1) Whether you’ve decided to adjust your stem height or change to a different size stem, it’s always important to make sure you’ve set your headset up properly afterwards. Leaving it poorly adjusted not only makes your ride feel poor, but it can also do long term damage to the headset, frame or forks.
Firstly, and importantly, you need to be able to correctly assess your headset for set-up or wear. To start, check that your steering feels free and smooth. Lift the handlebars up and rotate left and right, checking they run easily and smoothly from side to side.
2) Next, test whether it’s too loose (or worn). Place the bike on the ground and wrap your left hand around the top of the headset. Pull the front brake and rock the bike backwards and forwards. If it’s loose, you’ll feel it wobble in your left hand as the steerer column moves with the frame.
3) If you find it’s not feeling right, you can make adjustments to set it up correctly. Before making any changes to the top bolt adjuster, it’s really important to undo the stem bolts. If you adjust the top bolt before loosening the stem bolts, you could really damage your components. Make sure the stem can move easily, independent of the forks, and that the wheel and bolts are loose
4) Next, tighten up the top bolt until there is no play in the steering. You shouldn’t have to tighten it hard – if you do, something’s gone wrong.
5) Check that the steering moves freely – if it feels stiff, loosen off the top bolt slightly. Once you’re happy with the adjustment, check your stem is on straight.
Tighten up the stem bolts – there will usually be two bolts, so make sure you tighten them evenly. Don’t tighten one all the way and then the other. Go back and forth between them.
6) Stems and steerer columns can be sensitive, especially carbon, so make sure you use a calibrated torque wrench to ensure it is tightened correctly. This means it won’t come undone while riding and that you won’t damage your components by overtightening.
Now, enjoy the ride.
Outspoken Cycles work to encourage people to use bicycles more, particularly as an effective means of transport. They offer leisure and professional bike maintenance courses, as well as bike repairs and traditional bike shop services. We organise fun, dynamic and unique cycle-themed events from smoothie bikes to pedal-powered cinemas. Through these, we aim to get people inspired about cycling. We run courses and initiatives throughout the country but our inspiration comes from where we started – in Cambridge, the UK’s city of cycling. We have a dedicated team who make it their mission to show others how much fun can be had on a bike.
By Catherine Thompson,
Head Mechanic and Instructor,