Cleaning and lubrication of the steering head bearings should be done at a scheduled mileage/time but most let it go until the steering has a ‘notch’ felt in the straight ahead position. This procedure was developed specifically for a 1983/1984 R100RT, but is similar for all Airheads. I advise you to read this procedure through before beginning. Cleaning and regreasing MAY WELL eliminate “notchy-ness” that SEEMS to indicate need for new bearings and outer races. It is best, but not mandatory, to do this procedure after installing new balanced tires, as road crown and tire squaring wear, and balance, might have an adverse effect on trying to make final on-the-road adjustments. This is not hardly just for the front tire….most riders do not know that a squared-off REAR tire is THE most common cause of wobble and weaving from the tires. The author has usually, but not always, done this procedure to his own bikes after installation of a new front tire, but when the wheel is off the motorcycle. If your REAR tire is not squared-off considerably, it will be OK for the final procedure, which are riding tests to get the preload adjustment ‘just right’. It is possible to do this procedure with the front wheel in place, usually that means having the front wheel hanging over the edge of a curb, or the centerstand is in use and on a piece of wood, so the front end can be dropped a couple of inches.
Cleaning and lubrication of steering bearings is not at all difficult, but if a bearing is found truly bad, replacing them is more labor intensive, as part of any fairing must be removed, and possibly brake piping, cables, etc. Contrary to some popular belief, our BMW steering head bearings of the tapered ‘Timken’ style may well last over 200,000 miles. If the bearings/races/shells are in good condition and properly greased and adjusted, the steering will be light, smooth, without any straight ahead notch. You likely will not find out if the bearings are really bad, that is, in need of replacement, UNTIL you first try cleaning and greasing. In a SHOP situation, the bearings are not cleaned and lubricated and then adjusted to see if any notch is gone. In a SHOP situation, labor is too costly for that. A shop can not take the time to clean and regrease, and then find out that the bearings really are bad, so a shop always replaces a notchy bearing. YOU, on the other hand, don’t need to do that…..and will often save a LOT of money, and a considerable amount of labor saving is possible.