Nestled somewhere in the heat of the desert at Outerbike 2011, the VP Components booth beckoned us to stop by for a test ride. The objective was to try out the VP Varial headset - VP's new angle adjustable offering - on Bootleg's varied terrain.
The headset allows you to make up to 3° of stepless head angle adjustments without needing to remove headset cups. All that's required is a 4mm allen key and a few minutes.
VP Varial (VP-ADJ01) Specifications
- Adjustable headset that can be used "on the fly" (almost)
- +/- 1.5° of adjustment (based on 100mm length headtube)
- Infinitely adjustable (pick any angle +/- 1.5° of stock)
- Fits 1.5" head tubes only
- Compatible with 1 1/8” straight and 1 1/8” to 1.5” tapered steerer tubes
- Material: 7075 T6 Aluminum
- Colors: Black or Silver
- Bearings: Sealed cartridge
- Stack height: 15.7mm (top), 6.8mm (bottom) = 22.5mm total
- Weight: 186 grams
- Production will be underway in January
- Comparable pricing to other current market offerings
I have to admit, compared to most headsets the VP Varial headset is a bit awkward looking. The upper cup is quite sizable - so much so that you'll need to double check your stem's steering clearance when installing it. Stack height wise, however, it's on par with most external headsets.
Appearance and size aside, fabrication appeared to be spot on and well thought out.
How It Works
The lower bearing uses a conically shaped outer race that is manufactured by VP Components. This allows the bearing to pivot freely in the lower cup while adjustments are made.
The top cup assembly is a bit more complicated. An offset gimbal rests in a conical depression on a sliding plate. Because the plate can only slide side-to-side and not forward and backwards, the head angle can only can get steeper or slacker. Rest assured that it's not possible to make the fork loose it's alignment with the center of the bike. There are two clamps on top of the sliding plate that tighten down to hold everything in place.
To adjust the head angle, simply loosen the two 4mm allen bolts on top of the sliding plate, loosen the stem bolts and top cap, lift the front end off the ground and turn the handy adjustment key. Once adjustments have been made, while still holding the bike off the ground, lock the angle into place by snugging down the two 4mm bolts on the sliding plate. At this point you can let the bike can rest on the ground and re-tighten the top cap and stem bolts.
Watch this video to see it in action. Be sure to watch the fork in relation to the frame as adjustments are being made.
After a quick demo, VP's USA Brand Manger, Erik Saunders, and I headed out for short ride to test it out.
How Did It Ride?
I left the parking lot with the stock head angle in place.
Half way up the climb I stopped, busted out my multi-tool and steepened the front end as much as possible. The process was a little clumsy the first time, mostly because you have to hold the front end up off the ground while adjusting the headset. While one hand was holding my ride up, the other was fumbling around trying to not drop the multi-tool, turn the key adjustment on the headset, and keep my bars from rotating all over the place. Once everything was snugged back up we continued to the top of the hill. The degree and a half adjustment made a noticeable and positive difference in how the bike climbed, especially over rough terrain.
Up top, I decided to slacken the bike out all the way in order to see what the extremes were like. My second time adjusting the headset went much smoother and seemed less awkward. The whole process only took about two minutes this time, and juggling everything at once no longer seemed like a big issue. A little practice always helps, right?
The bike was now in super slack and low mode. Predictably, steering was slower, the bike was more stable, and the slack angle was more forgiving over rough terrain. For all intents and purposes, the headset did its job.
Three degrees of head angle adjustment is HUGE on any bike, and because the whole process only takes a few minutes, the change is even more noticeable. Most users probably won't use the extremes like I did, but it's possible to drastically change the geometry and ride characteristics of a bike using this headset.
On a mellow part of the the ride back down, I really wrenched on the bars, back and forth, side to side. The headset proved to be just as stiff and solid as any normal headset, but there was a very slight creak each time I did this. It was less noticeable than the knock found in some other adjustable headsets, but it still creaked. Because the lower cup uses a conical bearing, the contact area between the bearing and lower cup is much greater than a typical headset. With the greater contact area comes a greater need to keep the headset clean and lubed internally. Erik noted contamination as the likely source of the small creak and that cleaning it would help.
I see this as being a cool tool for racers who feel they need to dial in their head angle for different courses (Pietermaritzburg versus Schladming comes to mind), for designers who need to finalize the stock head angle of frames prior to production, and for the curious souls that simply like to tinker. It would even be handy if you routinely go on rides that have long, sustained uphills before big descents.
Because the headset only works with 1.5" head tubes, applications are pretty limited right now, but VP noted that additional sizes might be offered in the future.
Want to find your perfect angle? Cruise over to www.vp-usa.com to check out VP's full range of headsets, pedals, and accessories.