MC Garage Video: How To Check And Adjust Your Motorcycle Steering Head Bearings

Your owner’s manual says to check your steering head bearings every year or two. Here’s how!

Loose, tight, or worn steering head bearings are going to impact your bike’s steering and handling, and NOT in a good way. Thankfully, checking and adjusting steering-head bearings is pretty easy. Here’s how you do it.

First up, you need to get the front wheel off the ground. This is important since weight on the front wheel can mask issues with the bearings and make it hard to feel what they’re doing. If your bike has a center stand, great. If not, use a rearstand to stabilize the bike and then jack the front up with a scissor jack or a floor jack. Some bikes will be harder to support than others—whatever you do, make sure it’s stable!

With the front end off the ground, swing the steering from lock to lock slowly. It should feel smooth and consistent. If there’s a lot of drag or binding your bearings might be tight, but that’s not common, so make sure it’s not just a control cable or the wiring harness holding things up. With a ton of use the bearings will wear small dents into the races. If it feels like there’s a detent—usually when the bars are straight ahead—your head bearings are shot. Lucky for you, we’ll show you how to replace the steering bearings in another video.

Next up, grab the forks about midway up and gently push and pull them, front to back. If the bearings are loose you’ll feel some play or a clunk, or maybe even hear a click.

If your steering head bearings are loose or tight, you’ll need to adjust them. As always, check your shop manual for your bike’s torque specs and adjustment procedure, but this is the general gist of it. You need to loosen the upper fork pinch bolts and the top-triple nut so the triple clamp is free to move, and then either tighten or loosen the adjustment collar, which is located right under the triple clamp. To turn the collar you can use a drift and a hammer, a shock spring spanner, or you can buy whatever special tool your manual suggests.

You want the bearings to be tight enough that there’s no play, but not so tight that there’s drag. This can be a hard line to walk, so take your time and work in small increments. Too tight is definitely worse than a little loose since it’ll make your steering heavy and make the bike hard to balance at low speed.

If your bearings were loose, add 1/8 turn of preload at a time until the play is taken out. If the bearings were tight, do the opposite. Recheck the movement after each adjustment.

Once you’ve reached that sweet spot of no play and minimal drag, retighten the triple clamp top nut and fork pinch bolts to the proper torque, and you’re set. It’s a good idea to run through the inspection procedure again, since the adjustment may have put pressure on the bearings that will reveal dented races.

What about lube? Great question. Most manuals recommend greasing the steering head bearings every couple of years. Lubing those bearings entails taking the entire front end apart. It's a tedious process, but it's an important one, so CLICK HERE to watch How To Lube Your Steering Head Bearings.

More handy video tech tips from the MC Garage below: