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How to Adjust a Threadless Headset on a Bike

Learn how to adjust a threadless headset from Silk Road Cycles' Brendon Nicholas in this Howcast bicycle repair and maintenance video.


Okay. We're going to talk about adjusting a bicycle headset.

So this headset is called a threadless headset. It's the most common for modern bikes now. It's very easy to adjust as long as you adjust it properly. I'll show you what it looks like improperly adjusted and then properly adjusted.

So what you're going to need is you're going to need usually a four millimeter or five millimeter or possibly six millimeter hex wrench or Allen key. And what you're going to do is you're going to loosen the stem, this piece right here is called the stem and the bolts are usually right back here or they could be right here, depending on the brand. But this is the most common style.

So you'll know that you have a threadless headset if you don't have anything that resembles like a large nut right on top of here. There should be like two large nuts, I'll show you that in the next segment when we talk about threaded headsets. So now these are nice and loose. This bolt right here on the top can be adjusted and basically what that goes to is it goes to like a star nut or a compression plug inside of the actual stir tube which is the tube that goes through here and basically as you tighten it. So I'll tighten it real tight, then you can see it's not going to move. Then if I loosen it, it slides back and forth really, really, really easily. Now if it's too loose, you'll see what happens if I take, you can see it wobble back and forth. This is really dangerous cause it can actually, it can fracture your stir tube, it breaks your bearings, it destroys your headset. It's just really, really bad news and cost you a lot of money. And also can be very dangerous.

So I'm going to make sure that this is tight enough but not too tight. So the way to figure that out is to basically, either have it on the stand or have it elevated somehow and feel the fork down here, feel the stem up here and kind of wobble it back and forth, feels pretty good right there. Check to see if it goes back and forth. That's usually the easiest way to see if your headset's adjusted properly. Once you have that at the right tension, basically so it's not too loose and not too tight. You also want to make sure that you're not over tightening it because that will break your bearings as well. Then you want to adjust your stem to make sure it's nice and straight with your wheel. So when you're riding, it doesn't look like you're riding sideways and your arms are like this when you're actually riding straight. Then you want to make sure that you tighten down the stem. This is really important because I know a lot of people that have adjusted their headset, forgotten to tighten down their stem, go out for a ride, their handle bars goes one way and their wheels goes the other way. And they're face first in the ground and that's never too much fun when you are trying to go for a ride.

So make sure that you torque down to the right specification. Every manufacturer's a little different. These are 5 Newtons so basically you can use a torque wrench if you'd like to get the proper torque.

So that is adjusting a threadless headset.

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