Holding the fork securely to the frame of the bicycle, a headset rotates freely and is essential for steering. While barely visible, this little device is critical to the overall function of a healthy bike, and when they begin to wear down or fail to function properly due to an improper installation, controlling a bicycle effectively, becomes almost impossible.
If your bike has become difficult to steer, and there are no clear signs as to why this might be happening, the chances are that it could be an issue with the mtb headset bearings, and they, or the entire headset, may need to be replaced.
Here are some signs that could mean it’s time to replace your headset or bearings!
Rust is one of the biggest threats to the functionality of headsets, and it can easily become a problem for the bearings and even the bearings cage. Making it stick, rust on the headset will cause the bike to become difficult to steer, and in some instances, the bearing cage may even disintegrate altogether.
If you suspect rust may be causing your headset to malfunction, take the bearings out, inspect them properly, and if possible, clean and replace them. Note that applying rust-proof grease will help prevent rust from forming again.
However, if there is too much rust to remove, you may need to replace the bearings or the entire headset.
2. Headset play
If your bike’s headset is too loose, this can cause excessive bearing play, and steering will become difficult. Fortunately, loose headsets can often be fixed by simply tightening them up, but if you’ve done this and there’s still too much headset play, you may need to replace it. If in doubt, consult with a local bike technician or dealership.
Damage to a headset can occur for any number of reasons, but when it does happen, replacing it becomes inevitable. Bearings, seals, and cups that have become damaged will typically make the headset completely unresponsive, and you simply won’t be able to ride your bike again until you’ve replaced it.
4. Strange sounds
Clicking or grinding noises coming from your bike’s headset are usually strong indicators that something is wrong with it, and further investigation and action will be required to get it back to normal again.
Firstly, try cleaning the headset with a recommended bike lubricant, and checking for signs of rust. If that doesn’t eliminate the strange sounds, it could be that the headset has reached the end of its lifespan. If your bike is more than five years old, then this may be a reasonable assumption to make, and you’ll need to replace the headset.
5. You’ve replaced the fork
In most instances, the headset and the fork wear out at the same time, so it simply makes sense that if replacing one, you replace the other at the same time.
If you value your bike, it pays to take care of the headset as best you can so that steering is never compromised. However, if your headset has been damaged extensively or has simply worn out, a replacement is the only solution.