Great Introductory Tutorial: Parts of a Bike Headset and How to Adjust

Let’s talk about adjusting your headset.

You might not even know what your headset is, and if you do, you might not know if it’s loose or not. But, if it is, chances are you had heard that clunky sound at the front end of your bike.

Before you can adjust your headset, you need to know what your headset is made of: there is the crown race, which is pressed on to the fork with a special tool.

Crown Race. This part of the headset is pressed onto the fork with a special tool.

Your bottom bearing sits right on top of that, and that will sit inside the bottom cup. The top bearing goes into the top cup on the frame.

Top cup on the frame. The upper bearing will go in here.

Above the top bearing is the top race, which goes in to hold the top bearing in place, and wedges right down inside of it. After you install the top race, you cover the whole thing with your dust seal that slides right on top.

Dust Seal. This covers the upper bearing and top race.

From there, you add your spacers, your stem, top cap, and headset adjustment bolt. Now that you know how your headset goes together, the next thing you need to know is that all the adjustment is made from the adjustment bolt.

The adjustment of your headset centers on the adjustment bolt.

As you tighten it down, it essentially pulls the fork up into the frame and compresses the whole system. Before you go into adjusting this bolt, always make sure your stem bolts are loose.

How do you know if your headset needs to be adjusted?

Basically, there are two tests. First test is to see if it is too loose, which is the most common problem. To test this all you need to do is grab the front brake and rock your bike back and forth. You are feeling for any play between the top dust seal and the top bearing cup, or the fork and the bottom bearing cup. If there is, chances are the headset is too loose. To adjust it, loosen your two stem bolts, take your allen wrench, and tighten down your headset adjustment bolt.

Use an allen key to tighten or loosen the adjustment bolt.

The next test is to make sure the headset is not too tight. To do this, lift the bike up a little bit, grab the handlebars, and make sure they spin freely. Chances are if you pass both those tests, you are good to go.