I won’t get into the How To of cleaning and lubing the steering assembly, I’m saving that for an upcoming series, but if you haven’t taken the steering assembly apart and cleaned it lately, think about getting it done.
Mine took ten minutes.
Disassembled, cleaned, lubed, and put back together. Ten minutes.
I have the newer, since the early 2000’s, threadless stem system. The older quill stem systems are a little more complex, but not all that bad either. The threadless stem system is painfully simple though… If you absolutely can’t wait for the post in the new series, I’ve written about this issue before, and the link has two videos embedded that explain both the threadless stem and the quill stem options for cleaning and lubing the steering assembly.
The problem, of course, is the putting it back together. There’s a lot that rides on putting everything back together, not only in the correct order but getting everything properly tightened down. Get it too loose and you could crash or completely screw up your bike. Too tight and you can ruin the bearings.
The problem is that there isn’t a lot of wiggle room for the do-it-yourselfer – and no room on the loose side. Even a little loose is exceptionally bad for the bike and is dangerous to ride the bike in such a state.
There is light at the end of the tunnel though, and it’s not a train…
If the bike is a rockin’, don’t bother knockin’. On second thought…
The trick to making sure you have the tension right is rocking the bike back and forth with the front brake firmly engaged after everything is properly put back together and tightened down. Pull the brake lever with your left hand and wrap your right hand around the place where the fork comes together with the steerer tube. Another good place to feel the movement is the spacers just below the stem – I check for movement in both places before I’m satisfied because my bike fits together very well, the parts fit together tight, so it can be tough to detect movement. Finally, if you want a third, even better way to make sure you’ve got the stem tight enough, with the bike on a rack, with your right hand on either of the locations described previously, strike the tire sharply from the front (just be careful not to knock the bike off of the stand… If the stem is loose, you’ll feel it.
So, don’t neglect the steering assembly, you’ll be amazed at how much dirt gets in there… It’s gnarly. I’ve heard recommendations of twice a year for this item, but after the last time, I might bump mine up to three.