9

How often should one disassemble one's headset and service the bearings, assuming it's a fairly new road bicycle with sealed cartridge bearings and is ridden every day?

2
  • 4
    Every 30 years, whether they need it or not. – Daniel R Hicks Jun 22 '15 at 1:58
  • It should be noted headset bearings -- at least the old "threaded" style -- can come completely apart (all the balls fall out) without severely impairing the handling of the bike (though certainly this condition would drive a "bike nut" crazy). I've seen many bikes -- still being ridden -- with severely loose headsets. (Dunno what would happen with "threadless" units in a similar situation, though.) – Daniel R Hicks Jun 24 '15 at 0:24
3

I'm an almost daily all-season rider for a dozen years. Press fit headset bearings are subject to wear and corrosion. If you ride and/or wash your bike regularly you will feel a slight stiffening over time (handlebars don't move as readily when walking the bike with hand on the seat). This steering symptom gradually increases to feel like you would expect from compromised bearings. Like most things that are press fit, screwed or slipped into a bike frame if they don't get busted loose every few years they will become corroded in place resulting in fits at the bike shop. And while you're at it you may as well replace them.

10

Probably never -- headsets can easily last the life of a bicycle for most people without needing an overhaul.

If you ride in the wet, it is advisable to have a front fender, though (to reduce the likelihood of needing an overhaul even further).

1
  • You really don't need to worry about this, but I would not say never. If you open a 5 or 6 year old bike you sometimes see some principles of rust or a lack of grease. If you bike year-long on the rain for example, it doesn't hurt to do it every year or two. Water always finds a way, and this is also true for bottom bracket and hubs if they don't have sealed bearings. Hubs can be a pain to disassemble and assemble, but BB and headset are pretty easy. @Warren is wrong, you do need a special tool to replace the headset, but to service the bearings one or two allen keys and 20 minutes is enough. – super Jun 23 '15 at 23:11
2

How often should one disassemble one's headset and service the bearings, assuming it's a fairly new road bicycle with sealed cartridge bearings and is ridden every day?

Depends on the type of the headset.

If the headset is of the type that the balls roll directly against the headset cups, it is likely to produce an "indexed steering" failure -- an annoying but not-so-dangerous failure mode that makes the steering stick to some angles. It is not dangerous because a moderate amount of steering force overcomes the sticking.

If this "indexed steering" failure occurs, the proper service is to upgrade to a headset that has cartridge bearings that have a conical or spherical interface. In this type of headsets, the bearing is a unit that is supported by the conical or spherical interface that takes motions that would otherwise damage the bearings. Unfortunately, this "service" requires removing the headset cups so you need specialist tools you might need only once in your lifetime. Best bet is to visit a bike shop that already has those tools.

Most headsets sold today are of the cartridge bearing type and have a conical support for the bearings.

If you already have the newer type of headset, the only service it absolutely needs is to put in new bearings when the headset develops any kind of issue. It is probably not worth it to attempt to repair a cartridge bearing as they are so cheap anyway.

If you ride a lot in the rain and are a service perfectionist, of course it won't hurt to annually take away the fork and ensure the conical interface between the cartridge bearing and the headset cup has ample grease. The interface that prevents the "indexed steering" failure mode works only as long as it remains greased.

1

Well, that is a tricky question as it depends on the conditions you have ridden in and how far... although I think conditions may be more important. I have decided to aim for around three monthly service interval since this is also when I replace tyre sealant 😊

2
  • Nice idea linking it to another service interval. I would describe 3 months as 'frequent' but in all weathers there's lots of opportunity for dirt to reach the seals, so I think/agree that cleaning them off regularly is the maintenance sealed units require. How might you adjust it depending on conditions? Summer vs winter? – Swifty Dec 22 '20 at 16:42
  • 2
    Depending on the quality of the seals, I would agree with @Swifty that 3 months seems very frequent. That service interval would probably cause me to give up and get a Chris King headset - in fact, I have one, and it did go 10 years without servicing. I think many other modern headsets with good seals have comparable, or at least still long, service intervals. – Weiwen Ng Dec 22 '20 at 16:59
0

Until recently I would have agreed with many of the previous contributors that Headset bearings are very low maintenance. However, I have encountered a couple of instances recently where sealed bearing were seriously compromised by corrosion due to water ingress... The first was on my (less than 6 month old) Mavic UST rear wheel/hub and the other on the bottom bearing in a Condor Headset that seems to have seized completely in a matter of days after being ridden with no evidence of stiffness or binding.

1
  • 1
    Hi, welcome to bicycles! So what maintenance schedule would you recommend then? Or how to determine when preventative maintenance is required? – DavidW Dec 21 '20 at 15:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.