Ask a Mechanic: Installing Headset Cups

Joseph asks: “I need to install headset cups into my new mountain bike frame, but I’m nervous about messing it up. Can you show me how to properly install headset cups into a mountain bike frame?”

Installing headset cups can seem like a somewhat daunting task, but after watching this video, you’ll be able to change headset cups right quick.  While most current road bikes utilize integrated headsets, this video is very applicable for those building a mountain bike, a handbuilt road bike, or an older bike with external headset cups.

Before installing any headset cups, be sure and check manufacturer specs for both the frame and the headset cups. Although we’ve never seen any headset cups utilize anything odd like a threadlocker or friction paste, it’s always best practice to double-check with the manufacturer prior to installation.

After you’ve selected the appropriate headset for your application, make sure that you have distinguished between upper and lower cups. Starting with the lower headset cup, apply a liberal amount of grease to all portions of the headset cup that will come in contact with the frame. For this, we recommend Dumonde Tech’s MR Grease because it’s carbon fiber safe, waterproof, and a medium viscosity. If you’re installing the lower cup of a Cane Creek Angleset, you’ll want to select the right degree of cup before installing. Because these lower cups can work as both reducers and enhancers, you’ll want to ensure that the cup is facing in the appropriate direction and centrally aligned prior to installing. Installing an Angleset cup off-center will result in your fork being off center as well.

Once your headset cup is greased, grab your bearing cup press of choice and slide the upper portion of the press through your headtube. Take your greased lower cup, place it on the bottom portion of the press (known as a drift), and slide both pieces up as close to the bottom of your headtube as possible. Once the drift has been locked into place, begin pressing the cup in by tightening the handle. Before the lower cup has fully seated, ensure that both the press and the headset cup are all square with the headtube to avoid the cup going in cockeyed. A dramatically off-camber cup will sometimes not right itself. If everything is square, simply continue pressing the lower cup into the headtube until it is fully bottomed out.

Because headset cups don’t have torque specs, simply press the cup in until it is fully bottomed out in the headtube. Once it feels tight in the headtube, give the press another ¼ turn and then remove the bearing press. Wipe off any excess grease that may be around the cup because it’s a surefire way to attract unwanted dirt and road grime.

Repeat the same process with the headset’s upper cup. Now you’re ready to install your bearings, fork, and stem. If you need help adjusting your headset once all of the parts are together, you can reference our video on Headset Adjustment. And that’s that.