PROBLEM: You’re noticing a knocking, clunking, shuddering in the front of the bike when you ride over something rough.
SOLUTION: Check the bike’s headset because it’s probably loose.
The headset is the bearing assembly in the frame’s head tube. The handlebar stem is at the top of it. The fork goes into the bottom if it. These parts need to rotate freely, but in this case too much freedom is a bad thing.
A loose headset makes a bike feel sloppy, sound noisy and wear out things needlessly. Here are easy ways to tell if a headset is in proper adjustment.
—Put the bike in a repair stand. Remove the front wheel. Grasp the handlebar with one hand and the fork blades with the other. Push and pull on these parts. You shouldn’t feel any give.
—With the bike on the floor, stand behind the handlebar and firmly squeeze the front brake lever. Now rock the bike back and forth. If the headset is loose, you’ll feel it.
—Raise the front of the bike three or four inches and drop it. If the headset is loose, you’ll hear it.
You need a little know-how and perhaps a couple of very big wrenches to adjust a traditional threaded headset. It’s not hard. We also cover how to fix a modern threadless headset that’s loose here. Or, your friendly neighborhood bike shop can do the fix quickly for a modest charge.
A headset also can be too tight. It’s easy to check for this, too.
Lift the front of the bike a couple of inches by holding the frame’s top tube. Nudge the handlebar to the left. Then nudge it to the right. The bar should turn easily and fully in each direction. If it binds, the headset is probably tight. Shop time!
If the handlebar wants to stop straight ahead like it’s locking into a notch, that’s because it is. The headset is worn and probably needs replacement.