In this second installment of Tech Talk, mechanic Tim Laflin explores the world of the important but often forgotten headset. Here's how Campy's headsets "stack up" (get it?) against the competition:

What is the big deal with headsets? They doesn`t cost that much. I just put a new one on when I need it.

Campy and Shimano have taken two different routes in this area. Is Campy still in the dark ages with their old all bearing setup (new '97 is roller bearing on some models)? Shimano is using cartridge bearing in the Dura-Ace and 600. It might seem this way to the marketing guys that sell the stuff, but the fact of the matter is that Campy uses a full contact O-ring seal on their headset that keeps the dirt out. Campy headsets last quite a while.

Shimano used to use plastic and metal rings to seal the headsets that did not seal well enough to keep the grease in or the dirt out. Older Dura-Ace was the best and they did not live long. Riders with older 600 headsets were getting mad about the longevity of the headset. Shimano jumped in and made a sealed unit for the headset and corrected the problem. The 105 has not received this upgrade. A 105 headset is a piece of junk. It has almost no seal and rolls like a Campy without bearings. If you have one upgrade to make in 105 it is the headset. The point is the new units work well and last quite a while.

Campy has taken the other road. The Campy unit is easy to service and is well sealed. If it is properly lubricated it lasts for years. It seems the thought was to make the headset able to last as long as the rest of the gruppo. The Record headset can be lubed from outside and never needs to be disassembled. Veloce and Athena do not have this feature, but have the same design and seals. The view from Shimano is that the user will buy a new set of sealed units every time they need them. This is convenient, but with the way Shimano outdates the equipment, you may have trouble getting service parts.

The Shimano sealed units are not off the shelf bearings so you are dependent on service parts for Shimano. Campy headsets can last as long as you own the bike, if properly serviced and run on plain off the shelf bearings if you ever need them.

The decision is up to you. If you do not take care of your equipment the Shimano route is probably for you.

So why so Campy and Shimano not make an Aheadset for the road? The bottom line is adjustability. It is not that they do not have the technology. Aheadsets are not easy to adjust and they do not save much if any weight. I have been through the building math with Aheadsets and the savings is like 30 to 50 grams for Aheadsets if you do not add in the stack washers. If you want to keep the adjustability of the quill stem with an Ahead design it actually weighs more than a threaded headset. The addition of the extra steer tube, plus washers, starnut or other bearing adjuster adds up to no savings. The other problem is you can't take a spare bike to a race and quickly adjust it to another rider in an emergency with and Ahead design. A standard quill stem can make inches of adjustment in seconds and be ready to ride. Riders will change the bar height to time trial and road race or sprint and this just does not lend itself to an Ahead design.

Shimano and Campy deserve a well done on the headset front for making more reliable units and getting the weight down to around 100 grams. Last years Campy units tipped the scales at around 150 to 160 grams and the new Shimano sealed units are in the 100 gram area also. It no longer pays to go for the trick headset to save weight.

Tim Laflin

We created this page on March 23, 1997

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