Hello fellas! Hope you haven't forgot about me
I finally got some time to do some more checks on the front sprocket noise. My friend in prison gave me a suggestion and so I put the rear wheel back on, then tightened the chain tension real tight, then turned the wheel by hand and could feel a stepping motion coincident with the links in the chain, as well as could hear the same noise, but more consistently. I am convinced it is the chain (vs sprocket), since when the wheel was stationary, I inadvertently bumped the chain with my finger and was able to reproduce the noise. So, because the noise was heard when the front sprocket was stationary, the noise can't be from the sprocket bearings.
And it makes sense it's the chain because the noise goes away when tension on the chain is reduced. (I believe I have been riding with an overtightened chain for the past 6000 miles or so.)
On the front fork job, I was able to get the forks off and then proceed with a steering stem bearing check and renewal. The top steering bearing was seized!! Compared to the rear wheel bearing replacement, it was a breeze to remove, although the bike did fall over on me in the process (emergency room visit to cleanup a laceration to my thumb). The bottom bearing race was a breeze to remove as well. Installing required some inginuity. I was replacing it, so I didn't need the old one, so I spent a couple of hours with a dremel tool, grinding off a few 1000ths off the outer diameter of the old race, then used it to tap in the new race!!!
Took a while but got it done. What was interesting is that, although I had bought a new bearing set for this job, I discovered that the brand new bottom yoke and stem assembly I had in a box, had a brand new bearing installed on it already. So what I did was use the new race from the new bearing set, with the new bearing on the stem. Because I didn't want to remove the bearing from the stem, I greased it by pounding my cupped finger against the bearing over a period of about an hour. I used wheel bearing grease. (was this a bad idea??)
Next is the fork job.... I think I will reinstall the forks into the yokes in order to slacken the top cap, as I don't want to risk damaging the otherwise excellent condition fork tubes. For the special tool workaround, I found a 2ft long 3/4 diameter threaded rod, and then some M20 hex nuts, two on each end (haynes manual mentions grinding a square surface on the one end of the rod, but if the intention is to use a wrench on the end, why not save time and just use 2 hex nuts locked to each other??). Will let you guys know how it goes, hopefully this weekend.
I think the key thing I've learned with all this is, patience. As long as you are willing to go without riding for an extended period of time even, then you're more willing to tear things apart and do the job right. New steering stem, forks, wheel bearings, and tires. Wowwww!!!