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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 04-07-11, 11:04 PM   #1
pandita
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Headset.

I've never really missed around with headsets, so I decided to take mine apart just to see what it's like. (Threaded)

I loosened the big nut type thing(?) and lifted it up.

I got everything loose enough to the point where I could lift the frame off the fork so being the curious guy that I am, I did.

I quickly noticed some of the ball bearings fell out! So I dropped the frame back down onto the fork before more fell out.

A total of around 3 fell out.

I tightened everything back up and made sure the fork still span without any problems.

Is it still safe to ride? Luckily I just ordered a bunch of new parts, including a headset.

PLEASE RESPOND, my bike is my only mean of transportation.
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Old 04-07-11, 11:16 PM   #2
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did you get the balls back in there?
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Old 04-07-11, 11:17 PM   #3
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It's probably safe temporarily, but will wear out faster. Loose ball bottom brackets can use 11 ball bearings, but only use 8 or 9 (can't remember which) when held in place with a retainer.

Watch those bearings, they always run away! Buy extras too, you'll thank yourself when you lose one.
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Old 04-07-11, 11:20 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by FastJake View Post
It's probably safe temporarily, but will wear out faster. Loose ball bottom brackets can use 11 ball bearings, but only use 8 or 9 (can't remember which) when held in place with a retainer.

Watch those bearings, they always run away! Buy extras too, you'll thank yourself when you lose one.

Did you mean headset? that is what the OP was talking about.
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Old 04-07-11, 11:28 PM   #5
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No, I'm not sure how?
I don't want to open it up again and have even more fall out.
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Old 04-08-11, 12:24 AM   #6
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Did you mean headset? that is what the OP was talking about.
No, I meant bottom bracket. The point I was trying to make (which must have been unclear) is that if a bottom bracket, which supports the weight of the entire rider pushing down on the pedals can be ok with less than the maximum amount of ball bearings, than surely a headset will also be ok with a few missing.

I wouldn't worry about trying to put the 3 loose balls back in. Just coat everything with grease when you install your new headset. That way the bearings will stay in place during assembly.
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Old 04-08-11, 12:25 AM   #7
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???

add: Good time to re do the job with fresh balls, and new grease.
the grease sticks the balls in place while you put the fork back in ..

Job goes better with frame upside down.


clean and inspect 1st. if the race has potholes in it , buy a new headset.

Last edited by fietsbob; 04-08-11 at 09:12 AM. Reason: ,
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Old 04-08-11, 06:35 AM   #8
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???
yeah, me too

1. I would never ride a bike that was short a few ball bearings in the bottom bracket especially if I were planning on using the bottom bracket again.

2. If the OP were short a couple of bearings, had ordered a new headset, I would ride it since the old one is now disposable.
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Old 04-08-11, 08:03 AM   #9
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1. I would never ride a bike that was short a few ball bearings in the bottom bracket especially if I were planning on using the bottom bracket again.
Are you sure you never have? Virtually all the loose ball bottom brackets I've disassembled used bearing retainers with 8 or 9 balls per side. I did not reinstall the retainers and replaced with 11 balls per side. http://www.sheldonbrown.com/tooltips/bbadj.html Scroll down to "use loose balls."

Does anyone else get my point?
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Old 04-08-11, 08:15 AM   #10
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If only 3 or four balls fell out it's absolutely 100% safe to ride. the wear may be marginally greater, but not enough to worry about.

The key issue is stability in the fork
. and you can easily check. Lock the front brake and rock the bike forward and back. No play is a pass so enjoy the bike. If you have play, adjust it out, but if you can't it probably means you dropped as many as 15 or more balls, and need to deal with replacing them ASAP.


The increased wear from a few missing balls is so minor that it would only become noticeable over months or more likely years.
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Last edited by FBinNY; 04-08-11 at 08:24 AM.
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Old 04-08-11, 08:35 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by FastJake View Post
No, I meant bottom bracket. The point I was trying to make (which must have been unclear) is that if a bottom bracket, which supports the weight of the entire rider pushing down on the pedals can be ok with less than the maximum amount of ball bearings, than surely a headset will also be ok with a few missing.
Bottom bracket bearings are 1/4"; headset bearings are 5/32" or (for better quality units) 3/16" -- this makes a significant difference in their ability to carry load.

Headsets and bottom brackets are also loaded differently. Headsets take thrust loads, while bottom brackets take radial loads.
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Old 04-09-11, 11:24 AM   #12
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Pandita, I once had the same experience. No doubt thousands or even tens of thousands of people have been horrified, seeing the lower headset bearings fall out.

Now you know that next time you're taking the fork off, you'll have the frame upside-down, with fork pointed up to the ceiling. If you have new grease, should clean everything and put all the bearings back in place with plenty of new grease. If the bearings are not perfectly shiny, smooth and fitting, it's time for new ones. Good luck with your repairs and better biking.
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Old 04-09-11, 11:52 AM   #13
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actually I think if you are unsure what you are doing you need to take it to a professional or find a friend who actually knows what he is doing to teach you.

there are great videos on the park tool website to checkout too
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Old 04-09-11, 01:07 PM   #14
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Its probably OK to ride with a few balls short esp if you are getting a new headset.
Note that changing the headset is about the most difficult thing to do on the bike. You can do it at home with some home-made tools but bikeshops have a headset press to make sure it is well seated and aligned. For many of us home mechanics, it is the one thing we leave to the bike shop.
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