Best Bike Headsets

Updated September 2021
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Buying guide for best bike headsets

If your bike headset is working properly, you don’t know it’s there. Yet you shouldn’t overlook its importance to steering and efficient braking. If you notice play in the handlebars, a grating sound when you turn, or juddering from the forks as you try to stop, there’s a good chance the headset is worn. Lubrication might provide a temporary fix, but it almost certainly needs replacing — and the sooner the better. It’s not safe to ride a bike in that condition.

What used to be a job for a bike shop is well within the capabilities of many enthusiasts with a modest investment in tools. If you’re a keen mountain biker or road racer, it’s an affordable fix.

The challenge is choosing the right bike headset, and that’s where our concise review can help. Our recommendations show a cross section of models that will fit many different bikes, and in the following buying guide we look at their specifications in more detail.

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Pick your front wheel up by the handlebars, up to a foot off the ground, and drop it so the wheel bounces. If you hear rattling, a worn headset is probably the cause.



Your bike headset comprises bearings and other components that hold the top part of the fork (called the fork steerer or steerer tube) firmly in place in the head tube of your bike frame and allow it to rotate smoothly. There are two main types: threaded and threadless.

Threaded: These bike headsets accept a steerer tube with a threaded top. It’s a design that was used for decades. You’ll find them on many older bikes but not so often on modern ones, though cheap bikes still use them.

Threadless: These bike headsets are effectively a push fit. They’re less complex and so easier to work with, but they need to be made to a fine tolerance, which usually makes them a little more expensive. Threadless bike headsets can be divided into two types:

  • Conventional: Bearing bodies (cups) are visible at the top and bottom of the head tube.
  • Integrated: Cups are hidden within the tube.

These are the basic configurations of all headsets, though there are variations found in high-end racing bikes (road and off-road). If you’re buying a bike of that quality, you may have minimal choice and need to replace the headset with a specific model.



If your bike is fairly new, or it’s a clearly identifiable brand, you may be able to find the size of the required headset in the owner’s manual or online. The headset itself may have some form of identification, but many do not.

Head tube: If those details aren’t readily available, you’ll need to measure the diameter of the head tube. You can’t do it from the outside, which means you’ll need to remove your existing headset. It’s important to measure both the top and bottom tube diameters. Although straight tubes are common, they’re often thicker at the bottom than the top.

Fork steerer: You’ll also need to know the top and bottom diameters of the fork steerer. Again, these may differ because many fork steerers are tapered.

Contact angle: The final thing you have to check is the contact angle, which should be marked on your existing headset. These are usually 46° but sometimes 36°.

Those dimensions give you the main parameters: the outside and inside diameters of the top and bottom bearings for the headset. Once you know these, it’s a question of whether you want to go for a budget headset or something of better quality. We always recommend buying the best you can afford, both for ride and handling quality and durability.


Caps and other components may be steel on budget versions, but aluminum is used on better models. Likewise, steel is commonly used for the bearing race (the shell that holds all the balls in place), with stainless steel for the balls themselves. In racing equipment, where saving weight is important, they can be steel and aluminum hybrids. There are several grades of aluminum, 6061, 7075, and so on, so if you’re looking for top performance, it’s worth investigating the properties of each before you decide. In particularly exotic racing equipment, the bearings may be Teflon (PTFE). These have low weight and produce very little friction.

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If you decide to service or replace your bike headset yourself, be patient and careful. A slip could take a chunk out of the frame, which is a difficult and expensive repair.


Q. How long will my bike headset last?
It’s difficult to say. If you’re a road rider, or you only ride on gentle trails occasionally, you may never need to change it. If you’re a competitive road racer, or you’re in the hills every chance you get, it may be just a few months.

Q. Can I repair a worn headset, or do I replace the whole thing?
It depends on the type. Some older screw-in styles are designed to be disassembled and serviced. The modern cartridge type is intended to be replaced completely. Manufacturers often call them “sealed for life.” They can be taken apart, but it’s seldom worth the time and effort.

Q. How easy is it to change a bike headset?
Taking one out isn’t difficult with a few basic tools, and it will be no surprise that there are lots of helpful videos online. To fit a new one, you may need a headset press. They aren’t cheap, but one is a viable investment for enthusiasts.

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