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Editorial

One Headset For Life

Words Andrew Major
Photos Andrew Major (unless noted)
Date Nov 9, 2017

Genesis

By the mid-90's almost every bike company had adopted the head tube standard we now call EC34. Tom Ritchey still liked it smaller and both Klein & Cannondale were doing their own thing but for the most part every bike from an XC steed to a DH sled could use the same threadless headset. 

In my case it is a black Chris King 1-1/8" NoThreadset. Before finding its current home in my wife's Chromag Sakura it graced the front end of a Kona Roast, Schwinn 4-Banger, Redline Monocog, Balfa 2-Step, Balfa Minuteman and... well... and then it took a long hiatus.  

Cam's Dekerf

It's more than a headset, it's a family heirloom! Photos: Cam McRae

The Flood

Starting with the introduction of EC49, and the corresponding 1.5" steerers, a flood of new head tube standards hit the market. As of today Chris King sells nine different varieties of mountain bike headset and that just includes varieties that use press-in headset cups. 

Even as riders serenely swallow new standards the multi-bike lifetime justification for some high end parts, namely hubs and headsets, is a lot harder to choke down than it used to be. It's easy enough to swap a couple bearing sets through a Cane Creek 40 series headset over the life of a single bike. 

*External Cup | Straight Head Tube | 34mm ID

Headsets For Life AndrewM

One thing that hasn't changed, thanks to adapters, is how a headset is pressed in**. 

Headsets For Life AndrewM

One cup at a time preferably using a beautiful tool like Abbey Tools' thrust bearing, Split Nut, modular press. 

**Print out the above photo of Jeff. Tape it to your mirror. Then practice, practice and practice. The facial expression is the key. 

The Second Coming

More than a decade after mountain bikes ventured off into the headset wilderness they are marching home in lockstep. The headset wars are largely over and despite pockets of resistance, press-in cups with a ZS44||ZS56*** are the obvious winners. Many companies have abandoned drop-in headset bearings and even a number of hardtail manufacturers are using steel and titanium tapered head tubes. 

More frames use ZS44||ZS56 headsets than don't. Investing in a King InSet 2, or a competing product from Hope or White Industries, once again means being able to use a headset on multiple bikes for years to come.  

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The exception is a number of small builders using straight 44mm headtubes. Probably less of a concern as folks often intend to hold on to those bikes long term. Photo: Morgan Taylor

A Slice of Heaven

There is a simple joy that comes from using things over-and-over until their initial purchase price is meaningless. Hubs that have been laced to all three mountain bike wheel sizes, cranks or pedals that are more scars than paint and of course the classic Chris King NoThreadset are three examples that come to mind. 

Whether my own or a friends I love pressing a history into a new frame. 

Headsets For Life AndrewM

Chris King makes their own stainless steel bearings. They're actually really easy to clean and re-grease though it seems most riders never need to find that out. 

I'm as esoteric as the next guy but whether it's companies like Rocky and Niner going back to press-in headset cups or Chromag commissioning tapered steel head tubes this is one trend towards bland uniformity I can get behind. 

I just purchased 44||56 King headset and I'm looking forward to pressing it into a lot of frames to come and then giving it to my grand kids.

***44mm internal upper with zerostack cup. 56mm internal lower with zerostack cup. 

Comments

FlipSide
+3
FlipSide  - Nov. 9, 2017, 5:11 a.m.

There was a time when purchasing a new or upgrading my main bike was a two birds, one stone deal...as it meant my second bike was being upgraded as well. I'm now left with an amazing steel hardail backup bike with great components (King headset, Middleburn cranks, Thomson stem, wide carbon bars, DT240 and Ringlé Abbah hubs, ...) that all trickled down from other bikes. 

This is over now since pretty much nothing on my main bike fits this hardtail. The next step would be to upgrade the frame for something more modern, but very few parts would fit. 

Sad... :(

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1
Andrew Major  - Nov. 9, 2017, 8:27 a.m.

I have a few buddies who’ve bought steel HT frames - Kona Honzo, Ragley Blue Pig, etc - based specifically on the spare parts they have.

Always nice to have complete inter compatibility between bikes... but in my case my new FS bike is Boost but buying a hardtail it only makes sense to go non-Boost so I can use high-end hubs I own.

Reply

craw
+1
Cr4w  - Nov. 9, 2017, 7:57 a.m.

I like how you think that the fact that most of us are on the same standard is some kind of justification for the industry to not come and turn everything upside down. I miss the days when buying Chris King anything was a big deal, a personal coming of age - that you'd grown up (as a bike nerd) and committed to the good stuff, for life. Few other parts had that effect except maybe a custom titanium frame, or maybe Chris King hubs. I like your optimism that things are settled.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1
Andrew Major  - Nov. 9, 2017, 8:08 a.m.

Don’t forget King Ti bottle cages - the other King company. Bottle mounting standard hasn’t changed - my cage from 1998 (‘99?) is still awesome! 

Optimism wise, I’ll bet you, straight up, a six-pack of craft that 44||56 is the majority headset standard for new MTBs 10-years from today. 

I’m feeling extra-optimistic today so if you’ll give me 2:1 odds I’ll also bet you a six-pack of craft that Boost (148x12 || 110x15) is the majority hub standard on new MTBs 10-years from today. 

We on?

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Nov. 9, 2017, 8:23 a.m.

We can even specify a price point - say > $3000 (USD) equivalent to today’s dollar.

Reply

Endur-Bro
0
Endur-Bro  - Nov. 9, 2017, 10:44 a.m.

That's likely a good wager.  I doubled down on stupid and ordered up BOOST CL Onyx hubs for the bleeding edge frame.  I believe it's using a 44/56 Hope headset as well.  My Chromag is running an CC 110 44 headset for half a decade now.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Nov. 9, 2017, 5:15 p.m.

You’re braver than me. Between post mount frames and Center Lock hubs there’s very limited ability to shim rotors/calipers side-to-side to make up for tolerances. 

Awesome hubs. Just may have to consider brake purchases depending on how much side-to-side adjustment they have.

.

I’ve had a Cane Creek 110 in my single speed for a couple seasons. It’s been awesome - original bearings.

Reply

Endur-Bro
0
Endur-Bro  - Nov. 10, 2017, 1:52 p.m.

I've never claimed to be smart.  But I see myself running the MOJO for some time.

Reply

Endur-Bro
0
Endur-Bro  - Nov. 9, 2017, 10:44 a.m.

That's likely a good wager.  I doubled down on stupid and ordered up BOOST CL Onyx hubs for the bleeding edge frame.  I believe it's using a 44/56 Hope headset as well.  My Chromag is running an CC 110 44 headset for half a decade now.

Reply

blackfly
0
Peter Leeds  - Nov. 9, 2017, 4:26 p.m.

As much as I would like to believe you, I doubt it.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
0
Pete Roggeman  - Nov. 10, 2017, 8:44 a.m.

10 years from now, a 6-pack of craft will be 6 mini growlers, because by that time, brewers will have figured out how to keep beer from being a diuretic and we'll all drink it as an energy drink, in the saddle rehydrator, and recovery drink.

Reply

dorse
+1
The Big Picture  - Nov. 9, 2017, 9:41 a.m.

Hush don't let the manufactures hear this.

Reply

blackfly
+1
Peter Leeds  - Nov. 9, 2017, 4:30 p.m.

I have a set of Hadley hubs that I have used on 3 bikes on the same wheel; I had to change the rear axle spacing, no big deal.  In all that time, 12 years, and a permanent resident of the Shore, I have yet to change a bearing or seal.  That is saying something.

Most likely explains why on my new bike, a Chromag Surface Ti, I went with a Hadley Boost setup.  Given spare parts (just to spend money) I suspect this bike will have wheels for life.

Just like a Chris King Headset, BB, or a Thomson post.....

Funny standards are changed whenever possible to get us bikers to buy more shit:  steerer diameters, handlebar widths...drivetrains....

But so long as you get the good stuff and take care of it, it seems it will take care of you.  In many cases, for life.

Reply

shoreboy
+1
Shoreboy  - Nov. 9, 2017, 8:50 a.m.

I can already think of two companies off the top of my head that arent 44 || 56 (and not 44mm straight either).  Its a pretty safe bet you are making though as you only need a few of the bigger companies to stay with this 'standard' for you to have the majority rule.  Bikes like Giant/Trek/Spec probably make up more than half of the bikes out there.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Nov. 9, 2017, 9 a.m.

Yeah... it seemed like a safe bet. That’s why I doubled down with Boost!

.

It isn’t that I can’t think of lots of non-44||56 frames. 

My optimism stems from the fact more companies are moving towards it than away.

In addition to my examples of Rocky Mountain and Niner ditching drop-in bearing headsets there are even lots of steel HT frames (Kona, Chromag,...) going to tapered head tubes instead of 44mm. 

The new Santa Cruz Chameleon is the only mountain bike frame I can think of for the ‘17/‘18 model year that makes the (surprising) choice of moving to a drop-in bearing headset where they have been using headset cups forever.

Reply

blackfly
0
Peter Leeds  - Nov. 9, 2017, 4:34 p.m.

Well, you have to admit the head tube has to fit the forks out there.....strange my Monster T has a straight 1 1/8 steerer and I don't really understand why forks now have to have a 1 1/4 steerer for the bottom.   IF it really made difference don't you think it would of been done long ago...with the baddest fork of them all......ah....planned obsolescence.   I hear this works with computers, too.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Nov. 9, 2017, 5:09 p.m.

It’s not really strange. The Monster T is a dual crown fork.

Tapered steerers evolved from 1.5” steerers. The idea was to get the stiffness of a 1.5” steerer while having access to a plethora of 1-1/8” stems. 

1.5” steerers were introduced in ~2003 in an attempt to offer long travel single crown forks that could approach the stiffness of dual crowns like the Monster-T.

It’s possible to make an 1-1/8” steerer for single crowns ~ as stiff as tapered but the weight penalty is significant.

Reply

blackfly
0
Peter Leeds  - Nov. 10, 2017, 5:59 p.m.

Completely disagree.  Never found stiffness and issue with any Z1 on a 1 1/8 steerer.  The stiffness you allude to is found the the engineering of the upper arch that the stanchions attach to.  And the arch and the axle interface.   It has nothing to do with the bearing/steerer diameter.  King headsets are so good you could use one for 20 years if the 1 1/8 standard never changed.  Just like stems: first 25.4, then 31.9 (I think..)  now....... I have two perfectly good Race Face stems that are 25.4 bar width that are stems for life except the change in standard.  Coincidence?  Don't be naive.  Bike companies now know that if they make good shit the only way to continue to make money they have to find a reason to get people to buy new stuff; the best way:  changed standards.  On the handlebar issue,  I am unaware that when the standard was 25.4 (what I have now) that bar bending was any issue.  On my bike now, I run a 1.8 drivetrain (22 front with 12/32 XTR rear) and it is just fine.  AND I get a stronger chain.  Moreover, I don't use more than 4 cogs.  Why do you need 11?  And don't tell me that every user of 1x11 uses EVERY rear cog.  I doubt 99% use more than half.  But again, it is all about getting you to buy more stuff.

I don't like it, but I understand it and as a committed biker I have to go along.  Trying to improvise with older standards on newer bikes is getting harder and harder to do.  I COULD run a 1x8 XTR setup on my new bike, and be happy, but finding parts to replace it later would be even harder.  

And think of how many good bikes out there are simply going to waste or to the recycler simply due to standards.  No disc brake mounts, 1 inch head tubes....I could go on.

No wonder why the older, vintage bikes are so in demand and command premium prices if in good shape.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Nov. 10, 2017, 7:53 p.m.

Hi Peter,

It's not clear to me what you "completely disagree" with as nothing I wrote is my opinion but rather the facts of the matter - timeline and impetus.

I never said anything disparaging about the stiffness of Marzocchi's 1-1/8" forks including the truly long travel options like the 180mm 66.

I said:

"It’s possible to make an 1-1/8” steerer for single crowns ~ as stiff as tapered but the weight penalty is significant."

I've held a 1-1/8" Marzocchi slug from one of those long travel single crowns compared to a 1.5" or tapered steerer and it's a fact that the 1-1/8" version is significantly heavier. Same goes for Fox 36 180mm 1-1/8" steerers vs. tapered.

I actually have no problem with that - I was happy to ride 1-1/8 long after 1.5” came out - but weight:stiffness is the motivation behind those products.

Locally there were also numerous issues with ovalized headtubes. Deep cup headsets were one solution as were Specialized awesomeforged headtube s on the Demo-9 (which apparently cost a lot to make). Larger headtubes eliminated the issue.

Single crown vs. dual crown with a single crown fork the steerer tube is absolutely a factor in terms of stiffness. 

...

Regarding cosmetic bar upgrades, I've written about that as well as regards 35mm. 

Here is my write up talking about Renthal's efforts to get their 35mm bars to ride as nicely as their 31.8 bars.

That said I count 1x 25.4 bar that was decently wide by current standards (780mm) and it was a tank - so maybe there is something to 31.8. 

...

Regarding King headsets, ~ anyone who road one aggressively with a long travel single crown on aggressive terrain pre-Griplock upgrade would disagree with you. That includes me and I'm the one waxing poetic about their product.

morgman
0
Morgan Taylor  - Nov. 10, 2017, 11:57 a.m.

I've since stuffed the headset in the photo used for the header of this article into a new frame. The X01 shifter and derailleur are still rocking too, on the new frame, though I expect the headset to last longer.

Reply

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