As you can imagine, steering a motorcycle is very important, which is why steering head bearing replacement has become such a common upgrade on older motorcycles. Motorcycles built before the 1990’s were generally outfitted with free floating ball bearing stearing heads. These bearings over time have been known to foul, due to dirt debris or old grease. One out of place bearing can cause catstrophic steering failure, something you do not want to encounter while riding your motorcycle. This article will tell how what steps need to be taken to replace steering head bearings on a motorcycle.
Remove The Steering Neck: The first step in steering head bearing replacement is to remove the steering neck from the motorcycle. The test cycle here is a 1974 CB550, with old school free floating ball bearings. Before you get to the steering neck you will have to remove the front wheel, the forks and the handlebars and controls. Once you have stripped the bike of these components, the next step is to loosen and remove the bolt that holds the top triple tree in place. This bolt will allow you to remove the triple tree, and will provide access to the steering neck set bolt. This is a large screw on piece that once removed will free the steering neck. Once you remove this, you will be able to see the top bearing race and the ball bearings within. Do not fret if some go bouncing across the floor. We’ll be replacing them anyway. The steering neck should free itself from the bottom of the neck tube, simply grab on to the bottom triple tree set and pull downward.
Remove The Old Bearings & Races: Once you have the steering neck removed from the neck tube, you will want to pull out the old steering head bearings and races. The bearings will be a bunch of small metallic balls. They will go flying everywhere and you will find them in your workshop for years. It’s just part of the deal unless you are really neat. I am not. Woops. The next step is to pry the old bearing races out of the steering head. These were not meant to be removed, so they will be a touch cookie to get out. Some folks have resorted to using a dremel with a cut off wheel to get these out. I would say avoid this if possible, since we don’t want you to destroy the inner tube. The bottom race can usually be set free by sending a long bolt down the tube and while resting it against the old race, hitting the other end with a hammer. Is steering head bearing replacement fun or what?
Order and Install Tapered Bearings: Once you have everything removed and that beautiful steering neck in your hands, it’s time to install the tapered bearings. I used enclosed tapered bearings from AllBallz. These have a great reputation and are inexpensive ($20 or so). The bottom bearing is notoriously difficult to get on since it is built to fit very snugly onto the steering neck. If the bearing is even slightly off kilter, it will not slide onto the steering neck. In order to ease the process, I put the neck in the freezer for an afternoon, and the bearings in the oven just before installation. Be careful, they’re hot! I also purchased a small section of 2 inching tubing which I used to press the bearing into place. Picture the bearing fit over the steering neck and then the pipe is slid over the neck and placed onto the top of the bearing. These tips make the stearing head bearing replacement process much easier, trust me.
Install The Bearing Races: The bearing races that are included in the package will have to be installed next. Make sure to put the right race on the right end. They will correspond with the bearings, naturally. Be extremely careful when placing them into the steering head not to leave any marks on them. They will be the contact point for the bearings, so any marks will cause friction and may become problematic down the road. Carefully tap the races into the top and bottom of the steering head. You may want to use a brass piece of metal to do this so as to avoid harming the bearing races.
Grease The Bearings: Go out and get yourself some quality grease. Thermaplex makes a good product, which I have used on a handful of these products. You want to put a dollop of grease on your hand and work the grease into the bearings. Roll the outer edge of the bearings into your hand and allow the grease to permeate the bearings. This is very important as the grease will act as the only lubricant for these bearings. Be careful not to introduce any dirt matter into the grease while you are lubricating the bearings or afterwards. Make sure your hands are clean during this process.
Reassemble The Steering Neck: Once you have the bottom bearing fitted on the steering neck and both races in place, and both of the bearings properly greased, it’s time to reassemble! Carefully guide the steering neck into the steering head. As the neck moves up through the tube, be careful not to hit the top bearing race (You don’t want to pop the race out or damage it in any way). Now that the steering neck is through, drop the top bearing into place and secure the neck with the placement bolt. Reassemble the top triple tree and the handle bars. Torque the top triple tree bolt to your manufacturers specs.
Test The Steering: Now that everything is back in place and torqued down properly, it’s time to test out the steering. Before you installed these new bearings the steering was probably a bit loose and “sloppy.” The feel now should be silky smooth and consistent. Turn the bars from full lock left to full lock right. Confirm that it feels consistent throughout the steering arc. If it does, put your forks back on, install your front wheel, check the brakes and go for a ride. Congrats, you just did your own steering head bearing replacement. Go out and enjoy the ride!