Maintenance / Upgrade Tasks

How I Adjust The Steering Stem Bearings

May 06, 2012

In late November 2009, I replaced and upgraded the steering stem bearings to my 2007, DL-650 V-Strom. The upgrade was from the stock bearings Suzuki installs, to a tapered roller bearing system. The article about the work that I did can be found HERE.

Since then, part of my annual “Spring Maintenance Program”, before the riding season really kicks into gear, is to check and test, the steering bearings for proper adjustment. With these bearings adjusted properly, I have found that, the much talked about, “Deceleration Wobble” is eliminated. So is the “twitch” of the handlebars that can occur while riding rough roads at a spirited pace.

(I have also upgraded my front and rear suspension systems. There is some “overlap” in correcting steering issues that occurs between the suspension system, and the steering stem bearings.).

Towards the end of the 2011 riding season, I could tell that the stem bearings of my bike were due for an adjustment. However, that thought got swallowed up by my focus being turned to setting up my garage to build my Sonex airplane. The space where I used to work, on my motorcycle, became occupied by a large workbench that, I needed, for cutting aircraft shapes out of, 4’ wide by 12’ long, aluminum sheets!

With regards to working on the steering stem bearings of my bike, I don’t follow what Suzuki describes in their Service Manual for preparation and, “proper” tensioning of the bearings. That is a choice that I made for myself, after experimenting with different bearing tension settings. Besides, the Suzuki Service Manual was written for servicing OEM steering stem bearings. The bearings I installed in my motorcycle are tapered roller bearings.

The preparation steps that I use to adjust the stem bearings, of my motorcycle, are fairly quick for me to follow. The complete job takes me about 20 minutes to do.

I rolled my motorcycle into my garage, and placed it on its centerstand.

(See that workbench to the left? That is where I used to park my motorcycle and work on it!)

The first thing that I did was to mark the location of my handlebars. It took me awhile to get my handlebars “just where I like them!” I don’t like spending time getting them back to that “perfect spot”, after I move them!

I stuck a piece of masking tape on the handlebars. Using a “Sharpie” marker, I made matching “Sir Marks” on the handlebar risers, and on the masking tape. Now, I had a very quick way to reposition the handlebars back where they fit for me, when it was time to tighten them back down.

Next, I slipped two ratcheting tie-down straps over the supporting beam of the ceiling joists of my garage. I hooked one end of the straps around my handlebars, and the other end around the supporting beam. I added a little tension to each strap.

(Incidentally, the handlebars that are mounted on my motorcycle are stock handlebars. However, I did modify them by welding a stiffening “cross brace” between the grip areas.)

I loosened and removed the handlebar riser caps.

With the caps removed, I could “winch” the handlebar up into the air, and away from the top fork tube clamp.

Then, I loosened the left and right, top fork tube clamp bolts.

Next, I loosened and removed the stem cap nut and locking washer.

I lifted the fork clamp up, and off of the fork tubes. I shoved it forward and out of the way.

Then, I slipped a piece of 2” x 2” spruce between the fork tubes, and up against my crashbars. I did this to keep the front end from turning, while I removed the locking and tensioning nuts from the steering stem.

Using the tool that I made when I installed the tapered roller bearings…..

……I removed the locking nut and washer.

Next, I slid a floor jack underneath the skidplate, and raised the front wheel off of the floor. I made sure that the rear wheel was touching the ground, creating a three point “tripod effect”, between the two feet of the centerstand, and the rear tire touching the floor.

To do my initial stem bearing test, I give the front forks a good shaking. With my hands, I pull forward and push backwards on the fork tubes to see if there is any looseness evident to the bearings. I do this with the front wheel directed forward and also to “full stop left”, and “full stop right”.

There was some movement, which is what I had expected. Doing this test, also let me get a better feel for any “notchiness” in the bearings. If there was, it would be an indication that the bearings were worn, and needed to be replaced.

At this point, I turned my attention to the stem bearing tensioning nut. Using my “Sharpie” again, I placed a “Sir Mark” on the nut; aligning the mark with the groove that has been machined into the steering stem. This mark, gives me an indication of where the bearing tension is currently set at. It is a mark that lets me know that the bearings are too loose at this tension setting.

Then, I switched the piece of 2” x 2” spruce, through the fork tubes in the opposite direction, to “lock up” the front end of the bike.

Next, I tightened the tensioning nut just as tight as I could; drawing the bearing races together. At this setting, I slowly swung the head of the bike, back and forth, to make sure that the bearings were “maxed out”. Then, I tightened the bearings again until I couldn’t move the tensioning nut anymore.

In the photograph below, you can see just how little of a turn it takes, to “max out” the tension of the stem bearings. All it takes is about 1/3 of a turn to go from too loose, to too tight.

A rough guide for me is, to tighten the tensioning nut to a position that is just a tad less then halfway between too loose, and too tight. I am favoring just a hair towards too loose. I will not know what the final tension setting is, until I go for a test ride.

The photograph below illustrates where I chose my initial tension setting to be.

At this point, I needed to button things up, and go for a test ride. To do this, I transferred the “Sir Mark” of the tensioning nut, down to the dust cover of the stem bearing race. I did this so that, when I tightened down the locking nut, I could see if there was any movement of the tensioning nut. It doesn’t take much to change the setting and the performance characteristics of the bearings!

Then, I reassembled the rest of the motorcycle, so that I could go out for a test ride.

When I went for my test ride, I was looking for several things. I put the bike “through its paces”, riding different roads of varying road surface conditions; some are smooth and some are rough. Very rough here in Maine, during the springtime thaw with resulting frost heaves and winter damage!

Here are the things that I look for:

– The infamous “Deceleration Wobble”, (Other V-Strom riders mention this too.), is gone. In the past, when the steering bearings of my bike were too loose, in certain situations, the front end of the bike would wobble. The wobble was not noticeable unless I removed my hands from the handlebars. With my hands on the handlebars, I could feel the wobble. If I removed my hands from the handlebars, the bars would visibly begin to wobble, increasing to a “tank slapper” situation if I didn’t place my hands back on to the handlebars! I can feel and test for “wobble” when decelerating for a traffic light, or to a stop sign. The “decel wobble” would appear at around a 30 – 35mph speed.

– I found another symptom of loose steering stem bearings to be, what I call, “twitch”. Twitch happens when I am spiritedly riding rough surfaced roads. The feedback that I am receiving through the motorcycle’s handlebars is a slight left to right, “twitch”. The back end of my bike feels like it is behaving properly, but the front has a feeling of being “unsettled” and “uncertain” about what it is doing.

– Arm fatigue is another symptom of steering stem bearings being too loose or too tight. An example of arm fatigue from stem bearings being too loose is, if I am in a right hand “sweeper”, I find that I am constantly pushing forward with my right hand, on the right handlebar grip. I am literally “shoving” the head of the bike back up on to the line that I want the bike to follow through the turn. With loose steering stem bearings, the front end of my motorcycle will “fall into” turns too far. With my arms, I have to push the head of the bike back into position on the road. A day of riding like this, and I do feel it!

If the steering stem bearings are too tight, the opposite effect takes place. While in a right hand sweeper, the bike will want to stand up. Now, my left arm is pushing on the left handlebar grip, to force the head of the bike back down to follow my line! Again, a day of riding like this can be tiresome!

– The final bearing related “symptom” I look for is, “weave”. A weaving motorcycle happens at slower speeds, (In a deceleration phase), and is caused by stem bearings that are too tight. I found this happening to my motorcycle, during a test ride, after I had made a bearing adjustment with too much tension to it. As I decelerated from an “out of town” speed, to an “in town” speed limit, the front end of the bike “walked” left and right as I traveled in a straight line down the road. This happened in a 25mph speed zone. When I increased speed, the weave disappeared, but the steering of the bike felt “heavy”. I rode the bike back home, loosened the tension a “touch”, and all was good!

All of the above symptoms have happened to me, while I experimented with different tension settings on the stem bearings. My bike has “twitched”, “wobbled” and “weaved”, (“Wove”?). And, my arms have been tired from either holding the bike up, or pushing it down!

As I illustrated above, there is not much of a space difference between a stem bearing tensioning nut being set too tight, or too loose on my motorcycle. But, testing and retesting, what I need to do to eliminate bearing issue symptoms, and to have a great feeling ride, has been truly worth my efforts!

Fortunately, my test ride for this year, fleshed out a perfect setup for me! No more adjustments for the start of the 2012 riding season!

Categories: Maintenance / Upgrade Tasks | 29 Comments

Replacing The “Cush Drive” Absorbers


Last year, (the 2008 riding season), during one of my typical weekend trips, I found myself stuck in a campground, just south of La Tuque, Québec.  Although I was grateful to be in this particular campground, the reason I was stuck there was an act of my own carelessness.

The previous day, while passing through the beautiful city of Victoriaville, Québec, I hit a baseball sized piece of, “drainage ditch” basalt.  The chunk of rock had fallen off of a truck and was lying in the road.  I was motoring along, within a line of cars, and of course, following too close to the bumper of the car in front of me, and I ran over the stone, (with both wheels!), before I had a chance to swerve around it.   It wasn’t until another two hours of riding passed, that I discovered that the rear tire had suffered a, “pinched” sidewall puncture.  A slow leak had developed, and was increasing due to the heat build up, from the increased friction of a slowly deflating tire..  Through various methods, I was able to limp back to, Camping et Marina Mékinac.

While I waited for a new rear tire to be delivered to the campground from Montréal, I spent my time listening to my French lessons on my mp3 player, writing in my journal, and checking over stuff on my bike.  Before leaving on this particular trip, I had had a discussion with a riding friend of mine, concerning knowing when the “cush absorbers”, (located in the rear sprocket carrier.), are worn out. “If the sprocket carrier drops out on its own, then the absorbers are worn.”, came the reply of how to diagnose the issue.

Remembering this discussion, I walked over to the rear wheel of my bike; it was leaning up against a tree.  I picked it up, with the sprocket side parallel to the ground, and gave the wheel a slight jerk.  The sprocket carrier fell immediately to the ground.  It looked like the cush rubber absorbers in my sprocket carrier were due to be replaced!

Here is a short video illustrating that test.

The above video was shot onOctober 11, 2009.  This is 30,000+ miles since I did the original test back in 2008 in the campground.  Obviously, I wasn’t too concerned about what I discovered!

(The story of the flat tire, what happened, who I met, and how I got out of that situation, will be documented in another article in the future!)

Here are two schematic diagrams of what I will be referring to in this article.

The absorbers, (they are made of rubber), are item #6 in the below diagram.

They fit into the corresponding “pockets” in the hub of the rear wheel.

To do this job, I had to remove the rear wheel.  Most riders, who do their own work on their bikes, (such as replacing chains, sprockets, rear brake pads and changing rear tires), have come up with their own specific way of removing, and installing, the rear wheel of their bikes.  I would like to share my own method.

First, I have to get the rear wheel of the bike, up off of the ground.  I believe that a centerstand is the first, “maintenance category”, aftermarket part that should be purchased, and installed, on an adventure style motorcycle.

I rolled the bike up on to its centerstand.

Then, I removed the cotterpin from the axle-bolt. (You may notice that my axle nut is on the left side of my swingarm.  This is opposite from the Suzuki OEM setup.  I will explain why later.).

I have replaced the OEM cotterpin with a larger stainless steel cotterpin.  I did this so that the stainless steel metal would resist corrosion better then the OEM steel cotterpin, and also that the stainless pin is a softer metal and will resist metal fatigue, (from bending and unbending from repeated removals and installations).  Other riders have found better solutions then the cotterpin.  I just haven’t made the change yet.

(NOTE: I stopped using any cotterpins in 2009.  I changed over to using a hitchpin instead of a cotterpin.)

Here I use two screw drivers to pull the cotterpin out of the axle.

I pried up with the screwdriver that I am holding.  This technique keeps the cotterpin from flying across my shop area……

Next, I loosened the rear axle.

After that, I loosened the chain adjusters just a bit at either end of the swingarm.

At this point, I slid a wooden wedge underneath the rear wheel; lifting the weight of the wheel off of the axle.

I can now, very easily, slide the axle out of the swingarm!

I removed the wooden wedge to let the wheel drop free of the swingarm.  Usually, the axle spacers drop out when I do this.  If they don’t, I reach up and wiggle them out.

Now, I roll the wheel as far forward as I can, until it fetches up against the rear side of the swingarm cross-member.  Then I remove the chain from the rear sprocket.

The rear wheel will now roll out from underneath my motorcycle.

The sprocket retainer is supposed to be “free floating” on the inboard side of the sprocket carrier.  Mine was frozen to the bearing due to water corrosion.  I tapped it out using a hammer and screw driver; the plastic handle acting as the “punch”.

I cleaned up the sprocket retainer with some Scotchbrite and set it aside for later reassembly.

Here, I am using a small wire brush to clean the crud off of the “ears” of the sprocket carrier.

Next, I removed the old absorbers with a screwdriver.  I found out that there is a “tab” that is molded into the absorber that has to be freed from the hub.

I also used my wire brush to clean up the crud in the cush-housing.

Here’s a photo of the original absorber next to its new replacement.  They look exactly the same and I couldn’t detect any wear, (smaller size), when comparing the old absorber with the new one.

Again, I used a screwdriver to work the tab of the new absorber into its corresponding hole in the hub.

I placed some grease around the sprocket retainer and slid it back into the sprocket carrier.

I placed my rear wheel, brake disc side down on top of an old boat cushion.  Probably a better solution was to place my wheel assembly on top of an old rear tire.  By doing this, the brake disc makes no contact with the ground and doesn’t receive any stress when installing the sprocket carrier assembly.  I didn’t think of doing this at the time…….  But, I didn’t have any problems either.

Even though the new absorbers didn’t appear to have any difference then the old absorbers, it took quite a bit of pressure to drive the sprocket carrier “home”.  I was surprised enough at what effort it took to press the carrier into place, that I separated the two, just to make sure I didn’t have anything misaligned!  I didn’t!

I tested the assembly with a couple of good “shakes”.  The wheel didn’t drop away from the sprocket carrier I was holding in my hands.

Time for reassembly.

First, I examined the axle spacers and axle.  I cleaned mine up with some Scotchbrite so that I could visually inspect them better.  See the grooves in the spacers and axle?  I need to replace mine.  I will do that before the 2010 season.  I gave each a light coating of grease before reassembling them.

I rolled the wheel forward, until it hit the swingarm cross-member.  Then, I placed the chain over the rear sprocket.

I reached in, and slid the axle spacers into their “home” position.  A rider can’t mix them up.  They are different sizes.  They can only be installed on the axle and against the wheel hub one way; no matter which direction you choose to install the axle.

Now, the tricky stuff!  I installed the rear brake caliper back on to its track.  Then, I slid the axle bolt through the swingarm adjuster, and the caliper arm, to hold the brake caliper in place.  This is the reason I mentioned earlier as to why I have flipped around the rear axle.  Doing this, has the axle acting as another pair of “hands”, to help hold things into place, while installing the rear wheel.

From here, I placed my wooden wedge on the floor; judging about where the rear wheel needs to be when I roll it backwards, away from the swingarm cross-member.  Then, I rolled the wheel backwards. I adjusted the wedge, so that the wheel gets “lifted” up, and aligned with the swingarm, chain adjusters.

Then, I pushed the axle through the swingarm and wheel; out the other side.

Next, I installed the axle plate, washer, and nut, and lightly snugged it down.

I adjusted the chain to my desired tension. I believe that it is best to adjust a chain while the motorcycle is on its centerstand.  (The Suzuki Owner’s Manual method of adjusting the chain tension, is to have the bike on its sidestand.)  By doing this, I am free to rotate the rear wheel to determine where the “tight spot” is of the chain, (New, or old chains have “tight spots”.).  I make the chain adjustment with the chain at its tightest spot.  I leave my chain looser then the Suzuki recommendation.  That’s because, with the bike on its centerstand, there isn’t any weight on the swingarm; adding additional tension to the chain.  I also often ride on very rough roads and I prefer a “slacker” chain for riding in these conditions.

Once the chain was adjusted, and the wheel was aligned properly, I tightened down the axle nut, and added the cotterpin to finish things up.

The final task was for me to “pump up” the rear brake peddle.  I learned the hard way by NOT doing this once!  When I went for a test ride, and came to a stop sign, as I began to apply the rear brake, there wasn’t any!  I had forgotten to “pump up” the rear brake system after removing the rear brake caliper.  Boy, did my heart leap into my throat!

Categories: Maintenance / Upgrade Tasks | 4 Comments

Fabricating Homemade Swingarm Removal Tools


It’s January…….  In Maine……..  I am in the process of replacing my cushion lever and swingarm bearings on my 2007 DL-650.  I have 62,885 miles on the bike and I have never done any maintenance in this area.

I decided not to order my bearings ahead of time before I started this job.  I wanted to fully disassemble the back end of the bike before I placed an order for parts to make sure my list was complete for the parts that I needed.

There are two “special” tools that are needed, (to purchase, or to make), to remove the swingarm pivot axle.  The cost of one of those tools is between $50 – $90, (a socket to remove the pivot axle locking nut).  The other tool is a 19mm, (3/4″), hex head, (Allen wrench), socket.  The hex head wrench costs around $18 – $20 at a local Napa store.

The left side of the swingarm pivot axle is a 15/16″ nut which is fairly straightforward.

On the right side of the bike, the pivot axle locking nut and the pivot axle itself, have to be removed.

This is what the “working relationship” between the two look like.  The locking nut is threaded on to the pivot axle.  The pivot axle is threaded into the frame of the motorcycle. (What looks like “goo” or grease around the nut is actually dried silicone.  I use silicone to keep the left and right rubber, pivot axle covers in place.).

I purchased a 1/2″ drive, 1 3/16″ impact socket from Napa.  It cost me, $8.78.

I wrapped masking tape around the rim of the socket so that it would be easier to mark where I needed to make the modifications to it so that I could remove the pivot locking nut.  I checked the fit…..

…..and, made my marks.  The depth of the “teeth” only need to be about, 3/16″ – 1/4″ deep.

I cut verticle “kerfs”, following my lines, with a hacksaw.

I used a Dremel tool to cut out the spaces between the “teeth”.

Dremel has a fiber reinforced wheel that works perfectly for this type of a job.  The wheels come in 5 units per package, (Dremel #426).  I burned through two wheels to complete the cuts I needed to make.

I checked the fit of the socket again and “tuned” the teeth with a mill file.

Here is a photo of the finished homemade pivot axle locking nut removal tool.

I snapped the socket on to my 1/2″ drive ratchet, slid my trusty copper pipe “cheater bar” over the ratchet’s handle and gave it a tug.

The locking nut broke free and spun off, (there is thread-locker on the threads).  Here is a photo of the locking nut and the socket I modified.

Next I needed to make a tool to remove the actual pivot axle.  I have several old sparkplug sockets lying around.  Often you will find that, smaller sized sparkplug sockets have a “hex head” and by coincidence, they fit perfectly.  The one in the photo below is from the very first socket kit I purchased to work on my 1969 VW bus I bought back in 1979 as my first car.

I have heard that, others that have chosen to go this route say that, they could slide a ratchet extension through the sparkplug end of the socket, and have it lock into the drive portion, (doing exactly the opposite of how you would normally use the sparkplug socket and extension).  Out of the half dozen sparkplug sockets I had on hand, only one would allow me to do this.  There is a “metal barrier” between the drive side of the socket and the working end of the socket.  An extension can’t pass through the body of the socket and reach the drive end portion.  The extension is blocked by the excess metal.

You can see the “barrier” down inside the drive end of the sparkplug socket.

Using a hacksaw, I cut the drive end of the sparkplug socket off just above the metal barrier.

I knocked off left over burrs with a mill file and snapped my new 19mm hex head wrench on to my ratchet.  (I used a 1/2″ drive to 3/8″ drive adaptor).

I slid my copper pipe cheater bar over the end of the ratchet handle…..

…..and gave the wrench a tug.  The pivot axle broke free, (there is thread-locker on the threads).

I pulled out the pivot axle and removed the swingarm.

You will notice that there is not a centerstand, or a jack holding my motorcycle up in the air.  That is because I chose to hang my bike from my garage ceiling rafters.  You see, the exhaust system also needs to be removed to get the swingarm off of the bike.  That also means my skidplate, and mounting hardware had to be removed too.  Therefore, there was no way to support my motorcycle from underneath.

I drilled two holes through the ceiling joists and made some loops out of large battery cable wire I had squirreled away in a box.  I added some thread-locking “D-rings”, some rock climbing webbing and a come-a-long to lift the back end of the bike up in the air.

I didn’t like how the bike swayed back and forth, pivoting off of the front wheel, so I added, left and right “stabilizing straps” to the crashbars; utilizing standard ratchet straps.

Since starting this project on New Year’s Day, I moved the original “pick up” point from the rear of the bike to the passenger footpeg brackets.  The original setup put too much strain on the rear of the bike.  I couldn’t unlock and remove the seat.  The passenger footpeg brackets work better.

Nice, unencumbered way to work!

Categories: Maintenance / Upgrade Tasks | 4 Comments

Changing The Motor Oil With A Skidplate Installed

January 2, 2011

This past summer, (2010), I shot new photographs of my technique of changing the motor oil in my DL-650 with a SW-Motech skidplate installed.

I roll the motorcycle up on to its centerstand. (I modified my SW-Motech centerstand by welding extra “feet” on to the “soles” of the OEM feet, so it is nearly 3/4″ taller then a stock SW-Motech centerstand.)

I loosen the two rear bolts that hold up the aft end of the SW-Motech skidplate. ( 13mm)

I press the aft end of the skidplate to the floor.

I loosen my oil filler cap to let air vent into the crankcase as the old oil drains out.

I loosen the oil drain plug…..  ( 14mm )

….then slide a modified, one gallon solvent can underneath the motor, and finish unscrewing the drain plug; letting the old motor oil drain into my homemade “catch can”.

When the oil appears to be drained out, I rock the bike, “up and down”; pivoting off of the centerstand, to “jiggle” more oil out of the crankcase.

I then reinstall the oil drain plug and tighten it up.

Next I slide the “catch can” up the incline of the skidplate and underneath the oil filter.

Using a Suzuki OEM filter wrench and a 17mm socket, I loosen the oil filter…

…just enough to let the oil in the filter drain out into the “catch can”, BEFORE I completely remove the oil filter from the motor housing.

When the oil filter is empty, I remove it from the motor and drop it into a modified laundry detergent container to drain more.

I inspect the oil filter area of the motor to make sure that the gasket from the old filter hasn’t been left behind, and that the area is free from dirt.

I have only used OEM Suzuki oil filters on my motorcycle.  At 84,000 miles in 4 years, why change now?

And, I follow the directions printed on the side of the filter.

Before installing the new oil filter, I will wipe some fresh oil around the new gasket…

….and cinch it down as per the printed instructions on the side of the oil filter. (Refer to photograph above.).

I will fill the crankcase with fresh oil.  (As with the oil filter, I have only used Suzuki 4 stroke motor oil in my bike, for the same reasons that I use their oil filter.)

I usually overfill the crankcase just a little bit….

….because I know that when I start the motor…. (Don’t you just love the “factory look” of my cockpit instruments and layout?)

….the sightglass will show “low” after the oil has made its way around to all of the “nooks and crannies” of the motor and has filled the oil filter.

I then top up the crankcase to the proper level.

The waste oil I drain into a laundry detergent container.

During the winter months, I take all of my used motor oil to my local motorcycle dealership so that they can burn it in their service department furnace.

I then re-attach the rear end of the SW-Motech skidplate and I am ready for another 3 – 4,000 miles.

Categories: Maintenance / Upgrade Tasks | 3 Comments

Steering Stem Bearing Replacement / Upgrade

November 25, 2009

My bike is a 2007 DL-650 with 62,500 miles on it and I have not done any maintenance on the steering stem bearings to date.

I will answer some questions right up front:

“Does replacing the steering stem bearings, in my motorcycle, get rid of the infamous ‘clunk’?”

No, the clunk is still there.  However, it is different sounding, and takes more force from a bump to initiate the clunk sound.  What I believe is, my bike had two clunks that were “layered” on top of each other.  One of those clunks was loose steering stem bearings.  That part of my “clunk” is now gone.  What is left is the “standard clunk”, found on nearly all DL-650s.  I can tell you that my clunk is, NOT coming from the forward, fuel tank, hold down, bolt as some other DL-650 riders have discovered; or feel, that is where the clunk is on their bikes.

“Does replacing the steering stem bearings get rid of the wobble?”

Yes, it does.  There is a hill near my home.  Before I changed my steering stem bearings, if I rolled down the hill with no hands on the handlebars, (this is the standard deceleration setup), in a short time, I was near a “tank-slapper” situation.  The tires that are currently on the bike are, a well worn Trailwing up front and a well worn Anakee on the rear.  After changing the bearings, and riding on the same tires, just mentioned, the bike tracked perfectly, no handed, down my same “test hill”.  There was absolutely no wobble.

One situation I did not test is, tightening up the OEM stem bearings.  It is quite possible that, if I had tightened up the OEM stem bearings, the “deceleration wobble” would have disappeared in this case as well.  But, because of the type of riding that I do, I had already decided to upgrade the OEM bearings to, tapered roller bearings.  Taking care of the “wobble” was secondary.

When I started this project, I knew that I was going to end up having to make two tools to complete the job.  Because of this, I chose to follow the sequence that I have written about below.  By doing so, I “uncovered” the items that I needed to fashion the tools for, (stem nut removal tool, and a “bearing basher”).  I have illustrated how I made the tools within the steps below.

The replacement/upgrade bearings I used were, All-Balls Steering Stem Bearing Kit 22-1003.   I bought my kit from,

A final comment;  It is important for readers, to understand that I have never done this type of work before.  What is seen here, (in the photographs), is exactly what I am seeing for the very first time.  I am no mechanic, let alone a motorcycle mechanic.  I am just a fellow, who out of necessity, needs to do as much of the work on my bike as I can. I am also an individual who enjoys learning new things.

This topic is covered in the Suzuki Service Manual starting at page 7-26.

My first goal was to expose the steering stem nuts so that I could determine what kind of a tool I needed to fabricate to remove them.  And, to also retighten them during reassembly. That meant, the first thing I needed to do was to remove the top forkclamp to be able to see the steering stem nuts.

The first thing I did was, park my bike, in gear, and on its sidestand.  Then, I removed both the left, and the right cable/wire wickets from the front of the forkclamp.

Then, I removed the handlebar clamps.  (I have SW-Motech® risers installed)

Once I removed the handlebars from the clamps, I used a bungee cord, wrapped around the front of the cowling, from one side of the handlebar to the other, to secure the handlebars forward out of my work area.

Next, I loosened both top, forkclamp bolts.  (I didn’t remove them.  I just loosened them.)

The top stem nut is 1 1/4″ in size.  I found, it takes a good amount of muscle to loosen it.  (This is why I kept the bike on its sidestand, and in gear.  I figured I might “wrench” the bike off of its centerstand, if you used it instead of the sidestand.)  However, I discovered it took too much effort, with a 1/2″ ratchet, to remove the top-nut.  I ended up having to use my inexpensive impact wrench to do the job, ($25 impact wrench, hooked up to a $150 Lowe’s/Kobalt compressor.).

Theoretically, I should have been able to remove the top forkclamp at this point.  But, I found that the left, and right, cable/front brake hose restraints prevented enough slack, in the front brake hose, and power cable, to be able to lift the forkclamp off of the stem.

I was able to work both the brake hose, and the power cable, around enough to remove the forkclamp.  I have since removed the brake hose and the power cable from their restraints.  I have wire-tied them to the outsides of the restraints instead of having them fetched up hard inside the restraints.  This provides for easier removal in the future.

With the forkclamp removed, I could study the steering stem nuts, and make a decision as to what kind of tool I needed to fabricate, to remove, and to retighten, the stem nuts.  I drove to my local Lowe’s and purchased a 6″ long x 1 1/4″dia steel nipple.  They didn’t have any plain old steel, so I had to settle for the more expensive galvanized version.  (An 8″ long nipple, would have been better to have had, when I was retightening the stem nuts.  I would have had a little more clearance over the fuel tank to swing my pipe wrench handle.).

I cut the threads off of one end of the steel nipple.  I then squared up my first cut because it stunk……

Then, I slipped the steel nipple over the stem and down on to the top stem nut.  I marked two “teeth” on the pipe, that I needed to cut, that would align with two slots in the stem nut.

Using a hacksaw, I cut where I needed to; removing metal to create my “wrench”.

The inside diameter of the steel nipple was too small to allow the “teeth” to slip into the slots of the stem nut, so I had to bevel the teeth back a bit to let that happen.

Using a pipe wrench……

…..I spun the top stem nut off of the stem.

With the top steering stem, (locking), nut and washer removed, (JUST the top, locking nut is removed.  I left the bottom nut in place.), with my homemade wrench, I knew that I could proceed with the job with a successful outcome.

EDIT:  Since I originally did this job, I have modified the above wrench to have three “teeth”.

Next, I reached up under the cowling and wrapped my forktubes with masking tape to mark their clamped height in the triple tree.  (The reason I did this is explained farther below.)

I loosened the axle pinch bolt.

Then, I loosened the front axle.

I removed the left and right allen screws, that hold the fender in place.

Next, I removed the left and right brake calipers.

I hung the brake calipers off of “hooks” from my crashbars. (I made the hooks out of sections of steel, coat hangers.).

Then, I removed the brake line junction/fender bolt. (On the right side, behind the forktube.).

The “specialized” nut fell out from inside the fender when I did this.  It can only go back in one direction, so I didn’t worry.  I also removed the brake line clamp bolt from the left side of the bike.

I removed the speedometer cable clamps behind the left forktube.

Then, I removed my “Superbrace®” forkbrace from the forktubes.

Next, I reached up inside the cowling and loosened the top bolts, of the bottom forkclamp.

Then, I raised the front wheel off of the ground.  I used a floor jack, and a block of wood underneath my SW-Motech® skidplate.

I removed the front axle bolt.  The front wheel dropped right out.

Now, I loosened the remaining two bottom forkclamp bolts.  I did this one at a time, because I knew that the forktubes were going to slide right out and hit the floor if I wasn’t careful. The front fender, also dropped clear as well.

Then, I removed the brake hose clamp that is fastened to the front of the lower forkclamp.

It was time to start disassembling the stem head area.  I could remove the bottom stem nut by hand it had gotten so loose!

I pulled off the bearing dust cover from the stem.

I supported the steering stem, underneath, with one hand, and I “wiggled/pushed” downward on the steering stem, from the top, with my other hand.  The steering stem dropped free of the bike.

This is what the replacement/upgrade bearings look like.  The outer race, that the bearing rides in, and the inner race, with the tapered, needle bearings, and their cage.  The dust seals are on the floor.  You can also see the steering stem and the top and bottom OEM bearings still on the stem.

I put the outer races, to the new bearings into my freezer.  I heard that doing this can help during installation.  The cold contracts the metal, to make the bearings a tad smaller; hence easier to install. (That’s my Danvier ice cream maker container waiting to be used…….)

This is a photo from the top looking down through the stem.  The top and bottom OEM bearing races need to be removed. The top one is fairly clear in the photo. The bottom one is, that very thin, “silvery line” at the bottom of the stem tube.

I grabbed the closest tools on my bench……….

………and slid a mill file, handle first down through the tube until it came to rest on the top edge of the bottom OEM bearing race.

I tapped the file with a hammer; working my way around the top edge of the bearing race until it dropped out of the stem tube.

I did the same for the top OEM bearing race; by reaching up through the bottom of the stem tube…….

………..and tapping the file with my hammer until the top race popped free of the stem tube.

I grabbed one of the “frozen races” from my freezer, I spread a little grease into the bearing lip of the stem, and I pounded the race into the top of the stem opening by using a hammer and a 2″ pvc coupling.

I tried the same technique with the bottom race.  I greased the race opening in the bottom of the stem…..

……..but the pvc coupling was too short.  I couldn’t get enough swing with my hammer due to the cowlings being in the way.

So, I grabbed what was closest at hand, which was the top adaptor to my Harbor Freight tire changer, and I pounded the bottom race home.

I checked for gaps between both races and the stem with a mechanic’s mirror.  There weren’t any.

Next, it was time to remove the bottom bearing race from the steering stem.  It has been pressed on.  On page 7-30 of the Suzuki Service Manual, they say to remove the race with a hammer and a chisel.  They also show a diagram of doing this.  I tried it too…..

……..and even tried to hammer/chisel/pry the race up.  I was doing more damage to the forkclamp then I wanted to!

So, I grabbed my Dremel tool, and chucked a fiber wheel up, and cut several “kerfs” around the bearing race.

A couple of taps with the hammer and chisel and the bearing race freed itself, and slid right off.

I slid one of the new bearing seals down to the bottom of the stem.  Then, I slid one of the new bearings down the stem as far as I could……….

…… was now time for me to make the second “specialty tool”.

I drove to Home Depot and purchased a 12″ long x 1 1/4″dia steel nipple and an 1 1/4″ pipe cap.

I cut the threads off of one end of the 12″ steel nipple.

I cut several kerfs down the length of the pipe with my hacksaw; as deep as the frame of the hacksaw would let me go, (about 5″).

I refer to them as “fronds” as in, “palm fronds”.

I tightened a hose clamp around the fronds and tightened it to close the gaps between the “fronds”.

I slid the “bearing basher” down over the stem, until it made contact with the bearing.  The “basher” can’t come in contact with the bearing cage, otherwise there was a risk of breaking the cage and sending the bearing needles tumbling about. So, by “trial and error”, I kept grinding the edges of the fronds to make them smaller, which resulted in a tighter fit around the stem; reducing the outside diameter of the “basher”.

This is what my “bearing basher” looks like.  It is a tight fit around the stem, and the hose clamp is in place.

But, I discovered that the outside diameter was still too big.  It touched the cage of the bearing.  So, I ground a bevel around the outer edge of the “bearing basher”.

I “tuned” the bevel with a flat file, (the same one I used to remove the bearing races with……), and I also tuned the bottom edge of the basher where it came in contact with the inner bearing race during installation.

Once the “bearing basher” was fit and tuned, I screwed the pipe cap onto the top end and I pounded downward…..

… set the bearing.

Here are the two “specialty tools” that I needed to do the job.  They cost less then $15.

Pretty cool, huh?

The horse smells the barn………it’s time to head home.

I greased up the bottom bearing.  And, I greased up the bottom bearing race.

Next, I slid the steering stem up through the stem tube; slid a forktube up into the forkclamp of the steering stem; placed the bottom end of the forktube on top of a wooden block; and snugged up one of the forkclamp bolts.  I took a rest…. The, I slid the other forktube up through the bottom forkclamp; resting the bottom of that forktube on top of the wooden block; and snugged up a forkclamp bolt on that forktube as well.

What I just described above looks like this:

I live alone.  I work alone.  I had to come up with a way to do what I needed to do.  Another pair of hands would be helpful.  But, I got creative with what I had on hand, to get the steering stem up into place, and to hold it there.

I greased up the new, top bearing, and also the race I installed previously in the top of the stem.  I slid the new bearing over the top of the stem and down into the race.

It is here that I realized, I had to get the steering stem up higher in the stem tube.  By adjusting the forktubes, in the forkclamps, along with the wooden block, I was able to achieve this.

I slid the remaining new dust seal down over the stem, and on to the top of the bearing.

Next, I slid the OEM dustcover into place.

I tightened the bottom stem nut to begin drawing the steering stem up into its final resting position and to “set” the bearings.

On page 7-30 of the Suzuki Service Manual, there is a procedure for, “Steering Tension Adjustment”.  I have ridden this bike enough to know what I like.  For me, the manual suggests a tension that is far too loose.  This looseness is what causes the infamous “deceleration wobble”.  However, if the bearings are too tight, I know that my motorcycle will “weave” at slow speeds.  “Been there, done that”; with too loose, and too tight stem bearings!

This is how I wrapped up the job.

I slid both forktubes up through the lower forkclamps, until they came to the masking tape lines.  I snugged up all four forkclamp bolts.

I slid the front fender into place and snugged up the two front fender bolts.

I mounted the front wheel and snugged the axle bolt.

I took pressure off of the floor jack and lowered the front wheel of the bike to the ground.

By doing this, it allowed me to tighten the bottom stem nut tighter and more easily.  I was intentionally over-tightening the nut, but not destructively tight.  To get the nut tight without the front wheel turning; responding to the pressure I was applying to it, I again grabbed what was closest at hand, and jammed a 2′ level between the front forks, and fetched up against my crashbars.

Next, I slid the top forkclamp over the forktubes, and removed the 2′ level from between the forks.

Using my hands, I grabbed a hold of the steering assembly and I racked it back and forth several times; “stop-to-stop”.  I did this to help seat the bearings into their races.

I jacked the front of the bike back up so the front tire was free of the ground.  I removed the top forkclamp and jammed the 2′ level back between the forktubes. I loosened the stem nut.

I experimented with loosening, and tightening, the stem nut until I had the feel that I wanted to the steering assembly.  Suzuki recommends an initial force of 200 – 500 grams to start to turn the steering assembly.  I adjusted the stem nut to where I wanted it; where it felt good to my hands.  Suzuki recommends a torque value of 32.5 lb-ft.  I don’t have a torque wrench to measure this with the tool I made.  Like I said, I tightened the nut to the point where I felt the front end responding the way I wanted it to.

I slid the washer down over the stem.

Then, I threaded the stem lock-nut on to the stem and tightened it down.  Suzuki recommends a torque value of 58.0 lb-ft for the steering stem lock-nut.  Mine is as tight as I can get it with my “nut tool” and my pipe wrench.  It’s not going to budge!

I slid the top forkclamp over the forktubes, and the steering stem, and I tightened the steering stem topnut.

I tightened, and torqued, all 6 forkclamp bolts; locking the forktubes in place.

From here, I “retraced” all of my disassembly steps, and reassembled my motorcycle, (“Pumping” the front brake calipers so that they would work properly once they were reinstalled!).

By upgrading my steering stem bearings, to tapered roller bearings, and by experimenting with different tensions on the new bearings, I have eliminated any “wobble”, at any speed, with any front tire, (New, or worn!), mounted on the rim.

Here is an example of that in the video below.  Although not of a very good quality, I am riding off of the summit ofCadillacMountain, (Located onMount Desert Island,Maine), standing up on my footpegs, with no hands on my handlebars.  I am following two automobiles, down the mountain, in a classic “deceleration wobble” situation.  There is no wobble, and I have total control over my motorcycle.

Categories: Maintenance / Upgrade Tasks | 36 Comments

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