Uncategorized Workshop

Unbearingable Head Bearings

Replacing your steering head bearings is frustrating enough to restore your faith in garage mechanics... nearly.

Now and again I’m reminded that I’m a crap mechanic. It’s incredibly frustrating doing your own work. Always a tool or half a brain short for the job. With my GSR handling ‘weird’ I took it upon myself to rectify it…

Potted History: September/October last year I lost my back end in a wet corner and low sided. I wasn’t carrying much speed but the big weight of metal grinded across the road and thunked into the curb on the other side. It was one of those ‘dust yourself off and hope no-one really saw’ kind of falls. More dents in my pride than on the bike.

A few days later I jumped on the bike to go to work. Halfway through my commute (only six minutes, so no dramas…) I pulled up because it was handling like shit. Lugging itself around corners with all the finesse of a container ship. Nail in the tyre – totally flat. Nice. I carried on through to work before fitting one of those plastic, screw in temporary fixes and a couple of CO2 cans. That weekend I had it replaced like for like at a local garage.

And something hadn’t been right since. 

Straight lines, especially slow, felt like the bike was pulling left and right. Like your riding in a rut and you keep going up and down the banks on each side. More worryingly the bike was difficult to push into corners, then went over way too far. I carried on riding regardless, hoping to scrub the tyres off and fix the problem… which didn’t happen.

Steering Head Bearings

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m totally shit at my periodic maintenance so I had a lot of diagnostic bases to cover. Wheels felt fine, no play, and with the amount of miles I’d chewed up on my euro-trip I wouldn’t be surprised there was an issue with the head bearings. After an evening spent trying to balance the sump precariously on jack stand (an inherited one that doesn’t actually have a jack – still kinda useful) there was definitely a notch in the steering movement. Unless you’ve got a centre stand, diagnosing this’ll be a pain for you too. Check out this youtube video if you need help.

The garage wanted £125 without labour, not an option if you’re saving cash for another big trip. I rolled up my sleeves.

A lot of front paddock stands fits into a bore in the bottom yoke/triple tree – mine no exception. It had to go back onto the precarious jack stand to remove and replace the parts. To say it was a delicate removal doesn’t come close.

IMG_20160228_123314124
Front end off. Unfortunately this is as organised as it gets…

Hammering a chisel behind the bearing  and the steering stem eventually gave me enough room to drive the bearing off with a punch. The top bearing is loose and pulled out. The seats came out of the head tube with some gentle persuasion from a screw driver.

It was soon clear I wasn’t replacing like for like, which surprised me. I guess I expected a 2006 model to have tapered head bearings (the new ones) not the ball bearing type. The new ones would fit, despite being a little taller/deeper – but boy were the seats hard to drive in. Super tight. Likewise with the steering stem bearing. I hammered that thing like there was no tomorrow. Then I realised I hadn’t re-installed a seal which is meant to sit underneath. It was a sorry sight – me destroying the new bearing with my Dremel because I couldn’t drive it off. New, red grease being shot all over the place. I went to the bike shop, thoroughly disappointed in myself.

Replacement part in hand, the re-assembly wasn’t too bad (apart from the super tight seats). I considered making a special tool from an angle-grinded socket to torque the lock nuts down to exactly 45nm. In the end I used the spanner for my rear shock adjustment and tightened as much as I could by hand. It’s only got a small handle, so not much chance of clearing 45nm and damaging the bearing. When the front end was back together completely I pulled backwards and forwards on the forks to check free-play. The tension seemed fine.

suzuki head
The GSR’s head bearings are incredibly simple, but don’t be mislead… that doesn’t mean easy. Mine were an absolute brawn-fest to replace.

The job had taken me two weeks waiting for parts and available weekends. My first attempt ended prematurely when I realised the extent of disassembly needed to get to the head bolts – removing the airbox and sliding the ignition barrel back. I hadn’t left enough time. When I finally got it back on the road… the wiggling was still there.

I couldn’t feel too disheartened – I’d replaced notchy head bearings that would’ve only gotten worse and caused another steering problem.

Looking to do your own head bearings? Check out the information I found useful on the links below! It’s a pain in the ass job, so the more prep you can do the easier you’ll find it. Got any tips of your own – please share in the comments so I don’t fudge it up so much next time!

Really helpful youtube video from the guys at Garage TV
Driven and Riden Youtube guide
Photo-guide to SHB replacement on a Triumph bonny.

 

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