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Play in the Headset

Old 09-05-19, 08:31 AM
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Play in the Headset

Steerer is sloppy. When I put the front brake on while standing to the side and push the bike to and fro, there is play in the headset. There is a large "thin" threaded bolt under the stem. Can anyone tell me whats going on.?? Is it safe to ride.??
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Old 09-05-19, 08:39 AM
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Photos would help as well as make/model of headset if you can determine what it is. Don't ride it until you fix it though as you can cause damage to the bearing and surfaces. Headsets are usually pretty easy to maintain so once we figure out what you have we can offer some help.
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Old 09-05-19, 09:16 AM
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It sounds like you have a threaded headset. Hopefully, it's just loosened and the bearings and race are still good. Here's a link to Park Tool's info on threaded headset--everything from installing one to adjusting one may be found here (assuming it is a threaded headset): https://www.parktool.com/blog/repair...eadset-service
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Old 09-05-19, 03:30 PM
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Thanks Cranky.... Here's a picture. Schwinn GTX-3 ... 2015 or so.


Freeranger.... Best link ever. Evah.!!! Thanks buddy.

Important note here.... It has a shock for a fork. Also, I would say it has a threaded head. 1" straight fork.
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Old 09-05-19, 03:49 PM
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Originally Posted by BirdsBikeBinocs View Post
Steerer is sloppy. When I put the front brake on while standing to the side and push the bike to and fro, there is play in the headset. There is a large "thin" threaded bolt under the stem. Can anyone tell me whats going on.?? Is it safe to ride.??
What's going on is that you have a threaded headset and you are experiencing one of the more common issues with threaded headsets, i.e. your headset is loosening. You need to tighten the cup and relock the top nut. You can do it without taking the stem off. The Park Tool guide is the best place to learn how to do that. But you don't have to do every step. Just skip to steps 7 and 8.

As to it being unsafe, it's not. But it will damage your headset in fairly short order if you don't address it. The bearings will pound into the lower cup and will eventually dent it to the point where you'll have indexed steer. That's not a good thing to have.

Threaded headset are very prone to loosening and the are worse on bikes ridden off-road. Back in the day, mountain bikes would go through threaded headsets like a kid's birthday party can go through cookies and cake. There was a cottage industry in making locking mechanisms to prevent the race and top nut from vibrating loose. Threadless was the eventual solution and doesn't suffer from that problem.
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Old 09-05-19, 09:54 PM
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Thank you so much cyccommute. Sounds like I can save it. I've been meaning to ask this question... Where do I turn to bike specific tools.?? Thin headed wrenches. Or that circular tool head that gets one into the rear wheel, the tool one uses on a vice to "spin" the freewheel/cassette off. I don't think I have the tools to tighten the head up.?? I'd purchase them if I knew where to do so. Park Tool carry this stuff.?? I don't need/want to spend big bucks on the tools. I just want them to work for me. I enjoy working on bikes. I've learned a lot here. Thanks everyone.
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Old 09-05-19, 10:36 PM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
But it will damage your headset in fairly short order if you don't address it. The bearings will pound into the lower cup and will eventually dent it to the point where you'll have indexed steer.
That’s not how headset bearings become “indexed”. No amount of pounding is enough to dent a bearing cup or cone.

The culprit is vibration while riding in a straight line, enabled by the looseness. The vibration displaces the bearing lubrication, leaving bare metal against bare metal, which ultimately leads to fretting erosion of the bearing surfaces and the balls.
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Old 09-06-19, 04:07 AM
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Originally Posted by BirdsBikeBinocs View Post
Thank you so much cyccommute. Sounds like I can save it. I've been meaning to ask this question... Where do I turn to bike specific tools.?? Thin headed wrenches. Or that circular tool head that gets one into the rear wheel, the tool one uses on a vice to "spin" the freewheel/cassette off. I don't think I have the tools to tighten the head up.?? I'd purchase them if I knew where to do so. Park Tool carry this stuff.?? I don't need/want to spend big bucks on the tools. I just want them to work for me. I enjoy working on bikes. I've learned a lot here. Thanks everyone.
The tools needed to tighten your headset are not bike specific, Large adjustable wrench for the lock nut and maybe a large pair of channel lock pliers for the threaded race (knurled nut).
Here is a link to the Park Tool instruction that cyccommute mentioned https://www.parktool.com/blog/repair...eadset-service

Cone (flat) wrenches are needed for adjusting axle bearing cones on wheels, pedal wrenches are also flat but have more meat to them to take a pounding. Park Tool has great stuff but not a real fan of their "kits", I prefer to buy individual tools and source some from local Home Depots or Harbor Freight.

If you are just getting started and only going to occasionally working on your own bike, it may be hard to justify the expense of a Park Tool kit . There are some other companies out there that make bike tool kits that may better fit your level and budget, you can always add the individual Park Tool items later.

Here is one that seems to cover the basics and won't break the bank.
https://www.ebay.com/itm/BIKEHAND-Qu...79e9da120aee31
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Old 09-06-19, 07:29 AM
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Originally Posted by BirdsBikeBinocs View Post
Thank you so much cyccommute. Sounds like I can save it. I've been meaning to ask this question... Where do I turn to bike specific tools.?? Thin headed wrenches. Or that circular tool head that gets one into the rear wheel, the tool one uses on a vice to "spin" the freewheel/cassette off. I don't think I have the tools to tighten the head up.?? I'd purchase them if I knew where to do so. Park Tool carry this stuff.?? I don't need/want to spend big bucks on the tools. I just want them to work for me. I enjoy working on bikes. I've learned a lot here. Thanks everyone.

Your bike shop can order the the headset from Quality Bike Products (QBP). If you have an REI nearby, you can get the headset wrench from there or have REI ship them to you. You will need to know what size the headset takes. You can even order them direct from Park Tool. It looks like the top nut and the cup are the same size so you can measure the top nut to get the proper size that you need. Use an caliper if you have one but if you don't use adjustable wrench and just measure the width from the wrench jaws. You only need the thin tool for the cup. You can use the adjustable wrench on the top nut.

Alternatively, if you don't want to buy the tool, see if there is a bicycle co-op or tool library in your area.

I wouldn't necessarily order any kind of "tool kit" for bicycle repair. Just get the tools you need as you go along. It's slightly more expensive going that route but you end up with a better tool kit without stuff you don't need. If you don't need it or you have to replace it, you aren't saving money.

Finally, if your headset has been "indexed" and it has bearings in keepers, you can give it a bit more life by removing the bearings (the lower cup is the only one that will dimple) and putting loose ones in their place. You can take the bearings out of the keeper and add a few more to take up the space. This will keep the balls from falling into the same holes and will get rid of the indexing.
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Old 09-06-19, 07:55 AM
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Originally Posted by terrymorse View Post
That’s not how headset bearings become “indexed”. No amount of pounding is enough to dent a bearing cup or cone.

The culprit is vibration while riding in a straight line, enabled by the looseness. The vibration displaces the bearing lubrication, leaving bare metal against bare metal, which ultimately leads to fretting erosion of the bearing surfaces and the balls.
The "vibration" in the indexing of a headset is the pounding. It's not erosion due to wear but denting due to brinelling. According to Wikipedia

Brinelling/ˈbrɪnəlɪŋ/ is the permanent indentation of a hard surface. It is named after the Brinell scale of hardness, in which a small ball is pushed against a hard surface at a preset level of force, and the depth and diameter of the mark indicates the Brinell hardness of the surface. Brinelling is a process of wear in which similar marks are pressed into the surface of a moving part...

Brinelling is a material surface failure caused by Hertz contact stress that exceeds the material limit. It usually occurs in situations where a significant load force is distributed over a relatively small surface area. Brinelling typically results from a heavy or repeated impact load, either while stopped or during rotation, though it can also be caused by just one application of a force greater than the material limit.

Brinelling can be caused by a heavy load resting on a stationary bearing for an extended length of time. The result is a permanent dent or "brinell mark". The brinell marks will often appear in evenly spaced patterns along the bearing races, resembling the primary elements of the bearing, such as rows of indented lines for needle or roller bearings or rounded indentations in ball bearings.
Headset bearings are stationary for most of the time. If the headset is loose, the cup moves away from the bearing on the upward travel of impact and and then moves back down on the bearing in the downward phase. Repeated enough times with enough load and the cup are dented or "brinelled". A brinneled headset will have regular indentations at each of the bearings on the lower cup with deeper ones on the trailing edge where impact is worst.

Fretting, on the other hand is more related to corrosion than to impact. Fretting leads more to pitting and corrosion which are irregular. A fretted headset should fret at just about any bearing and wear should be random. If fretting were the mechanism, you'd expect to see fretting on both the top and bottom cups or races and the fretting would be randomly distributed.

And I don't see why you think hardened steel bearings won't dent unharden steel cups or aluminum cups. Per above, Brinneling is a test used to test metal hardness by pushing a hardened steel ball into a metal surface. A loose headset is just a dynamic version of that test.
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Old 09-06-19, 08:49 AM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
Your bike shop can order the the headset from Quality Bike Products (QBP). If you have an REI nearby, you can get the headset wrench from there or have REI ship them to you. You will need to know what size the headset takes. You can even order them direct from Park Tool. It looks like the top nut and the cup are the same size so you can measure the top nut to get the proper size that you need. Use an caliper if you have one but if you don't use adjustable wrench and just measure the width from the wrench jaws. You only need the thin tool for the cup. You can use the adjustable wrench on the top nut.

Alternatively, if you don't want to buy the tool, see if there is a bicycle co-op or tool library in your area.

I wouldn't necessarily order any kind of "tool kit" for bicycle repair. Just get the tools you need as you go along. It's slightly more expensive going that route but you end up with a better tool kit without stuff you don't need. If you don't need it or you have to replace it, you aren't saving money.

Finally, if your headset has been "indexed" and it has bearings in keepers, you can give it a bit more life by removing the bearings (the lower cup is the only one that will dimple) and putting loose ones in their place. You can take the bearings out of the keeper and add a few more to take up the space. This will keep the balls from falling into the same holes and will get rid of the indexing.
Great reply. Thanks a lot.
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Old 09-06-19, 09:20 AM
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Another "solution" to an indexed headset, is to tap out the bearing cups/races and shift them around 90°. Back to no-hands riding goodness.
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Old 09-06-19, 09:25 AM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
The "vibration" in the indexing of a headset is the pounding. It's not erosion due to wear but denting due to brinelling.
Yours is a commonly held opinion that gets passed around, but it is false. It is not caused by brinelling, which is surface deformation caused by a force. There is no way that cycling produces enough force in a headset bearing to dent the cups.

Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
If the headset is loose, the cup moves away from the bearing on the upward travel of impact and and then moves back down on the bearing in the downward phase. Repeated enough times with enough load and the cup are dented or "brinelled".
Nope. There is not enough load to indent, with or without vibration, under static or dynamic loads.

In reality, a loose headset is unlikely to become indexed, as the movement of the vibrating bearings is enough to maintain lubrication, and fretting damage will not occur under lubrication.

Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
A brinneled headset will have regular indentations at each of the bearings on the lower cup with deeper ones on the trailing edge where impact is worst.
As stated above, the cause of these indentations is not brinelling. Indentations occur by a combination of loss of lubricant, bearing force, and microscopic movement of the bearing interface.

Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
Fretting, on the other hand is more related to corrosion than to impact. Fretting leads more to pitting and corrosion which are irregular. A fretted headset should fret at just about any bearing and wear should be random. If fretting were the mechanism, you'd expect to see fretting on both the top and bottom cups or races and the fretting would be randomly distributed.
Take a look at the surface of an indexed headset under a magnifying glass. The surface will be rough, because of the microscopic welds and tears of bare metal-to-metal contact. If the cause were brinelling, the surface would be shiny smooth. It is not.

Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
And I don't see why you think hardened steel bearings won't dent unharden[ed] steel cups or aluminum cups.
Because there is not enough force applied to make a dent in a 20-ball bearing. And please tell me nobody makes aluminum bearings.

A fellow engineer and occasional riding companion named Jobst Brandt (now deceased) wrote about headset indexing in detail on rec.bicycles.tech. If I haven't convinced you, maybe he will.
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Old 09-06-19, 02:46 PM
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I took the bike to the LBS today. He tightened the the cup and the locknut and the problem didn't go away. Its a little better than it was but it certainly didn't fix the problem. The steering continues to be great. It doesn't hang up at all. Steering is silky smooth. Any other ideas as to why I continue to have some play in the headset.??
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Old 09-06-19, 03:08 PM
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Originally Posted by terrymorse View Post
Yours is a commonly held opinion that gets passed around, but it is false. It is not caused by brinelling, which is surface deformation caused by a force. There is no way that cycling produces enough force in a headset bearing to dent the cups.
A single impact can't dent cups but multiple and frequent impacts will dent the cups. Riding with a loose headset is just the right conditions for this multiple and frequent impacts.

Originally Posted by terrymorse View Post
Nope. There is not enough load to indent, with or without vibration, under static or dynamic loads.

In reality, a loose headset is unlikely to become indexed, as the movement of the vibrating bearings is enough to maintain lubrication, and fretting damage will not occur under lubrication.
Not in my experience. A properly adjusted headset will not become indexed. Indexing or brinelling occurs in headsets that are too loosely adjusted. The problem is a common one for thread headsets because the adjustment is hard to keep consistent. The cup and top nut tend to loosen with vibration and then everything rattles around and pounds dents into the cups. Threadless headsets never brinell even because the adjustment is much more consistent.

Additionally, if fretting due to lack of lubrication were the reason for the dents, the fretting would occur all around the cup and in the top cup as well. I've never seen dents form in the top part of a headset. Fretting would also result in random dent depth. The dents that form are regularly sized and decrease in depth as you move form the center line of the headset towards both sides.

Originally Posted by terrymorse View Post
As stated above, the cause of these indentations is not brinelling. Indentations occur by a combination of loss of lubricant, bearing force, and microscopic movement of the bearing interface.
Perhaps a combination of those factors contribute but a loose headset is a sure sign that the headset will be "indexed".

Originally Posted by terrymorse View Post
Take a look at the surface of an indexed headset under a magnifying glass. The surface will be rough, because of the microscopic welds and tears of bare metal-to-metal contact. If the cause were brinelling, the surface would be shiny smooth. It is not.
I have looked at a lot of them. The dents don't appear to be caused by corrosion nor are they irregular as you'd expect with with fretting. Each hole is perfectly shaped for the balls to fall into. Additionally, the balls show no signs of corrosion nor of pitting. They are generally round and smooth.

Originally Posted by terrymorse View Post
Because there is not enough force applied to make a dent in a 20-ball bearing. And please tell me nobody makes aluminum bearings.
Not aluminum bearings but aluminum cups. For a while a few were made without a steel surface.

Originally Posted by terrymorse View Post
A fellow engineer and occasional riding companion named Jobst Brandt (now deceased) wrote about headset indexing in detail on rec.bicycles.tech. If I haven't convinced you, maybe he will.
I don't happen to agree with his post. In particular, "Off road bicycles suffer less from this malady than road bicycles because it occurs primarily on long straight descents where no steering motions that would replenish lubrication occur." Back in the day of threaded headsets, brinelling of a headset was a worse problem with mountain bikes and mountain bikes were more prone to developing loose headsets due to the more intense vibration and impact they endure. Once the threadless headset came along, indentation of the cup and crown race became nonexistent because threadless headsets don't loosen even under severe impact.
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Old 09-06-19, 03:14 PM
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Originally Posted by BirdsBikeBinocs View Post
I took the bike to the LBS today. He tightened the the cup and the locknut and the problem didn't go away. Its a little better than it was but it certainly didn't fix the problem. The steering continues to be great. It doesn't hang up at all. Steering is silky smooth. Any other ideas as to why I continue to have some play in the headset.??

Check to make sure the play is in the headset. Pull hard on the front brake so that the wheel won't turn. Rock the bike back and forth against that brake. If you still feel play, grab the wheel behind the fork so as to isolate the upper parts of your suspension fork and rock again. If you still feel play, it may be in the suspension fork. They often have a little play in the seals.

You might also check the front wheel bearings to see if they have play. Also check your front quick release while you are at it. And check the brakes to see if they have play in them. Basically, rock and move and prod anything you can think of to see if the play is really in the headset or somewhere else. I'd suspect play in the fork.

By the way, pay no attention to the side argument. Angels on a pin head and all that.
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Old 09-06-19, 03:55 PM
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I agree that you should check for movement somewhere other than the headset.
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Old 09-06-19, 07:34 PM
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Yup. Okay. I'll do that. I too am wondering if its in the shock fork. I'm not overly concerned at this point but I would like to know for myself what exactly is going on. I'd like to chalk this up for experience.

Just for the record, this bike has given to me waay more than I've given to it. I've rode many trails with this bike. Ad recently I've had some fast descents down mowed hillsides and fields. A lot of shaking going on. And, last week I bought a Giant Talon 29 for those rough trails and hillsides. I'm discovering new trails everywhere I go. Its a great change of pace from the 1,150 road miles this summer.
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Old 09-11-19, 11:50 AM
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For anyone interested in the hows and whys of an indexed headset, the phenomenon is known as False Brinelling.

Brinelling because the dents in the bearing cups and cones look like they were smashed in by the hardened steel bearings (but they were not).

False Brinelling because the indentations are not made by brinelling, but instead were made by fretting wear.

Roughly speaking, a headset bearing doesn't wear evenly like a hub or bottom bracket bearing that spins. Instead, vibration while riding causes headset wear directly underneath the stationary balls of the headset, which leave dents at those spots.

There is a decent Wikipedia article on False Brinelling that goes into more detail, which mentions threaded bicycle headsets as an example.
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Old 09-11-19, 11:55 AM
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Originally Posted by BirdsBikeBinocs View Post
Yup. Okay. I'll do that. I too am wondering if its in the shock fork.
It's easy to tell if the looseness is coming from the headset, or from somewhere else.

Stand the bike up on two wheels, grab the front brake with your left hand, wrap your right hand around the top of the headset (where it meets the frame's head tube), and rock the bike forwards and back.

If there is any looseness in the headset, you will feel it in your right hand.
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Old 09-11-19, 01:43 PM
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Originally Posted by terrymorse View Post
For anyone interested in the hows and whys of an indexed headset, the phenomenon is known as False Brinelling.

Brinelling because the dents in the bearing cups and cones look like they were smashed in by the hardened steel bearings (but they were not).

False Brinelling because the indentations are not made by brinelling, but instead were made by fretting wear.

Roughly speaking, a headset bearing doesn't wear evenly like a hub or bottom bracket bearing that spins. Instead, vibration while riding causes headset wear directly underneath the stationary balls of the headset, which leave dents at those spots.

There is a decent Wikipedia article on False Brinelling that goes into more detail, which mentions threaded bicycle headsets as an example.
Whatever you want to call it, it went away with the advent of threadless headsets which don’t loosen. If “fretting” is the mechanism, why doesn’t it happen in a headset that is properly loaded? Threadless solved the problem.
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Old 09-11-19, 02:15 PM
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Oh man, it's been too long since I've seen a good lively debate over "brinnelling"!
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Old 09-11-19, 02:43 PM
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Back to the OP's question. It's common for low cost suspension forks to develop play between the sliding lower legs and the stationary uppers. When you do the usual headset slop test with locking the front brake (while stopped) and rock the bike fore and aft AND if the forks are also sloppy you will feel both the headset's and the fork's contribution to slop. Turning the ft wheel/bars 90* and repeating the locked ft brake and rock will reduce the fork's portion by a lot. Working the fork in a side to side way tends to remove it's slop allowing one to focus on the headset. Andy
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Old 09-11-19, 02:51 PM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
Whatever you want to call it, it went away with the advent of threadless headsets which don’t loosen. If “fretting” is the mechanism, why doesn’t it happen in a headset that is properly loaded? Threadless solved the problem.
"Modern" threadless design solved the fretting wear problem by adding an additional bearing surface between the frame and the ball bearings.

Old headset was frame-race-ball-race-fork.

Modern headset is frame-race-cartridge-race-fork. The race-cartridge-race combination acts as a plain bearing that accommodates the fork vibration, so the cartridge-ball interface doesn’t vibrate to produce fretting wear.



Typical Threadless Headset

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Old 09-11-19, 03:00 PM
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There are many thousands of bikes with a threadless headset that also use the cup as the bearing contact surface. The bearings are typically held in place with a plastic seal/snap ring. I've service a few dozens over the years.

As to brinelling or fretting... I'll be happy to sit on the side lines and hope for a good game then play. Andy
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