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How to choose a mountain bike headset: The headset is what allows the fork to rotate smoothly and consistently. Upgrading your headset can greatly improve control, reduce maintenance and even add a bit of personal flair to any ride.



There are three major types of headsets: threadless, integrated and adjustable. The basic structure is the same for all types, and they consists of a pair of cups that are seated into the top and bottom of the headtube. Both of these cups house a bearing. The lower bearing rests on the fork's crown on a crown race. Everything is connected on top by a bolt that passes through the headset's top-cap and threads into the star nut in the steerer tube. Installation requires special tools, but is otherwise quite simple.

Standard threadless headsets are the most common type and are a proven design for performance and durability.

Integrated headsets are actually part of the frame. Rather than using cups that are pressed into the frame, frames equipped with integrated headset systems have recesses purposely machined into their headtubes to house bearings.

Adjustable headsets allow for the adjustment of the frame's headangle thanks to an asymmetrical cup design. They are popular for downhill racers looking to increase their ability to customize their bikes depending on the terrain.


Headsets come in four sizes depending on the diameter of the frames headtube and forks steerer tube: 1 1/8", 1 1/2", 1 1/8" to 1 1/2" tapered, and 1 1/2" to 1 1/8" conversion. 1 1/8" is the standard size for most mountain bikes. The 1 1/2" diameter was created for freeride and downhill frames for increased strength. 1 1/2" diameter frames can easily accept forks with 1 1/8" steerer tubes thanks to a specifically designed headset. Frames with headtubes that taper from 1 1/2" at the bottom to 1 1/8" on top require a tapered headset with corresponding cups.


Headset cups are made of aluminum, with the exception of some high-end titanium models. Bearings are available in loose pack, sealed and ceramic versions depending on the quality of the headset. Top caps are either made of aluminum, plastic, carbon fiber or titanium.

Things To Look For

When shopping around for a new headset, there are only a couple of things to keep in mind: the weight, quality of the bearings and available colors. Weight is a no-brainer: a lighter headset can shed a few grams off your bike's total weight. Bearings, on the other hand, affect the component's performance much more. The two major bearing types are loose pack and sealed. Spending a little extra for sealed bearings is a worthy investment as they are more durable. Finally, changing the color of your headset can enhance the appearance of your bike and give it some new life.

How Much To Spend

Headsets range in price from $20 to $300.

Models in the $20-$75 range are available in every size, with either sealed or loose packed bearings, and aluminum cups and top caps.

Upgrading to the $75-$150 range, products are made with greater attention to detail and superior materials to deliver better performance and exquisite looks.

Headsets costing between $150 and $300 are top of the line products. They use materials like titanium, carbon fiber and ceramic bearing to deliver unparalleled performance. Adjustable headsets are only available in this price range.

Product Reviews

Before buying, be sure to do your research and read product reviews. Reviews are a great way to find out specifics about a particular model, user impressions, and things to watch out for. After you've purchased a product and had enough time to thoroughly test it, we encourage you to leave a review for other people to see when they are researching bikes and parts on the web.

We hope you've found this information to be helpful. If you have a question that isn't answered in this guide, our mountain bike forums are a great place to get advice from knowledgeable riders. Your local bike shop is also a great resource.

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