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My steerer tube recently experienced the leakage of some red (dirty) stuff at the bottom, whenever after I washed my bike. I guess it was the lubricant for bearings.

Is it a sign for bearing maintenance? or is it a sign that I didn't properly tighten the screws on top? or anything else?

Thanks!

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    whenever after I washed my bike?? You're not using a high-pressure stream from a hose to wash your bike, are you? That will do things like flush grease out of bearings, leaving them unlubricated and prone to things like premature wear and, umm, rust... Jun 6, 2023 at 16:55
  • ... especially after you've filled 'em full of water. Jun 6, 2023 at 22:14

2 Answers 2

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I've never been in this situation, but here is my opinion. I would take the fork out, or have the store do it, and inspect things. You can check if your bearings feel gritty, which indicates wear. If not the bearings, I would still want to know what the issue is. It's probably not actually the grease inside the bearings that's leaking out, but please read further.

You have sealed cartridge bearings in your headset, like almost all bikes do these days. That means that the bearing has a rubber seal that keeps most contaminants out. The bearings are shipped with grease, and the seal keeps that inside.

Also, cartridge bearings are designed to be used until worn, and then replaced (unless your manual explicitly says otherwise; for example, Chris King and Kogel ask this for their bearings in general, Campagnolo asks this for their crankset bearings). You can open the seals carefully, e.g. with a pick, and flush out the grease and add new grease. This won't help in most cases, unless the grease has been contaminated with dirt and the bearing is still usable, or if the grease got washed out. For the latter, I expect that you would need to subject the bearing to a lot of water - e.g. a lot of power washing, or you did a river crossing, or left the bike outside in the rain a lot.

The mechanics would have greased the outside of the bearings during installation. It could be that this grease got dirty. Better to clean and regrease if that's the case. If not that, then I would still want to see what could possibly be leaking.

You can check what happens when you rotate the fork. Listen closely and check how it feels. If there is a gritty sensation, the bearings are probably worn out - the bearings and/or races probably got pitted, which dirt can accelerate. It's possible for you to hear a whirring noise but not have it feel really gritty - I think that means a dry bearing. If the bearing feels notchy or indexed, e.g. it turns with resistance and then it feels like it hits a stop somewhere, that's often caused by excessive preload (i.e. you tightened the headset too much). I don't expect the latter in this case. If you are unsure what you feel, you could try to repeat this test on a friend's bike that you know hasn't been exposed to the elements. If still unsure, then definitely take that in to a store.

Last, the color of the discharge is consistent with something rusting. It should take quite a bit of moisture exposure to get the bearing races to rust, but that might be happening. I'm not sure what else in there could be rusting. The shift and brake cable housings do contain steel, and I suppose they could be compromised and rusting.

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I had a similar situation a few months ago. Any time it rained or the bike got wet, there ended up with brown rusty smears running out of the bottom of the headset.

Mine uses a semi-integrated headset, that originally I assumed had sealed bearings. However it turned out the bike had been built with the cheapest possible unsealed steel bearings. They had completely rusted into a mess seen below. This was accompanied by a fair bit play in the bearing (applying the brakes and rocking the bike forward and backwards, could see the fork moving back and forth).

Rusty Bearing

Replaced them with some new headset cups with sealed bearings and problem solved.

It should be pretty simple to take handlebars off and the fork out to have a look for signs of rust in the bearings, so might be worth a check

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    I think/hope the OP has a more premium bike, but this is a good example in general of how you might get possibly rusty liquid from the headtube.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Jun 6, 2023 at 11:50

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