Cleaning headset bearings
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  1. #1
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    Cleaning headset bearings

    I have some grit in my lower sealed headset bearing. I took it apart and cleaned it in the sink, but I can still feel the grit when turning the bearing. Do I need to just replace it or is there a better way to clean them?

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by bmm32005 View Post
    I have some grit in my lower sealed headset bearing. I took it apart and cleaned it in the sink, but I can still feel the grit when turning the bearing. Do I need to just replace it or is there a better way to clean them?
    It seems that you might not understand how cartridge bearings work. They're not dishes, cleaning them in the sink won't accomplish anything. They need to be taken apart(seals off), flushed, and regreased. If they're really rough you replace them.
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  3. #3
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    If these are sealed bearings, you can try to remove the dust cover if you have not already done so.

  4. #4
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    Take an exacto knife & gently pry off the dust seal. Be careful not to damage the seal. Use a small jar & some degreaser in it & with an old toothbrush scrub the bearings thoroughly making sure to spin them gently to get all grit out.

    If its still dirty after this, refill with clean degreaser & repeat. When it looks & feels clean, then let it soak in some alcohol to get rid of degreaser. Or you can spray with wd40 instead. Wipe thoroughly & let air dry & then regrease & seal. I like the Shimano grease but whatever grease will work.

  5. #5
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    ugh, since you've already drenched the thing in water, you'll now have to go through the whole motion of regreasing it! else the bearings might just rust.

    careful when removing the seals though, if you bend them, they won't go back on snugly again and dirt will get in easier in the future

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by stan01 View Post
    Take an exacto knife & gently pry off the dust seal. Be careful not to damage the seal. Use a small jar & some degreaser in it & with an old toothbrush scrub the bearings thoroughly making sure to spin them gently to get all grit out.

    If its still dirty after this, refill with clean degreaser & repeat. When it looks & feels clean, then let it soak in some alcohol to get rid of degreaser. Or you can spray with wd40 instead. Wipe thoroughly & let air dry & then regrease & seal. I like the Shimano grease but whatever grease will work.
    And if, after doing this, they are still rough or binding or gritty, get new bearings. Properly designed headset bearings last a long, long time. Poorly designed ones will need regular replacement, but first do the clean and re-grease project to be sure that the bearings are actually shot.

  7. #7
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    Everyone, thanks. I obviously didn't know they come apart. I'll get right on it. Riding in New England kicks up a lot of road sand and salt.

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    I didn't realize cleaning cartridge bearings was a normal activity. Most times I've seen cartridge bearings used they are intended as a 'throw away when worn out and replace' type of component. That's outside of bikes. If the intent is to actually service them, why use a cartridge instead of the separate balls/rollers and races? Sorry, not really on topic.

  9. #9
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    Unless you are pinching serious pennies, just replace the bearings - both upper and lower. All you are accomplishing by removing the seals, degreasing, regreasing and reinstalling the seals is rolling the bearings just a little bit further down the road. Headset bearings take a beating just doing their job and should be considered a consumable not a regular maintenance items.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by bmm32005 View Post
    Everyone, thanks. I obviously didn't know they come apart. I'll get right on it. Riding in New England kicks up a lot of road sand and salt.
    It should be pretty obvious that cleaning the outside of the bearings isn't going to do anything at all. Watch some videos, they're super easy to service...the problem is that if they get rough they're most likely worn out.
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  11. #11
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    The problem with headsets is that they don't roll. Your steer tube stays in almost the same position about 99.5% of the time. The bearings beat the races in the exact same spot over and over. What you can do is rotate the races where that can be done. On a cartridge bearing you get the same results by rotating the cartridge 90 deg in the housing.
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