it's all in your head

chris king headset

i live in an agricultural community, and not too far from the island's abattoir (actually, nowhere is too far from the abattoir), so despite my long-lived vegetarianism, it is all too apparent where the meat on someone else's plate comes from. this contrasts, apparently, with those who live in the more urban regions of the united kingdom, and, for all i know, several other international locations besides. i can remember not whether the survey on which i am about to make comment was carried out solely on children in those areas, or whether adults were included too, but it seems that not everyone is imbibed with the same information to which i am party. several of the respondents, when asked where meat came from, answered 'the supermarket' (strangely, butchers' shops seem not to have featured).

us country hicks can certainly laugh, and more than likely do, but surrounded by buildings, roads, cars and buses, it's easy to see where the misdemeanour has been inculcated amongst city folks. there are likely many examples of the same misapprehensions all across the social strata, but this is the one most often cited. it's at least a part of the reason for the rise in number of city farms.

based on no research whatsoever, no officially conducted surveys, and pretty much assimilation of hearsay and observation, there seems to be a breed of cyclist suffering from a similar malady with regard to componentry. in my early days as a practicing obsessive, the bulk of advertisements featured in our only outlet to sanity, the back pages of the comic, were for bicycle frames, both classified and the regular retail channels. this state of affairs harked back to the 1950s when, in the uk, purchase tax was applied to complete bicycles, but not to frames and components purchased separately. thus, the budding cyclist, bereft of a pretty penny, could acquire frame plus groupset and assemble a bicycle without contributing to the national coffers.

in order to make pragmatic choices regarding both, it will be quite obvious that a modicum of knowledge regarding each component, what it did, and where it would be placed, inserted, bolted or clamped on the bicycle frame, would be an over-riding necessity. granted, things were a lot simpler in those times, with far fewer variations on a theme, and far fewer hours of frustration, desperately trying to figure out why index gears simply wouldn't. nowadays, more and more manufacturers are offering complete bicycles, such is the benefit of far eastern construction. thus, often the first inkling that the modern acolyte has that his bicycle even possesses a specific component, is when the local bike shop mechanic informs him/her that it is gubbed, to use a fine example of glasgow vernacular.

chris king headset

thus, if i may, i'd like to relate this componentiary astigmatism to the chris king cielo that sits in thewashingmachinepost bikeshed. it is currently devoid of a couple of bits (to use a technical term) that i intend fitting before we go out together and explore the new homeland, but it already features a few rather idealistic components that will make this one of the best specced bicycles this side of easter island. and one of those beautiful blue anodised components is that which made chris king a name worthy of our reverence.

the headset.

many will be glad that i gloss over the technicalities, partly to save lengthy tedium, and partly in an attempt to safeguard the extent of my ignorance of such matters. basically, the headset facilitates the ability of the fork to steer inside the head tube. since it requires to do this as smoothly as possible, the ideal way is to place bearings at the top of the tube, bearings at the bottom and have the steerer rotate within. for those with even less mechanical nous than that possessed by myself, it seems worth pointing out a couple of flaws in this otherwise ingenious system.

firstly, placing screeds of little ball bearings inside tidily made aluminium casings, smothered in as much grease as possible, doesn't, you will be unhappy to hear, exclude all the crud and rain that britain has in greater amounts than any other european country. thus, in order to keep the little shiny chaps rotating in perfect harmony, it's often necessary to disassemble the edifice at regular intervals, clean and inspect before putting it all back together again possibly with new bearings and definitely new grease. unfortunately, few of us are as conscientious as a pro team mechanic, so the likelihood is that this will be carried out far less than strictly necessary.

the second problem is that while the steering works in rotational fashion, the front fork (and the rest of the bicycle, come to that) is acted on in a vertical fashion. cattle grids do not enhance this process. therefore the bearings in the lower part of the headset get battered silly on occasion, resulting in what you may have experienced as indexed steering, though technically, it's known as brinelling. when that happens, it's new headset time.

chris king headset

in 1976, chris king designed the first sealed bearing headset, and more or less solved both problems in one swell foop. sealed, or cartridge, bearings consist of an inner steel ring, and an outer steel ring, with the bearings sandwiched in between. the bearings are greased and hidden behind seals and snap rings. the ingress of gloop and yuk has been all but prevented, and the bearings themselves no longer run on races that could conceivably suffer from brinelling. it gives an indication of the faith chris king components place on their headsets, that each arrives with a ten year warranty.

ostensibly a modest amount of maintenance is still required periodically, but i know of one or two folks who have had the same headset on several bikes, without so much as showing it a tub of grease, yet all is well with the world. chris king can offer this length of warranty without losing sleep at night because, unlike almost everybody else, they manufacture the bearings in-house at their portland facility to exacting medical standards, and everything is hand-checked before despatch.

the original headset from 1976 still works; it's currently sitting on the window-sill next to the boss's desk (or it was last may). the range has increased over the intervening years to take account of the varying trends that afflict the bicycle industry. the no threadset fitted to the head-tube of the cielo is of the 1.125" variety, and even straight out of its box drives like a hot knife through butter. and it assembled with considerably less fuss than the sky team press launch.

when so much in the bicycle industry seems to have become prey to the demands of mass production, it's of great comfort (to me at least) that the bicycle i am about to spend a large part of my year with, features such manual attention to detail on those components of which some might not even be aware. every now and again substance and style can be very happy and contented bedfellows.

chris king | cielo by chris king


posted tuesday 5 january 2010