Bicycle headsets (HS) are often overlooked components.
They are hidden inside the head tube of the bike's frame and are often of lower
quality compared to the rest of the components on a new or used bike.
Do you know what kind of HS is in your rig?
The small diameter bearings within the headset support a lot of weight and are crucial
in the steering, stability, and safety of a touring bicycle. A cheap headset
wear out quickly and cause the bike to become unsafe because of pits forming in
the races and the ball bearing rolling over this uneven surface. If you are about to set off on a bicycle touring adventure, I
highly recommend that you upgrade to the best headset available.
PITTED HEADSETS CAN
BE DANGEROUS OR CAUSE RIDER FATIGUE
Most head sets perform well when they are new but the cheap
loose ball bearing models will wear out fast and will cause steering problems.
Most bicyclists believe that headsets wear out because of front end
impacts such as riding rocky trails on a mountain bike or riding into unexpected
potholes on a
road bike. While hard impacts can cause damage, the most likely cause of
headset problems is pitting. This equipment failure is caused by
normal use while riding. In time, the ball bearing wears little
impressions called pits into the race. You know your headset is pitted
when you turn the handlebars and it
feels like someone else is pulling on the bars. This is also described
as ratchet or indexed steering. It starts out as annoying but as
the pits grow deeper it becomes increasingly dangerous.
Cheap headsets will pit after only a few months of riding
while high quality headsets can last for years without pitting.
There are two main options when it comes to headset choices:
loose bearings and sealed cartridge bearing.
CHEAP BUT COMMON
LOOSE BALL BEARINGS HEADSETS
A loose bearing system means that the interior of the HS is basically
screwed together but still exposed to the elements. This makes the
interior of the head set vulnerable to water and dirt. Once dirt enters the
bearing system it acts like sandpaper grinding down all the moving parts.
Because bicycle tourists are regularly exposed to bad weather, loose bearing
headsets need to be regularly disassembled, cleaned, greased, and reassembled while
paying close attention to spacing and adjustment. The only advantage
to loose bearings is that they are cheap to manufacture.
I have used many brands of loose packed bicycle headsets
including Shimano XTR, XT, and LX. I had problems with all of them
wearing out prematurely because water and dirt invaded the bearing system
and quickly caused pits and poor performance.
HIGH QUALITY BUT
HARD TO FIND SEALED CARTRIDGE HS
The alternative to a loose bearing HS is a sealed cartridge system where the
interior workings of the headset are permanently sealed at the factory.
Moisture and road grime never contaminate the system. This means that
the bearings and grease last much longer than a loose bearing system because
there is no contamination from the elements. Chris King makes
the best sealed cartridge headsets that I have used. These headsets can handle the extra weight and punishing
conditions of bicycle touring. As with anything; better equipment
costs a bit more, but will pay for itself with years of trouble free use.
I prefer Chris King sealed cartridge bearing head sets on my touring bike
because of the maintenance free use and years of smooth steering.
I no longer need to carry headset tools because the headset
is maintenance free.
The Aheadset style heads sets can be adjusted easily with one allen key.
The old fashioned alternatives require a 32 mm headset tool and a bulky
large adjustable wrench.
Chris king headsets are the obvious choice for touring
bicycles because they last longer, create effortless steering, do not
require heavy tools, and are maintenance free.
Chris King designed the first sealed bearing headset in 1976. No other
bicycle component can claim the precision, performance and absolute
reliability of a Chris King headset.
At Chris King Precision Components, we manufacture each headset in our own
facility to exacting standards, using quality-at-the-source methods to
minimize waste. Even the sealed, cartridge style bearings are made in-house
and are hand-checked.
We believe this component so well represents us that we offer a 10-year
warranty on all models.
Chris King sealed bearing headsets now feature the Sotto Voce logo mark in
all ten available colors. We believe this subtle logo style better
complements a quality bicycle. For those who desire the classic King style,
black headsets are available with either a Bright Silver King logo or Sotto
Voce style King logo.
-Sotto Voce (sot-toh voh-che) is an Italian term used in music to denote a
dramatic lowering of the tone. It literally means “under voice” but can be
translated as “soft voice”.