Go Back  Bike Forums > Bike Forums > Bicycle Mechanics
Reload this Page >

Proper Headset Adjustment

Notices
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.

Proper Headset Adjustment

Old 08-14-14, 10:53 AM
  #1  
Senior Member
Thread Starter
 
jethin's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 1,126
Liked 362 Times in 174 Posts
Proper Headset Adjustment

I've been having some issues with tight headsets lately and am seeking some guidance.

My technique for checking headsets is to brace the bike against the floor (with my foot on a chainstay) and moderately jerk the front wheel and the top of the stem in contrary directions with my hands. I believe this allows me to exert a good amount of force on the headset and detect even small knocks/looseness. The problem is that I can't seem to eliminate the tiny knock I can almost always detect without tightening the headset down pretty tight -- tight enough that I can feel the bearings in the headset and the bars don't turn 100% freely.

So my questions are: Am I applying too much force when checking my headsets? Am I correct that there should be absolutely zero play in a proper headset adjustment? I'm assuming that it's better to err on the too tight side here, correct? Thanks.
jethin is offline  
Old 08-14-14, 11:07 AM
  #2  
Calamari Marionette Ph.D
 
SquidPuppet's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2013
Location: Coeur d' Alene
Posts: 7,861

Bikes: 3 Chinese Gas Pipe Nerdcycles and 2 Chicago Electroforged Boat Anchors

Liked 35 Times in 27 Posts
Yes, zero play is what you want. If everything is healthy in the headset and assembled correctly, you should be able (easily) to achieve a zero play and zero binding adjustment.

Is the headset new or used? Have you inspected the bearings and cups?

For me, adjusting headsets, threaded and threadless, are the easiest to 'get right' the first time.
SquidPuppet is offline  
Old 08-14-14, 11:14 AM
  #3  
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: New Rochelle, NY
Posts: 39,257

Bikes: too many bikes from 1967 10s (5x2)Frejus to a Sumitomo Ti/Chorus aluminum 10s (10x2), plus one non-susp mtn bike I use as my commuter

Liked 3,113 Times in 1,713 Posts
The simplest and quickest way to check for headset play is to lift the front end about a foot and drop it onto the floor. A loose headset will give a very characteristic "knock" or "clunk", and a tight headset won't.

The other test is to apply the front brake and rock the bike forward and back while looking and/or feeling for movement at the lower bearing.

The important indicator of a loose headset is a slight click or clunk when applying the front brake, as the fork pushes back in the bearing.

It's normal to feel the bearing somewhat when a headset is tight, but there shouldn't be any binding. If you can't get it adjusted to find a balance between no play, and no drag, there may be misalignment someplace, or if play is very difficult to resolve, sometimes the headset is OK, but one part is loose on the fork or in the head tube, ie. a crown race loose on the fork.

So it you're struggling with the adjustment, and it's not just you take it apart and see if you can spot the issue (other than adjustment). Among others I've seen retainered balls upside down, cups loose in the lower head tube, integrated headsets not seated properly, or mismatched for the frame, upper centering cones missing or damaged, and so on...

First try adjusting, then do a thorough diagnosis to find why you can't.
__________________
FB
Chain-L site

An ounce of diagnosis is worth a pound of cure.

Just because I'm tired of arguing, doesn't mean you're right.

“One accurate measurement is worth a thousand expert opinions” - Adm Grace Murray Hopper - USN

WARNING, I'm from New York. Thin skinned people should maintain safe distance.
FBinNY is offline  
Old 08-14-14, 11:29 AM
  #4  
jyl
Senior Member
 
jyl's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: Portland OR
Posts: 7,643

Bikes: 61 Bianchi Specialissima 71 Peugeot G50 7? P'geot PX10 74 Raleigh GranSport 75 P'geot UO8 78? Raleigh Team Pro 82 P'geot PSV 86 P'geot PX 91 Bridgestone MB0 92 B'stone XO1 97 Rans VRex 92 Cannondale R1000 94 B'stone MB5 97 Vitus 997

Liked 62 Times in 34 Posts
For me, the easiest test is to place the bike on the ground, apply the front brake enough to lock that wheel, then rock the bike forward and backward. There shouldn't be any discernible play or looseness at the headset. Sometimes there is a little play in the front brake which is a different issue but can confuse things. You can place a finger where the headset races meet to feel specifically for headset play.

I don't worry about being able to feel just a bit of drag from the headset when the bike is on the stand and I am turning the handlebars. The headset bearing isn't being asked to spin freely like a hub bearing, so that little bit of drag doesn't matter. You do want the front wheel to flop freely to one side or the other as you lean the bike.

When adjusting the headset on the stand, I tend to adjust too loose, and then have to tighten a little bit after the "rocking" test. The need for such a trial and error process always reminds me that I'm a shadetree, not professional, mechanic.
jyl is offline  
Old 08-14-14, 11:55 AM
  #5  
Senior Member
Thread Starter
 
jethin's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 1,126
Liked 362 Times in 174 Posts
Thanks all, I appreciate the replies. My test is basically the front brake/rock bike method, but while also immoblizing the rear end of the bike, which I believe allows me to exert more force on the headset and detect even tiny knocks. Lately I seem to get tightness regardless of whether installing a new or used headset. When it's used gear my ASSumption (I know, I know) is that the races are probably somewhat worn; with new stuff I guess fork facing (I get the head tube parts pressed at the LBS.) I'm OK with a little drag (hey, I've seen Hairspray) but I'm trying to make sure I'm not just flat out over-tightening things from the get go.

Last edited by jethin; 08-14-14 at 12:42 PM.
jethin is offline  
Old 08-14-14, 11:58 AM
  #6  
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2013
Location: Llano Estacado
Posts: 3,702

Bikes: old clunker

Likes: 0
Liked 105 Times in 83 Posts
Originally Posted by jethin
. . . but I wanted to make sure I wasn't just flat out over-tightening things from the get go.
You are.
AnkleWork is offline  
Old 08-14-14, 12:26 PM
  #7  
Senior Member
Thread Starter
 
jethin's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 1,126
Liked 362 Times in 174 Posts
Originally Posted by AnkleWork
You are.
You might be right. But here's the problem: in my recent experience there's either going to be a tiny knock or some drag. I suppose if I were a professional I could thoroughly diagnose, make frame/fork modifications and press a new headset into every bike. But I have to make some compromises.

PS: One of my concerns is that my special test exerts an "undue" force on headsets and is revealing tiny knocks that exist naturally in most headsets. (Or perhaps causing a tiny knock somewhere else that I can't locate.) I do believe my test applies more force to the headset than standard the "lock 'n rock" method. But if it's true that zero play is what I'm after, then recently I've had to go tight to achieve it.

My spidey sense tells me there will be skepticism on this point. That's OK -- I'd be skeptical too.

Last edited by jethin; 08-14-14 at 01:13 PM.
jethin is offline  
Old 08-14-14, 01:49 PM
  #8  
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: Above ground, Walnut Creek, Ca
Posts: 6,682

Bikes: 8 ss bikes, 1 5-speed touring bike

Likes: 0
Liked 4 Times in 4 Posts
maybe this will shed some light on your problem, OP.

i've recently had a similar experience in adjusting my headset. i suspected that the crown race was not seated properly on the fork. there was always a slight clunk when hitting small holes in the road. i checked everything over the next few rides, hoping it was a clicking brake lever, or brake housing, or loose skewer. i could feel no looseness in the headset and had adjusted it a number of times. i figured if the crown race was not seated completely, a few hundred miles of bad road might make a difference. anyway, last night i was at it again, after a riding the bike, and noticed that i could create a clunk by just hitting the front tire, hard, towards the rear of the bike. i figured it had to be a loose headset. so i tightened it down to the point where there was a bit i tightness in it, then went for a ride. there was no noise on the ride and no tightness in the headset after the ride. i figure the crown race wasn't completely seated.

Last edited by hueyhoolihan; 08-14-14 at 01:53 PM.
hueyhoolihan is offline  
Old 08-14-14, 03:11 PM
  #9  
Old fart
 
JohnDThompson's Avatar
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: Appleton WI
Posts: 24,926

Bikes: Several, mostly not name brands.

Liked 3,541 Times in 2,003 Posts
If you cannot eliminate play without tightening the headset so much that it no longer freely turns, there are a couple things to check: first, make sure the bearings are installed properly. If a retainer or cartridge is installed upside down it can cause adjustment problems. Second, the faces of the head tube may need to be prepped to ensure that the upper and lower races are both installed concentrically and perpendicular to the axis of the head tube. If this is not the case, the headset will appear to be tight in one spot, but loose in another. And don't forget to check that the crown race is fully seated, as hueyhoolihan notes above.
JohnDThompson is offline  
Old 08-14-14, 06:37 PM
  #10  
Expired Member
 
shelbyfv's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jun 2007
Location: TN
Posts: 12,260
Liked 6,164 Times in 3,110 Posts
Since your "special test" is not working for you, maybe you should abandon it and go with one of the methods on the Park Tool site.
shelbyfv is online now  
Old 08-14-14, 07:01 PM
  #11  
Senior Member
Thread Starter
 
jethin's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 1,126
Liked 362 Times in 174 Posts
Thanks @FBinNY @hueyhoolihan and [MENTION=20548]JohnDThompson[/MENTION] -- I think you've hit the nail on the head re: troubleshooting. FWIW I think I've just had a string of difficult headsets/frames/forks. (I don't use retainers btw.) I'm going to keep working at it though. I'm not equipped to do the more involved fixes (facing, cup pressing, fork crown seating) but in cases where I just can't get it right I suppose I need to just bite the bullet and go to my LBS.
jethin is offline  
Old 08-14-14, 08:12 PM
  #12  
Senior Member
 
Road Fan's Avatar
 
Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Posts: 16,933

Bikes: 1980 Masi, 1984 Mondonico, 1984 Trek 610, 1980 Woodrup Giro, 2005 Mondonico Futura Leggera ELOS, 1967 PX10E, 1971 Peugeot UO-8

Liked 677 Times in 517 Posts
Originally Posted by JohnDThompson
If you cannot eliminate play without tightening the headset so much that it no longer freely turns, there are a couple things to check: first, make sure the bearings are installed properly. If a retainer or cartridge is installed upside down it can cause adjustment problems. Second, the faces of the head tube may need to be prepped to ensure that the upper and lower races are both installed concentrically and perpendicular to the axis of the head tube. If this is not the case, the headset will appear to be tight in one spot, but loose in another. And don't forget to check that the crown race is fully seated, as hueyhoolihan notes above.
+1 to this! I've found that if I can't eliminate play by adjustment, I try to better seat the crown and cups. If that doesn't work I have the frame and fork faced and reamed to restore the fit and positioning of the cups. That has fixed it every time.

$20 spent to finish installation of a $20 to $60 headset on a frame worth $200 to $2k is a good investment if I get more years out of the headset.
Road Fan is offline  
Old 08-15-14, 09:31 AM
  #13  
Senior Member
Thread Starter
 
jethin's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 1,126
Liked 362 Times in 174 Posts
Originally Posted by Road Fan
+1 to this! I've found that if I can't eliminate play by adjustment, I try to better seat the crown and cups. If that doesn't work I have the frame and fork faced and reamed to restore the fit and positioning of the cups. That has fixed it every time.

$20 spent to finish installation of a $20 to $60 headset on a frame worth $200 to $2k is a good investment if I get more years out of the headset.
+1. This is a PITA (at least for me) but when all else fails this seems the proper way to get things right -- tabula rasa so to speak.
jethin is offline  
Old 03-29-15, 04:55 PM
  #14  
52psi
 
Fahrenheit531's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2013
Location: Tucson, AZ
Posts: 4,020

Bikes: Schwinn Volare ('78); Raleigh Competition GS ('79)

Liked 805 Times in 393 Posts
Seems a good zombie to resurrect, as I'm in the same situation Jethin was and have a related question:

Could going from caged bearings to loose balls resolve the issue? I'm working with a '71 Campy headset. When I brought the bike home the steering was super-stiff, and I discovered the bearings had been installed upside down. Now that they're in correctly I can't get that sweet spot with zero play and no appreciable resistance.

I'm wondering if the bearing cages may have been damaged by the incorrect installation, as there's no pitting or scoring in the headset itself to suggest a problem there.
__________________
A race bike in any era is a highly personal choice that at its "best" balances the requirements of fit, weight, handling, durability and cost tempered by the willingness to toss it and oneself down the pavement at considerable speed. ~Bandera
Fahrenheit531 is offline  
Old 03-29-15, 05:17 PM
  #15  
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: New Rochelle, NY
Posts: 39,257

Bikes: too many bikes from 1967 10s (5x2)Frejus to a Sumitomo Ti/Chorus aluminum 10s (10x2), plus one non-susp mtn bike I use as my commuter

Liked 3,113 Times in 1,713 Posts
Originally Posted by J.Oxley
Seems a good zombie to resurrect, as I'm in the same situation Jethin was and have a related question:

Could going from caged bearings to loose balls resolve the issue? I'm working with a '71 Campy headset. When I brought the bike home the steering was super-stiff, and I discovered the bearings had been installed upside down. Now that they're in correctly I can't get that sweet spot with zero play and no appreciable resistance.

I'm wondering if the bearing cages may have been damaged by the incorrect installation, as there's no pitting or scoring in the headset itself to suggest a problem there.
There's always the chance that they were right before and upside down now. Otherwise, I don't expect that a slightly damaged cage would cause problems with adjustment. You might hear or feel some drag, but it wouldn't change much as you adjust.

Usually trouble finding a sweet spot is caused by misalignment or an extra ball. OTOH, you don't have much to lose by giving loose balls a shot.
__________________
FB
Chain-L site

An ounce of diagnosis is worth a pound of cure.

Just because I'm tired of arguing, doesn't mean you're right.

“One accurate measurement is worth a thousand expert opinions” - Adm Grace Murray Hopper - USN

WARNING, I'm from New York. Thin skinned people should maintain safe distance.
FBinNY is offline  
Old 03-29-15, 06:59 PM
  #16  
52psi
 
Fahrenheit531's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2013
Location: Tucson, AZ
Posts: 4,020

Bikes: Schwinn Volare ('78); Raleigh Competition GS ('79)

Liked 805 Times in 393 Posts
Originally Posted by FBinNY
There's always the chance that they were right before and upside down now. Otherwise, I don't expect that a slightly damaged cage would cause problems with adjustment. You might hear or feel some drag, but it wouldn't change much as you adjust.

Usually trouble finding a sweet spot is caused by misalignment or an extra ball. OTOH, you don't have much to lose by giving loose balls a shot.
Right now the bearings are facing their respective cones and the cages face the cups. As far as I know that's right...?
As for "not much to lose by trying loose," that's what I was figuring: if we're good with the loose bearings in there, I know everything's aligned properly and something else was messing up. If it's still sketchy with that setup I'll know something more substantial is the issue.
I think.
__________________
A race bike in any era is a highly personal choice that at its "best" balances the requirements of fit, weight, handling, durability and cost tempered by the willingness to toss it and oneself down the pavement at considerable speed. ~Bandera
Fahrenheit531 is offline  
Old 03-31-15, 01:26 PM
  #17  
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: Southern California
Posts: 588

Bikes: Gary Fisher Hi-Fi Deluxe, Giant Stance, Cannondale Synapse, Diamondback 8sp IGH, 1989 Merckx

Likes: 0
Liked 2 Times in 2 Posts
I may be wrong: I believe that the cages should face the cones not the cups--- check this out.

Joe

Last edited by Joe Minton; 04-01-15 at 10:08 AM.
Joe Minton is offline  
Old 04-01-15, 08:35 AM
  #18  
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 6,660
Liked 171 Times in 138 Posts
There should be slight drag indicating preload.
davidad is offline  
Related Topics
Thread
Thread Starter
Forum
Replies
Last Post
joedab
Bicycle Mechanics
23
04-07-19 05:15 AM
bdogg
Bicycle Mechanics
8
07-07-17 07:20 AM
jambon
Bicycle Mechanics
3
10-01-14 06:23 PM
Rnauth1418
Bicycle Mechanics
3
05-23-14 09:59 AM
swf8322
Bicycle Mechanics
32
09-11-13 09:19 AM

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off


Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Terms of Service - Your Privacy Choices -

Copyright © 2024 MH Sub I, LLC dba Internet Brands. All rights reserved. Use of this site indicates your consent to the Terms of Use.