There’s been a thread on the Yak! about headsets and many folks are recommending the Chris King GripNut headset.  It adds $120 relative to the standard headset and retails for $149 (buy one by clicking on that picture to your right or contacting us) so you might wonder why.

Well, I will tell you that when I was in customer service, this was one of the most common upgrades I helped people to.  Many of them didn’t even know the option existed, blaming the bike for what was ultimately a problem with the headset.  Because of this, I have made it my own personal vendetta to ensure that everyone knows about it and why it is valuable.

Though I’ve mentioned these lovely pieces of CNC artwork before, I’ve not gone into much detail except when interacting personally with people.  So here goes:

  • To absorb the shock from the smaller wheel, we use a larger than normal headset size, a 1.25″.
  • Chris King (from Portland, Oregon, USA) and First Components (from Taiwan) are the only two options in this size.  Chris King makes the best headset money can buy and First’s is among the least expensive options anywhere.
  • Furthermore, outside of having an awesome warranty (yes, 10 years; the best from Shimano on any component is 5) and having superb sealed cartridge bearings (versus the loose ball bearings on the First), the Chris King has a self-tightening “GripNut” system (the top nut causes a collet to expand against the lower nut) that won’t come loose despite vibration.  And since the headset is essentially a shock absorber on our bikes, it’s important to have such a thing in place.
  • Imagine what a loose headset feels like steering down a big mountainous descent with a fully loaded bike and you can imagine why I would recommend this to ANYONE that’s going to tour on our bikes, not to mention people that are going to use the bike a lot, are going to put a lot of weight on the bike, are going to be on any rough surfaces at all, and so on.  Even to the recreational folks, it can’t hurt, though the necessity is certainly less.
  • Lastly, I’ll say this:  you can always tighten a standard headset, but despite how vigilant you may be the headset is going to spend some time loose and during that process that bearings will slowly damage the cups and eventually trash the headset.  So you’ll have to replace it anyways.  At this point, most people are convinced a King is worth it, but then they have to pay for labor.  Why not save yourself the money and the headache and get it right the first time?
  • Also note that this means that this argument ONLY applies to our bikes– and that means that people who are used to big wheel bikes only will give you advice that doesn’t apply, however well meaning they are.

If you’re in need of one and don’t trust your local mechanic to the job (they might not have the right tools to install the oversized headset), contact our service department and I’m certain that they can set it up so that you can send the bike or some part of the bike in and we can install the headset for you.  No problem.  Heck, you might have us do a tune-up or an overhaul at the same time as there are some other specialized services that only the factory can offer.  Check out the service menu for more information.

edit 20 January 2010: As you can see below, the Chris King headsets aren’t as valuable on the tikits. The tikits use a threadless headset and we have a Problem Solvers locking adjustable headset spacer to adjust it and hold the adjustment in place. This works a wee better than the standard Diatech headset, which simply uses a clamp on top of a conical piece. It should, and does, hold its adjustment pretty well. Frankly, it’s easier to adjust. Still, the King excels in terms of the quality of the bearings. By far. So don’t think I’m saying not to get one. I would recommend it if you’re going to be commuting and/or if you’re in wet, muddy, dirty, or salty conditions.

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