From the Workbench: At-Home Headset Installation
Since our last From the Workbench article covered how to remove and install a fork, we thought we’d show you a very useful bit of "how-to" regarding removing, cleaning, re-grease, and installing your headset. Doing this little bit of preventative maintenance can go a long way toward keeping your bike’s front end running quietly and smoothly. If you haven’t already read our At-Home Fork Installation tutorial, now’s the time to do so. We’ve indicated when you’ll want to jump back to this how-to and you’ll need to perform the procedures up until that point, in order, to access your headset.
While this job is pretty straight-forward, it does require a few specialty tools which can be expensive. If you’re someone who likes to work on your own bike and wants to have nice tools, the sting isn’t too bad knowing that professional-level tools like these are built to last and you should only have to buy them once. We’ve seen bearing cup presses in shops that are likely as old as the guy working on your bike (and maybe even the building itself).
Hex Key Set (aka Allen Wrenches)
Removing Current Fork
Please refer to our At-Home Fork Installation guide for a step-by-step on how to remove your fork and headset bearings. Once you have removed your fork and bearings, jump back into this article and continue to the next section.
Removing Headset Cups
Step One - Inserting Headset Cup Removal Tool
This step is pretty basic, but there are a few things to check for while inserting the headset removal tool. With the bike in the stand and your headset bearings removed, slide the headset removal tool with the closed end up, through your head tube. If your headset removal cup is adjustable like ours, be sure to set it at the right size for your specific headset size, which in our case was 1.5".
You can squeeze the flared ends with your hand or just pull the tool through until the flared ends snap in behind the lower headset cup. Make sure to check that the tool is resting only on the inside edge of the lower cup, and not snagged on the head tube, down tube or top tube junction hole of your frame.
Step Two - Removing the Lower Headset Cup
With some downward pressure on the tool while holding it centered in the head tube, take your dead blow hammer and give the closed end of the tool a few whacks. You should see the lower bearing cup starting to push out of the head tube at this point.
It’s a good idea to now put one hand under the head tube to catch the cup and the removal tool when they finally break free.
Step Three - Removing the Upper Headset Cup
If you have a sturdy stand, we suggest rotating the bike upside down for this step. Repeat Step One and insert the headset removal tool, making sure it’s snug against the upper cup. Then, following suit with Step Two, give the removal tool a few good whacks and extract the upper cup, remembering to have a hand ready to catch everything.
Cleaning, Inspecting and Re-Greasing Headset Cups and Bearings
Step One - Clean Everything
Now that you have all the pieces of your headset successfully removed from your bike, it’s time to thoroughly clean them. Give everything a good wipe-down with a rag to remove the old grease and grit.
Step Two - Inspect Everything
Before you put everything back together, you’ll want to make sure it’s all still in good working order. Give the bearings a spin with your fingers to make sure they’re still smooth. Check the cups for any uneven discoloration in the anodizing or cracks. Give your head tube a close look for any cracks or damage, a flashlight or using your phone’s flash here can be useful. If everything looks good, move on to Step Three.
Step Three - Re-Grease Everything
You’ll want to apply grease to every part that will come in to contact with something. That includes the bearings, the cups (inside and out) and the area in which the upper and lower headset cups rest in the head tube. NOTE: If you are working on a carbon frame, make sure your grease is carbon safe. This is becoming less and less a concern these days, but it’s always good to check, even if you’re using grease made specifically for bicycles.
Installing Headset Cups
We’re almost done at this point, with only having to press in the new cups and reinstall the fork after this. But, don’t rush this step, as it can damage both your frame and your headset. You can press in both headset cups at once, but we’ve found that cup alignment issues can arise, so, for safety’s sake, we’re going to press them in one at a time.
Step One - Pressing in the Lower Bearing Cup
First, we’ll have to take apart the bearing cup press, which depending on your specific brand of tool, can be done a number of ways. Our Birzman tool, which features a quick-release design to remove the lower bushing on the press, makes this step pretty fast. Some tools require you to completely unscrew the lower bushing in order to remove it.
Once you have the lower bushing removed, insert the tool in the head tube from the top, down. Check that the upper bushing rests flush with your head tube and has a decent amount of purchase. Sometimes it’s necessary to remove the tool, flip the top bushing and re-insert the tool for a perfect fit. Slide the lower bushing with the lower bearing cup on top of the bushing onto the tool. Bring it up to the head tube and lock the lower bushing in place.
Now, slowly start turning the handle of your bearing press, making sure everything is lined up and straight as the lower cup starts to press into the frame. Do not rush this step. Take it nice and slow while continuing to make sure everything is going in smoothly. Once the headset cup is completely pressed in and flush with the head tube, you can remove the tool.
Step Two - Pressing in the Upper Bearing Cup
As you’d guess, this step is very similar to the previous step. Place the upper bearing cup loosely into the head tube and slide the bearing cup press in next. Bring the lower bushing onto the tool and secure it.
Make sure the bearing cup is resting straight in the head tube and begin pressing it in slowly by turning the tool's handle. Once it’s flush with the head tube and there are no gaps, give the tool one last little snug-down to make sure everything is seated properly and then remove the tool.
That’s it. Now it’s time to reassemble the headset and install the fork and controls. For detailed directions on how to do so, hop back into this At-Home Fork Installation guide and get ’er done. Time to ride!
Stay tuned for more From the Workbench tutorials. And, if you missed our General Drivetrain Maintenance, At-Home Tubeless Conversion, and At-Home Fork Installation tutorials, now’s a good time to check them out and get your bike dialed!