How to Adjust a Threadless Bicycle Headset

Riding a bike is a healthy fun activity that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. However, a poorly maintained bike can greatly diminish the fun and increase the risk of cycling. This article will help you adjust your bike's headset bearing assembly, which allows smooth and stable steering on your bicycle.


  1. 1
    Stand in front of the bike, grabbing the fork crown and fully engaging the front brake. If you do not have a front brake, turn the handlebars 90 degrees and continue to the next step.
  2. 2
    Keeping hold of the brake lever and fork crown, attempt to rock the fork forward and backward. If movement and a knocking sound is present, the bearings are not preloaded enough. Continue to the adjustment step.
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    Suspend the bicycle from your repair stand with the front wheel lower than the rear. If you do not have a repair stand, enlist the help of a trusted bystander to lift the bike in a similar fashion.
  4. 4
    Turn the handlebars 90 degrees to the side and release them. The front end of the bike should quickly and smoothly return to center. If there is excessive resistance to movement the bearings have too much preload. Continue to the next step.
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    Locate and loosen, but do not remove the stem pinch bolts. This allows the bearing preload to be adjusted freely.
  6. 6
    Identify the preload bolt.
    • If your bearings are not preloaded enough:
      • Slowly tighten the preload bolt by turning it clockwise with an appropriately sized allen key.
      • Check the preload by grabbing the front brake lever and fork crown and rock as described above.
      • Continue to tighten and check the preload until all movement and knocking is eliminated.
    • If your bearings have too much preload:
      • Loosen the preload bolt by turning it counterclockwise with an appropriately sized allen key.
      • Lift the bike with the front end slightly down as described in step 3.
      • Turn and release the handlebars, allowing them to return to center. If they do not recenter themselves, loosen further and try again until they freely swing.
  7. 7
    Your adjustment is complete! Align the stem with the front wheel and re-torque the pinch bolts.


  • Small adjustments have big effects. Make sure to go slow, you can always readjust.
  • A perfect adjustment takes a little while to get a feel for, you must find the happy medium between too loose and tight for the best ride.


  • Properly adjusting the headset is essential to the longevity of the bearings and safety of the rider. If you are not confident in your adjustment, please bring your bike to a certified bicycle mechanic before riding.
  • If excess friction is noticeable as soon as knocking is eliminated, your bearings may be damaged and in need of replacement. Consult a specialist before riding.

Things You'll Need

  • A bike with a threadless headset
  • A bicycle repair stand and/or helper
  • A metric allen key set

Article Info

Categories: Bicycles