Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Boutique vs. basic

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.

5 comments:

Jeff Moser said...

This post hits home for sure! I have my eye on a Karate Monkey frame, and want to put a Chris King headset into it. No reason really other than I feel like I'm supposed to. And it looks cool. Like you say, even a budget headset does pretty well at its mundane job.

Chris King hubs though...beautiful, but noisy. I like the sound of a high end hub, but these things sound like you're being chased by fly fisherman. Torn on these...

bikegirl said...

Tim, I must confess. I have a King. I'll have had it for 10 years this August. It's red and smooth as butter. It used to be on my Sugar. Then on my XCal. I just put it on my Fargo. It would be on my Giant, but isn't compatible. And it wouldn't have matched the other components...

It's still pretty, though a tad faded (kind of like those former cheerleaders). Having one bling part is like having one sequined top. Is there a guy equivalent? Maybe a velvet suit? Anyway. Which bike would you put it on?

Notorious T said...

If I got one, it would have to go on the Epic. The road bike is worthy, but it has those newfangled internal headset components. Overpriced bling would look pretty silly on my Pugsley or the 14-year-old Stumpjumper I use as a singlespeed commuter.

shrek said...

the best headset....silky smooth for 10 years. I also like my phil wood 36 hole tandem hubs, ryno lite dh rims, 14gauge spokes. I got the classic heavy duty stuf..

Paul said...

I put a new-old-stock Dura Ace on my 27-year-old Raleigh Super Course after I wore out the original headset. It is so much nicer, and smoother, and more precise than what was on there it feels like a new bike. The front end is now rock solid. Some things are worth the money, especially if I get another 27 years out of this bike.