How not to install a headset

5916WP 2

A silky Velo Orange Grand Cru sealed cartridge bearing headset replaces a gritty old Ritchey with worn races.  I know how to install a headset with a Park HHP-2, but I also know how to install the cups when staring at a pile of parts on a back porch, wondering how a bike will ever come of it all.  After removing the old cups with a big flathead screwdriver and a hammer, I applied a light steel wool to the inside of the headtube to smooth imperfections and ease the installation.  Some grease aids the process, but I stacked 2 x 4s until the headtube was evenly supported and applied a blunt force from above, transmitted through a block of wood with medium hardness.  Be sure to apply an even blow to reduce the risk of damaging the cup.  Hit it again if it needs some more help.  Maybe one more solid blow will assure the cup sits entirely in the frame.  Wham.  If the cup doesn’t seat by hand or doesn’t give into the frame with the first blow, consider the aid of the proper tools and expertise.


Three blows to each side was enough to fully seat the cups and copious amounts of grease are applied before the cartridge bearings are installed to limit the intrusion of water and grit.  Happily, the crown race is a split ring design that allows tool free installation, and avoids the hammer.  Below, the Raleigh XXIX now has a Rock Shox Reba fork and a gold On-One Mary handlebar.  To come: a derailleur hanger and used XT derailleur, a lightly used 32 tooth Surly steel chainring, a NOS Suntour XC Expert shifter; new cables, housing and 9-speed chain, as well as Ergon grips from the Hooligan.  Lael’s gold VP platform pedals have ridden to the Knik Glacier on the Pugsley and across Corsica on the Hooligan, but will find their greatest adventure yet in Colorado.  Her grandfather was a gold jeweler and while I can’t afford real gold, she’s easily pleased by gold anodized aluminum.  The bike is shaping up.


The bike was sourced from Craigslist. the stem and Surly chainring are from Boulder Community Cycles, and the Suntour shifter(s) are from Big Dummy Daddy, who has a PhD in sharing bikes.  Or is it bike-sharing?  He can tell you more about bike sharing programs and Denver’s pioneering project than almost anyone.  His dissertation entitled “Public bicycle sharing as a population-scale health intervention for active transportation in Denver, Colorado“, is exhaustive.  Read some of it.

11 thoughts on “How not to install a headset

  1. That’s a good looking bike. Love the blue. Over the years, I’ve installed many headset cups that way, which I think is just fine if you’re careful. However, I do now have official Park HHP-2 and RT-1 tools which work extremely well for their given purposes.

    The story of the reasoning behind the gold components is great. I enjoyed meeting and talking with you and wish you well on the trail. If you need a close-ish spot to crash prior to going into Waterton Canyon, my house is about 10 miles from the trailhead. Just let me know.

    • Andy, I find a proper headset press really satisfying to use, as the cups are inserted the final micrometers and the grease squeezes out from the headtube.

      I wished I’d had more time on my last pass through Denver. It might be convenient to have a close-ish place to stay before the great wide open of the CT. I’ll let you know.

      I’ve enjoyed your bike-sharing bible, at least what I’ve seen thus far. Between the high adventure of Ian Hibell’s “Into the Remote Places” and the low adventure of your B Cycle study, I’ll have plenty of reading on the trail.

    • Works most of the time. Trying to fit a too-small crown race onto a fork works none of the time. I have some laughable memories trying to do this, before I learned that not all 1″ threaded headsets are the same. JIS v ISO crown race diameters will get you.

      Then again, I installed a like new (used) Chris King headset to the Schwinn High Sierra in a woodshop in Los Angeles. The 27.0mm crown race seat and the 26.4mm ID of the crown race wouldn’t make friends until I spent almost an hour slowly filing steel. Worked perfectly.

  2. I favour this method. I’m not sure if I’d recommend it on a carbon frame. But then, I’m not sure that I’d ride a carbon frame…

    A 29er and boing. That’s got to make a change from the LHT…

    • Coming from the Hooligan, it’s a big change and a big bike. The large diameter lightweight wheels (relative to her Pugs) are inspiring in the few short rides I’ve done on the bike. And the fork is quite nice. Lael’s still a little timid on the new bike, but I know she’ll be scaring me by the end of the week.

      I suppose most modern carbon frames have integrated headset bearings, although it’s probably not a good idea to be banging around on carbon. I might ride a carbon frame, but I wouldn’t be buying one on CL, especially a mountain bike frame. With as much paint wear as the Raleigh has, it’s doubtful it would last long if it were a carbon frame. That’s the value of steel.

      If you had access to a press, you would still bang the cups in with a hammer? You’ve been hanging at some backwoods Peruvian bike shops I see.

  3. Watching a bike come together is a real blast. I particularly like the choice of the anodized parts. They should add a little pop to the photos later on. That tire and the squish forks look like there is some smooth riding ahead.

    Tropical Nuisance Isaac just did a drive by and I am thinking about going out in the wind and rain on the old Mongoose for a little soggy time.


    • I’ve only see a few rain showers all summer. No complaints.

      The Raleigh XXIX is riding and we’re dialing in the fit. It’s a big leap from the Hooligan, but rolls well. Hopefully there will be plenty of smooth riding; as I understand, there will be some rough stuff as well, and some walking. I’m happy to experiment with 29″ wheels and suspension, and expect it will be well suited to the CT.

      The big wheels and squish add some cost to the build especially as steel 29ers are at a premium on the used market, but the whole package still comes in near trailer park rates for a real mountain bike. There are lots of Redline Monocog bikes hanging out on CL here, which was the other available option.

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