Assuming you’re new to the world of bikes, there are a few important components to be aware of in the event that you need to replace pieces of your bike. Sure, there are the wheels and brakes to consider, but your bike is a finely-tuned machine with intricately-connected parts that must work in sync for the vehicle to keep functioning.
In an ideal world, you would be able to swap bike parts interchangeably, no matter their make or model. Sadly, that’s not the case as some components come with completely incompatible specs that would ruin your bike if you ever tried to mesh them together.
However, this guide will break down how to use alternate headsets on different bike frames without giving yourself a headache.
What is a Headset?
A headset is an essential part of your bike since it’s the bearing that connects your bike fork to the head tube of the bike frame and allows for rotation. Since the head tube is the section of the bike that the fork steerer goes through, the headset is also crucial for balance and steering.
Headsets are comprised of four parts, commonly referred to as races, that extend from top to bottom as such:
- The adjustable race – the first part that connects to the fork steerer
- The upper head race – fits into the upper part of the head tube
- The lower head race – fits into the lower part of the head tube
- The crown race – fits into the bottom of the steer, right above the crown
Each part is attached using a special fit between the surface of the cylinders where the inner diameter of the outer sections (like for the head tube and crown race) is marginally smaller than the outer diameter of the next corresponding section (such as with the head race).
Together, these all work as a single unit, which typically requires a bit of force to separate and reassemble, yet newer headset models generally sport slip-fit parts these days for added ease.
Headsets come in two types, either traditional threaded headsets or newer threadless headsets. The original threaded versions fit forks made with threaded steerers where the top race is securely screwed into the steers and then locked in place with another screw, typically a locknut.
On the other hand, more modern threadless headsets fit forks made with unthreaded steers and are held to the top race via a clamp or collar. Sometimes, in threadless headsets, the handlebar stem also acts as this place-holder.
Thankfully, these two types of headsets can be used nearly interchangeably, yet there are a few caveats.
Can I Use a Threadless Fork on a Threaded Frame?
To summarize, yes, you can use a threadless fork on a threaded frame. Yet, there are a few factors to consider first.
While most bikes can easily switch between headset styles, the size of the replacement must match that of the original headset. However, this can be hard to determine as the size depends on the outer diameter of the steerer, which is inside the head tube and, therefore, not visible from outside a fully-assembled bike.
Still, while the majority of bikes have 1-inch-size headsets, there are a few that use 1 ⅛-inch-size. To try and eye-ball this, take a US quarter and place it to the outside of your headset. Considering 1-inch headsets are typically narrower than the coin while 1 ⅛ -inch headsets are slightly wider, there should be a notable difference.
If you want to swap out your threaded fork for a threadless one, simply get a new fork, headset, and handlebar stem in the correct size, and you’ll be good to go! This video by “RJ The Bike Guy” shows how to do this:
Alternatively, you could also buy a threadless adapter (again, check the size) to put into your threaded steerer tube, which you can then attach to your threadless headset, no more assembly required.
If you’ve been yearning to replace your old threaded headset with a more innovative threadless model, you will be able to breathe easier, knowing that it is not only doable but barely an inconvenience. Simply make sure to check your bike parts’ sizes to make sure they’re compatible, and you will be back on the road with a fresh new headset before you know it.