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What To Do When A Road Bike Headset Keeps Coming Loose

A headset connects the fork to the frame of your road bike so that you can steer and balance your bike well. However, headsets commonly go out of adjustment and become loose on many road bikes. So, what should you do when your road bike headset keeps coming loose?

If your road bike headset keeps coming loose, you must secure it again. Doing this requires tightening and locking the adjustment to stay in place. You need to check whether the headset is installed correctly and perform the basic adjustment steps to fix it.

Most road bikes today have threadless headsets. The parts that adjust a headset are ‘slip-on’ over the fork steerer, making it smoother. However, what should you do when the headset keeps coming loose?

road bike headset

How To Make A Road Bike Headset Stay In Place?

Consider several things if your road bike headset frequently comes loose.

Check If The Headset Is Installed Correctly

To check for correct headset installation, look for the steerer-tube compression plug if your bike has a carbon steerer or a start nut with a metal steerer. These work to ensure that the steerer’s structure does not get damaged.

Sometimes, the plugs get installed incorrectly when the steerer’s tube gets cut. This will make your headset lose. Additionally, you should check if the headset has the correct bearing angle between 36 to 45 degrees. If it is incorrect, the bearing will not fit the frame correctly, making it easier for the headset to become loose.

You must also ensure adequate headset spacers to lift the top cap over the steerer tube. This will prevent it from bottoming out against the compression plug or the star nut. If you are using a compression plug, you must place it far enough inside the tube so that it works correctly.

Basic Adjustment

If your headset is installed correctly and keeps coming loose, you must follow the basic adjustment steps to re-align it. Use an Allen wrench to loosen the bolts on the back or side of the stem to the point where you can turn them by hand. However, you must keep them from falling out, or they could get lost.

Holding the front wheel of your road bike between your legs, check to see if the handlebars turn to the side when nudged. If they do, the stem is free to move and get realigned with the front wheel again. Then, turn the top cap bolt clockwise to tighten the headset using an Allen wrench. Now, the headset should rotate freely.

To finish the basic adjustment, check if the stem is aligned and tighten its bolts to the required degree. Then, ensure that the top bolt is tightened so you can continue riding your road bike. 

However, this does not always work. Continue reading to find out why this happens and what more you can do!

Take a look at this easy tutorial to tighten the headset if you need visual help: 

What To Do When Basic Adjustment Does Not Work?

Sometimes, the abovementioned steps do not remove the play in your road bike headset. This happens because excess play is created between the headset components and the top cap.

The top cap bolt hangs onto a fixed “nut” concealed inside the fork steerer. It needs to raise the fork far enough to eliminate all the gaps between the headset components to remove the play. If this does not happen even after you have tightened the bolt, you need to figure out what else may be causing this problem.

On new road bikes, one of the headset parts gets shifted during the first rides and creates the play. However, the play cannot be eliminated by tightening the bolt because of the tolerance of the headset components. Usually, another headset spacer beneath the stem is needed to fill the gap.

Another reason why this problem arises is that the nut inside the fork steerer is displaced. Tightening the top bolt will not remove the place because it is not lifting the fork; it only raises the nut inside it. Look inside the fork to tell the nut’s height and whether it is moving.

Then, you can return it to its original position and lock it. You will also be able to remove the place and adjust your road bike headset correctly. However, people often forget to tighten their road bike headsets. Can this be dangerous?

Can You Ride A Bike With A Loose Headset?

As tightening the headset takes time and requires tools, some people delay the process and continue riding their road bikes with loose headsets. If you ride with a loose headset and go through huge jumps, the bottom bearing may become inefficient and need replacement. 

The set of bearings in your road bike allows you to steer the bike smoothly. Depending on your riding style, bearings should be replaced every 3,000 miles. However, if they are frequently used with a loose headset, friction will increase, and you will feel a notch when you rotate the headset. 

An early bearing replacement will not be cost-effective.  

Related: 12 Essential BMX Tools To Keep You Safe

man riding a road bike

A loose headset may also collapse during your ride or get locked up. If you do not have a tool kit and are far from local repair shops, this may be a disturbance because you will not be able to ride your bike any longer.

However, a headset may get loose even after it has been tightened.  

Why Are Headsets Loose After Tightening?

Headsets may get loose after tightening if you do not have everything spaced out correctly. When this happens, you may tighten the top cap down onto the steerer itself instead of the stem or the spacer. This prevents your road bike headset from tightening correctly, even if your top cap is tight.

Thus, ensure that the headset’s fork is seated correctly before tightening the top cap. The stem should also be high enough above the steerer for the top cap to sit on once it is tightened.

Final Takeaway

In conclusion, your road bike headset may come loose if not installed correctly. You must loosen the stem bolts, tighten the top cap as required, check for any play left, and tighten the stem bolts to adjust a loosened headset. Also, you should not ride a bike with a loose headset as it may be dangerous and costly.