It’s a key area of wear and tear on a bike, and especially a big trailie – so replacing the steering head bearings is one of the essential jobs you’ll have to come to grips with on a long trip, or just as a long-term owner. Pete’s KTM 950 came back from South America with knackered steering head bearings, and in this episode we show how to remove the worn-out ones, pack the new ones with grease and install them.
Most automotive and motorcycle bearings are in constant, full rotation during their life, so they wear evenly as they turn. But steering head bearings move very little when you’re riding – generally rotating just a few degrees side to side. This makes them particularly prone to uneven wear, especially if they are not kept properly adjusted.
Think about it – you’re doing big miles, mostly in a straight line, over rough roads. Shock is transferred from the wheel, through the fork legs, via the triple clamps/yokes to the steering head bearings.
If the bearing is loose, each bearing roller begins to wear its own groove. This makes the bearing even looser, and it flogs around even more, accelerating the wear.
Eventually the steering becomes notchy – the handlebars don’t move smoothly from side to side – and as it gets worse you’ll feel a clunk when you hit a solid bump. You’ll get vagueness and imprecise steering, because the loose bearings are flapping around rather than seating solidly. A relatively small amount of free play in the bearings at the steering head can have an alarming effect on handling. In the worst cases of misadjustment and neglect the bearing can begin to break apart.
Each bearing, top and bottom, comes in two parts, the bearing and the cup. The bearings are installed on the steering post, which is part of the bottom clamp. The cups are pressed into the steering head.
The two most difficult parts of the job are removing the bottom bearing and taking out the cups – so watch the video for our tips. Don’t be tempted to leave the cups in and just change the bearings – you will be wasting your time and money.
A cursory dab of grease on the new bearings just isn’t enough. They need to be solidly packed, and Trent’s the man with the knowledge and technique.
Finally, make sure to listen to what Pete says about readjusting the bearings soon after you’ve replaced them. He is speaking from recent experience …
Update: We’re embedding our videos at advrider.com and visordown.com – here are the links so you can read what people are saying and join the discussions.