How to Check and Adjust Your Bike Headset

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How to Check and Adjust Your Bike Headset

A headset is a part of a bicycle that connects the fork to the frame. Experienced cyclists typically know about the different kinds of headsets, but amateurs may need to learn since they are put together differently and require different methods of repair. The various types of bike headsets include threaded, threadless, integrated, and internal.

Becoming familiar with some of the common problems with headsets can help a cyclist learn how to fix these issues. These common problems may include shakiness, stiffness, or a combination of shakiness and stiffness. The problem may only require a quick fix, or it could require replacing some parts. One should also learn how to adjust both threaded and threadless headsets, as these are the most commonly used styles.

A cyclist should always keep his or her bike in top condition, and this means checking it regularly for any problems. Problems that are not corrected could cause steering problems and possibly accidents. Replacement parts for bike headsets can often be found at bicycle repair shops and some sporting goods stores, or buyers can turn to the Internet and visit marketplaces like eBay to search for what they need.

Types of Headsets

A buyer can choose from a variety of headsets, including threaded, threadless, integrated, and internal. Threaded and threadless are the two most common kinds of headsets, but all of these types perform the same basic function, albeit with a different number of parts.

Threaded Headsets

A threaded headset is the traditional type of headset, and it is used with threaded steerers. Although this was the original type used, it has been gradually replaced in recent years by threadless headsets. A threaded headset consists of eight different parts.

Threadless Headsets

With a threadless headset, the steerer tube extends all the way down from the fork through the head tube. It is held in place by the stem that is clamped on top. Tightening a threadless headset requires tightening the preload bolt.

Integrated Headsets

Integrated headsets are a relatively new development. Instead of the upper and lower cups that are on threadless headsets, these headsets have bearings that are set directly against the head tube of the frame. Integrated headsets are sometimes preferred for their aesthetic appeal because there are not as many parts.

Internal Headsets

Also known as semi-integrated headsets, internal headsets have the bearings on the inside of the head tube. Other than that, these headsets have all the other parts of conventional headsets. The designs usually have a 44.0 mm head tube diameter.

Headset Sizes

When choosing a replacement headset, a buyer needs to consider a number of dimensions. All of these dimensions have to be calculated and taken into account in order to make sure a headset fits.


Description of Measurement

Diameter of Fork Steerer

Enclosed inside the steerer and cannot be seen from the outside

Frame Cups

The outside diameter of the frame cups where they fit into the head tube

Crown Race

The inside diameter where the crown race fits against the fork crown

Stack Height

Shorter is fine, but too tall is a problem

A cyclist needs these important measurements in order to choose the right replacement parts. Experienced cyclists may already understand the various component names and terminology. Those who do not understand these terms may be able to find pictures and graphics in user manuals for their bikes that show the various parts of the bike.

Common Problems with Headsets

A cyclist should learn about some of the problems that commonly occur with headsets. The most common headset problems include shakiness, stiffness, or a combination of these two issues. The source of the problem could vary, so a cyclist may have to try more than one fix to correct the problem.


If the headset is shaky, that is a sign that the headset is too loose. One can check the tightness by applying the front brake and pushing the handlebars front to back and side to side. If there is a clunking sound, then that is a sign that the headset is too loose. To make sure that the looseness is not coming from the brake, the cyclist can check by putting a finger across the gap between the races of the top or bottom of the headset.


Stiffness occurs when the headset is too tight. A cyclist can check for tightness by lifting the front of the frame so the front wheel rises off the ground. Generally, the wheel and the handlebars fall to one side. If the front wheel and handlebars are taken off the bike, and the fork is turned, it is normal to feel an even drag. Any roughness or uneven drag is a sign that there may be a problem.

Shakiness and Stiffness

When the headset is both shaky and stiff, it means there is a more serious problem than a mere adjustment issue. The cause could be a number of things. Some of the parts may be bent from wear and tear or something could be loose, for example.

Bent Steerer or Bearings

Sometimes, the fork steerer gets bent in a crash. Usually, this cannot be repaired, so the cyclist needs to buy a new fork. Alternatively, some of the bearing races may have been installed incorrectly. This can be fixed by having the frame's head tube realigned.

Loose Bearings or Crown Race

The bearings might be loose where they attach to the frame or fork. This can make the race move back and forth, even if the bearings are sufficiently tight. The fork crown race is most often the cause of the problem. If the crown race is loose, the cyclist may be able to fix it with a hammer and punch. These can be used to make some dents in the surface to help locate the crown race.


Headsets need to be adjusted from time to time, but the method of adjustment depends on the style of headset. Even certain types of headsets have various subcategories. A cyclist can adjust a headset with a couple of simple tools.

Adjustments for Threaded Headsets

Adjustment is easier if someone uses two wrenches, but one adjustable wrench also works. The bike should be left right side up with the wheels resting on the floor. The cyclist should loosen the locknut and remove the threads and keyed washer. These are then greased and replaced unless they have already been greased. One should screw down the upper head race until the bearings bind and then ease up a little so that it stays loose. The locknut should be tightened slightly before checking the bearings, and then it should be adjusted. After the locknut has been properly adjusted, then it should be completely tightened.

Adjustments for Threadless Headsets

Cyclists should understand that there are three different styles of threadless headsets: Aheadset, Diatech, and GeForce. For a threadless headset to be adjusted, the stem binder has to be loosened, and the bolt that runs from the cap to the star nut is tightened. The stem is then aligned with the front wheel, and the binder bolts are tightened.

For a Diatech headset, special collars are used that are mounted between the stem and the top race. The handlebar stem clamps tightly to the steerer so that the collar does not move forward. While the upper collar is compressed by the binder bolt, the lower part of the collar is pushed down.

GeForce headsets are no longer manufactured, but if a cyclist needs to adjust one, he or she can loosen the binder bolts of the collar and the top race. The collar and upper bearing race should be screwed together. One should be careful not to tighten it too much, or this can cause a problem, as well.

Finding Headsets on eBay

You should take advantage of all the different search options on eBay, including the invaluable keyword search. All you have to do is type keywords, such as 'threaded headset', into the search box. Since there may be a large number of listings, you may want to consider using some of the category and filter options to narrow the search results.

If you have any questions about an item, you can contact the seller. There is a link on the listing page that allows you to ask the seller any questions you may have about a product. You should also learn about the feedback feature. This lets you see what other buyers have said about a particular seller. When doing research on a seller, remember to consider both the amount of feedback and the specific comments about the seller. After you have made a purchase, you can also leave feedback that helps other buyers have an even better buying experience.


Every cyclist should strive to keep his or her bike in excellent condition. This includes performing regular maintenance on the bicycle. One important maintenance factor is learning how to check and adjust the bike's headset. When the headset is not properly maintained, it can cause a variety of problems with steering, and this could be dangerous for the cyclist.

The four types of headsets are threaded, threadless, integrated, and internal. Threaded and threadless headsets are the most popular styles, but the other styles are also used on some models. If a cyclist has to purchase new parts, he or she must be sure to take the dimensions of various headset components into consideration. Some common problems that occur with headsets are stiffness, shakiness, and a combination of the two, and some problems are much easier to repair than others. Additionally, a cyclist should learn how to adjust a bike headset, as this can help him or her maintain a bike in top condition.

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