Tuesday Tip: Cleaning Your Steering Stem

All new production bikes arrive pre-lubed to each dealership. While the amount of lube is sufficient for sale, it is not enough for hard, consistent riding. Although there are many points to be greased on a regular basis, the head bearings need as much attention as any. When neglected, they may seize and cost you much more than a small container of bearing grease and 20 minutes of your time. We met up with Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Mike Williamson to seek out some advice that will help you keep your front end in tip-top shape.

Recommended tools: Gloves, bearing grease, anti-seize lube, contact brake cleaner or degreasing solvent, shop towels, steering head wrench, 8mm T-handle, 10mm T-handle, flat torque wrench with 32mm end, and regular torque wrench with 10mm socket.

1. “Remove the front-end components, beginning with the front brake lever and front number plate. Next, loosen the pinch bolts evenly so the fork legs slide down and are free of the upper and lower triple clamps. Set aside the front forks, with the wheel and entire front brake assembly still attached. After that, remove the 32mm steering head nut and washer up top. Grabbing the handlebars with the handlebars still attached, lift the assembly up and over the head unit, and let it rest gently. Lastly, remove the lower nut using a steering head wrench. Do not use a pair of pliers, or a flathead screwdriver and hammer as they will damage the nut beyond repair.”

2. “Once the steering head nut is removed, the lower clamp and stem should release downward. Remove the upper bearing and set it aside with the lower clamp, stem, and lower bearing. Inspect the upper and lower bearing race for any excessive wear. If scratched or excessive wear is visible, use a scotch brite pad and gently polish the spots.”

3. “Using any degreasing solvent or contact brake cleaner, spray the dirty bearing while spinning them with your fingers. Be certain that all old grease and dirt has been fully discarded and the bearings are able to move freely. Dry the bearings thoroughly using an air compressor or a clean shop towel. Be sure, however, to check the inner sides of both triple clamps for wear or scratches and repeat the scotch brite process if needed. Spray with contact cleaner to ensure a fresh surface for the forks to slide in without being scratched.”

4. “Using any high-quality bearing grease, work a liberal amount thoroughly into each bearing with your fingers. Take your time using generous amounts, as you will feel the bearings pull the grease in and start to bind once a sufficient amount has been used. Apply anti-seize lube to the upper and lower clamp pinch bolts, as well as to the threads on the top of the steering stem. The only points that should be greased are the two bearings as they are the only two spots that will be touching metal to metal. The steering stem should be wiped free of grease.”

5. “Replace the clean upper bearing back into the race and wipe off all excess grease. Slide the lower clamp and stem back up into the head. Tighten the steering nut by wobbling the lower clamp while tightening with your fingers. This will allow the bearings to properly sit in each race. Use the steering head wrench to tighten to your desired range. Some riders prefer an over-tightened stem, thanks to its stabilizing properties.

Note: This nut should be spun just beyond finger tight. Be sure not to over tighten and cause damage beyond repair.

“Making sure all cables are in the correct position, replace the bars with the upper clamp back onto the head stem. Replace the washer then the nut, spinning only finger tight for now.”

6. “Reinstall the forks and wheels combined as one piece. Wobble them into place and set back to desired fork height. Be sure, though, to make the final rotation of each fork tube so that the air bleed screw is facing forward and is easily accessible. Torque all four upper clamp pinch bolts as well as the top steering head nut to the manufacturer’s specification. This will put the steering head into the correct position. Lastly, torque the lower pinch bolts to spec. Confirm all nuts and bolts are properly in place on final time. Check the general feel of the steering head and if sufficient, then off you go!”