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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
is getting the front tire off of the ground and checking for any movement in the stem accurate enough or do I need to pull the upper clamp off and check the torque of the head nut?

nevermind bearings were way loose, was able to tighten the bottom nut with my fingers about 1/3 turn
 

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Mine had no obvious looseness, but tightening the lower nut firmly hand tight and the upper nut wrench tight made the bike ride much better.
 

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steering adjustment

i just did mine. with wheel off the ground i had no play or roughness. but my handlebars would shake at 35-40 mph. noticed it at about 4000 miles after installing new tires. i assumed it was the new tires but after adjusting the head bearings the bike feels better and no more shaking. i adjusted it so that when you push the front wheel it would continue to the stop, but if you stop half way it would stay in place. it took me a few tries to get it right. when you tighten the top chrome nut it tightens the bearing a little extra.
 

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The two angular contact ball bearings in the steering stem (or replacement roller bearings) aren't intended to act as dampers. They need to be tightened just enough so there is no looseness, but also very little pre-load.
 
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