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Discussion Starter #1
I mentioned in another thread that the head bearings were shot in my Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad and Les suggested I let everyone know how it goes and what problems I encounter as it's mostly the same procedure for all bikes. So instead of keeping it in the "What did you do to your bike today" thread I thought it would be better to start a new one. So here goes.

I bought this bike about a month ago and right off the start something didn't feel right in the front end. The steering would seem to catch and hang up at low speeds. It followed every little crack in the pavement and I discovered that it would start to wobble badly if I let go of the bars. The front tire was wearing oddly, although it still had about half the tread left on it. I suspected the steering head bearings so I googled how to check them. Following the instructions, I jacked the front wheel off the ground and turned the bars to one side, then pushed them gently to the other side. If the head bearings were bad they said it would hang up, usually in the middle. If they moved without stopping, they were good. They moved smoothly. So I grabbed the forks and pulled on them to test for looseness. Again, everything felt tight.

So I ruled out the bearings. The PO told me he rode a lot on chipseal roads (tar and gravel) that logging trucks traveled on and there were grooves where the wheels ran. He suspected that was why the tire was wearing funny. So I had a new front tire installed and the problems went away.

For about a week.

Once again it began to hang up at low speeds, reverting back to the previous behavior. So before I wore out my new tire I did some more research. All of my symptoms pointed to bad head bearings so in spite of my earlier tests, I took a closer look. In my garage I sat on the bike with the front wheel on the floor and slowly moved the bars from one side to the other. I could definitely feel them catching at the straight ahead point, exactly what it would do if the head bearings were worn.

So I bit the bullet and tore it apart. Sure enough, both bearings were shot. The top bearing wasn't as bad as the bottom. It was showing signs of wear though and both bearings were almost dry of grease. The bottom one was much worse. There were wear marks on the race from the rollers and the marks in the middle had deep enough grooves that would definitely cause it to hang up. Upon further research I found that if the bottom bearing is bad it's harder to diagnose because with the front wheel off the ground, the weight is off it and you won't notice if that bearing is bad. But I could definitely feel it with the wheel on the ground once I paid really close attention.

Now for the fun part. It came apart relatively easily, and I did it alone following the online manual I downloaded. Getting the races out was the hardest part because I didn't have much to tap on. Finally, using a large flat screwdriver with an angled tip I managed to get enough bite to get them both out. Following a video I watched, I ripped the roller cage from the bottom bearing to make it easier to tap the rest of it off the shaft. It came off fairly easily (compared to the races anyway). I did take my time with both the races and the lower bearing, moving 1/4 turn after a few taps so they came off evenly.

One tip I did read about online was to put the shaft in my freezer overnight to shrink the steel a bit. Hopefully that'll make the lower bearing slide on easier. I'll let you know how that worked.

I did all this last Sunday, hoping to pick up the parts on Monday and get it back together since I had the day off. Unfortunately, no one in town had the bearings. Apparently there's something special about them and bearing shops just shook their head and said "Sorry. Can't help you." Probably model specific as my neighbor said he got them from a bearing shop for his Victory. Anyway, I ordered them from the dealer and they should be in tomorrow. Of course, I'm back to work tomorrow so I might be a few days getting it back together. I'll keep y'all posted.
 

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Great write up. Going with OEM bearings is a good move. Some aftermarket bearings not not have the correct hardness. Years ago before I had a press I would put the pinionin the freezer to assist on installation, it works. Does the repair manual recommend torquing bearing, loosen, then retorqing them. This will pre-load bearings in preparation of final torque. I sure you are aware of this but make sure races are set all the way in, false torque rating will result and after a few rides you have to retorque. A race driver is best way. Auto parts stores in the US loan them out for free when a refundable deposit is left. Kit looks like this.

 

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Discussion Starter #3
I ordered the bearings from the dealer but they aren't OEM. They had those in stock but they were $45 each, and that didn't include seals. Instead they ordered me a complete set of All Balls with seals for $43.99. Reviews are good on them and even if they aren't as hard they'll be good for as long as I own it. If not, well, I'll know how to do it next time... lol.

The manual doesn't mention retorquing but I will definitely be doing that. And I'll make sure the races are fully seated. Wow, $22.98 for that kit - half the price they are on Amazon.ca. There's a store here (Canadian Tire) that loans tools too and they have that exact kit (for an $80 deposit, which is what they sell it for). The right tool for the job saves a lot of time and headaches, so I'll be picking that up. Thanks again for the tips.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Bearings came in today so I stopped on my way home from work and picked them up. Then I went to Canadian Tire and "borrowed" a race and seal install kit (the same one in your pic, Les). Had supper then went to work at around 6:30.

The races went in easily with the kit. I loaded up the bearings with grease, then got the triple tree out of the freezer. It took some very careful tapping with a punch, but I got the bearing seated without too much trouble. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have been that easy if I hadn't used the freezer trick. Everything else went smoothly - at first. I had the forks on, the handlebars in place and was about to put the front wheel on so I could lower it off the jack when I noticed the two chrome sleeves that go over my forks sitting in the parts bin.

Well, $#!t.

So I took the forks off and installed the chrome trim, then put them back on. It wasn't too bad, took about 20 minutes. Lesson learned.

Got the wheel on and I went to work on installing the headlight. I checked my pics to see which way a wire loom holder bolted on when I noticed that the cables were all behind the forks, instead of in front like in my before pic. Sigh. Once again, I had to loosen the forks and slide them down enough to move the cables around front. After that I was getting pretty good at removing and reinstalling the forks - lol. That was the last snafu and I got it all back together around 9:30 and went for a short test ride. I had to unbolt the front brake hose from the reservoir so the front brakes need to be bled. Unfortunately I only have DOT 3 fluid and I need DOT 4 and nothing is open this late. But, the catch in the steering is gone. She steers smooth and predictably. I'll retorque the head nut tomorrow and check all the other bolts on the forks, etc, then bleed the brakes and she'll be good to go.

Overall I'd rate this as a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10 as far as difficulty goes. I am at best a mediocre mechanic, but if I know what needs to be done and I have good instructions I can usually get it done. I did this alone, with only a few basic tools and motorcycle lift. I figure a shop would've charged me at least 4 hours labor, if not more. The bearings were $50 with tax, so I consider it well worth doing myself. If you do decide to tackle this job, read up on it, watch videos, and get a manual. It took me a couple of hours to take it apart and 3 to put it back together. Remember, because I missed a few things I had to do parts of it 3 times. I bet if I had to do it again I could do it in half the time.
 

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Nice write up. Glad you got it done. Sounds like success! Bummer about having to redo a couple of times. But it's right now. It's cool how the right tools make the job easier, race driver. I quess I take it for granted living in Houston with part stores open 24 hours, and good old Walmart on every other corner.
 
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