Sunday, February 13, 2011


Headsets are one of those components that no matter how much or how little you spend on them they will perform well, that is under normal-ish, road riding conditions.  I'm not talking about hardcore, jumping down a cliff, mountain biking.  Chris King headsets clearly has that market locked down, but for most riders, when it comes down to selecting a headset its more how the part looks than worrying about performance or even weight.  Sure if you are obsessed with weight you could definitely save precious 10s of grams.  Cane Creek AER headsets can weigh as little as 46 grams, but even a run of the mill alloy Tange headset only weighs in at 160 grams.  

Stronglight, A9

For this bicycle I want to try out a roller bearing headset, also known as 'needle' bearings.  The most famous of the roller bearing headset is the  Stronglight A9, which is no longer made with roller bearings, but with sealed cartridge bearings instead.  There are a couple of benefits to a roller bearing over standard ball bearings or sealed bearings, in that they do not develop indexing and can reduce handlebar 'shimmy'.  Indexing is when you can feel bumpy steering or that the handlebar kinks when turned to a certain point.  Basically over time, flat spots on bearings or pits on the races where the bearing sit can develop, which can be felt when turning the handlebar.  This is a sign that either bearings need replacing or the headset all together depending on the source of the indexing.  'Shimmy' is a sort of vibration or shaking that can also be felt in the handlebar.  I would say that this can be more strongly felt when going hands-free on you bike.  The front wheel/forks can slightly wobble.  

There are only a couple of manufacturers who make roller bearing headsets today, the models that I am  aware of being Miche Primato and Velo Orange Roller Bearing.  Both use what appear to be the same style of bearings Stronglight used to, but they both (Velo Orange mostly), are really lacking in the looks department.

Miche, Primato

Velo Orange, Roller Bearing 

Another headset that Stronglight was also famous for was their Delta model.  The Delta was very similar to the A9 headset, aluminum body with the same roller bearings, but also incorporated rubber seals, which helped to keep dirt and gunk out of the bearings.  As well, the Delta had cool looking bulbous shape, which I find quite nice looking.  I was lucky enough to purchase one of these headsets from ebay and I was pretty set on using it until...

Stronglight, Delta

...I found the Saavedra Super Competition.  I have yet to track one down, but this to me this is probably the nicest looking headset ever.  I especially like the engraving and spanner bolt pattern.  According to Arc-En-Ciel Bicycle Studio blog, these headsets are especially easy to setup, which is apparently a bit more challenging with the Miche and Stronglight models.

Saavedra, Super Competition

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