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Old 09-25-09, 09:07 PM   #1
jtgotsjets
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threadless headset- too loose AND too tight?

Ok, so I just finished my first bike build. Got almost all the kinks worked out, but I am having trouble with the headset.

Everywhere I read, the advice is to tighten the end cap until there is no more play in the headset. Problem is, when I do this, the steering gets very stiff (not just "kinda stiff"; problem stuff). So I loosen it up until the steering feels like it should and there's a lot of play in the headset (especially the top, if it matters).

It's not a matter of just finding the right tension, because the two symptoms overlap—the steering stiffens well before the play is gone. Right now I'm riding it in its most happy medium. The steering is acceptable (though not as loose as I'd like it) but there is still a teensy bit of play. Obviously I don't want to ride it like this.

The frame was sold to me with the headset installed already and I have never so much as looked at an unassembled headset, so I need help.
The only two things I can think of are
-Needs lubrication (maybe not a bad idea anyway?)
-Something is installed incorrectly. (I got this idea from searching—maybe a bearing retainer is in upside down?)

I mostly just wanted some guidance before I go opening it up, since I have no idea what I'm doing.
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Old 09-25-09, 09:20 PM   #2
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You should start by just tightening the top-cap so it's not loose. Then apply torque, slowly going from one bolt to the other back & forth, until both bolts are at the manufacturer's specified setting. You will need a torque-wrench to do this right. Then apply a bit more torque to the top-cap. When you lift the front wheel up and tilt the bike from side-to-side, the handlebars should move freely in the direction of tilt. If it wont move freely as described, you should loosen the top-cap. But remember: It's the stem that hold the whole thing together - NOT the top-cap. It just needs enough torque to prevent it's becoming loose.*

http://www.parktool.com/repair/readhowto.asp?id=65


* I just measured the torque on my top-cap on my hybrid. It's about 10 inch-pounds.

Last edited by Panthers007; 09-25-09 at 09:25 PM.
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Old 09-25-09, 09:31 PM   #3
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Sounds like you've got the headset parts assembled wrong somehow - a bearing retainer upside down is a good guess, or maybe a seal is in between two moving parts, or there's something missing. Find an exploded diagram of your headset and double-check everything. Make sure that, if the top and bottom bearings are different, you haven't mixed them up.

Also, check to make sure the top cap isn't bottoming out on the steerer tube when you tighten it.
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Old 09-25-09, 09:42 PM   #4
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Sounds like you've got the headset parts assembled wrong somehow - a bearing retainer upside down is a good guess, or maybe a seal is in between two moving parts, or there's something missing. Find an exploded diagram of your headset and double-check everything. Make sure that, if the top and bottom bearings are different, you haven't mixed them up.

Also, check to make sure the top cap isn't bottoming out on the steerer tube when you tighten it.
+1

Either this. Or two other options.

1) Cups not fully pressed into frame
2) Frame not fully faced

If it's a frame new, most of the time it will need to be faced. If not you will get issues with the headset.
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Old 09-25-09, 10:10 PM   #5
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Just to expand on operator's post - if it is a new frame, I'd advise taking it to well-equipped bike-shop and ask them to 'face' your headtube. While you're at it - you might as well get your bottom-bracket shell faced also.

What facing does is it cuts off a small amount of metal on one side of the tubing so that both sides are absolutely parallel with each other. This is important, regards bicycles, for the best operation of the vehicle as a whole. And it won't send you to the poor-house, but expect it to cost a bit. Facers are one of the more expensive tools in a shop's armory.
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Old 09-25-09, 10:31 PM   #6
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This is a used bike. The previous owner said he had it built up as a commuter and rode it for awhile, but I have no idea how much he knew about bikes or if he had faced it or whatever. I can only assume he had, since he'd been riding it.

I don't know what "Cups not fully pressed into frame" means. Is this something that would happen with a frame that has already been built up once? Or only an issue with new frames?
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Old 09-25-09, 10:31 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Panthers007 View Post
You should start by just tightening the top-cap so it's not loose. Then apply torque, slowly going from one bolt to the other back & forth, until both bolts are at the manufacturer's specified setting. You will need a torque-wrench to do this right. Then apply a bit more torque to the top-cap. When you lift the front wheel up and tilt the bike from side-to-side, the handlebars should move freely in the direction of tilt. If it wont move freely as described, you should loosen the top-cap. But remember: It's the stem that hold the whole thing together - NOT the top-cap. It just needs enough torque to prevent it's becoming loose.*

http://www.parktool.com/repair/readhowto.asp?id=65


* I just measured the torque on my top-cap on my hybrid. It's about 10 inch-pounds.
This is definitely not the problem. I understand how to tighten the entire thing.
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Old 09-25-09, 10:52 PM   #8
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Okay. The cups not being fully pressed into the frame wouldn't prevent one from riding the bicycle - always that is. The cups are the two metal pieces that are attached to the bottom and the top of the headtube. The bearings ride in these with the rest of the headset on top, or under, them. These are attached to the frame with a "Headset-Press." But some builders don't have this tool and use a block of wood and a hammer to pound them on. A Headset-Press can be found at the link below - don't worry - I'm not suggesting that you purchase one:

http://www.biketoolsetc.com/index.cg...tem_id=PA-HHP2

Regards these not being fitted and pressed into place correctly: I recently bought an early 1970's PUCH 3-speed bike. I noticed the headset was loose, and likely had never been overhauled. I removed the parts and then the fork, and these two cups came popping out on their own volition. Landing at my feet. So this bike had been ridden countless years in this condition and no one had noticed a problem. Or, more likely, didn't know this WAS a problem. I have a headset-press and went to work. It works perfectly now for the first time in it's long life.

So what operator is suggesting here is that this is a possible condition with your bike as well. It could well manifest the same symptoms that you are describing.
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Old 09-25-09, 11:33 PM   #9
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This is a used bike. The previous owner said he had it built up as a commuter and rode it for awhile, but I have no idea how much he knew about bikes or if he had faced it or whatever. I can only assume he had, since he'd been riding it.

I don't know what "Cups not fully pressed into frame" means. Is this something that would happen with a frame that has already been built up once? Or only an issue with new frames?
This has nothing to do with a new or used bikes. It's conceivably possible that someone has never had their new frame faced and have been riding it like that. Most joes won't notice that their headset is loose in one spot and tight in another. In fact I doubt 99.9% of riders out there would notice.

We had one customer come in wanting to have their headset overtightened because she didn't want her bars turning so freely (lol).

Anyways I just fully read your post #1 (**** me). And you need to take the headset apart and make sure that

a) everything that is in there is in there (e.g not missing bearings)
b) everything is installed properly

Please tell us WHAT type of threadless headset it is. You should confirm this before jumping to conclusions about frame facing (which is more unlikely than an improper headset install or missing headset parts).

Last edited by operator; 09-25-09 at 11:38 PM.
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Old 09-25-09, 11:43 PM   #10
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We had one customer come in wanting to have their headset overtightened because she didn't want her bars turning so freely (lol).
Did you sell her a straight-jacket? I would have.
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Old 09-26-09, 04:40 AM   #11
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could be crash damaged and the forks steerer tube is bent.
or the headset cups, the thick parts that the bearings sit in are not sitting in the headstock properly.

run your finger nail round the cups/frame join. If theres a small gap they need pushed in. Theres a special bike tool. But I tap them in gently with a hammer.
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Old 09-26-09, 09:23 AM   #12
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Ok, it's a cane creek headset—I don't know which model—and I'm currently on their website trying to figure things out. Will let you know how it goes (after work today).
I have a strong suspicion that something is just installed slightly wrong, although that might just be the optimist in me. When I got the bike, the headset/fork was secured with a zip tie, so I imagine it wouldn't have been hard for something to get in the wrong place (or get put in upside down) somewhere between the previous owner breaking it down and me building it up.

Really hoping this isn't a bike shop issue. Just threw down a bunch of money on parts for this bike—not really worth it if it still needs work.
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Old 09-26-09, 08:23 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Panthers007 View Post
What facing does is it cuts off a small amount of metal on one side of the tubing so that both sides are absolutely parallel with each other.
Not just parallel with each other, but also concentric and perpendicular to the steering axis. If any of these parameters are off, you will run into adjustment and performance problems.

Last edited by JohnDThompson; 09-26-09 at 08:27 PM.
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Old 09-26-09, 09:29 PM   #14
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before you freak out about frame facing and all this stuff, help us out. take the headset apart and verify both bearings are installed correctly, the narrow side of the bearing retainer always lines up with the "cone" part of the headset ( o/\o <---sideview.) make sure you have 2 bearings (silly thing, i know).
make sure the lower bearing is installed correctly, look for rubbing, metal shavings, etc. somethings either missing or installed incorrectly for this to happen.

edit: in cane creek headsets its not uncommon to find a centering wedge, a peice that centers the headset bearing on the steertube. that may be something to look for
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Old 09-26-09, 11:06 PM   #15
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When I got the bike, the headset/fork was secured with a zip tie, so I imagine it wouldn't have been hard for something to get in the wrong place (or get put in upside down) somewhere between the previous owner breaking it down and me building it up.
Using a ziptie in place of the stem is normal practice.
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Old 09-27-09, 01:42 AM   #16
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Thanks very much friends. Luckily all it took was disassembling the upper portion of the headset. Went with my instinct and tried simply flipping the bearing and... success!

Everything feels solid—no more play and nice, free steering. So glad this bike is finally finished (look for pictures in the SSFG forum soon)... And by "finished," I mean "fully capable of being ridden." Is any bike ever really "finished"? I'm still planning on putting 32 or 35 CX tires on, changing bartape, adjusting hoods/bars, maybe adding cross levers, maybe flopping and chopping, adding kool stop brake pads, throwing on a big freewheel, concocting some kind of dual master link chain set up for easy switch between a small fixed gear and a big freewheel...

But y'know. I love riding it just the way it is too.
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