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Is my problem with my fork or my headset? (Video)

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Is my problem with my fork or my headset? (Video)

Old 06-05-23, 10:16 PM
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Is my problem with my fork or my headset? (Video)

Hi all, I bought a frameset on eBay and it was very poorly packed (put into a box with literally no protection. Just set in there.). When I spin the fork, it turns in a way that indicates there is some sort of issue. Kind of like it's oblong or wobbly. Not much play though -- it's not loose. Hard to explain but the video shows it pretty clearly: https://youtube.com/shorts/gSFbKHEihxU?feature=share

Does this indicate a headset issue or a frame/fork issue? If it's just a headset I'll replace that without complaint. If the frame/fork is damaged I don't really want to keep it though.
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Old 06-05-23, 10:23 PM
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Looks to my eyes to be a very brinelled headset that is also adjusted rather tightly. When the fork is removed from the frame I would expect to see bearing track wear that is focused where each ball would sit.

My suggestion is to replace the headset.

Is that a late 1970s Trek? Andy
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Old 06-05-23, 10:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart
Looks to my eyes to be a very brinelled headset that is also adjusted rather tightly. When the fork is removed from the frame I would expect to see bearing track wear that is focused where each ball would sit.

My suggestion is to replace the headset.

Is that a late 1970s Trek? Andy
Thanks Andy, appreciate the reply. Yes, it's a 1983 trek 620. Decent, but not amazing shape otherwise. I don't have tools to check for frame straightness but nothing is obviously amiss and I was able to put two wheels in it.
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Old 06-05-23, 10:27 PM
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+1 to Andy's Diagnosis.. BADLY Brinelled, Tight, And i'd bet it's rusty too.
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Old 06-05-23, 10:29 PM
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Originally Posted by maddog34
+1 to Andy's Diagnosis.. BADLY Brinelled, Tight, And i'd bet it's rusty too.
Will that issue (brinelling) generally prevent a person from removing the fork easily, and would it cause permanent damage to the fork? Or if I just take out the headset and try to clean up the rust will it likely be ok?
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Old 06-05-23, 10:35 PM
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Originally Posted by J_Climacus
Will that issue (brinelling) generally prevent a person from removing the fork easily, and would it cause permanent damage to the fork? Or if I just take out the headset and try to clean up the rust will it likely be ok?
should come out once the headset is undone... the bearings only ride on the other headset pieces...

a 1" threaded headset will have it back to riding shape... i like Tange headsets, and my '82 930 has a Dura-Ace headset in it... use light grease and change the grease every couple years.

That's some serious notching going on... You're GONNA need bearings anyway, so just get the entire headset and do it right. 620s Ride FANTASTIC.... well worth saving. Is the reynolds 531 decal still on the seat tube? My 930 is a Columbus frame... a bit more forgiving than the Reynolds tubes, IMO...

To be clear.. ANY minor imperfections in the Headset WILL effect ride quality.. you will be leaning and fighting just to keep the bike on a straight line and riding "no Hands" will be risky at best... a bad headset can make high speed cornering spooky too...

Last edited by maddog34; 06-05-23 at 10:50 PM.
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Old 06-06-23, 04:29 PM
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FWIW the hazards of riding with a "brinelled" (more properly fretted) headset are greatly exaggerated.

Let's start by acknowledging what we know. It did not suddenly get fretted while apart in transit. So, it's either been that way a long time and you never noticed, or it was a slight issue and made worse, possibly by preloading, when you reassembled. Either way, it's not an issue. You can start by trying to ease off slightly on the preload, and seeing if it becomes less noticeable. Or accept it as is, and see how it rides.

IME, most people never notice it when riding and only discover the problem when lifting or carrying the bikeY, or when told so by the mechanic. Years ago, I used to tell folks who just noticed it, that their bike was incorrectly fitted with a cyclocross headset and the notch was there to prevent the handlebars from swing around and hitting them on the head when carrying the bike. This usually satisfied them and they rode that way for years.

Since I rode thousands of miles per year on rough roads, fretting was SOP for me. I'd live with it until I was in the mood to work on the bike, then use a variety of tricks to buy more time, ie. replacing caged balls with loose with a different count, or knocking out the lower cup and turning it a few degrees. In any case, while I've had headsets so fretted that (on the stand) the whole bike would shudder when the fork snapped into place, I've NEVER noticed it on the road. On road steering forces are simply to great for most fretting to be an issue, though eventually it might be. I've usually replaced headsets because I got impatient with the problem when walking the bike and steering from the seat.

So, feel free to replace the headset if you want, but don't think you HAVE to right now.
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Old 06-07-23, 06:09 AM
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On the Andy Griffith Show, Gomer once explained that you could get a worn car transmission to run smoothly for a while by putting a bunch of sawdust into the transmission to smooth out the gears.

Just get a new headset and do the repair correctly.
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Old 06-07-23, 08:14 AM
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You might consider if the bike was correctly described by the seller on eBay. If the issue with the headset wasn't mentioned then you may have paid too much for it. Hard to believe the seller wouldn't have noticed it.

But the seller might be willing to give you some relief, or eBay itself might get your money back.
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Old 06-07-23, 08:25 AM
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Originally Posted by smd4
On the Andy Griffith Show, Gomer once explained that you could get a worn car transmission to run smoothly for a while by putting a bunch of sawdust into the transmission to smooth out the gears..
When I was a kid in the 50's, that was a trick some unscrupulous used car dealers used to hide a worn out transmission or differential. The warranties in those days were the famous "30/30" (30 seconds or 30 feet) so by the time the buyer realized what had happened it was too late.

I agree, replace the headset.
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Old 06-07-23, 08:33 AM
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Originally Posted by Iride01
You might consider if the bike was correctly described by the seller on eBay. If the issue with the headset wasn't mentioned then you may have paid too much for it. Hard to believe the seller wouldn't have noticed it.

But the seller might be willing to give you some relief, or eBay itself might get your money back.
Honestly, the frame was a fair price ($162 shipped). So while I'm a bit annoyed that the issue wasn't disclosed, as long as I just need to replace the headset, I'll deal with it and move on. If it had been more expensive, maybe I'd ask for something, but I was really just trying to buy a frameset and likely would have looked at replacing the headset anyways. The way I see it, if you're doing a frame-up build, no reason to not swap the BB and headset when you do so, unless they happen to be in perfect condition.
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Old 06-08-23, 03:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart
Looks to my eyes to be a very brinelled headset that is also adjusted rather tightly. When the fork is removed from the frame I would expect to see bearing track wear that is focused where each ball would sit.
Just to be clear, the actual phenomenon in a bicycle headset is fretting, not brinelling. The term brinelling got adopted many years ago as a common "knowledge" but it is wrong.
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Old 06-08-23, 04:45 PM
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Are they caged bearings? Loose ball could smooth it out if it's not real bad.
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Old 06-08-23, 05:25 PM
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Originally Posted by KerryIrons
Just to be clear, the actual phenomenon in a bicycle headset is fretting, not brinelling. The term brinelling got adopted many years ago as a common "knowledge" but it is wrong.
Agreed, but if I had said that the headset was suffering from fretting some would think a therapy session might be the fix Andy
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Old 06-09-23, 07:13 AM
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Originally Posted by HillRider
When I was a kid in the 50's, that was a trick some unscrupulous used car dealers used to hide a worn out transmission or differential. The warranties in those days were the famous "30/30" (30 seconds or 30 feet) so by the time the buyer realized what had happened it was too late.
Originally Posted by smd4
On the Andy Griffith Show, Gomer once explained that you could get a worn car transmission to run smoothly for a while by putting a bunch of sawdust into the transmission to smooth out the gears.
seems to me that in the book The Grapes of Wrath, the family truck had had this done to it and they knew they had been swindled? Old memory, but this from either the book or the movie popped into my head reading both your comments.
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Old 06-10-23, 11:49 AM
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Originally Posted by KerryIrons
Just to be clear, the actual phenomenon in a bicycle headset is fretting, not brinelling. The term brinelling got adopted many years ago as a common "knowledge" but it is wrong.
except it's the correct name for the little tiny indentations that form in the Races when a bearing is over-tightened.

not knowing the exact history of the headset in question, but after watching the vid.. it sure looks like it's TOO TIGHT.. and rusted too.
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Old 06-10-23, 11:54 AM
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Thanks, all. I got the headset out and just threw it away. Also, as fate would have it, I did some further exploration and while this was sold to me as a 1983 trek 520, I'm nearly certain it's actually a 1982 trek 613/614 (frames were the same, component groups differed on those two models.)

I deduced the date from where the serial number would fall in the sequential date range listed on the vintage trek site, and then deduced the model because according to the 1982 manual, the 613/614 were the only frames to use Suntour GS dropouts, which this one has.

Yet another reason that I could make a stink with the seller if I wanted to, but im just going to make lemonade with what life gave me. A new headset/bb and hopefully this thing will turn into a fun little commuter.
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Old 06-10-23, 12:16 PM
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Originally Posted by maddog34
except it's the correct name for the little tiny indentations that form in the Races when a bearing is over-tightened...
As a practical matter it's virtually impossible to Brinnell a bearing so you'd feel it on a bike. While it is possible to Brinnell a bearing with high impact loads, those dimples will be tiny and too shallow to matter for bikes.

What we see in headsets is almost always caused by fretting. Unlike Brinnelling which results from single events, fretting is cumulative and progressive. That difference clearly shows which we're seeing in the bike world.
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Old 06-10-23, 06:31 PM
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Originally Posted by J_Climacus
Does this indicate a headset issue or a frame/fork issue? If it's just a headset I'll replace that without complaint. If the frame/fork is damaged I don't really want to keep it though.
You really need a new headset but you might be lucky. If the current headset balls are held in a cage then you can replace them with a greater number of loose balls - that way the balls don't all align with the divots in the bearing races at the same time and they run a lot smoother.
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