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integrated headsets(3 posts)

integrated headsetsArt853
May 30, 2003 11:39 AM
In brief, I'm wondering what the benefits and drawbacks are to integrated headsets?

I'm thinking of buying a new bicycle and I would like it to last a long time and have parts available for it decades into the future. Bicycling magazine made a comment about the unproven track record of integrated headsets and their potential to damage the frame. Given the high cost of a quality bicycle, a design detail that has questionable reliability, uncertain benefit, and can potentially influence the frame lifetime seems to be major design flaw.

I searched the web for some information about integrated and internal headsets and found a document on them by Chris King.

According to this document Integrated headsets have the following drawbacks:

Bearing system does not positively attach the bearing to the frame, leaving the bearing to "float" resulting in wear and impact damage to the frame.
Each manufacturer has their own sizing with no standardization. As a result, there are multiple bearing types and sizes (some of which have been discontinued with no replacement options).
Integrated headset cannot be converted to conventional or to internal headsets.
They have four dynamic surfaces as opposed to two dynamic surfaces in a conventional headset, and dirt and abrasives will wear away at frame. This also leads to more "slop" in the steering column.
Wear will be considered "normal wear and tear" by the frame maker and not covered by warrantee.
Problems to the frame with integrated headsets cannot be fixed by the shop.
Conventional headsets are easily replaced if damaged and do not result in damage to the frame.

Integrated headsets have the following benefits:

Removes two 12 gram cups
It looks nicer to some people
Larger tube diameter results in stronger/stiffer front triangle (according to shop owners)

Perceived benefits of integrated headsets, and why they are not correct according to King:

The bike steers more precisely. False since there are additional dynamic surfaces in an integrated headset. The resulting "slop" leads to less steering precision.
Easier to service. But it was not difficult to begin with.
The bikes are stronger and lighter. The headset components may be lighter but the top tube and down tube must increase in diameter and weight in order to fit the larger integrated head tube.

Here are a few general questions about these headsets.

What are the advantages and disadvantages to these integrated and internal headsets?
Do integrated and internal headsets result in better steering performance? How?
Are integrated headsets as problematic as the Chris King document make them out to be?
If so, why are many bike manufacturers using them?
I'm assuming that integrated and internal headset bearings will be much more difficult to replace in the future, especially if they are manufacturer specific designs. Is that correct?

The Chris King document may be obtained at:
(standard) Headsets Explained.pdf
(PDF version)
answered your own question. nm.alansutton
May 30, 2003 11:57 AM
re: integrated headsetsSteve Bailey
May 31, 2003 8:21 AM
As a new owner of a Lemond Victoire frame with a Cane Creek integrated, I'll weigh in that there is no advantage I can discover other then fashion. So why did I go integrated ?, 'cause it was a warrenty replacment frame for a broken Klein and it was a steal for a butted Ti frame. I too did research about the whole issue and found that while the King site was informative, it was also somewhat self serving from a manufacturer that was slow to jump on the integrated bandwagon. You get different opinions from Cane Creek and FSA, so take it all with a grain of salt.

I too am of the opinion that the future reliability of an integrated headset is very dependent on the frame manufacturer building the headtube to fine tolerances so as to avoid issues with binding and to build with materials that will stand up over the test of time. I have doubts that integrated aluminum headtubes will last, but felt OK with a titanium version. I'm also aware that the headsets in use have angular contact bearings that generally are far less prone to briniling (sp?) then loose ball/cartridge designs. Bottom line is that Trek/Lemond/Klein et. all have a terrific warrenty - they have to given all the initial teething problems with OCLV, and am confident that the manufacturer will deal with any problems I might have in the future.

My choice would have been a 1" design, or even a 1-1/8", but would guess that 10 years from now, 1-1/8" headsets and parts will be more widely available then 1".

My recomendation if you want a bike that will last decades is to either check out the Rivendell stuff as they sell gear that is mechanically simple (friction shifters/toe-clip pedals) or to buy spares of whatever you choose (spare rings, bottom brackets, cogsets, chains, headsets) so that you at least have the parts available for when the current crop of the latest and greatest becomes obsolete

Steve B.