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Old 09-23-11, 06:25 PM   #1
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I'm afraid of headset and stem adjustment...

I noticed my trail bike's integrated headset was clunk-clunk and could feel and see the cone spacer under the stem moving around when I rocked the bike with the front brake applied (it wasn't from play in the front suspension). So I loosened the stem bolts then tightened the top cap bolt just a teeny bit, and now the play is gone and it still seems to turn left and right okay and smoothly.

The only thing I'm afraid of is whether or not I have the stem bolts too tight or too loose... No torque wrench or one of those preset torque keys. I just used the short end in the bolt heads and turned it with my fingers real close to the bend in the wrench until it felt pretty tight. Is this pretty close to being the specified 5 n-m torque (that's printed on the stem)? It's an aluminum stem and steerer, so I should be okay, right?

Luckily for some reason I decided to check the headset with the rock test because I also found that my front quick release was extremely loose! Dodged a bullet... I will sleep better if y'all can learn me if I did the headset up right too.
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Old 09-23-11, 07:25 PM   #2
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The best description I can give you about how it should feel is "pretty snug." If you use a "three way" wrench, twist pretty hard on it. If you use a 3/8" drive socket, use about as much "wrist only" action on it. Or, go to Harbor Freight and get a torque wrench. I believe they're on sale for only a bit over $10 these days. You won't regret it, I use mine a lot. It's pretty difficult to explain something like the feeling of a particular torque setting...
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Old 09-23-11, 07:45 PM   #3
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If you used a standard 5 mm L-type Allan Key and turned it using the long end of the wrench you certainly didn't over torque it. 5 N-m is a lot tighter than you think. If you just turned the short end of the key by hand, you didn't get the bolts nearly tight enough
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Old 09-24-11, 10:23 AM   #4
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milkbaby: +1 on the torque wrench, they are cheap and will last a lifetime. If you save one component from damage due to over- or under-tightening it will have paid for itself. If you ever go to carbon components you will absolutely need one so why not have it now? No more guessing or fear.
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Old 09-24-11, 12:00 PM   #5
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A good torque value for stem bolts when using an L key is to use two fingers on the long end of the key with your thumb as a fulcrum at the bend. Sneak up on the final torque a bit at a time with a two screw setup since they affect each other. The final torque will be enough to leave an indent in your fingers for a few seconds but won't actually cause pain. That'll be close enough to get you home and not need to worry about stripping out any threads. Go back and forth about 4 times sneaking up on the final torque and even when the screws don't move anymore go back and forth with the same force a couple of times to ensure they are both equally tight.

The same goes for loosening a two bolt split stem. Undo each screw in 1/4 turn increments for the first turn and then in half turn increments for the next couple. That'll avoid transferring all the tension to one screw and making it really hard to turn.

I'd suggest you get a torque wrench as well. It's an odd thing since the more you wrench and use the torque wrench the less you'll find you need it. You'll develop a "feel" for the appropriate torque over time and end up only using the torque wrench for more critical fasteners. But until you get the history and feel for this the wrench will pay for itself many times over in peace of mind.
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