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  1. #1
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    Loose Headset Question

    The headset on my fat bike seems to not want to stay tight.

    When I stand over the bike on a flat surface, and squeeze the front brake while rocking back and forth gently, there is a bit of movement, and definitely a sound (maybe a "knock" or a "click"). Can't totally feel it, but it sounds like something is loose. Pretty sure it is not the brake.

    Have brought it into two different bike shops, they tightened it, and after a ride or two, it loosens up. One mechanic suggested that carbon forks can cause this to happen; neither seemed worried about it.

    I had a carbon fork on my cross bike and that never loosened. Side note, I was surprised at how flexy the fork is on this fat bike when bunny hopping.

    Any help or insight is appreciated, thanks!
    it's a challenge some of us are ultimately worthy of.

  2. #2
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    Might be time to replace the bearings? Or maybe your star nut is moving?

  3. #3
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    I have the same issue found my compression plug was loose. It was also covered in carbon paste. I will clean it all off and re-assemble dry and see how it goes. :-)

  4. #4
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    Make sure the crown race is pressed all the way down onto the fork crown. It must be flush with the base of the fork crown, Flat and true all the way around. Make sure there are no gaps around any spacers and the stem when it is preloaded, and that the stem is tightened to proper torque. A quality headset should not loosen regularly.

  5. #5
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    Squeeze the brake *really* hard, and repeat the test.

    I see this a lot, more times than not, it's the pads, slightly knocking back and forth in the caliper.

    Squeezing harder, creates enough pressure from the pistons, that that play is stopped.

    Still knocking? Look at headset issues, hub adjustment issues, etc...
    This is a Pugs not some carbon wannabee pretzel wagon!!

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  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by MendonCycleSmith View Post
    Squeeze the brake *really* hard, and repeat the test.

    I see this a lot, more times than not, it's the pads, slightly knocking back and forth in the caliper.
    turn the bars 90 degrees, so the wheel is sideways, then try repeating the test. this method eliminates pad knock.

  7. #7
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    Star nut should have nothing to do with headset loosening as you ride. All the force should be handled by the stem bolts. Star nut is just for initial setup until the stem bolts are tight. So causes could be as stated earlier. Also check rotor attachment. Loose rotors behave much like a loose headset when rocking back and forth with brakes on.
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  8. #8
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    What kind of headset.
    "It's only when you stand over it, you know, when you physically stand over the bike, that then you say 'hey, I don't have much stand over height', you know"-T. Ellsworth

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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by MendonCycleSmith View Post
    Squeeze the brake *really* hard, and repeat the test.

    I see this a lot, more times than not, it's the pads, slightly knocking back and forth in the caliper.

    Squeezing harder, creates enough pressure from the pistons, that that play is stopped.

    Still knocking? Look at headset issues, hub adjustment issues, etc...
    My guess is brakes as well. My fatty does this with Shimano rotor centerlock setup. I am not sure if pads or rotor move slightly but it is brakes.
    2017 Santa Cruz Tallboy C 29er
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  10. #10
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    ^Centerlocks are all about the rotor knock, so yeah, good call on that too^....
    This is a Pugs not some carbon wannabee pretzel wagon!!

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  11. #11
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    Thank you everybody for the help!

    I tightened the headset tonight myself: play/knock/movement/sound gone.

    I loosened the stem, tightened the top cap bolt, and then tightened the stem. I think this confirms it is indeed the headset. Didn't screw the top cap bolt in much to get it tight. Felt the stem spacers prior to tightening, and they didn't move.

    Jayem asked what kind of headset; it is a Cane Creek.
    it's a challenge some of us are ultimately worthy of.

  12. #12
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    Do you have enough spacers under the stem? The top of the fork should be ~4mm or so below the top of the stem. Sometimes when there isn't enough gap, you can't get the headset properly tight.
    Jason
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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by JAGI410 View Post
    Do you have enough spacers under the stem? The top of the fork should be ~4mm or so below the top of the stem. Sometimes when there isn't enough gap, you can't get the headset properly tight.
    I will look soonish.

    Though if I wasn't able to get the headset properly tight, then I would not have been able to get it tight enough to eliminate the movement, right? Or perhaps tight enough to eliminate the movement, but not tight enough to not loosen after a ride or so?

    Would bad bearings cause an issue like what I am experiencing?
    it's a challenge some of us are ultimately worthy of.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by JAGI410 View Post
    Do you have enough spacers under the stem? The top of the fork should be ~4mm or so below the top of the stem. Sometimes when there isn't enough gap, you can't get the headset properly tight.
    Sounds like this could be the issue.

    If you look on the bottom of the topcap, do you see any rub marks from the top of the steer tube touching it?

    Leave the stem tight and remove the top cap, how close is the steer tube to the edge of the stem inside?

  15. #15
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    I couldn’t figure out why my headset remained loose. The culprit turned out to be some lightweight headset spacers that deformed when the top cap was preloaded.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shark View Post
    Sounds like this could be the issue.

    If you look on the bottom of the topcap, do you see any rub marks from the top of the steer tube touching it?

    Leave the stem tight and remove the top cap, how close is the steer tube to the edge of the stem inside?

    I will look tonight and take pictures. Thank you.
    it's a challenge some of us are ultimately worthy of.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by D(C) View Post
    I couldn’t figure out why my headset remained loose. The culprit turned out to be some lightweight headset spacers that deformed when the top cap was preloaded.
    Hmm, I believe at least a couple of the spacers are carbon. Perhaps I will swap them out with some others I have laying around. Could you see the spacers actually deform?
    it's a challenge some of us are ultimately worthy of.

  18. #18
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    Carbon forks should generally have a compression plug and not a star nut. Make sure you have not over tightened your compression plug thereby deforming the fork or splitting it.

    I suggest about 4.2nm tightening the plug. (maybe start at 3 nm) Some take 5nm or more. Many do not even give the specs for torque. If your fork manufacturer did, then follow that. Measure to be sure there is enough room for the cap to fit without touching the plug. Measure again after it loosens up to see if the plug moved. If it did move, use carbon assembly paste on the plug outer surface only. A mild amount of grease on the inner surfaces to be sure they slide as intended.

    Double check the surfaces to see if the proper bearings have been installed. Many now require 45/45. i.e.The top of the bottom bearing outer is 45° and matched to a 45° in the frame head tube. The bottom outer of the upper bearing is 45° and also matched to the upper part of the head tube. Be aware of any mismatch. The headset community has a standard naming convention that is not always followed and sometimes even the same headset brand/style changes bearing types without telling anyone.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by k.b. View Post
    Carbon forks should generally have a compression plug and not a star nut. Make sure you have not over tightened your compression plug thereby deforming the fork or splitting it.

    I suggest about 4.2nm tightening the plug. (maybe start at 3 nm) Some take 5nm or more. Many do not even give the specs for torque. If your fork manufacturer did, then follow that. Measure to be sure there is enough room for the cap to fit without touching the plug. Measure again after it loosens up to see if the plug moved. If it did move, use carbon assembly paste on the plug outer surface only. A mild amount of grease on the inner surfaces to be sure they slide as intended.

    Double check the surfaces to see if the proper bearings have been installed. Many now require 45/45. i.e.The top of the bottom bearing outer is 45° and matched to a 45° in the frame head tube. The bottom outer of the upper bearing is 45° and also matched to the upper part of the head tube. Be aware of any mismatch. The headset community has a standard naming convention that is not always followed and sometimes even the same headset brand/style changes bearing types without telling anyone.

    Thank you k.b.

    The fork (edit) does have a compression plug (not a star nut as previously reported, my mistake). It is a full carbon tapered steer tube, according to the 509 Cycles website.

    1. I can note the bearing by looking at it; it should have "45" written somewhere on it, correct?

    2. Appears I will need to take apart the headset to see the bearings.

    More info:
    Bike: https://509cycles.com/ti-fat-bike/
    Fork: https://509cycles.com/fat-bike-fork/
    Last edited by tyriverag; 1 Week Ago at 06:37 PM.
    it's a challenge some of us are ultimately worthy of.

  20. #20
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    A star nut in carbon steer tube? That does not sound like a good idea at all. How did you receive the bike? Partial build which you completed or LBS completed? Did Jabit send the carbon fork with star nut installed?

    Apologies for the slight derial, but I've been curious about the Jabit, how does it ride other than the headset issue?
    I don't know why,... it's just MUSS easier to pedal than the other ones.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by sryanak View Post
    Star nut should have nothing to do with headset loosening as you ride. All the force should be handled by the stem bolts. Star nut is just for initial setup until the stem bolts are tight. So causes could be as stated earlier. Also check rotor attachment. Loose rotors behave much like a loose headset when rocking back and forth with brakes on.
    Good call. My bad.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by dbhammercycle View Post
    A star nut in carbon steer tube? That does not sound like a good idea at all. How did you receive the bike? Partial build which you completed or LBS completed? Did Jabit send the carbon fork with star nut installed?

    Apologies for the slight derial, but I've been curious about the Jabit, how does it ride other than the headset issue?
    You are right; I was wrong - it is a compression plug.

    I purchased the bike as a demo, used, from one of the owners. Due to unexpected surgery, I have not ridden the bike much. A couple rides on fall singletrack and a ride on fresh (perfect for fat-biking), tacky snowy singletrack, and a few short spins around the neighborhood. I like it, but I think the loose headset impacted my full enjoyment of the ride each time. And the Level brakes are really loud and crappy. Bike is sweet though and I can't wait to finish my recovery and get this headset situation sorted.
    it's a challenge some of us are ultimately worthy of.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by rynomx785 View Post
    Good call. My bad.
    My understanding is that the star nut would do the same thing as the compression plug, just in different ways. Is that correct?
    it's a challenge some of us are ultimately worthy of.

  24. #24
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    Loose Headset Question-headset-1.jpgLoose Headset Question-compression-plug-1.jpgLoose Headset Question-compression-plug-2.jpgLoose Headset Question-headset-2.jpgLoose Headset Question-headset-3.jpg

    Here are a couple pics of the headset and the compression plug. Apologies for the sideways pics.

    Looks like enough space from the top of the steer tube to the top of the highest spacer.

    The dark coloring on the bottom of the head tube appears to be grease as I could scrape it with my fingernail. Looks pretty straight, except for one of the pics. What else would it help to see?
    it's a challenge some of us are ultimately worthy of.

  25. #25
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    Your stem is below the top of the steerer, assuming you had spacers on top of the stem? How far below the spacers is the steer tube?

  26. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shark View Post
    Your stem is below the top of the steerer, assuming you had spacers on top of the stem? How far below the spacers is the steer tube?
    The stem has one silver spacer above it. The spacers below are black, matchy matchy fail. You can see the steer tube in the 2nd and 3rd pic. I assume the black with writing on it is the steer tube and the nut in there is the compression plug.
    it's a challenge some of us are ultimately worthy of.

  27. #27
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    Oh I see now.
    The silver spacer threw me off

    The black with writing is the compression plug.
    Have you tried a different plug? Is or installed/ torqued correctly?
    The picture makes it look like your plug is in the spacer at the top.

    https://youtu.be/aBjJ35B-Og0
    https://youtu.be/cQe9TJJq1PE

  28. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shark View Post
    Oh I see now.
    The silver spacer threw me off

    The black with writing is the compression plug.
    Have you tried a different plug? Is or installed/ torqued correctly?
    The picture makes it look like your plug is in the spacer at the top.

    https://youtu.be/aBjJ35B-Og0
    https://youtu.be/cQe9TJJq1PE
    Thank you for that link and clearing up my confusion. I see now how the plug sits in the steer tube.

    I will reinstall the steer tube soon, per the instructions. I am pretty sure the LBS did this already, but I will try myself. I find the mechanic's suggestion that carbon forks can cause the headset to loosen kind of odd; nobody else here mentioned it.
    it's a challenge some of us are ultimately worthy of.

  29. #29
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    Shark, in that video, it appears the plug drops right into the steer tube. Dude tightens it, throws a spacer on, and then puts on the top cap.

    What about my setup would you change, if anything?
    it's a challenge some of us are ultimately worthy of.

  30. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by tyriverag View Post
    Shark, in that video, it appears the plug drops right into the steer tube. Dude tightens it, throws a spacer on, and then puts on the top cap.

    What about my setup would you change, if anything?
    From this picture, it looks like your compression plug is trying to grip inside the top spacer.
    If it is, that's why it's loosening.

    The top cap is what pulls everything together and preloads the headset bearings.
    The compression plug should only be inside the steer tube itself, not the stem or spacers etc.

    Can you lift the spacer off without touching the compression bolt? (You should be able to)

    Sent from my SM-G960U using Tapatalk

  31. #31
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    Thank you Shark, your help is much appreciated.

    From this picture, it looks like your compression plug is trying to grip inside the top spacer.
    If it is, that's why it's loosening.
    - Noted. Will look tonight or soon.

    The top cap is what pulls everything together and preloads the headset bearings.
    The compression plug should only be inside the steer tube itself, not the stem or spacers etc.
    - Interesting, from that video from Arts you linked, the guy dropped the plug into the steer tube, and the plug appeared to have a lip on it that sat on top of the steer tube, then the spacer he put on went over both like a spacer normally would. Very possible I am not understanding something.

    Can you lift the spacer off without touching the compression bolt? (You should be able to)
    - I will remove the top cap, and bolt. Then wiggle the spacer back and forth, should be al ittle room there, right? And then try to lift it off how you suggest.
    it's a challenge some of us are ultimately worthy of.

  32. #32
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    Remove all spacers above the stem. Loosen the stem bolts so the stem can move freely. The compression plug should be at about the same depth in the steer tube as where your stem sits outside of the steer tube. The plug can provide some support to the carbon steer tube where the stem tightens around the steer tube. I use some carbon grip paste both around the plug and where the stem sits on the outside of the steer tube. Tighten the plug to spec, I agree with the kb's post #18. Replace the spacer above the stem making sure you have room between the top cap and the top of the steerer, as mentioned in post #12. Tighten the top cap to remove play and tighten the stem bolts.

    One thing you could try is mark the inside of the steer tube to see if the plug moves and the outside to see if the stem moves if things loosen after a ride. Repeat the above process but increase the torque on the plug and/or stem bolts a little.

    The plug and star nut serve essentially the same function and that is to be able to remove play in the headset with the stem holding everything in place. Once you tighten the stem bolts, you can remove the top cap without changing anything.
    I don't know why,... it's just MUSS easier to pedal than the other ones.

  33. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by JAGI410 View Post
    Do you have enough spacers under the stem? The top of the fork should be ~4mm or so below the top of the stem. Sometimes when there isn't enough gap, you can't get the headset properly tight.
    Am I reading that right?

    The top of the fork (steer tube), should be ~4mm below the top of the stem? Do you mean the top cap should rest on the stem, rather than a spacer?

    Or do you mean the top of the steer tube should go up to ~4mm shy of the top of the top spacer, on which the top cap sits?
    it's a challenge some of us are ultimately worthy of.

  34. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by tyriverag View Post
    Am I reading that right?

    The top of the fork (steer tube), should be ~4mm below the top of the stem? Do you mean the top cap should rest on the stem, rather than a spacer?

    Or do you mean the top of the steer tube should go up to ~4mm shy of the top of the top spacer, on which the top cap sits?
    Yes, there needs to be a gap between the steer tube of the fork, and the top of the stem. As shown here: https://3.bp.blogspot.com/-a5eCLsfyC...erlengthzz.jpg

    Use a spacer above or below the stem to get the required gap.
    Jason
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  35. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by tyriverag View Post
    Am I reading that right?

    The top of the fork (steer tube), should be ~4mm below the top of the stem? Do you mean the top cap should rest on the stem, rather than a spacer?

    Or do you mean the top of the steer tube should go up to ~4mm shy of the top of the top spacer, on which the top cap sits?
    On a carbon steerer, you should always use a spacer above your stem. Just be sure that there is ~4-6mm of space between the top of the spacer and the steerer tube.

    Two things I've had happen to me that may help you:

    I've had top caps with a very large conical section protruding from the bottom of the cap. This would interfere with the inside of my steerer and prevent the top cap from actually tightening down. This is unlikely, but worth looking at. Maybe try a different top cap that is shallower if yours is tapered.

    On my RSD fork, I had a hell of a time get my stem to not slip up the steerer. Carbon can be slippery, and sometimes it's hard for a compression plug and stem to grip the carbon (which is why grit paste for carbon is a thing). You may want to try grit paste on the inside of your stem as well as the compression plug. That eventually worked to keep everything tight, but I never felt comfortable really cranking on the bars of that bike and sold that fork.

    Also, try a torque wrench if you haven't.

  36. #36
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    Thank you JAGI410 and shinkers.

    One says no spacer is needed on top of the stem, in between the stem and top cap. One says to always use a spacer above the stem.

    Didn't have a torque wrench set to 8Nm, so I ordered that along with some carbon paste. Will reinstall the plug, stem, spacers and top cap, and then take it for a ride, as soon as I can.
    it's a challenge some of us are ultimately worthy of.

  37. #37
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    So how far down was the compression plug from the pics you posted?

  38. #38
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    Looking at the picture provided, that's the highest the stem should be placed on the steer tube for the for bolt/clamp area of the stem to be fully on the steer tube. My stem sits below the top of my steerer by about 1-2mm. On top of which goes a spacer so there is still that gap but for me it's between the top of the steerer and the top of the spacer rather than the stem.
    I don't know why,... it's just MUSS easier to pedal than the other ones.

  39. #39
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    Shark - not yet hoping to get to it tonight or this weekend. Carbon paste and torque key should arrive on Saturday.

    dbhammercycle - thanks for the clarification.

    I think most are saying and I am understanding the same thing: there needs to be some space (~4mm) between the top of the steerer and either the top of the stem or the top of a spacer, on which the top cap sits.
    it's a challenge some of us are ultimately worthy of.

  40. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by tyriverag View Post
    Shark - not yet hoping to get to it tonight or this weekend. Carbon paste and torque key should arrive on Saturday.

    dbhammercycle - thanks for the clarification.

    I think most are saying and I am understanding the same thing: there needs to be some space (~4mm) between the top of the steerer and either the top of the stem or the top of a spacer, on which the top cap sits.
    That is correct. Looking at the pictures, you have that. I'm guessing the stem is slipping slightly and causing the loose headset. Hopefully the carbon paste solves it.

  41. #41
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    Wait... Are you using spacers on top of the stem or not? You need em.
    I like turtles

  42. #42
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    Quote Originally Posted by NYrr496 View Post
    Wait... Are you using spacers on top of the stem or not? You need em.
    As shown in his pictures and stated multiple times, he has one spacer above the stem.

  43. #43
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    Actually, it appears from the pictures, noted I think by Shark, that the plug might be tightening into the top spacer (which is silver). Will look/confirm soon. That could be a problem.
    it's a challenge some of us are ultimately worthy of.

  44. #44
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    It would definitely be a problem, since that only allows slack to be removed from the top of the spacer instead of the slack from the bottom of the head tube (lower and upper bearing, spacers & stem) the entire thing needs to be sandwiched from the bottom to the top.

    If that is the case, I'd be having a chat with the 2 shops that tried adjusting it previously, as they should have caught that.

  45. #45
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikeny View Post
    As shown in his pictures and stated multiple times, he has one spacer above the stem.
    Ok.. That's a spacer and not the steerer tube.
    I like turtles

  46. #46
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    A compression plug cannot be tightened into a spacer, unless either the compression plug OD is too big, in which case the other spacers and stem would not slide onto the steerer tube, or the spacer ID is way too small, in which case you could not slide the spacer on in the first place.

    I'm willing to bet that the stem is just slipping on the steerer tube. Either he's not tightening the stem bolts enough (he mentioned no torque wrench), or the steerer is really slippery, or both. Also, sounds like the compression plug is not tight enough and slipping? Sounds like he's got a torque wrench and carbon paste on the way, which should solve the problem.

  47. #47
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    Loose Headset Question-steerer-4.jpgLoose Headset Question-plug-1.jpgLoose Headset Question-bearing-1.jpgLoose Headset Question-steerer-3.jpgLoose Headset Question-steerer-2.jpgLoose Headset Question-steerer-1.jpg

    Here are more pics, sorry for them being sideways or upside down.

    Took the headset apart this evening.

    The top spacer was indeed sitting on the stem, but the plug was dropped all the way into the steer tube as it likely should be, not expanded into the top spacer as some thought. The outer lip of the plug was sitting on the top of the steer tube. Looked normal. Just a bit of steer tube was above the stem (see in the pic, ~1mm), and on top of that was the 1cm spacer, then the top cap. Probably about 7 or 8 mm of "spacer" gap from the top of the steer tube to the top of the top spacer.

    Other notes: I took pics of the carbon steer tube and what looked like vertical seams. Not familiar with carbon, pretty sure that is normal, right? I squeezed by hand and did not feel any give.

    Also, the top cup of the headset beneath the bottom spacer, that goes over the bearing, came off relatively easily, and the inner ring moved a bit. I forgot to get a pic.

    Paste and proper torque wrench arrive this weekend and I plan on putting it back together and then taking it for a ride when I can. Will report back with results. Would be surprised if I got it right while the dude at the LBS did not. Thanks for all the help!

    Thinking about pouring 24 oz of lavender essential oils on the damn thing and then just sending it furiously with fire involved.
    it's a challenge some of us are ultimately worthy of.

  48. #48
    All fat, all the time.
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikeny View Post
    A compression plug cannot be tightened into a spacer, unless either the compression plug OD is too big, in which case the other spacers and stem would not slide onto the steerer tube, or the spacer ID is way too small, in which case you could not slide the spacer on in the first place.

    I'm willing to bet that the stem is just slipping on the steerer tube. Either he's not tightening the stem bolts enough (he mentioned no torque wrench), or the steerer is really slippery, or both. Also, sounds like the compression plug is not tight enough and slipping? Sounds like he's got a torque wrench and carbon paste on the way, which should solve the problem.
    Interesting, thanks for the info.
    Now that I see the disassembled pics it's clear how it works.
    Hopefully carbon paste and proper torque get it solid.

  49. #49
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    Be sure to increase friction where you want to increase friction - outside of plug with assembly paste. (possibly stem if it is slipping)

    And decrease friction where needed - grease the threads of the screw and the internal workings of the plug that need to slip (lightly!)

    Torque to specs.

    BTDT

  50. #50
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shark View Post
    Hopefully carbon paste and proper torque get it solid.
    Yeah. For the headset to loosen, both the plug AND the stem have to slip.
    --------------

    [WTB] 1987 Cannondale SM800, 20", Pink with airbrushed graphics.

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