When one first attempts to visualise what a road bike headset might look like, the first thing to come to mind is probably a music headset or a phone headset that is somehow attached to a bike. In reality, a headset for a road bike is drastically different from either of those options. In fact, a bike headset is an integral part of a bicycle that works to ensure the bike is able to turn fluidly. Although headsets for road bikes may be small, bikes would not be able to operate properly, if at all, without them.
When a bike is first purchased as one cohesive piece, a headset should already be completely attached and functioning. However, after spending long amounts of time in use on roads, headsets may become worn out and eventually require replacement. Road bike headsets can be purchased at most bicycle repair shops, or even from online marketplaces such as eBay.
Although headsets may seem like small, simple parts on a bike, they come in several different styles, and understanding which type is best for a particular bike can be difficult. However, by understanding the terminology related to bike headsets, the differences between types, and the sizes that are available, purchasing a road bike headset can be straightforward and headache-free.
What Is a Road Bike Headset?
All in all, a bike's headset connects the bike's fork to the frame's head tube right above it. Headsets are one of the most critical parts on a bike. These small pieces are responsible for ensuring that the bike is able to rotate fully. In addition to this, a road bike headset is also one of the points on a bike that experiences some of the greatest amounts of shock. Although shock is not as big of an issue for road bikes, as going over large bumps and 'catching air' is not as common as it is with BMX and dirt bikes, it is still important to have a sturdy headset. When weight is placed on the front wheel of the bike, the headset must absorb it. Thus, having a weak headset could lead to damage to the bike's frame or head tube. Even the strongest headsets suffer damage over time and eventually need to be replaced.
There are a handful of parts that make up an entire headset for a road bike, and each part is important to understand and recognise. Most headsets consist of two 'cups' that hold on to the head tube from the top and bottom. Inside each cup is a bearing that keeps the cups from creating too much friction with the steerer on the bike. Each bearing runs on a 'race', which ensures that the bearing balls run smoothly. Typically there are four races in a headset. On top, there is the adjustable race, which is attached to the steerer. Under that, there is the upper head race, which is fixed to the top of the head tube. Then there is a lower head race that is attached to the bottom of the head tube, followed by the crown race, which is pressed onto the bottom of the steerer and on top of the crown.
As small as they may be, headsets for road bikes are one of the most important parts on a bicycle. By helping to ensure that the bike is able to move smoothly and properly, a quality headset makes for an overall enjoyable riding experience. However, one cannot merely pick any headset and have it installed on a bike. The process of choosing a headset is more tedious than that, given the number of sizes and types that are available for this particular part.
Types of Bike Headsets
In general, there are four main types of road bike headsets. There are differences between each type, and this can affect how the bike handles and steers. The common types of road bike headsets are conventional or threaded, threadless, integrated, and internal. It is important to note what type of headset one's bicycle first came with, as some bikes are only compatible with specific types of headsets.
Conventional Road Bike Headsets
Conventional road bike headsets, which are also known as threaded headsets, have all of the typical parts mentioned above, although they sometimes go by different names. This particular type of headset is meant to be used on a bicycle with a threaded in conventional headset, where the parts are not easily moved. This is because the bearing is pressed firmly into the cup to keep it from rolling around. The cup is then fixed to the frame.
Compared to other types of headsets, conventional ones are not as dynamic, given how the parts are firmly affixed to one another. This has caused conventional headsets to become less popular over the years, especially as new technologies have developed. However, because road bikes do not typically have to deal with riding over rocky surfaces, conventional headsets are still perfectly functional on road bikes.
A common issue with threaded headsets, however, is that they must be customised for each bike. This means that there are no standard versions of the headset, and this can make it more difficult to find and install the right headset.
Threadless Road Bike Headsets
Threadless road bike headsets are similar to threaded headsets in that they both use virtually all of the same parts in assembling the headset. However, threadless headsets can only be used on bicycles that have threadless steerers. Additionally, unlike threaded or conventional headsets, threadless ones have more standardised versions and are easier to install. Like threaded headsets, a threadless headset has cups that are attached directly onto the frame. Unlike threaded headsets, however, threadless versions are held in place using a compression device or a clamp. Threadless headsets also have a threadless top headset race and do not use threaded steerer tubes.
Integrated Road Bike Headsets
Integrated headsets differ more drastically from threadless and threaded headsets. These particular headsets completely eliminate the use of cups in a headset. Because of this lack of cups, the bearings no longer have anything to hold them in place. Instead, they are placed directly onto the frame's head tube. Overall, integrated road bike headsets include fewer parts and can create a more aesthetically pleasing appearance on the bike.
However, some manufacturers, such as Chris King, argue against the use of integrated headsets. They claim that by eliminating the cup pieces in the headset, the bearings are not completely attached to the frame. This could potentially result in increased damage to the bike's frame, which can be much more difficult to replace. Again, such damage is not as much of a worry for road bikes as opposed to mountain bikes, given the typically smoother riding. Standardisation of integrated headsets is also somewhat minimal, and this makes finding replacement parts more difficult.
Internal Road Bike Headsets
Internal headsets are essentially a combination of both conventional headsets and integrated ones. Like conventional versions, they have two cups that attach to the frame's head tube. However, like integrated headsets, this particular model has the headset's bearings inside the head tube as opposed to outside of it, thus the name 'internal'. Also, similarly to integrated headsets, internal road bike headsets can cause damage, as the bearings are, once again, not completely attached. However, in this case, it would cause damage to the cups, and they can be easily replaced.
Road Bike Headset Sizes
Given the countless different models of bikes on the market, headsets come in a variety of sizes to suit most bicycle versions. Size typically refers to the outer diameter of the fork steerer tube. The most common sizes are known as standard, oversize, and evolution.
Standard Headset Size
The standard size for road bike headsets is considered to be one inch in diameter for the fork steerer tube. Typically, this diameter is complemented by the head tube's inner diameter of 30.0 millimetres.
Oversize Headset Size
Road bike headsets that are considered to be oversize have a fork steerer tube that is 1⅛ inches in diameter. In order for a bike to use an oversize headset, it should have a head tube with an inner diameter of 34.0 millimetres.
The evolution size for road bike headsets, which was originally created by the Fisher bike brand, requires that bikes have a fork steerer tube that is 1¼ inches in diameter. This is the largest size, and the increased diameter allows for more ball bearings in the headset, along with a greater area for the bike to revolve around. Bikes using this size should have a head tube that is 37.0 millimetres in diameter.
Installing Road Bike Headsets
Given the number of moving parts involved in assembling a fully functioning road bike headset, it is of the utmost importance that the headset be installed properly. One should be sure to follow the exact instructions for the installation of a particular headset. Because of the differences between headset types, following the directions for one does not result in the proper installation of another headset model. Precision and focus are important to maintain when assembling any headset for a road bike.
How to Buy Road Bike Headsets on eBay
Although finding the correct headset may seem overwhelming at first, eBay makes navigating through the options easy. The search for the appropriate road bike headset can be started by clicking through the categories to find cycling products, but the quickest and easiest method for searching is to simply use the search bar on the eBay page or another site page. If you are searching for a particular model, size, or colour of headset, specific keywords should be used to conduct your search. The more detail you provide using keywords, the more focused the search results are. Alternatively, you can start with a general search and then use the filters on the results page to focus the results.
eBay makes the process of searching even simpler by noting top-rated sellers with an emblem on their product pages. Clicking on the seller's name or feedback number also gives you the opportunity to learn more about the seller by reviewing his or her previous feedback. Questions that you might have can also be asked directly to a seller.
Cycling is a sport that is beloved by countless people. Whether one is interested in riding a road bike competitively, for exercise, as transportation, or merely as a pastime, anyone can enjoy biking. However, bicycles are certainly complex devices, and understanding their different parts is important, albeit challenging. Although it may be one of the smallest parts on a road bicycle, a bike headset is undoubtedly crucial in order to maintain a properly functioning bike and also to ensure maximum enjoyment while riding one.
This small piece for a bicycle can be found at most bicycle repair shops, but the fastest way to find exactly the right piece is to look on eBay. However, understanding this small part can be confusing, as there are multiple options to choose from when it comes to headsets, and this makes finding the right one for a particular bike difficult. By knowing bike headset terminology, distinguishing between the different types of headsets available on the market, and knowing the sizing options and how to properly install a headset, anyone can purchase the perfect road bike headset with confidence.