Bike Repair – Replace Your Headset

Bicycle headset parts.

If your headset’s creaking or wobbling and beyond repair, follow this step-by-step guide to swap it for a new one.

1. Remove front brake

Ensure your bike is clean and clamp it securely in a workstand. Remove the front wheel. Undo the bolts securing the front brake lever to the handlebar, turning them anticlockwise with the appropriate tool. Put the bolts and lever clamp somewhere clean and safe. Allow the lever body to hang by the fork.

2. Remove other controls

Now remove the rest of the controls – shifter(s), rear brake lever, dropper post lever – from the bar, using the appropriate Allen and/or Torx keys and turning them anticlockwise. If the controls have split clamps, undo the bolts and pull the controls off. If they have fixed clamps, loosen the bolts, remove the grips and then slide the controls off the bar.

3. Secure on the top tube

With the rest of the controls removed from the bar, gently pull them back and secure them to the top tube with a ziptie so they’re out of the way.

4. Remove the stem

Loosen the stem’s steerer clamp bolts, turning them a few turns anticlockwise with the appropriate size Allen key. Hold the fork in one hand and use the appropriate size Allen key to remove the stem’s top cap bolt, turning it anticlockwise. Set the bolt, top cap and any spacers aside, in order. Pull the stem off the steerer tube, then set the bar and stem aside.

5. Remove the fork

Set any headset spacers below the stem aside with the others. Slide the fork out of the frame and set it aside. Remove the headset’s top bearing cover, upper race and seals. Put them next to the spacers, in the correct order. Pick out the headset bearings with your fingers (they may be loose balls or cartridge bearings) and set them aside, or discard them if pitted.

6. Set removal tool 1

Use the appropriate headset removal tool to remove the lower headset cup – for tapered steerers, you’ll need a different tool for the lower and upper cups because they’ll be different sizes. Pull the tool up through the head tube with the barbs pointing downwards until the barbs pop out into the head tube.

7. Set removal tool 2

Push the headset removal tool back down firmly until the barbs all sit flush on the rim of the lower headset cup. Look to make sure all three barbs are properly seated on the outer edge of the cup – they can sometimes get caught on the head tube, which can cause damage to the frame.

8. Remove lower cup

Hold the headset removal tool with one hand so that the handle is centered within the upper headset cup. Give the top of the tool a firm vertical tap with a rubber mallet. Check that the tool is still properly sitting on the lower headset cup before hitting it again. Repeat until the lower cup falls out of the head tube.

9. Remove upper cup

If your workstand allows, turn the bike upside down. Repeat steps 6 to 8 on the upper headset cup, using the correct size headset removal tool. Discard the old headset cups.

10. Check the head tube

Use degreaser and rags to clean the inside of the head tube thoroughly. Inspect it for cracks or signs of damage. If everything’s OK, grease the inside of the head tube liberally and apply grease to the outside of the new headset cups too.

11. Assemble cup and press

Wind the handle of the headset press almost fully anticlockwise. Slide the new lower headset cup over the shaft along with the appropriate adaptor to press it in. Thread the shaft of the tool down through the head tube until the headset cup sits on the end of the head tube. Slide the lower plate up the shaft of the tool and clip it onto the highest notch you can.

12. Press new cups

Turn the handle clockwise, ensuring that the tool is kept squarely in line with the head tube. Continue to turn the handle until the lower headset cup is fully installed in the frame and there’s no gap between the cup and the head tube. This shouldn’t take much force. Return the bike to the correct way up and repeat steps 11 and 12 with the upper headset cup.

13. Install new bearings

Grease the inside of the headset cups and install the new bearings. Clean the fork’s steerer tube, check the crown race is correct for the headset, then slide the steerer into the head tube. Add the upper race, seals, bearing cover and spacers. Slide the stem on, replace any other spacers and reinstall the top cap, turning the bolt clockwise to the recommended torque setting.

14. Refit the controls

Refit the controls (and grips, if removed) to the bar in a reversal of steps 1 and 2, taking care to fit them in the correct order and only doing the bolts up loosely. Remove the bike from the workstand and check the controls are in the most ergonomic position possible before tightening the clamp bolts clockwise until snug.

15. Align stem and bars

Align the stem with the front tyre and the bar with the dials on the fork crown – this will ensure the bar is straight. To make adjustments, hold the bar while tapping the wheel with one foot. Once straight, tighten the stem’s steerer clamp bolts, turning them clockwise to the manufacturer’s recommended torque setting.

16. Check for play

Pull the front brake lever with one hand and use the other to rock the frame back and forth while feeling for play between the frame and headset. If there is play, loosen the stem clamp bolts (anticlockwise), tighten the steerer bolt (clockwise), straighten the bar and retighten the stem clamp bolts (clockwise).

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