I recently misdiagnosed a creaking thru-axle (after basically disassembling and reassembling my bike 386 times)as a bad headset and ordered a Wolftooth Premium ZS44/EC40 headset in purple. It’s already arrived and I kind of want to install it because well… it’s anodized purple. My question is despite riding 9000 miles a year, I don’t think I’ve ever needed to replace a headset because of wear on a road bike (I had one rust out due to some carelessness with a pressure washer but it was integrated and I just dropped some bearings in)but have never had an EC lower before. Are they as reliable as integrated bearings?
Reason I ask is because this $80 headset starts to creep up to $200 once you add in all the tools and doodads needed to press in the cups and swap out the crown races so if this isn’t something I’m going to do more than once or twice in my life (doubt I’m getting another frame with EC/ZS headset) I think I’d be better off just paying a shop to do it. Maybe I’ve just been lucky though so I’ll get a temperature check from the room to see how often you’re swapping headsets.
My LBS charged me the princely sum of £10 to press in some headset cups recently.
I use Hope conventional headsets and the bearings can just be removed from the cups by hand so I should never need to mess about with the cups again.
If you’ve got a local LBS who you get along with like I do, get them to do it.
If you live somewhere that isn’t constantly raining and you’re willing to drop out your fork and regrease everything once or twice a year, then a headset should last many years. Of course if you ride in the rain a lot or off-road then it will be different, but in my experience headset bearings on a road bike can practically last forever with regular maintenance.
I don’t think I have ever had a modern headset BEARING fail. I have had rusting on the outside of the races. I clean that off about twice a year or so. Back when headsets were loose balls I would eventually get brinelling of the races but the balls themselves were usually in good condition. I would change them along with the races.
If the anodized purple headset would give you a placebo effect, then you must have it installed.
I’ve only really had Campagnolo threadless headsets fail on me in the past so I went to Chris King and Cane Creek. Both really reliable and I usually press my own cups into the frame.
I have never replaced a headset (once, but was chasing a creak, not necessary) on any bike, including my commuter which see the worst weather and is over 15 yrs old. Thanks Chris King.
Now that I have fully integrated front ends I will for sure have to replace the bears right?
Not if you stick with Chris King…but, those sucky people do not make the proper headset for my new S-Works (had to go with Cane Creek)…
I’ve had the same bike for 7 years. I’ve had to replace the Integrated lower headset 3 times in 7 years due to water penetration causing rust in the bearings.
I live in the UK and ride when roads are wet/dirty/damp, although I try to avoid riding in the rain.
The spray and road grit coming off the front wheel seeps into the lower headset bearing cartridge over time and eventually it decays.
I consider this to be a consumable part (like a chain) and accept that it needs to be replaced every few years. It costs around $30 for the replacement, very easy to do at home, less than 10 minutes and only Allen keys needed.
I’ve never replaced the upper headset bearing, which doesn’t get much spray or road grit
Only had issue on regularly powerwashed cyclocross bikes.
On all my other bikes headset lasted my life with them and my oldest bike which is 30y old is still using the original threaded one. A stronglight from memory.
Stronglight - dang, we are old.
Stronglight and Spécialités TA may not be as big as they used to be but they are still around and are still my go to when I need new chainrings, especially when looking for tooth counts different than the standards.
As others have said the bottom bearing is likely to be the one that will need attention - I recently had to Dremel one out as the races had bonded to the frame. This was on my winter / training bike which I ride all year in the UK in all weather. If you only ride in good weather it may never be an issue for you.
I live in Scottsdale, Arizona so good to know I’ll never need to change the headset since it rains like once every 4 months here so the most water I get is Going up and down Mt Lemmon a few times in the winter. Thanks for the info. I always thought I was an outlier but I guess headsets are one thing in cycling that just seem to work even if you get a cheap one.
A decent headset (doesn’t have to be Chris King or even Hope, plenty decent affordable ones around: FSA, Acros… ) PLUS copious amounts of industrial grease can help a bit. BTW, Lizard Skins also sells a neoprene headset protector for external cups.
I like to think that headsets will last the life of the frame. Or maybe I’ve been lucky w Campy and CK headsets?
I think as noted above, riding conditions matter hugely when it comes to headset bearing life. Full front mudguards will go a long way to protecting headset bearings in the rain.
I’m sure that no one on this forum is silly enough to do this but sweat will kill a bearing in no time if the headset is uncovered when on the turbo.
Lower headset bearings seem to die quite fast on my Pinarello Prince. I assume it’s because the gap between frame and fork is exactly aligned with the direction of road spray from the front wheel…
Anyway I may look for a lower bearing with solid lube if the new one dies as fast as the original one…
My bike is 8 years old and I still have the same headset. Canecreek 40 zs 44/ ec 44. Only cleaned the crown race 3 or 4 times during these years.
Had to replace both lower and upper headset bearings after just over 2 years / 16,800km. I rarely ride in the wet (primarily to save the drivetrain from muck, and to stay upright; I don’t overly mind getting wet) but ride about 20% gravel. I have a separate bike for the trainer.
The fork crown was caked in gravel dust and some had inevitably made its way into the lower headset bearing. Replaced it with a Cane Creek.
The upper headset bearing had a rusted bearing race, I can only assume it was from sweat. Took the LBS a few hours of coaxing to remove the race.
Maybe I just need to tear it down every 6 months and clean it out/re-grease it.