Replacing the original HONDA “balls-and-races” steering set-up with tapered bearings is an option many have chosen probably under the assumption that it constitutes an improvement. Whether this is the case or not is hotly debated on many forums and the jury, as they say, is still out. But what is known for certain is that the tapered bearings set-up made by ALL BALLS and offered by dozens of web-based retailers at around $39 is cheaper that the complete replacement OEM set-up, which is more than twice as expensive at $79.44 (priced at Service Honda). Another benefit (or perhaps just a convenience) is that the ALL BALLS bearings come as a single piece unlike the 37 original small balls which can get dropped and lost during assembly.
The ALL BALLS steering kit for HONDA CB550 (and many other HONDA motorcycles; 46 in fact) is 22-1011 and could be purchased just about anywhere. (Pay no attention to the number 22-2011 shown on the title photo; it may be a number used by that particular retailer). Some websites, like 4into1, provide good pictures of what’s included in that specific kit while most other web-based retailers provide just a generic photo and no description).
There are many detailed videos on youtube showing the installation procedure for tapered steering bearings in great detail. I’ll provide links to two of them at the end of this post. The ones I have watched fail to provide, or at least fail to stress the importance of, a crucial piece of information. Eagerly installing your new tapered bearings set without a good understanding of how it works by simply following the procedures seen in videos, might lead to frustration and additional expenses. Here is what one such user reported:
I didn’t do my reading before installing these and messed the bottom bearing up and had to order the whole kit again…
The crucial piece of information, needed prior to installation, is the exact actual stacked height of the original bottom bearing assembly (washer, seal, bottom race, 19 balls, top race). If you do not have the original components, then you must measure the height of the seat (which houses the bearings assembly) at the bottom of the steering tube. Here is a photo of it:
Why? What’s the big deal? The big deal is this. The bottom bearing assembly in the ALL BALLS kit is much shorter in height than the original. Here are the two compared side by side. The new ALL BALLS race and bearing are on the left, the original is on the right:
The ALL BALLS bottom bearing assembly is approx 15 mm high while the original is approx. 18.1 mm high. If the tapered assembly is installed as is, the steering stem will need to go further into the steering tube than it did when the original assembly was installed. Chances are that the steering stem may bottom out against the steering tube before the bearing has been fully seated in the race and there may be no contact between bearing and race. If that happens, the steering will be loose and you will feel it wobbling when riding. A loose wobbly steering is pretty bad on a bicycle. On a motorcycle, it is dangerous and uncontrollable at speed. This is why it is essential to ensure that the new ALL BALLS bottom assembly is the same height as the old original one. And this is why two washers of different thickness are included in the kit so you can choose the one needed for the job. Once the bottom assembly has been put together using the race, bearing, seal and the thinner of the two washers, it looks like this in comparison to the original assembly:
Note that the original assembly is still just a hair taller than the ALL BALLS bottom assembly. While it is likely it will work fine like that (since the steering stem can go a little distance into the steering tube before it bottoms out), it is prudent to re-use the original HONDA washer (shown in the photo above sitting at the top of the original HONDA assembly). That way the total height of the new assembly will be 18.6 mm which is exactly the same as the height of the original HONDA assembly.
What’s in the box?
The ALL BALLS steering bearings kit comes with 6 pieces inside. All of them are sealed in plastic bags and numbered. There are no instructions telling you what’s what and where it goes in the assembly. It is not that difficult to work it out (the top and bottom races are different diameters so they cannot be swapped even if you tried), but here is a description for those who don’t have the time:
Item number 99-3512: the race and tapered bearing assembly that goes on the bottom of the steering tube
Item number 99-3511: the race and tapered bearing assembly that goes on the top of the steering tube
Item number 33-1006: the seal that goes on the bottom tapered bearing
Item number 33-1007: the seal that goes on the top tapered bearing. (NOTE: the two seals are not interchangeable!)
Item number 99-1054: a 3 mm thick washer
Item number 99-1011: a 4.6 mm thick washer.
Helpful videos on youtube:
Don’t forget to pack your new bearings with grease BEFORE you install them. It will be impossible to properly pack the bottom bearing once installed on the steering stem.QUESTIONS?