upgrade??
Yes. Most people say the headset feels smoother with loose balls. Loose balls will also make the headset last longer. The only downside is that it's a bit of a PITA to assemble compared to using cages.
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Old 12-18-07, 06:54 PM   #19
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Yes. Most people say the headset feels smoother with loose balls. Loose balls will also make the headset last longer. The only downside is that it's a bit of a PITA to assemble compared to using cages.
Yeah, definitely smoother, and you can often get an old headset which feels rough to feel silky smooth with loose balls. Definitely a PITA until you figure out the trick of flipping the whole frame and fork upside down... after which it's a breeze
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