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Discussion in 'Road Warriors' started by The Jerk, Oct 11, 2009.
I used that stuff to wrap my headers, works great!
Big job yesterday. Writeup forthcoming.
Woo hoo! Greasing or replacing?
Thankfully just greasing. Once I got in there I found the bearings to be in good shape. But I suspect that they haven't been serviced since the grease was originally applied at the factory almost 20 years ago.
I lubed those headset bearings too, not long after I got the bike. And yeah, they needed the grease!
Just wondering if part 2 is in the works?
Yes! Soon :) Since I broke one badge I actually ordered a new one, so this project is on hold until I receive it. Since I'm cheap, I got the badge in Australia this time and had it shipped to a friend, which I will see in a couple of weeks.
W Series concert. Enjoy.
Now that was a lot of Ws.
So let’s talk about steering head bearings...
I would suspect that the lubrication of the steering head bearings is the most-often-overlooked part of the service schedule. Kawasaki calls for them to be lubricated every two years regardless of mileage (see page 2-2 of the service manual). Perhaps the only other service point ignored more would be the lubrication of the swing arm pivot.
I can see why it gets overlooked; it’s a pain-in-the-butt job involving disassembling the entire front end of the motorcycle.
What finally got me to take the plunge is a vibration/wobble in the bars that I’ve been chasing for a while. It feels like a wheel balance issue between 50-60 mph for the most part. I spent some time earlier this year truing and balancing both wheels but that didn’t solve the problem. I have also long noticed a little bit of headshake that would make itself known when decelerating down through 35 mph or so with the bars held lightly. Some internet research suggested that both of these things could be due to loose steering head bearings.
Finally I decided to check the situation out and got the front wheel off the ground using a floor jack under the engine. I grabbed the lower part of the forks and gave a quick tug toward me and I did feel a bit of movement/play. So I knew at the very least I had to adjust them and since I certainly hadn’t lubricated them since I bought the bike in 2009 and I imagined they probably hadn’t been touched before that either, I decided to bite the bullet and take the front end apart to grease the bearings and then adjust them.
Servicing the steering head bearings touches several sections of the service manual so the idea behind this article is to tie it all together in a logical way. You should definitely have the service manual on hand for this operation though. With that in mind, let’s get to it:
Tools and Supplies Required
-Philips head screwdriver
-Jack of some kind to raise the front wheel off the ground
-2 x 12mm Allen sockets
-2 x breaker bars
-Ratchet and extensions
-Assortment of common metric sockets incl. 12mm, 10mm, and 8mm.
-12mm box end/open end wrench
-17mm open end wrench
-Assortment of Allen sockets incl. 5mm, 6mm, and 8mm.
-Kawasaki special tool p/n 57001-1100 or equivalent
-Jeweler’s screwdriver or small pick (for o-ring)
-Tub of wheel bearing grease - I like the Mobil 1 Synthetic but it’s hard to go wrong here.
-Solvent to clean up the bearings if you plan to re-use.
-Lots of shop towels
Parts You May Want to Order Ahead
There are some oil seals that you might want to replace while you have it apart. You may also consider having new bearings on hand in case you find yours to be shot.
92049-1214 - oil seal, steering stem (upper)
92055-1459 - o-ring, 24.5mm (definitely have this on hand)
92116-1056 - upper bearing & race
92116-1009 - lower bearing & race
92049-1162 - oil seal, steering stem (lower - you can’t replace this one without replacing the lower bearing so don’t bother to buy if you’re just going to lubricate).
Note that if you are going to replace the bearings you’re going to want to probably have a bearing and race driver kit or equivalents of the Kawasaki special tools listed in section 13 of the service manual to get the old races out of the steering head and the new bearings pressed in.
Ok so let’s get started:
Put the motorcycle up on the center stand.
You don’t technically have to do this, but I suggest removing the mirrors. It will be two fewer things in your way and less of an opportunity to scratch your tank up later. My bike also has a Dart fly screen - if you have that, remove that first. Then take your 17mm wrench and loosen up the nuts that hold the mirrors in place. Once loose, you can un-thread the mirror stalks by hand until they are free, then set them aside.
Now remove the headlight. Get out your Philips screwdriver and find the two headlight mounting screws (one on each side). Note that there are a couple washers and a sleeve that will come out with them; don’t lose any of that stuff.
Wiggle out the headlight and disconnect the plug from the headlight. Set the headlight aside.
Next up, disconnect the wires for the turn signals. There are three wires for each side (one for turn signal, one for running light, and one for ground). Carefully pull them apart. (Disregard the red and white wires you see in the photo - that is for a city light which you most likely don’t have.)
Next step is to remove the headlight bucket. Get your 12mm wrench and a 12mm socket and remove the mounting bolts and nuts on each side of the headlight bucket. There is one last mounting point that is found underneath the bucket. Directly underneath the bucket is the adjusting screw. Don’t mess with that, but follow the bracket down to the frame where you will find two 10mm bolts. Remove those two bolts and set them aside. Also remove the brake hose routing bracket which is also mounted by those two bolts. Now the headlight bucket is free from the bike; feed the wiring out through the rear of the bucket and remove the bucket from the bike; set it aside. Now you’ve got this:
Yeah I know, it looks gnarly. You ain’t seen nothing yet.
This is a good time to stop and take a picture and pay special attention to how the hoses and cables route around the forks. Pay special attention to the throttle cables, brake hose, and clutch cable. Note that they route on the OUTSIDE of the forks whereas the electrical cables route toward the inside of the forks. This will be very important when putting it back together.
OK next thing to do is remove the handlebar. Now, you don’t have to fully strip the handlebar and remove it; that would be a huge pain. There is just enough slack in the cables and wires to remove the handlebar from the clamps and to either suspend it from above, or let it rest on the tank. I chose to let it rest on the tank, however to avoid damaging the paint on the tank, put down a nice thick towel doubled or tripled up on top of the tank and rest the handlebar on that.
Remove the four handlebar clamp bolts and set them aside. My bar took a little wiggling to get it loose from the clamp and as you can see in the photo, the clamps stayed stuck to the bar. That’s fine, it makes re-assembly easier.
Next up you need to disconnect the electrical cable from the instrument cluster, or the Meter as the service manual calls it. Go up underneath the instrument cluster and find the rubber boot protecting the connector. Get a couple fingers up there and wiggle it down.
Once you pull the boot down, you expose the connector. Just push the release tab and wiggle the connector free of the instrument cluster.
It’s not addressed in the manual, but you may wish to remove the clutch cable guide. It’s the little bracket that bolts underneath the instruments that the clutch cable passes through. If you remove the bolts and just let the guide hang loose on the cable, it will give you more wiggle room to deal with maneuvering the upper triple clamp. Just undo the two 5mm Allen bolts and set them aside. Disregard the black metal bracket; that’s for the Dart fly screen.
Now it’s time to remove the steering stem head nut. That’s the big nut underneath the handlebar. Get out your 27mm socket and a breaker bar. Put the front wheel between your legs and use your legs to hold the forks still while you loosen the nut. Once you break it loose, remove it and the washer underneath and set them aside.
Now loosen the upper fork clamp bolts with your 6mm Allen socket. You don’t have to remove them, just loosen them until there’s no tension on them.
At this point you just wiggle the entire upper triple clamp, instrument cluster included, upward free of the steering stem and forks. You can see in the photo above I’ve already wiggled it up a bit.
Once you get the triple clamp free of the steering stem and forks, you will notice it is still attached to the bike by the wiring to the ignition switch. Unfortunately there’s no easy way to disconnect this as access to the ignition switch is secured (most likely for anti-theft reasons). So you don’t want to let this heavy piece hang on the wiring. Find a place on the frame to zip tie it (I found a bracket on the frame near where the horn is mounted) or put it to the side on a table or stool or what have you. Rig something up; don’t let it hang on the wiring.
Perhaps a future modification will be for me to install a quick disconnect plug in that ignition switch wiring harness.
Once the triple clamp is out of the way, remove the fork cover caps and rubber dampers.
Then slide the fork covers (the black brackets that the turn signals connect to) off the forks. Finally, below the fork covers, there is another set of fork cover caps and rubber dampers, slide them off the forks as well.
Now is a good time to remove the brake caliper. Get your 12mm socket and remove the two caliper mounting bolts. Wiggle the caliper off the brake rotor toward the rear. Take a wire hanger or a zip tie and hang the caliper off the frame behind the front wheel. You don’t want the weight of the brake caliper being supported solely by the brake hose. Once you have removed the caliper, DO NOT squeeze the brake lever.
While you’re thinking about brake stuff, get your 8mm socket and remove the little bolt for the clamp that holds the brake hose to the right fork.
At this point you’re ready to remove the front wheel. I have not told you to raise the front of the bike off the ground yet so I hope you haven’t done it. For this operation the bike needs to be on the ground.
First, and this is very important and I always forget it, loosen the two front axle pinch bolts at the bottoms of the forks. They are 6mm Allen. You don’t have to remove them, just loosen them until there is no tension on them. You won’t get far if you forget to loosen those guys.
Next, get your two 12mm Allen sockets and your two breaker bars. Stand in front of the bike facing the bike with the front wheel between your legs. Insert a socket into the 12mm Allen fitting at either end of the front axle. Use one breaker bar to apply a counterhold while you loosen the axle with the other one. Once you break it loose, then you can raise the bike.
Place a jack under the engine and raise the bike just enough so that the rear wheel is on the ground.
Then return to your breaker bars and maintain your counterhold while you unscrew the axle. The axle should come out the left side while the retainer comes out the right side. Once you get it to the point where you can pull the axle out by hand, use your other hand to support the weight of the wheel as you pull the axle out. Once the axle is out, ease the wheel down to the ground. The spacers will likely fall out to the floor. Note they are different lengths, we’ll talk about that when we’re putting it back together. Pull out the axle retainer from the right fork and set aside the retainer, the axle, and the two spacers.
Roll the wheel out from under the fender and just take a moment to check out the front wheel bearings. Stick your finger in there and make sure they rotate smoothly and that there’s no slop or play in them. They appear to be sealed bearings so there’s not much you can do if they’re bad other than replace them. Set the wheel aside being careful not to damage the brake rotor (it’s expensive).
Now that the wheel is out of the way, you can remove the front fender. There are 4 12mm bolts inside the fender, 2 on each fork. Remove them and then pull the fender out and set it aside.
Now it’s finally time to pull the forks out.
Get your 8mm Allen socket and loosen the lower fork clamp bolts. I suggest you work one at a time as you don’t want the forks to fall out on you. Loosen the bolt and then with a side-to-side twisting motion, work the fork out of the clamp toward the floor. Very carefully set it aside, then repeat with the other fork.
At this point, you’re looking at something like this:
Now let’s get to what we’re here for! Turning your attention to the steering stem, remove the lock washer (it just pulls off) and put it in a safe place.
Next use your special Kawasaki tool (or equivalent) to loosen and remove the steering stem nut. NOTE: support the bottom of the steering stem when you do this so it doesn’t fall out. I happened to find the actual Kawasaki tool on eBay for a reasonable price but there are other options out there. If you have a hook wrench for adjusting suspension you can probably use that.
In my case the upper oil seal came out attached to the steering stem nut but they are easily separated by hand if you are going to replace the seal.
Now you’re looking at this:
That O-ring has to come out. In my case it was literally the only thing holding the steering stem in place. I was able to get it out with a very small jeweler’s screwdriver. You probably should have a new one on hand. Even if the old one is good, there’s a chance you will break it upon removal. I figured mine was 20 years old so it’s time to replace it.
Carefully remove the o-ring and then the steering stem should pretty much fall out in your hand and come out from below. Pull out the upper bearing from the frame. The lower bearing is pressed onto the steering stem.
As you can see from the two photos above, there was not a whole lot of grease in these bearings.
OK now it’s time to inspect what you’ve got and see if it’s serviceable.
First take a paper towel and wipe out the grease from the bearing races in the frame. Take a good hard look with a good light. You are looking for any signs of corrosion, galling, pitting, or any other defects on the races. You are probably not going to see bluing like you might with a wheel bearing because these bearings just don’t see that kind of rotational speed. Run your finger around the races. If you feel anything that sticks out or that catches a fingernail, suck it up and replace the bearings and races. Anything that you can feel is gonna be a notch in the steering when the bearings are put back in and pre-loaded.
If the races look good, then go clean up the bearings with some solvent and see what you’ve got. Don’t spin them fast when they’re dry but roll them around a bit and make sure all the rollers look good, no signs of corrosion, galling, pitting, broken cage, missing rollers, etc.
If either the bearings or races need replacement, you’ve got to do them both. Don’t drop new bearings into old races. Unfortunately that’s beyond the scope of this article but the service manual covers it pretty well.
If the bearings are serviceable, then it’s time to grease ‘em up and reinstall.
If you’re not familiar with greasing bearings, it’s not sufficient to simply slather the outside with grease. You have to work the grease in between the rollers. There are tools that exist for this purpose but I do it the old fashioned way: get a wad of fresh grease in my left hand, then repeatedly press the bearing down into the grease to work it through the bearing until it comes out the other side, then repeat ad nauseum rotating the bearing around until the entire bearing is full of grease.
If you’re not familiar with this technique, watch this video:
The upper bearing is easy to pack in this way because it’s out there and free in the universe. But the lower bearing is tricky because it’s pressed onto the steering stem.
For the lower bearing it’s the same concept, but this time get a wad of grease on the outside of your index finger, then wrap that finger around the steering stem and in that same kind of scraping motion with pressure, pack the grease into the bearing until it starts coming out the bottom of the bearing. Then work your way around the entire bearing.
When you’re done, you should have something like this:
Clean up all the excess grease you undoubtedly got all over everything. Wipe a smear of grease on the upper and lower races inside the frame head.
Then you insert the steering stem into the frame head from the bottom, drop in the upper bearing, install the o-ring (all while supporting the bottom of the steering stem), and finally install and hand-tighten the stem nut with upper oil seal to keep the steering stem from falling out.
At this point you have to preload the bearings. The manual instructs you to tighten the steering stem nut to 29 ft-lbs. Since you can’t put a torque wrench on the Kawasaki special tool, you’ll have to wing it. The manual does helpfully note that works out to a force of 22.2 kg at the end of the special wrench.
Then you want to loosen the nut until the steering stem turns “smoothly.” This is not really defined well in the manual. But back off the nut and turn the stem to and fro. Feel very carefully for any rough spots or notchiness or tight spots. It should be smooth side-to-side. If it’s not, you will need to replace the bearings.
The manual then instructs you to tighten the stem nut, and stop when it feels “tight.” It then gives a torque spec for the stem nut of 43 in.-lbs. So this is where some element of educated guess comes into play. You want it to turn smoothly and freely but not to be too loose or too tight. Which is all very subjective. I would suggest you adjust it a little tighter than you think feels right at this stage, because once you add weight back to the front end you’ll find it winds up feeling looser than you thought it would.
You can always tweak it later, which we’ll get to.
Now you’re ready to start putting it back together. Assembly, as always, is the reverse of removal.
That said, after having to undo and re-do a couple times, here’s how I’d do it now that I have the experience under my belt:
Start by re-installing the forks. Insert them in the lower triple clamp up until the gaiters make contact with the bottom of the triple clamp, then snug up the lower fork clamp bolts. Before you start building up the forks any more, ensure the cable routing is correct especially for the throttle and clutch cables as well as the brake hose.
Reinstall the lower fork cover caps & rubber dampers. These basically go on the opposite as the upper caps. Flat side of the cap goes down, then work the rubber damper onto the fork and press it into the groove inside the cap.
Then install the fork cover tubes (with turn signals). Then the upper rubber dampers, then the upper caps.
Again take a second to make sure all your cables are routed correctly. There is an appendix in the manual which lays out all the cable and hose routings. Note how the steering stem feels now with the added weight. Adjust the stem nut as necessary.
Install the lock washer onto the stem nut.
Mount the upper triple clamp over the tops of the forks and the steering stem. Make sure it’s fully seated. You are supposed to align the tops of the fork tubes to be flush with the top surface of the triple clamp. NOTE: not the top of the fork CAPS, but the top of the fork tubes. The caps themselves will stand slightly proud of the triple clamp. There is a diagram of this on page 12-8 of the manual.
Once you have the fork tubes aligned with the top of the triple clamp (don’t worry yet about getting all the stuff on the fork lowers aligned - the uppers and lowers rotate independently of each other), then torque the upper fork clamp bolts to 14 ft. lbs.
Then install the steering stem head nut and its washer and torque to 33 ft. lbs.
Now STOP. Grab the lower ends of the forks and check for play in the steering stem bearings. Give a quick tug toward you. You should not feel any play, any clunk or click, or any motion there. If you do, loosen the upper fork clamp bolts, pull off the upper triple clamp again, remove the lock washer, and adjust the stem nut as necessary.
When I got to this point I felt a little motion. I had not made the stem nut sufficiently tight earlier. So I tightened it up to remove the play and then just a hair tighter. So it turns smoothly and freely but there is no discernable play in the bearings.
Once you have it where it needs to be, reinstall the lock washer, reinstall the upper triple clamp, torque the upper fork clamp bolts to 14 ft. lbs., then torque the steering stem head nut to 33 ft. lbs., then finally torque the lower fork clamp bolts to 22 ft. lbs.
Take a minute to double-check that you torqued the steering stem head nut to 33 ft.-lbs. because you won’t be able to later and it’s safety critical.
Once you are sure you are not going to be making any more adjustments, you can install the handlebar.
If your handlebar clamps came off the bar, note that there is a punch mark on the left side of the bar which is meant to align with the gap between the back of the handlebar holder and the mount on the triple clamp. There is a photo of this in the manual on page 13-9.
When installing the handlebar bolts, it is important to install the front ones first and torque them to 18 ft.-lbs. Then you install the rear ones and torque those to 18 ft.-lbs. I like to put anti-seize on the threads for these bolts since they don’t get removed too often.
Next you can start building up the fork lowers. Install the fender. Note that it is not symmetrical, the rear edge is longer than the front one. I would use anti-seize on the fender mounting bolts.
Now is a good time to mount the wheel. I like to coat the entire axle with anti-seize. Rub a little grease on the edges of the spacers where they sit in the oil seals on the wheel. As for the spacers, the longer one goes on the left side. The axle goes in from the left side. This is a bit of a challenge to do by yourself but I’ve done it several times so I’m here to tell you it’s possible. Getting the wheel lofted into position without knocking out the spacers, then getting the axle through...just keep at it.
Once you get the axle through, install the retainer on the right side and snug it up but don’t torque it yet.
With the wheel in place you can now lower the bike to the ground and remove the jack.
This is a good time to re-install the brake caliper. Coat the screw threads with anti-seize, work the caliper over the rotor and mount it up. Torque the caliper mounting bolts to 25 ft. lbs.
Mount up the hose holder as well with the 8mm bolt.
Now torque the front axle to 65 ft.-lbs. While you’re down there, torque the front axle pinch bolts to 14 ft.-lbs. Don’t overtorque these guys.
Now give the brake lever a squeeze to make sure the pads get into contact with the rotor. This will save you a hell of a scare later on the road.
Now you can go ahead and plug the instrument cluster back in & make sure you get that boot securely up over the connector. If you disconnected that clutch cable bracket, re-install that.
Reinstall the headlight bucket, don’t forget the brake hose routing bracket that goes with that lower mount. Feed all the wiring into the bucket.
Now connecting up the wires is easy. Each side has a black/yellow wire and a blue wire. The black/yellow goes to black/yellow (doesn’t matter which one, it’s ground), and the blue goes to the blue/red wire (again doesn’t matter which one, it’s the running light wire). Finally for the turn signals, both turn signal lamps have grey wires but coming out of the harness, one turn signal wire is green and one is grey. As shown in the wiring diagram on page 15-18, the grey is for the right side and green is for the left side.
Carefully connect them up (push on the connectors, not the wires), and then do a quick check by turning the key on and make sure the correct side blinks when you activate the turn signals.
Now you’re probably ready to go for a test ride but STOP. If you’re like me and you’re working when it’s hot, you get a little punchy, you get a little tired, and you maybe overlook something. There are several fasteners in the front end that are SAFETY CRITICAL. So take an extra minute to go over the following with your torque wrench just to be sure:
Handlebar bolts (18 ft.-lbs.)
Upper fork clamp bolts (14 ft.-lbs.)
Lower fork clamp bolts (22 ft.-lbs.)
Brake caliper bolts (25 ft.-lbs.)
Front axle (65 ft.-lbs.)
Front axle pinch bolts (14 ft.-lbs.)
I thought I did all this but very stupidly I did not double check and on my test ride one of my upper fork clamp bolts backed out and departed the bike. I had forgotten to torque the uppers. Luckily I torqued the lowers and the lower was enough on that one side. Otherwise that could have been a real bad crash. Take a minute to double-check.
THEN go for a test ride.
Another awesome tutorial by The Jerk, thank you! When I did this job, I was surprised how much I could tighten the steering bearing adjustment to have no play but still have it turn easily, bars rotating either way on their own with the front wheel off the ground.
[edit - removed correction suggestion]
Don't forget to edit your original #1 post to add this procedure to your list of how-to links...
mattsz, yes, thanks, I meant front wheel. I've corrected it in the post.
Oh great, now you tell me ...
Don't worry BF, you'll get the "hang" of it...
Yeah sure... Wishful thinking.... I was wondering why The Jerk didn't mention the chain and sprockets....
Great write-up. That took some time. Thanks!
Added to the list in the first post.