How to Adjust a Bike's Headset


The headset provides the connection between your handlebars, stem and frame. It allows you to steer the bike. A few minutes spent adjusting the headset adjustment quiets your bike, makes it handle better and prolongs longevity. Bikes built in the 1990s and later have threadless headsets, designed to adjust with simple tools. If your bike has a carbon headset, use caution when making adjustments. Over-tightening damages carbon.

Things You'll Need

  • 4 mm hex wrench
  • 5 mm hex wrench

Test, Look and Listen

  • Grasp the handlebars with both hands. Apply the brake to the front tire.

  • Rock the bike back and forth gently as you continue to hold the brake. Lift the front end of the bike and allow the tire to bounce slightly.

  • Adjust the headset if you hear a clunking sound, or can see movement between the steering tube and the large washer surrounding it, where the tube enters the washer at the bottom.

Headset Adjustment

  • Loosen the two horizontal pinch bolts with a 4 mm hex wrench. The pinch bolts are on the stem, about ¾ inch apart, just above the point where the steering tube enters the frame. They face the seat.

  • Tighten the large, vertical setscrew, with a 5 mm hex wrench, a quarter-turn at a time until snug. The large setscrew is facing up, centered on top of the steering tube. Tightening the 5 mm hex screw removes noise and movement from the headset.

  • Repeat rocking and bouncing the bike to test it for noise and or movement in the headset. If you hear any, snug the 5 mm setscrew slightly. Lift the front end of the bike and turn the handlebars gently from side to side. If they stick or are hard to turn, the headset is too tight. Loosen the 5 mm bolt an eighth-turn at a time until the handlebars move smoothly.

  • Sit on the bike. Check the handlebars for positioning. If they tilt to the right or left, align them perpendicular to the front tire. The tilt adjustment is controlled by the 4 mm pinch bolts.

  • Tighten the paired 4 mm horizontal pinch bolts to finish.

Tips & Warnings

  • The instructions refer to 4 and 5 mm hex wrenches, which are used to adjust most headsets. In some instances -- rarely -- you may need a 6 mm hex wrench.

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  • Photo Credit Ken Vander Putten/iStock/Getty Images
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