Whether you’ve decided to adjust your stem height or change to a different size stem, it’s always important to make sure you’ve set your headset up properly afterwards. Leaving it poorly adjusted not only makes your ride feel poor it can also do long term damage to the headset, frame or forks.

headset photo 1

Firstly, and importantly, you need to be able to correctly assess your headset for set-up or wear. To start, check that your steering feels free and smooth. Lift the handlebars up and rotate left and right checking they run easily and smoothly from side to side.

Next, test whether it’s too loose (or worn). Place the bike on the ground, wrap your left hand around the top of the headset. Pull the front brake and rock the bike back and forward. If it’s loose you’ll feel wobble or play in your left hand as the steerer column moves with the frame. 

If you find it’s not feeling right we can make adjustments to set it up correctly. Before making any changes to the top bolt adjuster it’s really important to undo the stem bolts. If you adjust the top bolt before loosening the stem bolts you can really damage your components. Make sure the stem can move easily independent of the forks and wheel and the bolts are loose.

Next tighten up the top bolt until there is no play in the steering when you use the method above (hold front brake, front forwards and backwards). You shouldn’t have to tighten it hard – if you do something’s gone wrong.

Check that the steering moves freely – if it feels stiff loosen of the top bolt slightly. Once you’re happy with the adjustment, check your stem is on straight.

Tighten up the stem bolts – there will usually be two bolts – make sure you tighten them evenly. Don’t tighten one all the way and then the other. Go back and forth between them.

Stems and steerer columns can be sensitive – especially carbon – so make sure you use a calibrated torque wrench to ensure it’s tightened correctly. This means it won’t come undone while riding and that you don’t damage your components by overtightening.

Now, enjoy the ride.



Catherine Thompson – Head Mechanic and Instructor, Outspoken Cycles.

 Outspoken Cycles work to encourage people to use bicycles more, particularly as an effective means of transport. They offer leisure and professional bike maintenance courses as well as bike repairs and traditional bike shop services. We organise fun, dynamic and unique cycle themed events from smoothie bikes to pedal-powered cinemas. Through these we aim to get people inspired about cycling. We run courses and initiatives throughout the country but our inspiration comes from where we started – in Cambridge, the UK’s city of cycling. We have a dedicated team who make it their mission to show others how much (fun!) can be done on a bikeThis week we’ve been talking to Catherine, Head Mechanic here at Outspoken Cycles, who explains why frame alignment and preparation is so vital when working on your bike, fitting parts and building bikes up from scratch. She also explains why it’s such an important module on the Velotech Gold course and what her top tips are for getting the job done.

Catherine teaches our well-known Velotech Gold course at Outspoken. Velotech Gold is perfect for the enthusiastic amateur bike mechanic, for bike mechanics in bike shops or workshops who need to know how to build and repair bikes more efficiently and mechanics who maintain a fleet of bikes