The number one rule for maintaining a bicycle is that you can’t break a bike bad enough the shop can’t fix it. So you may as well get after it.
My steering on the 5200 has been vexing me since, I don’t know, a year after I bought the bike but it never rose to the level I had to mess with it… Until two weeks ago. This all started about six weeks ago when I started getting the bike ready for the fall.
Being my rain bike now, the 5200 sees all of the nasty stuff I won’t ride my Venge in. That means the lower steering bearing gets massively abused. I noticed a little play in the fork on my first ride on the bike after getting it set. Now when I write “a little”, I mean “almost imperceptible”. I am a little silly about these things.
Anyway, the normal fix for this is ridiculously simple. It’s a threaded setup (Trek went with threadless the year after my bike was made, in 2000) but it’s just as easy either way. Loosen the quill stem, loosen the lock nut, tighten the lower set nut, tighten the lock nut, check for wiggle, line the handlebar up, tighten the quill, done.
Unfortunately when the sealed lower bearing is worn out and you tighten the stem up, it’s too tight for the bearing to operate smoothly. In my case, the steering still worked, it just pinched a little bit so I could feel I the drag when I turned the handlebar.
So I’m sitting there Friday and I decided I’d had enough. The bike is going to be painted in a month or two and, against shop recommendations, I was going to get the steering sorted right now.
Having a bit of knowledge about the threadless system, I commenced to pulling everything apart, assuming it would look exactly like my ’91 Cannondale (that I’d serviced once or twice in the past). I was mistaken. I didn’t panic though, because I’ve serviced the threadless headset on the Venge a couple of times now and the 5200 was a mix of the old-school and the brand new. Quill stem, sealed bearings and spacers…
I took the fork off, pulled the spacers off, pulled the top bearing out, cleaned it and the head tube. Then I pulled the lower bearing and gave it a spi… it barely moved. I knew that meant a new bearing.
While I had the front end apart, I’d been wanting to lose a couple of spacers so I figured I’d take the fork in to the shop with the bearing and have it cut down while I was at it.
I disconnected the break cable and took the worn out bearing, the fork, the two spacers I wanted gone (so the mechanic knew how much to cut off of the fork stem) and the set nut (just in case – so the guys could see that it was a Shimano 105 headset) to the shop, figuring I’d either luck out and they’d have a new bearing or have to order one.
I walked into the shop and explained everything. Mike, the mechanic, looked at the bearing and immediately went to the computer to look for a replacement. No luck, though he said he could clean it and repack the bearings and get it close. Then we picked out a replacement assembly and settled on a Chris King, the only one available in the size I needed.
I picked the bearing up the next morning and had everything back together, properly adjusted (including the brakes) ten minutes after I walked in the door, and now my steering is properly loose and the fork is tight. It’ll easily last until I’m relegated to the trainer for the winter and can take my bike in for its new paint job. I’ll just use the Cannondale on the trainer.
Now, next to the set screws on a derailleur, the steering assembly is about as difficult as it gets. Well, maybe assembling an S-Works crank would be worse… Actually, yeah, that’s a lot tougher – but most people aren’t lucky enough to have to deal with that. Point is, the only really hard part of working on bikes is knowing the proper steps involved in making the repairs.
So look them up and give it a go… If you mess up, just take your steed and ask them to show you where you went wrong. You’ll likely get your bike fixed right away and you’ll learn something.
Just remember, if they hook you up, tip the mechanic.