Tech Tuesday - Service and Re-Grease a Cartridge-Bearing Headset

Jun 5, 2012 at 0:07
Jun 5, 2012
by Richard Cunningham  
 
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Today's Tech Tuesday details how to clean and repack sealed cartridge bearings in a typical headset. The technique can be used to service almost any sealed cartridge bearing - say, in a hub, a bottom bracket, or a suspension pivot. In this feature, we remove the bearings to service them, but as long as you have clear access to the seals and can safely and thoroughly clean the working area in and around the bearings, you can remove the seals and repack the bearings while they are in place.

Things that you ll need

A Little Warning

Before you start hacking into your bike's bearings, consider that there is a chance that you will introduce abrasive dirt or dust into a perfectly clean and smooth-running part, should you not take precautions - or accidentally drop something at the wrong time. The takeaway from this Tech Tuesday is that cartridge bearings are easy to re-grease, especially the ones in modern headsets. Slug-poppers in the Pacific Northwest can burn through sealed bearings in half a season, so this trick can be a big help there. If you live in a dry climate, however, where many never bother to look at their bike's key moving parts, then give your bearings a spin before you begin surgery. If they run smoothly, leave well enough alone.



How to Service and Re-Grease a Sealed-Bearing Headset


Photo 1 remove the stem and fork
Step 1 - Remove front wheel before you get started. Unscrew the stem cap, loosen the stem's pinch bolts and then slide fork out of the frame. (I straddle the fork over the down tube).

Photo 2 - if the lower race didn t come off with the fork remove it now. Remove the upper bearing and wipe the head tube sockets clean.
Step 2 - If the lower race didn't come off with the fork, remove it now. Remove the upper bearing and wipe the head tube sockets clean.

Photo 3 - Use solvent or spray degreaser to clean all the headset parts.
Step 3 - Use solvent or spray degreaser to clean all the headset parts. Wear safety glasses when working with solvents.

Photo 4 - CAREFULLY find the outer edge of the seal and pry it out of its groove.NEVER touch the inner lip of the seals with a tool.
Step 4 - CAREFULLY, find the outer edge of the seal and pry it out of its groove.NEVER touch the inner lip of the seals with a tool.

Photo 5 - Repeat the previous steps with the upper bearing and then use solvent or spray degreaser to remove all grease and grime from the bearing. Spin the bearing to help free up the gunk.
Step 5 - Repeat the previous steps with the upper bearing and then use solvent or spray degreaser to remove all grease and grime from the bearing. Spin the bearing to help free up the gunk.

Photo 6 - Dry the bearings and then pack them full of lightweight synthetic grease. Spin the bearing to get the grease around the balls. Wipe the seal clean and then gently snap in back into place with thumb pressure.
Step 6 - Dry the bearings and then pack them full of lightweight synthetic grease. Spin the bearing to get the grease around the balls. Wipe the seal clean and then gently snap it back into place with thumb pressure. Leave some excess grease, so that the seal forces it into the bearing as it snaps into place.

Photo 7 - Pack and replace the seal of the upper bearing and then use your greasy fingers to apply a thin coat on the head tube sockets.
Step 7 - Grease and replace the seal of the upper bearing and then, while you are at it, use your greasy fingers to apply a thin coat on the head tube sockets.

Photo 8 - The inner diameter of the lower race is tapered in one side to mate with the fork s crown race fitting. Make sure that the taper faces down and slide the lower bearing onto the fork s steerer tube.
Step 8 - The inner diameter of the lower race is tapered on one side to mate with the fork's crown-race fitting. Make sure that the taper faces down and then slide the lower bearing onto the fork's steerer tube.

Photo 10. Before you slide the steerer tube into the frame make sure that the brake hoses and shift housings are all headed in the right direction.
Step 9 - Before you slide the steerer tube into the frame, make sure that the brake hoses and shift housings are all headed in the right direction.

Photo 11 - Slide the upper bearing over the steerer tube and into the frame then slip the headset wedge and cap over it to hold the assembly in place. There should always be one spacer between the cap and the stem.
Step 10 - Slide the upper bearing, curved-side-facing-down, over the steerer tube and into the frame, then slip the bearing's wedge-collar (if it has one) and the dust-cap over it to hold the fork in place. There should always be one spacer between the cap and the stem.

Step 12 - To adjust the headset screw the cap bolt in until it is snug and then back it out one fourth turn. Torque the stem clamp bolts to the recommended value and then recheck all bolts again before you ride.
Step 11 - To adjust the headset, screw the cap bolt in until it is snug and then back it out one fourth turn. There should be no play in the headset, but it should spin smoothly. Torque the stem clamp bolts to the recommended value and then recheck all bolts again before you ride.


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Past Tech Tuesdays:
TT #1 - How to change a tube.
TT #2 - How to set up your SRAM rear derailleur
TT #3 - How to remove and install pedals
TT #4 - How To Bleed Your Avid Elixir Brakes
TT #5 - How To Check And Adjust Your Headset
TT #6 - How To Fix A Broken Chain
TT #7 - Tubeless Conversion
TT #8 - Chain Wear
TT #9 - SRAM Shift Cable Replacement
TT #10 - Removing And Installing a Headset
TT #11 - Chain Lube Explained
TT #12 - RockShox Totem and Lyric Mission Control Damper Mod
TT #13 - Shimano XT Crank and Bottom Bracket Installation
TT #14 - Straightening Your Derailleur Hanger
TT #15 - Setting Up Your Front Derailleur
TT #16 - Setting Up Your Cockpit
TT #17 - Suspension Basics
TT #18 - Adjusting The Fox DHX 5.0
TT #19 - Adjusting The RockShox BoXXer World Cup
TT #20 - Servicing Your Fox Float Shock
TT #21 - Wheel Truing Basics
TT #22 - Shimano Brake Pad Replacement
TT #23 - Shimano brake bleed
TT #24 - Fox Lower Leg Removal And Service
TT #25 - RockShox Motion Control Service
TT #26 - Avid BB7 Cable Disk Brake Setup
TT #27 - Manitou Dorado Fork Rebuild
TT #28 - Manitou Circus Fork Rebuild
TT #29 - MRP G2 SL Chain Guide Install
TT #30 - Cane Creek Angleset Installation
TT #31 - RockShox Maxle Lite DH
TT #32 - Find Your Tire Pressure Sweet Spot
TT #33 - Three Minute Bike Preflight Check
TT #34 - MRP XCG Install
TT #35 - Stem Choice and Cockpit Setup
TT #36 - Handlebars - How Wide Affects Your Ride
TT #37 - Repairing A Torn Tire
TT #38 - Coil spring swap
TT #39 - Trailside help: Broken Shift Cable
TT #40 - Installing a Fox Float Air-Volume Spacer
TT #41 - Replace the Seals on Your 2011 RockShox Boxxer World Cup Fork
TT #42 - Clean and Lubricate Your Fox F32 Dust Wiper Seals
TT #43 - Thread Locker Basics
TT #44 - Install a SRAM X.0 Two-By-Ten Crankset
TT #45 - VPP Suspension Bearing Service
TT #46 - Rotor Straightening
TT #47 - Finding and fixing that creak
TT #48 - Bleed and Service Magura Marta Disc Brakes
TT #49 - Cup and Cone Hub Basics
TT #50 - Install and Adjust Pedal Cleats
TT #51 - Cup and Cone Hub Rebuild
TT #52 - Converting Mavic Crossmax SX Axles
TT #53 - Cassette Removal and Installation
TT #54 - Cane Creek AngleSet Installation
TT #55 - American Classic Tubeless Conversion
TT #56 - Wider Rims Are Better and Why Tubeless Tires Burp Air
TT #57 - Pedal Pin Retrofit
TT #58 - Bleed RockShox Reverb Remote Lines
TT #59 - Cutting Carbon
TT #60 - Silence That Squeaky Disc Brake
TT #61 - Five Minute Wheel True
TT #62 - Removing Bike Rack Rattle
TT #63 - Inside Shimano's Shadow Plus Mech and How To Adjust It
TT #64 - Steerer tube length
TT #65 - Marzocchi 44 Rebuild
TT #66 - RockShox BoXXer TLC
TT #67 - Ghetto Tubeless Tire Inflator
TT # 68 - RockShox BoXXer Seal Replacement
TT #69 - Ghetto Dropper Post
TT #70 - FSA Orbit Option Install
TT #71 - How to Bleed Formula Disc Brakes
TT #72 - Crankbrothers Kronolog Cable Replacement
TT #73 - Three Ways to Save A Leaky Tubeless Tire
TT #74 - Chain Length Basics
TT #75 - Tech Tuesday: DH Helmet vs. Motocross Helmet
TT #76 - RockShox Vivid Air Tuning 2012

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75 Comments

  • + 14
 This is a great post - one of the best Tech Tuesdays ever and relevant to everyone - especially those of you with full suspension bikes.

I found even bearings that have seized will almost always come good after this - or at least they will be good enough to run until you can source more bearings. People thinking that their headsets were cactus on the Mechanics Forum have followed these steps and saved themselves the cost of a new headset.

For seized bearings I don't use the degreaser - I just put Tri-Flo in and work the inner bearing with any taper (like the handle of a toothbrush) jammed into the inner race - back and forth and trying to move the inner race more and more. Once its free I get thicker grease in there that pushes out the Tri-Flo.

In extreme situations you can pry out the plastic ring that separates the bearings (the dark plastic ring shown on the right in Step 5) and move all the bearings to one side and the inner race will drop out and so will all the bearings. Good luck getting it all back together - you must get all balls one one side of the outer race and carefully insert the inner race at an angle so the groove slides onto the left-most and right-most bearings. This is only for the extremely patient or bored.

Any grease is better than no grease or dirty grease.
  • + 2
 If the bearing is so extremely seized, then, instead of disassembling it I just soak it in querozene overnight.
  • + 4
 just buy two new ones..
  • + 3
 In my experiance you should always check even new bearings for grease. Already got a few brandname bearings which were not greased properly.
  • + 1
 moral of the story... Buy a Chris King headset and you will never have to worry about doing this
  • + 1
 whahahaha CK is shit.. the cup inserts are to short.. and the bearing contact area is too little.. at least they have a nice price tag lol
  • + 8
 My dad showed me this years ago when I was rebuilding the pivots on my Giant DH Team. He said most of the time before you install a sealed bearing you want to pack it with grease because more times than not the manufacturer puts barely any in. I popped the seal off and what do ya know, hardly any grease. I do believe he said it is possible to overpack the bearing with grease though, causing the seal to not do it's job completely.
  • + 1
 Although it easy to read the information I think I speak for a fair amount of pink bike users that videos are better, and as budding mechanic myself help me more.
  • + 6
 not better, but they are an aid. also the cost money and time to produce. I like them too.
  • + 11
 Another great, and universaly relevant Tech Tuesday.
  • + 5
 One good thing to mention is when you take the seal off and it looks like the bearing is missing a ball, it's not. This concerns people sometimes but there's supposed to be a space like that to reduce friction between the balls.......boxer shorts serve the same purpose.
  • + 3
 I was told teflon grease is kinder to the rubber seals... don't know how true this is. Other thing that might have been emphasised a little more in this article is that the degreaser needs to be have dried off really thoroughly, perhaps even rinsed off to get the chemicals out, since it spoils the new grease you put in there...
  • + 3
 Use a dry degreaser ie. Brake cleaner. It evaporates in less than a minute and wont contaminate brake pads or degrease your chain to any noticeable extent if you're working on the bike.
  • + 2
 When in doubt use pure isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol at your local store, look for 99% strength) to rinse parts out perfectly clean. Be careful of the fumes if you have a lot of parts to rinse...
  • + 1
 a better method of packing the bearings is to put the grease in the palm of your hand and push the bearing onto the grease to pack it in better. like this (obv not a cartridge bearingSmile
img123.echo.cx/img123/4545/pack3qk.jpg
  • + 1
 +1

This is the method I am used to for packing automotive style bearings.
  • + 1
 Not much new info for me, but funny it was posted today just as I started to tear down my headset.

Rode is some hellish mud yesterday and some dirt got into the lower bearing(unsealed). Took the headset apart to find the bearing brown with dirt and old grease. Cleaned them up to sparkly, then repacked them and put it all back together.

Butter.
  • + 2
 When spraying brake cleaner into the bearing, be careful about it spraying back in your face and eyes. The crap burns and your eyes will let you know what happened if you’re not careful. Been there, done that.
  • + 1
 Good call.I added your suggestion Mister 'Doit. RC
  • + 2
 RC, please can I also suggest appropriate PPE is always mentioned and shown in your articles, when undertaking this kind of work?

safety glasses and protective gloves are very important when handling solvents and greases, you really don't want those substances in your eyes or on your skin! especially if doing this on a regular basis as you can quickly develop allergies and contact dermatisis

as a workshop manager I am always stressing this idea to my mechanics, to keep them safe at work!

always better to be safe than sorry, this gives you an idea of the PPE we wear when cutting carbon fibre in our bike workshop, with full ventilation system powered up

ap1.pinkbike.org/p4pb7457039/p4pb7457039.jpg
  • + 1
 Especially with "brake cleaner" - never, never, NEVER introduce high heat onto parts that have sprayed with brake cleaner. It's a great way to kill yourself or at least really screw-up your body. Do a Google search for "brake cleaner welding danger" and see what it's all about. Not super relevant to bikes, but worth a mention!
  • + 1
 "There should always be one spacer between the cap and the stem. " That is so wrong. I know this rumor has been around since the Aheadset-system exists, but there is absolutely no point to it. Truth is, you absolutely should SLAM THAT STEM (visit www.slamthatstem.com if you are not a believer yet).
Pro riders do this since ages without problems, I remember Sam Hill even used to skip the cap!
  • + 1
 Recently I realized my bike is behaving weird. then I found out that the bearing was all screwed up. When I opened the headset...the balls from the bearing fell out. The bearing seal opened while the fork was installed!!
I fixed it the same way like shown here... before this article came. I thought it was a ghetto move.

Now I still feel play in the headset... can you suggest something?
  • + 1
 Why mechanics prefer to use such a poor tool when assembling Stem Cap?
CRC's and here in this article again.
Are there any problems when using an allen key?

And one of the Bearing Manufacture NTN says "Do not touch bearings without gloves.(No skin)"in their catalogue.
  • + 5
 I do this with bottom brackets too...."Do not disassemble" WHATEVER
  • + 1
 I usually just punch the bearings out and replace them.
  • + 0
 "you can remove the seals and repack the bearings while they are in place."

really. why? That's the silliest time saving suggestion ever.

isn't the water/crap that's found its way past the seals more likely to be sat between the bearing shell and cup?
Wouldn't removing and cleaning the bearings/headset cups this be part 1 of a headset service?
  • + 4
 you do not seem to see the benefit of this: "you can remove the seals and repack the bearings while they are in place." when you have some kind of pivot on your bike that has pressed-in bearings and (like most of the people) dont have a tool to extract the bearings from such place you can just disassemble those parts with the bearings in them and just pry out the seals while bearings remain in their bores. open your mind
  • + 3
 very good. mind opened.
  • + 2
 im glad to help Salute
  • + 2
 I find the smallest screw driver from a jewellers screw driver set works great as a pick to get the seals off. The best thing is that they're only a few bucks for the set.
  • + 6
 sowing needles work just fine for me and for sure everyone has them around the house
  • + 2
 Great idea, never thought of that. tup
  • + 2
 Stanley knife for me.
  • + 2
 Scalpel for me
  • + 14
 Sludge hammer for me. Works every time
  • + 1
 Small paper clip works well too.
  • + 7
 Just a sharp razor blade; it is nice and flat so it allows you to get in and pry under the seal without deforming it. You have more dexterity than with safety knife with a big handle so you are less likely to damage the seal. But have a safety meeting first.
  • + 3
 Have a safety meeting first! thanks for the lol
  • + 1
 compressed air?
  • + 2
 I enjoy a degreaser called clean streak by white lightning it works wonders
  • + 1
 I live in England.. If you don't know how to look after your bearing races here... you have too much money
  • + 1
 thanks pink bike. my headset sounded and felt like it was full of gravel but just done as said and is much better.
  • + 1
 Funny this , my heaset's bearings have just got gritty , i did this yesterday Big Grin
  • + 7
 You should always wait till Tuesday to work on your bikes.
  • + 2
 Finally something more than one person can use.....
  • + 0
 This is great. I just clean the out side and keep cleaning untill I here a smooth sound and then soak in liquid wench. Thank you.
  • + 1
 I do this to brand new bearings before installation. Worth the effort.
  • + 1
 Does Blue park lube count as lightweight?
  • + 0
 Polylube works well
  • + 1
 Yeah can i use my Park Tool lube, it comes out a green colour
  • - 1
 but surely its just easier to replace the cheap bearings in your headset already for some quality skf or enduro ones, or if you have a chris king never
  • + 1
 or a cane creek Big Grin
  • - 3
 The bottom line for this procedure is that repacking a cartridge bearing is never going to make it feel as good as new. If you really want to make your headset feel better, get some new bearings. They run about $30 for a set and will make your headset feel brand new.
  • + 8
 Honestly, maybe I'm just a horrible person, but I can't tell the difference between freshly repacked and new headset bearings. If it spins nice and smoothly on the stand I'll feel no discernible difference when the bike is the ground.

I'd rather keep that $30 for post ride beers and burgers.
  • - 1
 Maybe I'm just too discerning then, because I feel that repacked cartridge bearings always feel terrible no matter how many times you flush and pack them.
  • + 3
 @seraph

YUP! because by the time most riders get round to repacking bearings, the bearing races and balls are pitted and no amount of repacking with fresh grease will offer any solution to the problem

the trick would be to regularly re-pack the bearings, before the damage occurs, but honestly? who can be bothered...
  • + 1
 Exactly. My point is that bearings being so cheap it's oft a better solution to just run the headset until it feels bad, then throw a new set of bearings in. Since time is money, who wants to tear apart their headset every month or so and service their bearings? Very few people on this site I can tell you that much.
  • + 1
 @seraph

you make a good point about time...the whole problem with the old "loose ball" headsets like the original FSA Pig DH was the need to regularly clean and repack the bearings because the sealing was so poor it would be rusting within a month

when FSA introduced the Pig Pro DH headset with the sealed cart. bearings it was "fit and forget" in that it would see you through most of a season before needing replacement
  • + 1
 I tear my bikes and rebuild them after the rains. There's nothing like grabbing a 6 pack and tearing apart your bike while listening to some jams.

I don't perform this service "every month or so," just once a year, or when I'm swapping out forks. I've never had an issue - even after entire seasons riding in wet conditions.

That said, I did have a housemate with a Pig Pro DH Headset that was literally seizing from rust!
  • + 1
 King headset = no issues with bearings. Of course you pay a premium for such a luxury, but it's damn nice to not have to worry about your bearings at all no matter what conditions you ride in.
  • + 5
 I hate to be a wet sock here, but people as a group with the * It's disposable* attitude are causing the environment a strain that it really doesn't need right now.
  • + 2
 Hippie.
  • + 3
 The difference between the 'for' and 'against' is the executor of the process: if you are a professional in a workshop and you are charging by the hour then you replace the bearing. If you are sitting at home and have all the time in the world, then you can choose to take as long as you like.

I was the former and now I'm the latter, and always an environmentalist: foghorn1... word!
  • + 1
 Motorex grease is slippery but resists water penetration really well.
  • + 1
 BEST TECH TUESDAY
  • + 1
 thanks sooooooooooo much
  • + 0
 This hand is old.
  • + 0
 Now that you said that, I can't help looking at that old, wrinkly hand.
  • + 3
 One day you are going to be as wrinkly as "the hand". If you make it to over Fifty not only your hands will be wrinkly. Some times you will look in a mirror, and you will go "who the hell is that?". Even though I'm starting to crinkle my self, just like RC I love to bike XC, or DH. It gets even better when I can go and enjoy trail with my kids who shred way better then their old man.
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