TUTORIAL: How to replace a headset

By Ben Butterfield • Mechanics • 30 Nov 2011

So I found an old frame that had a fairly good headset but the headset was the wrong stack height, meaning I couldn’t fit the locknut. After buying a headset that was the right size, here’s how I swapped them.

Tools Required

1 x Park Tool RT-1
1 x DIY headset press
1 x tube of grease
1 x Socket set
2 x Adjustable spanners
1 x Flat head screwdriver
1 x Hammer


1. Remove the old headset

First, I undid the stem bolt:

Then the brake caliper bolt:

So that the caliper could swing freely:

Took the stem out and moved the stem / handlebars and brake away from the front of the bike:

Here is what you should be faced with – a lock nut on the top and an adjuster nut just below:

Remove the locknut and you should be faced with the final headset nut. Remove this too:

When you are planning to re-use a headset, it’s a good idea to place the various parts in order so you don’t forget how to put them back together again. In this image you can see what I mean, but this headset is knackered – look at the missing rollers:

So now we have a top cup with nothing in it:

You should be able to slide the fork out now:

In this particular headset, the bottom race was held in by a seal. If you are removing an old school headset, you’ll probably find a load of tired old ball bearings in here which need to be removed before the next step:

Next we need to take the old cups out, so insert the Park Tools RT-1 into the bottom of your headtube:

Keep pushing and maybe squeezing the ends together:

Eventually, you will hear / feel a satisfying clunk:

Then whack the end of the Park Tool RT-1 a few times and the headset cup should come flying out:

Then install the Park Tool RT-1 the opposite way through the headtube:

A few whackings later you should have a headtube with no headset cups in it:

Now you need to remove the old headset crown from your forks. It will look something like this:

Take your flat head screwdriver / small hammer and tap around the edges of the crown:

Eventually, you will end up with a fork with no crown on it (hopefully). Now is a really good time to give the fork steerer and headtube a damn good degreasing / washing.

2. Stack Heights

When buying a new headset, it’s important to consider the stack height. The easiest way to work out the stack height you need is:

steerer length – headtube length

In this case, the steerer was 204mm long and the headtube was 170mm long, so:

204mm – 170mm = 34mm

I bought a 33.5mm stack height headset which seemed to work fine. However, the previous stack height was well out:

Which adds up to 41.49mm, not allowing for the usual mismeasurement issues. This is why we couldn’t fit a locknut when this headset was in the bike.

3. Install a new headset

Let’s do the bottom end of the headtube first:

Take a pea sized amount of grease:

And smear it evenly around the inside of the headtube:

Then fit the headset cup as best you can by hand:

Now it’s time for the DIY headset press. Assemble it like this:

Tighten the nuts until you can feel some resistance:

Nearly there:

Keep going until you feel MASSIVE resistance. Grease will probably squish out at this point:

Grease the other end of the headtube:

And hand fit the cup:

Then press it home:

Grease the section of the fork that will house the crown:

And hand fit the crown:

You need a pipe with a suitable width for this bit. I’m using an old MTB frame:

Slam the fork downwards against the tube and the crown should slide on. If not, try using the screwdriver and hammer to level it out:

You need to end up with a crown that is perfectly seated. Grease will probably squish out at this stage:

Take note of how the bearings should be placed:

Pack the cup with grease:

Place the bearings in the cup:

Pack with more grease:

Slide the fork in:

Pack grease into the top cup:

Then place the race into the cup:

And pack with more grease:

Screw on the main headset cup:

You will probably see a groove in the thread:

Slide the headset washer onto the steerer, paying attention to the groove if the headset washer has a lump:

Now fit the locknut:

Finaly, put the handlebars and brake back on and you’re all done:

2 Responses

  1. Pingback: TUTORIAL: DIY Headset Press | Fixed London

  2. damion

    excellent article, thanks for doing this tutorial. More tools still to buy lol

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