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  1. #1
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    Is My Headset too Tight or too Loose?

    i have a threadless headset that isnt adjusted properly. "squirrely" is the best way i can describe how it feels. maybe "wobbly" works as well. if i push down on the front of the bike while im riding, as in standing up, it wobbles a lot and i feel like im losing control of the steering. if i try to push hard going up a hill, as in pushing the bike from side to side while standing up, it doesnt want to be pushed to the side. it kind of springs back up and i get less out of my push.

    so is this too loose or tight? or some other problem? i have tried tightening and loosening it, i know how to do it correctly, but i cant find a good adjustment. this is also a very cheap bike, it might just be that its too poor quality to ever be adjusted right, though it is fairly new.

    another thing is that i normally have a lot of weight on the back, panniers that usually have about 30 pounds and i never really notice the steering issues until i take them off and suddenly there is no weight on the bike. this could be affecting things also.

    and then lastly, i get used to the adjustment pretty quick and it makes it hard to know if its adjusted correctly or not once im used to it being the way it is.

  2. #2
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    Standing beside the bike squeeze the front brake on hard. Rock the bike back and forward - if the head set makes little clonking noises at all then it is too loose. Often you can see the movement if you look very closely at the headset/stem interface. On mountain bikes with old suspension forks you can get a clonk from the fork sliders so watch out if this is the case.

    To test if too tight - pick the bike up by the saddle and the top tube - tilt side to side - the forks should be able to flop side to side freely by themselves. It is this self correcting that makes a bike stable at speed - if the headset is way too tight then you could conceivably get a very nasty harmonic wobble happening at high speed. This problem is more common on motorbikes and is known as a tank-slapper.
    Last edited by jolly_ross; 04-17-12 at 02:50 AM. Reason: spelling too to

  3. #3
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    thanks. i know those tests, i have done them and it seems fine to me. but there i a lot of leeway i feel, at least a quarter turn of the bolt, that will still result in both of those tests coming out ok.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Looigi's Avatar
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    It's not unusual for a bike to feel more squarely when you weight the front end, especially if the front tire is a bit soft, like if you run it a lower pressure than the rear for an improved ride. Although handling issues can be symptomatic of lose or very tight headset bearings, you don't adjust bearing tension to adjust handling characteristics. You adjust it so that there is no play and very little drag. At that point, if there are handling issues, it's something else.

  5. #5
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    You need to include the type of headset being used. Traditional press fit headsets are very sensitive to slight changes to the position of the nut that adjusts the play. Modern bikes with integrated headsets are much less sensitive. The only limit to the tension that can should be applied to the top cap bolt is one that does not allow the front wheel to readily self-center after a turn. Clamping the front brake and feeling for play does NOT work with integrated headsets. You will never feel any play, even when the headset is too loose.

  6. #6
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    how would i know which one i have? its a new bike, but very cheap. like $300 brand new. i only ever knew the difference between threaded and threadless.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Retro Grouch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by channelz28 View Post
    if i push down on the front of the bike while im riding, as in standing up, it wobbles a lot and i feel like im losing control of the steering. if i try to push hard going up a hill, as in pushing the bike from side to side while standing up, it doesnt want to be pushed to the side. it kind of springs back up and i get less out of my push.
    I don't understand what you are saying.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Retro Grouch View Post
    I don't understand what you are saying.
    yeah, sorry. its kind of complicated to explain. when i say push down on the front, i mean that im standing up and more of my weight is over the front of the bike as opposed to the back.

    and when im pushing (on the pedals) hard to mash it up a hill, the bike tends to go from side to side. im sure everyone does this when they stand up and push hard.

    and i was trying to describe how the bike feels when im doing those things, but i think its ok. more or less.

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