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  1. #1
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    Headset comes loose

    So the 32mm nut on my headset seems to loosen overtime. But I can't tighten it too much else it makes the steering very tight. The bike is an old Raleigh road frame that was built up as a single speed. I'm not sure what kind of headset was used.

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    I'll bet that you don't have a keyway in the steerer and a keyed washer. Unfortunately these have gone the way of Damascus steel, leaving no reliable way to ensure that the threaded upper cone and locknut don't work themselves loose over time.

    Start by removing the locknut and seeing if the fork has a keyway (see image). If so get a keyed washer and it should solve the problem. If there's no keyway, paint the fork threads with something soft and gummy, like rubber cement or latex paint to improve traction for the locknut's threads. There's a product called Vibra-tite made of nylon paint made specifically for this kind of situation, but it's not stocked in general hardware stores.

    With or without the keyed washer you also need to hold the threaded cone (some need thin wrenches, some don't have wrench flats and need pliers like Channelocks) and lock the cone and locknut against each other when making the headset adjustment, the same way as you do hub cones and locknuts.
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  3. #3
    Senior Member CPcyclist's Avatar
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    you need 2-32mm wrenches one to hold the top cone in the position that you what for how tight yo want the headset... then with the second wrench tighten the lock nut down note you will be "turning/pushing" the wrenches in oposite direction.

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    The reason I converted my Bianchi to a threadless stem/fork a couple months after I got it.
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    Senior Member randyjawa's Avatar
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    You must have a tab washer between the top cup and the lock nut. Perhaps this article I wrote on Rebuilding a Vintage Head Set will help.
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    Quote Originally Posted by randyjawa View Post
    You must have a tab washer between the top cup and the lock nut. Perhaps this article I wrote on Rebuilding a Vintage Head Set will help.
    I found, even with a tab washer, the headset adjustment can change slightly if you tighten the locknut without holding the top race in place with another wrench. Also, the tab washer tends to damage the threads on the steerer if you let it turn until it stops against the edge of the keyway.

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    Senior Member DannoXYZ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by randyjawa View Post
    You must have a tab washer between the top cup and the lock nut. Perhaps this article I wrote on Rebuilding a Vintage Head Set will help.
    yeah, the keyed washer really doesn't work as well as having two 32mm wrenches. One to loosen the adjustable race up while you tighten the locknut down. With just one wrench, you tend to jam the keyed washer into the sharp edges of the teeth on the groove and this locks the locknut into the washer. But the adjustable race is still loose underneath.

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    The issue it might be the washer in my opinion. Do you have a washer lock between the two nuts? It is OLD? that keeps all in place, never ever had problems like that ever.

    The other factor is that people think that the adjustable nut it tights and is gets in place tightening it. It must be done just the opposite way un tightening it.

    Get the headset a little bit tight, tight the locknut and untight the adjustable nut (the bottom one). That should do it.

    ps: u need two wrenches or soemthing big to grab the upper nut really good while working in the bottom one.

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    I know almost nothing about headsets. But having two 32mm wrenches makes sense. I see now there are two 32mm nuts so holding one in place while tightening the other may fix the problem. I'll give that a try. As for all the washers/lock nuts/etc, I'm not familiar with any of that on a headset as I've never installed a headset. Thanks for the replies.

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    Actually u tight the headset a little bit more than necessary, then keep the upper nut fixed in place with a big a$$ wrench tool and then un tight the lower nut (lose the lower nut) so it compress the washer and itself to the washer, needs to be done really well sometimes, so dont do it like a 10 y/o girl ok?. Hard to explain sorry but looks like u got the idea.

    Good luck.

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    There's a difference in purpose between using two wrenches and using a keyed washer. You heed two wrenches to properly hold the upper cone while tightening the locknut, or turning both against each other if you prefer. That's a matter of getting it tight.

    The keyed washers job has nothing to do with getting it tight. It's job it to prevent the two parts on either side of it from turning together and working loose as a pair. Keyed washers were standard in headsets and axles for decades, but are often omitted these days allowing parts to go out of adjustment even when tightened very well.
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    Senior Member spinbackle's Avatar
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    Been there, done that. I wrangled with a Specialized threaded headset on a Stumpjumper for several years, even carried two 32 mm (the large Park ones, until they made them smaller) headset wrenches with me in a fanny pack (before Camelbacks). I would tighten the locknut against the top cup and set off but it would inevitably start to loosen. The solution in the end was to finally spring for a Chris King GripNut Headset---I've never had a problem since.
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    I apologize if somebody already mentioned this ( and/or for not mentioning it far earlier).

    Far and away the number one cause of threaded headsets that won't stay tight is a steerer slightly too long.

    When the steerer is way too long it's obvious that the locknut can't thread down far enough, and folks add spacers. But when it's only a hair too long folks tighten the locknut thinking it's against the adjustable cone, when in fact it's beached on the top of the steerer, allowing the cone to loosen.

    If you have trouble keeping an adjustment, it pays to remove the locknut and compare the avaulable thread depth to the amount of exposed steerer. If it looks real close add a spacer underneath.
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  14. #14
    headtube. zzyzx_xyzzy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FBinNY View Post
    I'll bet that you don't have a keyway in the steerer and a keyed washer. Unfortunately these have gone the way of Damascus steel, leaving no reliable way to ensure that the threaded upper cone and locknut don't work themselves loose over time.
    Keyways never did that job anyway--have, among other examples a Tange headet with a beefy keyed washer and toothed interface between key washer and cone, and it comes loose all the time. the keyed washer doesn't help because any side to side slip between washer and top nut will tend to unscrew the topnut no matter if the washer is held fixed (http://www.boltscience.com/pages/josteffect.htm).

    The thin upper locknut is a stupid design to begin with, for reasons described at http://www.boltscience.com/pages/twonuts.htm -- which also describes the answer, stack up lockrings, not washers, so you have more threads "bearing down" than "bearing up."

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    Quote Originally Posted by zzyzx_xyzzy View Post
    Keyways never did that job anyway--......
    You're certainly entitiled to your opinion, but keep in mind that hundreds of millions of bikes have been build using this design all over the world, over a period spanning almost a century. The vast majority of those headsets have stayed tight for the entire life of the bike, so while you may feel it's bad design it's proven itself as plenty adequate to the task.

    Based on my 40+ years in the industry, I can say with confidence that the majority of headset problems occur not with original equipment, or professional mechanics, but with DIY adjustments for which the design doesn't appear to work so well. I can only conclude that the issue isn't so much the design but who's working with it.

    BTW- I've owned many bikes with headsets using this same basic design, and never once had a keyed washer turn and ding threads, or a headset that lost adjustment on it's own. I'm sure I'm neither especially lucky, or so vastly superior a mechanic, and that most folks' experience mirrors mine.
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    Quote Originally Posted by FBinNY View Post
    I'll bet that you don't have a keyway in the steerer and a keyed washer. Unfortunately these have gone the way of Damascus steel, leaving no reliable way to ensure that the threaded upper cone and locknut don't work themselves loose over time.

    Start by removing the locknut and seeing if the fork has a keyway (see image). If so get a keyed washer and it should solve the problem. If there's no keyway, paint the fork threads with something soft and gummy, like rubber cement or latex paint to improve traction for the locknut's threads. There's a product called Vibra-tite made of nylon paint made specifically for this kind of situation, but it's not stocked in general hardware stores.

    With or without the keyed washer you also need to hold the threaded cone (some need thin wrenches, some don't have wrench flats and need pliers like Channelocks) and lock the cone and locknut against each other when making the headset adjustment, the same way as you do hub cones and locknuts.
    keyed washers and steerers with keyways are still coming on new bikes, they are not gone yet

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by reptilezs View Post
    keyed washers and steerers with keyways are still coming on new bikes, they are not gone yet
    Yes, but much less common on replacement forks. Also all too often missing on forks that have been serviced in any way. As I said in the prior post, most of the headset issues I've seen were not on new bikes that were left alone, but started after a service.

    I can't count how often someone's brought me a problem headset, and when I take it apart, there's no keyed washer.

    I'll ask where it went, and the response would be to the effect of "someone told me I didn't need it, so I left it off" or "I added a cable hanger and the fork wasn't long enough so I removed the washer".

    As a professional mechanic, I'll venture that you had similar experience.
    Last edited by FBinNY; 04-02-11 at 04:00 PM.
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  18. #18
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Need 2 wrenches for the Job.. a 32, as you say, mm head-set wrench ,
    and perhaps a 12" adjustable wrench
    to tighten the lock nut , need the thinner on on the top headset cup,
    space is not so limited on the nut on the top.

  19. #19
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    +100 If you didn't use two wrenches for the job, start there first. No way to get it tight without two wrenches. Or take it to a shop.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by FBinNY View Post
    BTW- I've owned many bikes with headsets using this same basic design, and never once had a keyed washer turn and ding threads, or a headset that lost adjustment on it's own. I'm sure I'm neither especially lucky, or so vastly superior a mechanic, and that most folks' experience mirrors mine.
    My experience is a bit different - I've found the tabbed washer in many cheaper headsets prone to trash the threads, to the point it's often more trouble than it's worth; I've resorted to filing off the tab more than once. And I haven't had any problem with these headsets working loose once properly tightened, minus the tab.

    Nicer gear has a raised lip on the cup around the edge, preventing the washer from stretching and allowing the tab to ride up over the threads; on these the design works as intended. It can even be possible to lock such headsets in place with a single wrench, in a pinch.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kimmo View Post
    My experience is a bit different - I've found the tabbed washer in many cheaper headsets prone to trash the threads, to the point it's often more trouble than it's worth; I've resorted to filing off the tab more than once. And I haven't had any problem with these headsets working loose once properly tightened, minus the tab.

    Nicer gear has a raised lip on the cup around the edge, preventing the washer from stretching and allowing the tab to ride up over the threads; on these the design works as intended. It can even be possible to lock such headsets in place with a single wrench, in a pinch.
    if the tab is slipping, take a punch and peen the washer near the key. this will push some metal out and effectively lengthen the key

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