A rough ride means any number of issues with your dirt bike but if a once smooth bike now feels old and worn out along with bad handling check the steering stem bearings.

Bad steering stem bearings produce either a hard and notchy feel to the bike or, conversely, sloppy with excessive back and forth movement. Either one is bad for riding but you'll really notice on turns and through the whoops. Keep an eye on the rubber seal at the top of the steering stem. That should also clue you in on whether it's time to address the bearings.

Of all the bearings your bike uses those keeping your steering under control last the longest but hardly the easiest to remove and replace. The good news is if you're having steering issues bad bearings offer the best case scenario when diagnosing and finding the problem. Other steering related problems include the shocks, handlebars and even the triple clamps.

What's nice about the steering stem bearings is one look and you know you've got a problem. Often the bearings rust in place and just look pretty clapped out. The bad news is you've got to remove the triple clamps (no need to remove the bars and levers), wheel and forks just to get at them. So it's hardly a five minute job. You'll need some tools first:

Steering Stem Bearing Maintenance

Eventually steering stem bearings run their course but you can prevent a short life span simply by proper maintenance. Don't use excessive power washing around the steering stem and add some grease once a year. It's also best practice to grease the bearings on a new bike since the factory often doesn't add enough.

A standard diagram of the frame: Steering Stem Bearings (#92116), Steering Stem Nut (#92115), Washer (#92022) and Nut (#92210)

How to Install Steering Stem Bearings

Whether its maintenance and replacement, first remove the upper triple clamp, wheel and forks. The rubber seal should pop off using a flathead screwdriver and the fuel vent hose releases with a simple tug. To remove the old bearings follow the steps below:

  1. Remove steering stem nut
  2. Remove lower triple clamp
  3. Pull out old bearings

Once you've removed the old bearings you'll of course need a set of replacements like these All Balls or these Pivot Works. Grease before installing your new bearings.

If well maintained it's likely the bottom bearings fall right out and you'll just need the tip of a screwdriver to pop the top ones out. Use a bearing puller in the case of seized bearings or hammer them out. Once you've put the new bearings in place, reassemble the lower and upper triple clamps, the forks, wheel and handlebars along with any applicable washers and seals. Now go ride!

Check out this video for a hands-on demonstration:

For more on bearings:

Written By: AndrewT