Last year, I had the opportunity to write a how-to article for the good folks over at C.I.C.L.E. Since then, I have amassed a small collection of hardware (about $15.00 worth) that makes a truly universal homemade headset cup press and crown race installer.
The parts of my handy dandy headset press:
The parts of the basic press include a selection of large washers, a piece of 3/8″ threaded rod (sometimes referred to as “allthread�?), a pair of flange nuts and two thick nylon washers to reduce friction between nuts and press-washers.
Don’t forget the nylon washers — it makes things a whole lot smoother:
As in the previous article, I must set out this disclaimer — I didn’t invent this…the concept of a homemade cup press has been around for a long time. I’ve seen versions using only washers and versions using sections of PVC pipe as cup adapters. However, I have discovered a piece of hardware in the plumbing department of my local home-improvement store that really makes this setup a piece of cake to use — some type of copper reducing fitting. Here is the heart of my system:
These little beauties taper down from about 2″ down to about 7/8″. Since they’re made of copper, they are way softer than the typical cups you might find in a vintage or modern headset — even lightweight aluminum cups. And, they are universal — they’ll fit the tightest vintage 1 inch threaded headset…oddball 1 1/4 inch headsets from the mid 90s…modern 1 1/8 inch headsets…heavy-duty One Point Five downhill headsets…even old one-piece bottom bracket cups (Ashtabula) found on cheap beach cruisers and old BMX bikes!!
The press is set up like this: grease up and place the headset cups in the top and bottom of the frame’s headtube. Grease and insert the copper fittings and stack appropriately-sized washers on top of those copper fittings. Pass the allthread through the headtube, slip the nylon washers down onto the washer stacks and thread on the two flange nuts. Here is a picture of how the assembly should look:
Then, it is a simple matter of cranking the nuts down with an appropriate wrench (sometimes you will need two wrenches if the cups are really tight). The copper fittings help to keep the headset cups straight as they enter the headtube. Go slowly — sometimes the washer stacks will slip to one side and they should be pushed back into place with your fingers. Crank those cups in until they bottom out and you’re done!
Now, all that remains is to assemble the rest of the headset and ride away into the sunset…but wait! What do you do about those stubborn fork crown races? Well, back to the plumbing department — you’ll need a length of PVC pipe and a plastic endcap. Bring your fork with you to make sure the pipe fits over the steerer. I wound up using a piece of 1 1/4″ thinwall pipe for this fork. Wrap the bottom 2 inches of the pipe with electrical tape to keep it from splitting, slip the crown race down, slip the pipe on and pound it down with a hammer like so:
When the bottom of the pipe becomes mushroomed and beat up from pounding, simply saw off a half-inch and rewrap with tape. I’ve used this same pipe for about 10 headsets…it’s steadily getting shorter, but the whole thing only cost about a dollar. Remember also that if you have to hit the pipe more than 5 or 6 times to seat the crown race, it’s better to take the race off and “dress” the base of the fork’s steerer with a needle file to remove excess paint and weld splatter — the crown race should just pop on and should NOT require brute force.
There, you’ve saved a bunch of money by doing it yourself — no expensive tools required, no trip to the bike shop. Doesn’t that feel great?