How to Repair a Bicycle Head Tube

How to Repair a Bicycle Head Tube
When you start having problems with your bike's head tube--the vertical tube at the front of a bike's frame--a poorly adjusted headset is almost always the culprit. The headset is a bearing assembly that secures the fork to the head tube and allows the fork to pivot for steering. A typical head tube problem involves steering that is either too loose (you can feel movement in the head tube) or too tight (the steering binds when turning). In either instance, a few easy adjustments should repair the problem.


Difficulty: Easy

Threaded head tube

Things You’ll Need:
  • Adjustable wrench (threaded head tube repair)
  • Headset cone wrench (threaded head tube repair)
  • 3 millimeter Allen wrench (threadless head tube repair)
  • 5 millimeter Allen wrench (threadless head tube repair)
Step 1
Use a large adjustable wrench to loosen the headset locknut. The locknut is located between the top of the head tube and the base of the handlebar stem. Loosening the locknut will allow you make adjustments to your steering.
Step 2
Use a headset cone wrench to turn the adjustable cup clockwise until it makes contact with the bearings. The cone is located just beneath the headset locknut. Once you feel the cup make contact with the bearings, give it a quarter turn in the opposite direction.
Step 3
Tighten the locknut slightly, and recheck the adjustment by turning the steering back and forth. The steering should not bind or feel loose within the head tube. If the adjustment is incorrect, back off the locknut and give the cup another quarter-turn. Continue checking the adjustment. Once correct, proceed to the next step.
Step 4
Hold the cone in place with the cone wrench and fully tighten the locknut with the adjustable wrench.

Threadless head tube

Step 1
Use a 3 millimeter Allen wrench to loosen the handlebar stem clamp bolts. These are the two bolts that secure the stem to the steering column.
Step 2
Hold the front wheel between your feet to keep the steering aligned. Using a 5 millimeter Allen wrench, turn the compression bolt at the tip of the steering column. If your steering is loose, turn the bolt clockwise. If you find the steering too tight, turn the bolt counterclockwise.
Step 3
Check your adjustment by first retightening the stem bolts and then turning the steering back and forth. The steering should feel firm but not overly tight. If further adjustment is needed, loosen the stem clamp bolts once again and tighten (or loosen, as needed) the compression bolt.
Step 4
Check your alignment following each adjustment. Before you tighten the stem clamp bolts for the last time, ensure that the top of the stem and the top of the front wheel are perfectly in line. Once everything is in line, tighten the stem clamp bolts fully.

Tips & Warnings

Before venturing back onto the road, always double-check that all bolts are tightened. A loose steering column can result in a loss of control and an accident.

Article Written By Matthew Ferguson

Matthew Ferguson is a writer living in Savannah, Ga. He has been writing for over 10 years and his work has appeared on various online publications. A collection of his short stories was published in spring 2010. He is a graduate of Appalachian State University.

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