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KelOnWheels
01-30-2013, 12:48 PM
One of the wrenches at Bicycle Space mentioned that she thought I needed a headset overhaul - my bike does rather go "clunk" in the front end. I don't think it's ever been cleaned or greased or anything.

This looks like something I do Not Want To Try At Home, amirite? http://sheldonbrown.com/headsets.html#overhaul

Rootchopper
01-30-2013, 12:56 PM
Is this a trick question? :)

Regardless, the answer is "yes".

Personally, I can't remember when I've overhauled a headset, but if one of mine was going "CLUNK" I'd do it right away. Actually, I'd use my magic money card and have a mechanic do it for me. It's not like I'm going to do this again any time soon.

DismalScientist
01-30-2013, 12:59 PM
One of the wrenches at Bicycle Space mentioned that she thought I needed a headset overhaul - my bike does rather go "clunk" in the front end. I don't think it's ever been cleaned or greased or anything.

This looks like something I do Not Want To Try At Home, amirite? http://sheldonbrown.com/headsets.html#overhaul

Sure... Give it a try. Just keep the parts in the same order when you reinstall things and don't tighten up anything where it is binding.

I had a little thunk in my headset, but overhauling did not help.:p

Bilsko
01-30-2013, 02:34 PM
If you do plan to do the work yourself - both Zinn & the Art of Road Bike Maintenance and Todd Down's book (the Bicycling Magazine Maintenance & Repair guide) will walk you through common issues with Headsets and how to work on them. Fortunately, for headset work you don't need a specialized compliment of tools (wrenches and hex keys will cover most threadless headset jobs).

That said, Headset work at the LBS shouldn't run you more than 15-20 (aside from new bearing cartridges or other parts)...so maybe its just worth having them do the work.

jabberwocky
01-30-2013, 03:08 PM
How easy it is depends entirely on the headset. The internal Cane Creek on my carbon bike needs regular work, buts its super easy, since the "headset" is basically just a pair of bearings. Take the fork off, the bearings come out, pop the shields, clean, lube, put them back.

I've overhauled a few FSA Orbits, which are slightly more complicated (the bearing is pressed into the headset cups, so to really clean them you either need to pull them out or knock the entire headset out). But those are better sealed. I have several Chris King headsets as well, though I've never cleaned one because I've never had one need it. ;)

I'd be happy to show you how if you bring the bike to Reston.

Tim Kelley
01-30-2013, 03:12 PM
So, how often do you need service a headset? I haven't done it on any of mine ever, and I haven't noticed any issues in the 20,000 or so miles over the past 5 years.

KelOnWheels
01-30-2013, 03:32 PM
So, how often do you need service a headset? I haven't done it on any of mine ever, and I haven't noticed any issues in the 20,000 or so miles over the past 5 years.

According to Sheldon Brown, never, unless you need to. :D

jabberwocky
01-30-2013, 03:35 PM
So, how often do you need service a headset? I haven't done it on any of mine ever, and I haven't noticed any issues in the 20,000 or so miles over the past 5 years.Totally depends. Headsets are basically just bearings, so the seal quality varies widely. Chris Kings or Cane Creek 110s are designed to be super well sealed and will go a long time between services. Cheaper headsets with basic shields (or even worse, open bearings) will get gunky very quickly.

Also depends on what weather you ride in. If you only ride when its dry out, bearings last longer. Riding in the rain really tests the seals on bearings (applies to hubs and bottom brackets too).

If the bike still steers smoothly and you feel no issues turning the bars, its probably fine.

DaveK
01-30-2013, 03:48 PM
So, how often do you need service a headset? Blacknell hasn't done it on any of mine ever, and I haven't noticed any issues in the 20,000 or so miles over the past 5 years.

Fixed that for you.

If you don't notice any play in the headset or any grinding while turning the bars, you're good to go.

Tim Kelley
01-30-2013, 03:48 PM
So if I only ride completely straight in the aerobars, I'm less likely to wear them out?

Tim Kelley
01-30-2013, 03:50 PM
Fixed that for you.

I would have also accepted, "Don't you mean that I've never had a headset warrantied and replaced?"

thecyclingeconomist
01-30-2013, 03:52 PM
So, how often do you need service a headset? I haven't done it on any of mine ever, and I haven't noticed any issues in the 20,000 or so miles over the past 5 years.

If your headset has sealed cartridge bearings (most nicer ones do), then you'll likely never have to service. Rather, if it really does fail (becomes rough, or sticky to turn your handlebar), you'll just replace it.

You'll want to service your headset every couple years (clean and re-grease the bearings to seal out water) So, if they aren't sealed, then hopefully they are new enough that they have bearing retainers, rather than loose bearing balls (which were totally common in older headsets, even VERY high-end ones). You'll check the bearing race within the cups to make sure that there isn't any pitting in the surface and that it isn't grooved. These symptoms will make it so that the fork doesn't spin smoothly in the frame.

So, you'll want to replace the headset if there is a deep groove, or if there are pits from over-tightening.
Here's what a destroyed headset looks like: There is a "groove" that goes around where the bearing roll, and there are "pits" from over-tightening (basically dents in the race's surface which will make it rough, and potentially dangerous if you try to ride no-handed since often the fork will be stuck in that position.)
2362
You want to tighten the cap on the headset just enough so that there isn't any wiggle or play, but NO MORE.

Here's the differences between the major types of headsets:
Cartridge (if they are binding, or simply not smooth, then you need to replace them, or the headset: in which case you'll need to remove the cups and crown-race, and you'll need a headset press to put new cups into the frame. If you don't have the tool, or haven't been shown how to do this, I wouldn't recommend it.)
2358 (The piece with the red bearing race is the actual cartridge)

Example of how NOT to install a headset:
2359 PLEASE DON'T DO THIS!

Here's a mid-level setup with open serviceable bearings that sit in a retainer (the piece that keeps the individual bearings from flying everywhere). These can be taken apart, cleaned and re-greased (you'll want to COMPLETELY pack the area with a good bearing grease, such as Phil Woods).
2357

Here's a loose-bearing setup. These you have to be VERY gingerly with when you open them, or you'll likely lose the bearings all over the floor (in which case, you'll spend the next hour trying to find them all, give up, go to your local shop to find out that they don't carry them, and end up replacing the headset with a newer model in disgust).
2361
You'll just re-grease them and literally set them back in, one-by-one till there is no space left. If there is enough space for another ball-bearing to fit, then you've lost one and should go pick up a new pack at your LBS.

thecyclingeconomist
01-30-2013, 04:03 PM
Roller bearings are used too: they wont "groove", but they can pit when over-tightened.
2363

Here's a pitted roller-bearing race (there shouldn't be ANY marks on the race)
2364

thecyclingeconomist
01-30-2013, 04:16 PM
So if I only ride completely straight in the aerobars, I'm less likely to wear them out?

Well, you won't groove the headset race, but you are just as likely to have an issue with pitting from over-tightening. In fact, if the handlebar doesn't rotate smoothly, that's the key to diagnosing an issue with the headset.

To make sure it's tight enough, stand over the bike, apply the front-brake and move the bike fore & aft while keeping a hand on the stem. You'll feel if there is any wiggle or "play" in it, if you can hear it, then it's WAY loose.

Also, most wear come from the fact that grease wasn't replaced, and water gets into the system. Re-packing the bearings with a good water-proof grease such as Phil-woods is key. Here in D.C., if you are a regular commuter and your not running a sealed system, it's likely that you'll need to service the headset bearing (clean and repack in fresh grease) pretty regularly.

Just my 2-cents on that.

thecyclingeconomist
01-30-2013, 04:28 PM
One of the wrenches at Bicycle Space mentioned that she thought I needed a headset overhaul - my bike does rather go "clunk" in the front end. I don't think it's ever been cleaned or greased or anything.

This looks like something I do Not Want To Try At Home, amirite? http://sheldonbrown.com/headsets.html#overhaul

The first time you do it, I can see that having someone guide you wouldn't be a bad idea. It's not rocket science, so after you see it once, you'll be able to do it at-home no problem.

The key is properly cleaning, re-installing enough grease, and then tightening the top-cap and stem properly. Again, if you have cartridge style, then there's no such thing as servicing; if it's rough, then it's time to replace the bearings (or headset).

jabberwocky
01-30-2013, 06:24 PM
Again, if you have cartridge style, then there's no such thing as servicing; if it's rough, then it's time to replace the bearings (or headset).As long as the bearings are merely dirty (which they usually are), they are totally serviceable. Cartridge bearings are generally pretty easy to open up and clean, as much as manufacturers would like to insist otherwise. I've brought some nasty bearings back by popping the shields, soaking them in mineral spirits and then cleaning and repacking with fresh grease.

Even if they have some internal wear or pitting, a cleaning and fresh grease can get you a lot of additional use out of them. Its not like headsets see a ton of rotational energy.

thecyclingeconomist
01-30-2013, 07:30 PM
...Cartridge bearings are generally pretty easy to open up and clean, as much as manufacturers would like to insist otherwise...

I'd generally agree with you, but some have very finicky seals, and if you try to re-install the seals incorrectly and put things together without them seated correctly, it'll cause more harm than help.

Headsets just aren't that expensive, and replacing bearings and or the whole cartridge is generally pretty darn cheap. If things are rough enough to dramatically inhibit operation of the bike in a cartridge bearing, often things have gotten pretty badly worn.

Again, most people on here don't have the tools or experience to deal with things that would be done on a daily basis in a shop setting. That was the tone set in this thread, and that's how I generally approach the advice I give, but I certainly concede that most cartridge bearings can be serviced.