How to Remove Stuck Headset Spacers

How do you remove headset spacers that are stuck?

I need to service / replace my headset bearings but cannot get the spacers off of the fork. I have carbon spacers similar to the ones pictured below. They do not spin freely and I suspect they are gummed up with dried sweat (it took me a while to figure out that I needed to cover the stem when riding inside).

The only article I found online suggests cutting them off. I’m obviously nervous about damaging the steerer tube and am interested in what others have done. Thanks in advance!

Maybe spray some WD40 in there to loosen up and then use a pipe wrench to twist them free

1 Like

Make sure any compression plugs on the steerer are not ‘expanding’ it making it very tight.
As noted some form of lubricant in there will help and if you are not precious about saving the spacers then go at them with a good pair of grips or pipe wrench and slowly twist them to break the sweat!

I have a replacement set of spacers on order so I’m totally fine with destroying the existing ones as long as I can preserve the fork and steerer tube.

What about a hammer / chisel instead of a high-speed rotary cutter? I’d be nervous about banging on the bike, even if in a stand or on the wheels. Do any special tools exist to help with this? I’m thinking something with a curved blade that matches the outside diameter of the steerer tube and fits between the tube and spacers to help break them free?

WD40 should be thin enough to penetrate any open gaps. Otherwise I’d be more comfortable with a cutter than a hammer. There are some cutters you can set a depth on so if your spacer is 5mm thick you can set it to cut 4mm deep and then break it off. That way you won’t cut the steerer itself

I still think an overnight soak with WD40 and some channel locks you’ll crack them off pretty easy

image
I use these for my cassette nut tool and pipe work at home they work really well for twisting things off

1 Like

Get a strap wrench and twist them on the steerer to break the bond. Regular plier-like things will concentrate force in 2 spots, the strap is much more evenly distributed and is very unlikely to damage the spacers. The rubber straps are pretty grippy.

-Tim

3 Likes

Carbon or alloy steerer?

Can try WD-40 or pour some mild acid on it, like soda (Coke). Or citrus juice.

If alloy with a star nut, wait a few hours after some doses, put in the star nut install tool and whack with a hammer. See if that moves it. Sudden shock in force might break the corrosion after attacking it with acid.

Aluminum steerer.

1 Like

acid soak, star nut install tool, whack it. The twisting tools should work too.

This is almost the exact same thing as a carbon seat post stuck in an aluminum frame. The same techniques apply.

1 Like

Thanks for all of the tips and advice. WD-40, acid soak, and the strap wrench were not enough to get the spacers removed. I ended up using the smallest chisel I had and light taps from a hammer to work through each of the four spacers. I put a vertical groove down each one, then turned the chisel 90 degrees so the back side was against the steerer tube and worked down. Not surprisingly, the last spacer was the thickest and most stuck.

The spacers were definitely stuck due to sweat / salt and maybe some light corrosion on the aluminum tube. I cleaned it up with emory paper. I’ll do some more when I take it all apart again to replace the upper and lower bearings. (I did all this to confirm the lower bearing that I needed.)

Now, how do I prevent this from happening again? Whenever riding inside I drape a thick wash cloth over the stem and head set. Should I spin the spacers before / after each workout and disassemble as soon as they start to stick? What else should I do?

Again, thanks for all of the help above!

1 Like
  1. Apply a light layer of grease between any carbon to aluminum contact is very important. It’s not perfect, but it can help reduce the likelihood of the galvanic corrosion that is the real root problem.

    • Note, I list grease here for this use only. For nearly all other carbon to aluminum contact (like bars to stems, you should be using friction paste.

    • Don’t spin the spacers. A properly preloaded head set means they won’t spin easily in the first place. Even if you can spin them, that will just mess up the grease over time if you did it enough.

  2. More and/or better fans, reduce your sweating as much as possible in the first place.

  3. If you can’t fully eliminate the sweat, place some plastic wrap over the stem before any towels you add. You want to keep all sweat from ever getting close to those spacers ot any other part of the stem and headset. Make sure you effectively create a shelter that sheds all water down and away from those parts.

  4. Consider a regular cleaning interval to get the bike outside and wash it to remove sweat that lands on any of the other parts.

2 Likes

Use metal spacers.

1 Like