Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
We received an SOS the other day from a reader named Barb. It came in the form of a comment to one of our Quick Tips titled Learn to Ride a Straight Line, which appeared over a year ago. You can read that here: Learn to Ride a Straight Line.
There were already a few helpful comments to the original Quick Tip. But Barb’s comment was a call for help. We’ll take a crack at assisting her today and you can weigh in with your advice, too, by leaving a comment.
“Can someone help me understand why on my new bike I seem unable to control my front wheel? I have barely missed striking a parked car. Our streets often have bike lanes and I wobble around in them. The bike makes very wide wobbles.
This is new. I have ridden bikes for years but never had this problem. I feel amateurish.
It is a new Bianchi bike with a step-through frame. It has flat handlebars with ends upturned. It’s a steel and alloy bike weighing about 28 pounds (12.7kg).
The bike shop supposedly tightened the handlebars. That was no help.
I am now very slightly but not visibly tremulous. Is it me or possibly a bike problem?”
From what you described, Barb, I believe it’s a bicycle problem. You said that the bike makes very wide wobbles, that you almost hit a parked car and that the shop tightened the handlebars.
The glitch that can make any bike very difficult to steer and control is a problem with the steering mechanism, which is called the “headset.” If the headset is assembled incorrectly or if it’s adjusted too tightly, it can bind and a binding headset (think of it as “sticky” steering) can definitely cause the issues you’re experiencing.
Bicycles Self Balance
In order for you to steer and control a bicycle naturally, the front end (handlebars, stem and fork) must be able to freely swing from side to side. That lets the bicycle essentially balance itself.
In this YouTube video you can see a riderless bicycle steering itself. It demonstrates the importance of the bicycle’s front end to be able to move freely.
So, I think that either the headset on your bicycle was assembled wrong and because of that it’s not allowing the bicycle to self steer. Or, that the headset was adjusted too tightly. You wrote that the shop tightened the “handlebars.” If you meant that they tightened the headset, then that might be the problem – it might now be too tight.
If you have a friend you ride with you could let them try your bike. If you feel the issue I’m betting they will too and that will reassure you that it’s the bike, not you.
It should take hardly any force to steer a bicycle. Mostly you lean and the bike turns on its own. But, when a headset is too tight (adjusted that way or from damage or wear and tear), it can turn steering into a wrestling match and that can be disconcerting and dangerous.
There can be lots of things wrong with headsets to cause tightness and that includes on new headsets. So you may need to get a mechanic’s help to fix the issue. It could be for example that a bearing is missing or a part is assembled wrong and causing the headset binding. I would expect that on a new Bianchi any issues like these would be repaired at no cost to you.
The reason I’m not suggesting you try to fix it yourself is because headsets have gotten complicated and it’s not easy to diagnose and repair them without knowing everything about the headset you have on that bike. Plus, it’s a new bike that’s likely still covered by Bianchi’s warranty.
I hope this is helpful and that your shop finds and fixes the issue. Please let us know if so.
10,088 Daily Rides in a Row
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 10,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.