Not having the coolest components on your bike can feel a little like being a teenager who spends the weekend with a glue gun and science-fair project while the guys from school are winning football games and making out with cheerleaders. At least that’s what I think it feels like. I never actually had the brains or motivation to compete in a science fair.
I often feel twinges of lust when I catch a glimpse of someone else’s fancy bike bling, especially if it’s a shiny bit that I’ve coveted for years. Chris King’s components fall into that category. I’ve never experienced the rite of passage that involves pressing those boutique-brand headset cups into a bike frame.
Some friends would never lower themselves to using a lesser brand. They’d accuse me of being a cheap bastard—after all, a fancy headset costs something like $125. Not that much in the big picture, considering that most of us own a few thousand dollars worth of bike gear. But that’s still a lot of bucks for a basic part. I blame my perspective on a sound sense of frugality.
Even with my meager math skills, I can figure out that for the price of a Chris King headset, I could buy two from Cane Creek and still have enough money left over to buy a case of decent beer. When you’re building up a new bike, that price difference covers another component or two. And when you really get down to it, how good does a headset have to be? All it has to do is turn a little left, then a little right, then a little left … over and over. With decent construction, proper adjustment and sealed bearings, most of my cheaper headsets work flawlessly for years without requiring any attention.
Over the past 20 years, I think the only headset I ever managed to “wear out” was the one on my old Stumpjumper when the bike was clamped to my roof rack as I drove into the garage and damn near ripped the steerer tube clean out of the fork crown. The bearings got pressed into the races like bite marks. I doubt that a Chris King model would have fared any better—it just would have cost more to replace.
I still want one, but don’t expect to see one on any of my bikes any time soon.