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I realize this will be different for all headsets, but:

I have a Tange Levin headset. The headset is starting to show wear: the fork sticks at regular intervals through its turning.

I've inspected the races and they don't show any visible sign of deformation. Is it possible that only the ball bearings have deformed and that the races are fine? Is it worthwhile to order replacement bearings and reassembling the bike? Has anybody had success doing this?

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It appears the bearings are like 1/4 the price of the headset. You would have to be like 80% sure the bearings would fix it to take that chance. And then you still have have an old headset. –  Blam Jun 5 at 21:10
    
Most of the expense of a headset is not the headset but the labor to install it. Removing headset races without causing damage to the bike/fork is not a beginner maintance item. –  Fred the Magic Wonder Dog Jun 5 at 21:48
    
Read Sheldon's page posted below before anything else. The Tange are good steel headsets. Feel the inside of the cups for pitting. Definitely worth a try replacing the bearings, as they are cheap. Several things to check during reinstallation, make sure your cups are still flush to the HT and make sure you correctly tightened the lock nut. –  sessyargc.jp Jun 5 at 22:01
    
@Blam I'm not looking for a value judgement, but an engineering one. I don't understand what the age of the headset has to do with anything. –  tir38 Jun 8 at 0:19
    
@FredtheMagicWonderDog This isn't my first rodeo. The most expensive part of a heaset swap is buying the tools so you don't have to pay a bike shop to do it. –  tir38 Jun 8 at 0:27

1 Answer 1

You may not be able to see it, but it's pretty likely the races are damaged at this point.

One trick I've had luck with over the years is to replace the caged bearings with loose bearings. If that doesn't work, you can try using the next size up bearing. Both these tricks move the bearing contacts to different spots and can help a lot with indexing.

See Sheldon's page for more headset maintenance tricks

http://sheldonbrown.com/headsets.html

Loose bearings are pretty cheap and a whole lot easier than replacing the headset. You can get a bag of 25 bearings for $5. Worth trying IMHO.

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Since the OP has already taken the headset apart this is the obvious cheap solution. One note: fill the race with balls, then remove one = right number of balls. –  Mσᶎ Jun 6 at 1:19
    
Even a $25 "junk" headset has been engineered. Ignoring that and going with what "sounds right" is bad advice. Most races are designed for specific sized balls. Using different sizes will change the contact points but that's a bad thing. Moving from caged to loose bearings is also silly. High-end cartridge bearings still use a cage to keep individual balls separate. Yes more balls = less load on each but somebody with a calculator decided how many balls to use based on expected load. Having the balls spaced in a cage allows room for extra lubricant while maintaining uniform load distribution. –  tir38 Jun 8 at 0:48
    
I'm sorry you found my answer condescending. That was not my intent. I always assume novice bike maintenance skills. –  Fred the Magic Wonder Dog Jun 8 at 17:50

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