Thursday, January 21

Headset and BB Winterizing

A bit overdue on the blog front and for those waiting for this info but hopefully it's worth it. I tried to take plenty of pictures to make it very straight forward for the less mechanically inclined.

Today I'm going to show you how to take apart and winterize (regrease) the bearings in a Surly Mr.Whirly bottom bracket and the ubiquitous Chris King headset. If you have a different headset or bottom bracket, the parts may look slightly different but in general this should get you through most similar options. Alright let's dive in!

Starting with the Mr.Whirly bottom bracket, you'll need to remove both cups (aka the actual bottom bracket parts) from the bike and bring them somewhere to work. This may be a shed or garage or your kitchen table if your wife is nice and you clean up after yourself real well.
From the side your BB cup will look like this. The first thing we need to remove is a small plastic spacer sealing the bearings from the outside. I had a handy 1" wooden dowel in the garage that just barely didn't fit through so I used it as a small press. The plastic spacer isn't in there super tight so if you don't have a dowel and don't want to go buy one, improvise something else. Just for grins I was able to get one started coming out with a butter knife and my fingers. Mostly just be careful to remove the spacer somewhat evenly so it comes out without cracking. I'm sure Surly could get you another one but that will involve phone calls and shipping and nobody wants that. As you can see in the picture below the spacer is just starting to push out with the dowel...
Push a little more and pop! the spacer is out. Now remove it completely and set it aside for re-installation later. We can now see the next piece to remove.
Ah yes, the pesky plastic/rubber seal on the bearings themselves. How do we get it out of there?
I'd recommend that you steal the little tweezer/plucker things from your nice wife to use as a good tool. Alternatively you could grab a little dental pick from the hobby store if your wife will kill you for using her girly supplies for bike work. Use whichever tool you decide on to carefully grab the edges of the seal and pry it up a bit. Now you can pop it the rest of the way out and...
Off it comes! We now have access to the bearings! Once again you'll want to clean this off with a paper towel or rag and set it aside for later re-installation.
Repeat the procedure on your other cup, grab some brake cleaner or similar solvent and you'll probably now want to head outside or to the garage at least. No one but punks that huff like the smell of brake cleaner. Take each of the bearings and using the little red nozzle, spray all the stock or old grease out of the bearing. You'll want to rotate the bearings as you do this or in between sprays to make sure you really get all the old stuff out, especially if the bearings have already been used on a bike. There will probably be dirt and grit in there, wash it all out with the solvent.
When you get all the nasty stuff out and the bearings spin easily and without grittiness start to dry them off. If you have a air gun this will help to get all the solvent and any extra grease hiding in cracks and crevices out. With no air gun just dry and rotate them thoroughly so you get the solvent all evaporated.
Now we have two clean, dry and greaseless bearings. Time for reassembly.
You can see the difference between a re-greased bearing on the left and a dry one on the right.
To do this, grab your handy big syringe of Morningstar Soup or your other favorite winter grade grease. If you order from Paul at Morningstar Tools, I'd recommend getting the big grease tube and a couple extra seals with his freehub body kit all at once. By the time you pay for shipping twice it's just about as easy to get plenty the first time around plus he now can take Paypal to make it easy as pie and he's really nice to talk to. The Soup has lots of winter applications.
Okay back to the bottom bracket. Squeeze the grease in a decent sized bead all the way around the top of the bearings.
You can see there is plenty on the top. That's important because you're really going to want to work it in there inside in a moment.
Using your fingers or the dowel from earlier, spin the bearing to work that grease inside all the surfaces. You might also lightly tap the bearing square on the table to settle the grease down inside. Take a few moments here to really work it in, you want all the surfaces covered and the grease to stay inside the BB, not push out when you seal it up. You can't really put too much inside, any significant extra will just push out. Luckily the soup is a fairly light grease (for winter, duh I guess) so this all isn't too difficult.
Now you're going to reinstall the plastic/rubber seal first and then the plastic outer guard. The seal will snap down pretty easily, maybe pushing with your tweezers. Make sure it's properly seated. If you are really worried, do one bearing first so you have the other one to compare to. Then snap in the outer guard trying to install it straight down into the bearing. A flat object of any kind to push with is handy for this step.
Ta da! You now have winterized BB bearings and just reinstall them into your bike and ride. You can use the same procedure on your summer bike to clean up a crunchy bottom bracket before it complete seizes up.
Okay now that we have the bottom bracket out of the way, the headset will be a piece of cake. It's probably easiest to do this off the bike though I'm sure if you really wanted to you could figure out how to do it with the cups still in the frame. Personally not recommended as removing and reinstalling a headset is a pretty easy task with less than $10 in tools from Home Depot.

Alright let's get this one done too!
Start with just the two plain cups, set aside the other headset pieces for later re-installation. Now is a good time to clean and regrease anything else in the stem/headset area so when you put it all back together it will be fresh, clean and torqued to spec. You do use your torque wrench right?

Looking at the cups below you can see I started to remove the snap ring on the one on the left. Weasel your tool from earlier down right at the snap ring (metal) seam and carefully pry it up. You'll need to use a little force but it should start to come out pretty easily once you get it started. It's sitting under a small ledge on the outside of the bearing.
Work the snap ring out from under the ledge, clean it and set it aside for later.
Next up is a small rubber seal. This seal also will just pull right up if you grab it carefully. It may be slightly stuck in a few spots and it is fragile so be gentle, we will be reusing it.
With both pieces removed, we now have access to the bearings. Once again you'll want to take your brake cleaner or other degreaser of choice and clean all the nasty old stuff out. My headset had been on a bike for a while and it was fairly crunchy and lots of black nasty stuff came out. Get it all out of there, working the bearing around. You want it to spin free and easily when you're done. Blow it out with the air gun again or just make sure it dries if you don't have one (brake clean flashes off easily, sorry environment...).
Grab your new grease or Soup and squeeze it into the bearings, again getting plenty of coverage.
Work the grease into the bearing as we did with the bottom bracket and then grab your rubber seal. Carefully push it down under the lip of the headset making sure to keep it even all the way around and not push the inside part too deep. If you push it too deep, just grab it with the tweezers and start over.
Once it's seated all the way around wipe down any excess grease that pops up to keep things clean.
Next reinstall the snap ring by carefully working it back under the ledge. Snap it in at one point and work around in a circle until you get back to the start. Once it's mostly seated, push down firmly at the junction to make sure the ring is level where the two edges meet. You want it to look like the bearing on the right, not the left. Do this to both bearings, reinstall into the frame and you're finished. Make sure to clean up the kitchen table and the tweezers before you put them back in the bathroom!
If anyone has questions, just leave a comment and I'll try to make things more clear. Hope this helps someone out there.


Cellarrat said...

Good how to!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info!
I really like reading your blog.
How did the Dallas race turn out? I'm entered in my first endurance ride in St. Jo, TX this weekend
23-Jan-10. Hope to do the TD soon!


Darrell said...

Thanks for the how-to, nicely done!

What kind of grease do you use for the summer? How often to you do this, 2x a year?

I too would like to know how the Dallas race went. I saw on the DORBA site that you finished sixth, something about a flat or mechanical was mentioned. Wish I could have come out to watch you ride but had other things going the day of the race.

Fonk said...

Nice tutorial!

Vito said...

Learn something new everyday. Thanks!

Neve_r_est said...

Word of warning: I've stopeed using brake cleaner all together, no thanks on the instant neurotoxin.


mike said...

thanks much. just decided to do this today... as the bike is finally thawed enough to work on.

hopefully it will go as smoothly as you make it sound.

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