BikeCo Tips & Tricks: Service Chris King Headset Bearings
Enjoy a quick video and write-up that illustrates how to easily service Chris King headset bearings. One of the great draws to these products is with very basic maintenance you can expect them to easily last the lifespan of your bike.
In this video and blog we’ll look at how to service the King bearings including easily removing the c-clip and rubber seal. The blog goes a bit deeper explaining why I prefer bearing retainer over grease for a variety of assemblies to improve service life while also making my rides quieter and more fun.
MTB Headset Service
The video shows the basics of servicing your King headset. In fact, these are the steps to service any King bearing system. Some prefer the King grease injector for bottom brackets, but, I’ve always used this method. I find it pretty easy as well as relatively clean.
Why Service a Headset?
I knew it was time to service my headset when I found a knock in the front end that didn’t go away with a simple headset adjustment.
The symptom was an occasional “pop” particularly if I was pulling on the bars hard.
A dry headset bearing is often the culprit in these cases. Riding in dry conditions in SoCal, and being aware not to power wash my bike, I have to repack a headset bearing maybe once or twice a year.
Since I was mainly getting the noise under decent amounts of load I also suspected a “loose” bearing.
Now that’s not to say the headset wasn’t adjusted properly. However, a slightly loose headset bearing or cap will do similar things.
Headset bearings take a tremendous amount of strain. Wheel impacts are leveraged through the fork. Steering inputs are leveraged through the bars. You can see how it adds up on the connection point between your fork and frame!
Bearing Retainer or Grease?
We’re going to skip around a bit here. If you watched the video you’ll see me remove the dropset bearings from the frame for service.
In the video you’ll see the upper bearing pops out by hand while I had to coax the lower bearing out.
This is because I use a bearing retainer compound rather than grease. Now, both are acceptable but there are some differences.
Grease is often used to ease press fit bearings for inexperienced or extreme high volume builders. It adds a bit of forgiveness during the installation procedure. (although I would argue not very much – particularly as a proper bearing retainer is liquid and would offer some “slip” until it cures.) Grease will minimize sound as components more easily move past each other.
Bearing retainer will minimize sound by adding a bit of “bite” to the components. It doesn’t fuse or weld them together, simply adds a bit of grab.
In the video the upper bearing comes out much easier than I would ideally like. The lower bearing is about typical, maybe a touch on the harder side to remove than average.
Based on removal the upper bearing was likely moving in the headtube creating my pop.
To remove the lower bearing I used a “punch” (in this case a large allen) to gently knock the bearing free. Like tightening lug nuts you should use a star pattern to loosen the bearing. This helps keep the forces equal and the bearing moving consistently rather than wedging one side in.
If it takes more pressure to free the bearing consider placing something over the bearing to protect it. This can be a bit tricky on a mounted bearing, but there are a lot of options. Large sockets are popular. Your goal is to spread the impact from the punch across a larger surface to keep the bearing from being dented or deformed.
Opening King Bearings
King bearings are pretty easy to service once you get the hang of opening the c-clip and removing the rubber seal.
This can be done in the bike, for inset headsets or bottom brackets, or on a workbench.
A razorblade is a good tool for this. Think about your personal skillset before you set loose with a sharp object… A small pick can work as well, but a razorblade is hard to beat for being thin and flat.
Find the opening in the c-clip. Insert the razorblade under the clip and draw the edge of the clip inward. This will remove the clip from the retaining lip.
Slowly remove the c-clip. Simply pull the clip inward along the circumference and it will come out.
After removing the c-clip remove the rubber seal. Remember to reinstall it the same way, so remember if you set it face up or down when you remove it…
Repacking the Bearing
There are a few different lines of thought here.
When I first started riding I would clean my bearings all the way out. I used citrus cleaners, etc to remove all of the old grease and force out any debris. Then I would let them dry before repacking them.
At some point I noticed that there wasn’t much debris in my bearings, particularly my headset. If I rode in gnarly wet conditions (not often at all in SoCal) my hubs or bottom bracket might get crunchy and need a full clean – but even in those conditions my headset tended to stay less effected.
If you open the bearing and can see debris I would suggest cleaning it.
If you open the bearing and the grease quantity is about right but it’s super aged and gross I would suggest cleaning it.
(note: make sure if you clean it you allow it to dry thoroughly. I would tend to use the citrus cleaners to get the goop out and then alcohol or something to get the citrus residue off the components.)
If you open the bearing and the grease quantity seems low, but the quality seems OK I would just repack the bearing. I feel like cleaning bearings when you don’t need might lower the service interval and can be particularly hard on the rubber seal if you don’t get the citrus cleaner or grease remover all the way off before reassembly.
Use a condition appropriate grease, or check Chris King’s site for their spec. Since I live in a dry climate a variety of grease options seem to work quite well. I use a slightly heavier grease in my headset than my bearings since the headset isn’t “spinning” as much as “turning”
Re-install Seal & C-Clip
Replace the rubber seal, remembering to put it in the configuration you removed it. Gently install the seal around the bearing. I use the pad of my fingers for this generally. Instead of “pushing it down” it’s more like dragging your finger across the bearing and letting your hands slight weight install the rubber seal.
Installing the c-clip the first couple times might be frustrating. That’s OK you’ll get the hang of it. Start at one end and put a bit of pressure on the clip, kind of put an arc on it, and set it into the retaining lip of the bearing. Work your way around in a circle.
If you get to the end and there is an overlap the clip isn’t fully set into the retainer. Gently nudge the clip into the retainer with your tool. Be careful not to cut the seal below.
I like to spin the bearing a bit each direction. In the video you’ll see I do this and the clip pops back out. This is much easier to deal with before you’ve reassembled everything! I reinstalled the clip, gave it a couple spins and all was good.
It’s a good practice to clean the bearings up before reinstalling them in the bike, whether you intend to grease them or use a bearing retainer.
Re-installing Dropset Bearings
If your bike has inset bearings, like Ibis models, you can skip this and reinstall your cockpit, adjust your headset and go ride.
For Yeti and other brands with integrated headsets you’re going to clean the headtube and bearings then reinstall the dropset bearings.
Apply a light coat of your preference: Bearing Retainer or Grease.
Install your bearings and reinstall your fork and cockpit.
Adjust your headset, check for correct function and test ride your bike.
Not sure on all the steps to adjust your headset? Watch this video and read up on our Headset How-To.
More To See & Read
Thanks for watching / reading this post. We’re glad to help our client’s around the globe to better understand the basic maintenance to get the most from their bikes.
Want to learn more about Bearing Retainer? Here’s an interesting article from AdhesiveMag.com – get through the first couple paragraphs that read like a Polaris ad to the jist of bearing retaining.