Ep 5: Replacing steering head bearings

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 …

- Waz

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36 thoughts on “Ep 5: Replacing steering head bearings

  1. Just finished watching all 5 episodes. I did pick up a few tricks, especially as I had never taken off a lower steering bearing.

    Thanks for taking the time to makes these, and keep ‘em coming!

    Regards from Austria,
    Lukas

  2. Hey guys,

    Just wanted to say great job on the videos. I am really enjoying them and picking up a few pointers as well. Keep up the good work.

    Regards from Western Canada!

    Steve

  3. Hi Garage Night Team,

    Thanks for the videos – have just removed a steering head race – after watching #5. It seems to be the best resource on the net for this particular job.

    The one I had (from a ’92 900ss) needed a visit from Mr Dremel, and a tap from the chisel in the cut – broke through one side, no more tension & off it came.

    Keep up the good work!

    James.

  4. Just about to tackle the bearings on my elefant 750. Thanks for the hints and tips. will have saved me a fortune by not wrecking my bike in the process. Cheers from sunny scotland

  5. Hola Amigos!!!!!
    Gracias por el video. Excelente. Lo que le faltaba a mi Africa Twin ´99 gracias a Garagenight se lo puedo hacer yo directamente. Felicitaciones buen trabajo.

    Hernán
    Chivilcoy. Bs. As.
    Argentina

    Translated:

    Hello friends!!!!!
    Thanks for the video. Excellent. What was missing in my Africa Twin’99, through Garagenight I can do it directly. Congratulations good job.

    Hernán

  6. Hey thanks for the tips guys,just away to attempt the steering bearings on my Suzi Rf600R, this vid has given me the confidence to give it a go myself rather than getting huge garage bills,keep up the good work.
    Alec from Aberdeen (Scotland)

  7. Wow, found this site thru ADVrider, FANTASTIC!!!…what a great site esp the video tutorials. Thank you for taking the time and effort to make these guys…..cheers Chris

  8. Great video. Another tip for installing the bottom bearing is to: 1) freeze the bottom triple clamp and steering stem and 2) heat the bearing. The result is that the bearing typically falls right on; I’ve had great results with this approach.

  9. Really good video.
    Was going to get a dealer to bankrupt me, but now have the confidence to give it a go myself.

    Keep up the good work

  10. This video was really helpful when the bottom bearing on my KTM 950 SMR went tits up at 20K miles (days before leaving on a trip). The only difference I had was that the old lower bearing wouldn’t budge with a punch, so I resorted to a Dremel (cutting wheel too large to make a nice cut). A few whacks with a chisel managed to loosen it, not split it, and all went well from there. I picked up a tip to freeze the new races before installation to slightly shrink them.

    Your videos rock! Keep up the great work…

  11. Pingback: Dommie forks and steering head

  12. great site guys
    one small question i followed your video on replacing the bearings
    short ride and get major wobble on the bars at 60+ how do i now how tight to tighten top bolt i think mine might be to slack but dont want to over tighten and crush new bearings :(

  13. Hiya,

    If the bearings are too loose, you'll get a clunk sound or feel when you brake or hit a bump.
    If the bike has a main stand, get it up on that then grab the bottoms of the forks – With the wheel facing forward, pull and push the forks back and forth – if the bearings are too loose, you should feel some movement.
    If you don't have a mainstand, try to prop the bike so the front wheel is off the ground.

    Perhaps you should loosen the bearings off again, then use the technique above to feel the "clunk" I mentioned – you can then gradually tighten the bearings until the clunk disappears.
    The nut / collar used for adjusting the bearings won't need much tweaking to tighten the bearings – try 1/8 of a turn at a time till you get the feel for it…
    It should just be "nipped up" when the bearings are at the right tension.

    When the clunk / movement has disappeared, you should be able to move the handlebars smoothly from side to side with the only resistance coming from the cables etc as they flex.

    Note that you'll also need to loosen the fork clamps on the top clamp when you adjust the bearings – if you don't you'll find that the bearings may loosen up again after a while.

    Cheers
    Trent

  14. ok to take this one step further
    after removing top yoke i proceeded to tighten the bearing cap maybe 1/8th of a turn
    replacing every thing i took the bike for a round 200k ride no high speed wobble
    but a low speed wondering lets say,anywhere between 30k and 60k the bike sort of sways under me as if gently moving bars from left to right
    after reading numerous forums i have decided to slacken them a little hear is why
    (sorry can not find post )
    apparently when i torque the yoke down (100nm) it will add pressure to the bearing cap
    something about the thread so its trial and eror
    i put bike on center stand and the bars do not fall when pushed but stay ther they are i think i need to slacken it about a 16th of a turn
    will let you no how it goes
    [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-RnxkMUywQ]null
    hear is the link to my own garage night

  15. Superb videos etc.

    This is what I found helped me, in addition to what the video showed and other guys comments already on here -

    To get the bearing cups out of the frames headstock, clean out all the old grease, then spray some WD40 (or similar) inbetween the frame and the cups, then leave for 20 mins. Cut a length of the 4″ x 2″ wood to the correct length and put under the bottom of the headstock and the ground (this will give you a firm base to work against). Note how far in the bearings fit in the frame (2-3mm on my bike).
    Use a hair dryer (safe heat) to heat up the outside of the headstock around the point of the cup you’re going to take out (this should slightly expand the headstock).
    Then place the metal rod/bar inside the headstock so it touches the lip of the bottom cup (as per video), however rather than keeping it in line with the frame, lean it across so it’s resting on the top bearing cup on its opposite side. Now lean on the bar slightly so it forces it to push against the headstock at the point just above the bottom cup (this should stop it slipping off so easily). Now whilst still applying pressure on the bar as above, hit the bar with your heavy hammer. If you get a slight ringing it hasn’t moved, if you get a duller noise it has moved. Once it’s moving hit it at various places around the cup to get it to come out straight, otherwise you may damage the cups seat in the headstock.
    Repeat for the top cup.

    I found that using a longer rod on the bearings seemed to work better than a shorter length, not sure why, it just did :-)

    Keep up the superb work, Rob

  16. Pingback: Replacing @ head bearings - idiots guide anywhere?

  17. Thanks for the videos. I managed to change the steering head bearings on my cbr. Much appreciated by a broke student. Thanks again, Dan, New Zealand.

  18. excellent video great friendly guys keep up the great work thanks from scotland

    i did my steering head bearings on my honda xlr bike after watching your video it helped me out cheers mitch

  19. Pingback: Steering bearings

  20. Great vids, very useful and well presented info. Did you ever refine the soda blaster? What pressure do you think is needed?

  21. Hi Shano. Haven’t used the soda blaster again as yet but am planning to try it out on my Ducati engine side covers. Cheers for the positive feedback mate.

  22. Pingback: Steering bearings - Yuk - Page 3 - Ducati.ms - The Ultimate Ducati Forum

  23. Found your website by just googling tips on how to replace the steering steam bearings… Fantastic work! Your videos are absolutely great and very informative. I like the fact that you’re being yourselves, that you’re just friends working on your bikes and that you’re sharing your experience with us. Keep it up! Cheers!

  24. Best M/C maintenance video I have ever seen- awesome work, guys! So glad I found your site- bringing my XR650r back to life is going to be sooooo much easier now!! Thanks so much!

  25. Hi Guys

    Just thought I’d drop a thank you for the video’s. Really useful and clear. I’m confident that I can change my head bearings this weekend with no problems now.

  26. Hello, the video is back up! The original hosting provider went bad so we’re moving everything across to YouTube. Thanks for the continued interest in Garage Night!

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