28 February, 2008

Sad Headset News


The legendary Stronglight A9 headset has gone out of production. This was one of the best all around headsets ever produced. From VO's product description:

The roller bearing Stronglight A9 headset is one of those special components that defy time. It's roller bearings last for ages, it is very light, it does not develop indexing, it has classic good looks, and it is reasonably priced. In fact, it makes you wonder why anyone else bothers to make headsets.

1-inch threaded; weight: 82 grams; stack height 37mm.
We've sold hundreds of these. I can't imagine why such a popular component would be discontinued. I was told that a replacement headset would be available in spring.

You may remember the Delta headset that was discontinued last year. It was like the legendary A9 headsets and used the same roller bearing, but the Delta had improved seals for cyclo-cross and mountain bikes. They are one of our all time favorite headsets. Well we found a small stash of them, but only in French thread.

I suppose it's time to look for a new headset to stock.

40 comments:

BG said...

Who knows why? Not enough demand? Too much competition from Asian competitors?

I anguished a bit over the demise of the TA Zephyr, and before that many of the superlative Mavic components. Why the French cycling component manufacturers do what they do has long baffled me. I owned the headset you critiqued here. It was nice. It had soft adjustment flats that required a careful touch so as not to mar the finish. In comparison, the Chris King headsets are nicer and tougher IMO - albeit pricey pieces of metal.

C said...

It's hard for me to mourn the loss of threaded headsets that relied on awkward lock nuts to adjust. It was at best a fiddly process. The threadless systems are much easier to adjust and less prone to going out of adjustment. Still, there are lots of fine frames/forks built around threaded steer tubes. For them I consider the Stronglight X-14 to be the pinnacle of threaded headset technology. The X-14 rivaled threadless systems in terms of ease of adjustment and security. It's a shame they stopped making THAT model rather than the A-9.

mpetry912 said...

I think that this product has gone out of production because the industry has moved beyond the 1" threaded fork as a standard.

Today's wannabees want 1 1/8 no threadset forks with carbon steerers. Never mind that eddy merckx won 500 races on a 1" threaded steel fork.

I've got those A9s on most of my bikes. I will lay in a few spares. Having said that they NEVER wear out.

Mark Petry
Bainbridge Island, WA

nv said...

It's hard to beat the Tange threaded for under $20. Yeah it's steel but who cares - a few grams heavier, no big deal. I think it's at least as good looking as the A9 and better looking than everything else currently available and they seem to last forever - why anybody spends more on a headset is beyond me.
nv

C said...

"Never mind that eddy merckx won 500 races on a 1" threaded steel fork."

Big deal. Using this logic you could argue that we should all be on single speed bikes. Almost all big races were at one time won on single speeds. Just because somebody used to do something a certain way and was successful at it doesn't mean it's the best solution.

Anonymous said...

c,

Threadless headsets may be easier to adjust, but adjusting the stem height, if at all possible, is a pain in the ass. I'm sticking to the threaded system and easy to adjust stems.

Joel said...

Agree with anonyme above. If you ride one style and do not swap bars, then threadless is fine.

As for me, I like to put my heavy duty touring bike to cold weather commuter. Meaning a switch from drops to swept back bars.

With my threaded Nitto stem and King Grip Nut set, it is a matter of loosening a couple nuts, pulling the stem up then swapping the bars. (I use Nitto Randos and Albatross, so I do not even need a shim).

It is not all that easy to add and remove steerer tubing. I guess you could keep a few forks around. Or buy multiple bikes. Both options create a fairly plausible argument threadless are not the perfect replacement for threaded.

C said...

"Threadless headsets may be easier to adjust, but adjusting the stem height, if at all possible, is a pain in the ass."

Once you have your position dialed in there's no need to adjust the stem height. Even if you did decide to tinker you can flip the stem over and raise/lower the stem by adding/removing spacers. So long as you remember to leave the steer tube long enough you can easily make adjustments.

Ron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron said...

c,

And what would be the advantage of the threadless headset?

Oh, and for those who haven't seen a Stronglight X14, they're about as clunky and ugly as a bike component can be. Not for my bike, thanks.

Phillip Franklin said...

"Using this logic you could argue that we should all be on single speed bikes."

We should all be riding single speeds for most rides.
Phillip

Anonymous said...

I suspect that Stronglight had no idea that the A9 would remain in production for more than 25 years....and that the tooling is quite worn. The bottom cup of the latest production is not the original A9 at all but is the same as their threadless "Headlight" model....The fact that they are introducing a replacement signals that they have sufficient demand for the product, but that they would like to satisfy that demand with a product produced with more reliable tooling.

Anonymous said...

Tange Levin Steel. Cheap, smooth, durable, not bad looking. Install & fugeddaboudit

C said...

"And what would be the advantage of the threadless headset?"

The explanation comes from Jobst Brandt: http://sheldonbrown.com/brandt/threadless-headset.html

In summary:
1) No need for big clunky wrenches to make adjustments. Roadside adjustments are easy to make using a common allen wrench. A threadless system can be installed with a single 5mm allen.
2) Less prone to coming out of adjustment. I've worked lots of races, centuries, and multi-day rides and see more problems with threaded headsets coming loose.
3) Arguable more secure since your stem is held in place by 2-3 bolts versus 1 with a threaded stem.
4) Less likely to allow rain/sweat to corrode or freeze the stem/steer tube.
5) Stiffer. Not a problem for lighter riders but for larger/stronger riders it's nice to not have your bars rocking when you're climbing out of the saddle.
6) No need to worry about the wedge cracking your steer tube. I've seen this on quite a few occasions when people raised their bars too high.
7) Usually lighter.
8) Quicker assembly. Not a big deal for riders but time is a big deal for shops and factories.
9) Allows you to use a composite steer tube. Keep in mind that just because you don't want one doesn't other people don't.
10) More readily available these days.

That's 10 advantages. How many does threaded have? Only one I can think of is that it's easier to make big adjustments. I think that's a pretty marginal advantage since few people feel the need to make sure huge changes in bar height. Swapping bars is only slightly faster since you have to undo 2-3 bolts instead of just one. On the other hand most threadless stems have removable face clamps while most threaded stems do not. Having a removable face clamp makes it MUCH faster to swap out you handlebars because you don't have to bother with removing brake levers and tape.

C said...

"Oh, and for those who haven't seen a Stronglight X14, they're about as clunky and ugly as a bike component can be. Not for my bike, thanks."

Funny because I think most threaded headsets with their dual lock nuts look much chunkier than a nice clean, round threadless headset.

Also I choose parts based more on how well they work than how they look. I think wood rims look neat but it doesn't mean I'd want to ride them.

gunnar berg said...

lornagberg@gmail.com

gunnar berg said...

Sorry for the unintentional post.-

Anonymous said...

C,

Nice find. I was about to point out Jobst Brandt's article, but you beat me to it. Both Jobst and Sheldon are stalwarts of simplicity (and sometimes old-fashionedness), but they both say threadless systems (check out Sheldon's article on the disadvantages of the "7" shaped stems vs. threadless) are an improvement over threaded designs. This is one case where they both say newer is actually better.

Ron said...

Thanks "c" for the information. I may have to reconsider using a threaded steerer on my next bike.

Ron

Joel said...

C: For someone like me, who is thin and only uses King Headsets, Brandt's 10 ring pretty hollow.

King threaded are just as available as threadless, are as durable as anything made. Indeed, the only threadless your going to find as good as a King threaded is - well - the King threadless.

And, as I said above, I do like to make big changes in bar height and position depending on what I am doing with the bike. Threadless is not anywhere near as adjustable.

I had a threadless (King Ti) and gave it to a relative who rides occasionally and did not need to worry about adjustment.

Anonymous said...

Evolution continues, whether we like it or not.

--Kansas Native

Joel said...

Indeed evolution carries on. But sometimes, as with the Sabre Tooth Tiger, evolution walks into an over specialized dead end.

Anonymous said...

The big adjustments are fantastic and the stem designs for the threaded system range from simple to downright delicious. It isn't that unusual to come across 1" stems that are artful expressions of their own. They are like little scupltures that help steer the bike and look great at the same time. It's another element in the bicycle to apreciate and with proper care they are as reliable as the threadless system. Different folks restore and enjoy cassic cars, tractors, motorcycles, etc.. I would like to think that the readers of this blog enjoy the beauty of classic bicycles.

Anonymous said...

"Indeed evolution carries on. But sometimes, as with the Sabre Tooth Tiger, evolution walks into an over specialized dead end."

I think that's a little extreme. Threaded headsets and quill stems are not getting any more plentiful, but they are still being made. They have their place, and I think it will be a long time before they are extinct.

lamplightsg said...

On most lugged steel road bikes, I think a quill stem looks considerably better than a threadless one. I've never had a threaded headset come out of adjustment on any of my road bikes, and I like being able to raise and lower the stem quickly and easily to experiment with different positions. I may keep the bars slightly higher than the seat for a few months, then try it a little lower than the seat for a while and wind up enjoying it that way. Then later I may go back to higher bars for a while and enjoy them just as much. That's just how I am.
However, I DO NOT like threaded headsets and stems on a mountain bike, and I can also see how they may not be ideal for a loaded touring bike with a lot of weight on the front. I have a KHS mtb with a 1" threaded headset and the flex is noticeable and actually rather scary in gnarly situations. I also have to admit that if I were a racer or even rode fast/hard very often, I'd probably choose threadless. But that's not how I ride so I just go with what I think looks best and gives me lots of adjustment options. I think both designs have their place and I wouldn't want either to disappear from the market.

Joel said...

"I think that's a little extreme. Threaded headsets and quill stems are not getting any more plentiful, but they are still being made. They have their place, and I think it will be a long time before they are extinct."

Actually, as should be obvious from my earlier posts in this thread, my sabre tooth tiger comparison is wtih threadless stems.

Threaded stems are wonderfully versatile.

Ian Dickson said...

It's kind of weird that this has turned into a threadless vs. threaded debate. Are threaded headsets really going away? It seems like there are still quite a few on the market.

What we are losing, though, are components (such as the A9) that do not use cartridge bearings. I don't know of any loose bearing bottom brackets still in production, and loose bearing headsets and hubs both seem to be on their way out.

I like cartridge bearings as much as the next guy, but it's nice to have a choice. If you live someplace very cold (as I do), serviceable bearings are nice because they're easy to winterize. A sealed BB, in real cold, feels like a spindle stuck in a jar of peanut butter. Of course it doesn't matter as much to have a headset stiffen up, but it's nicer when they don't.

Also, loose bearings are fun.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I greatly enjoy having a choice. My road bikes have quill stems, mountain bikes have threadless, which seems obviously superior for the use to me. A one-inch threaded steer tube on a six-inch travel fork would be downright dangerous.

It also greatly pleases me to know that no one can force their hidebound opinions on me!

Joel said...

I'll give you that.

Not surprisingly, threadless were originally developed for mountain bikes and foisted on road bikes more, in my opinion anyone, for the convenience of the big bike manufacturers than because they were a better choice for the road.

But then we are discussing this on the Velo-Orange site, where you most likely will never be offered a mountain bike with 6" travel.

Anonymous said...

It's often interesting to watch the push-pull between form and function. Much of what I like on an elegant road bike is just a matter of taste, but then it does matter. The industrial looking stems on my mountain bikes look just fine on there, but they are straighforward designs with no chi chi cred at all. I do keep hoping the Robocop look goes away before it infects road bikes. It's probably too late.

Adam said...

This thread prompted me to finally carry out a project I'd been meaning to get around to: polishing up my Stronglight Delta headset, which is bound for my VO Randonneur when it's ready.

My attachment to road bikes is every bit as aesthetic as it is functional. Indeed, I find it hard to separate form and function in bicycles. Bikes need to be sleek and minimalist to be fast, and I like the look of road bikes for their sleek minimalism. (A carbon road bike might be faster than a steel one, but to me it doesn't look faster — it looks neither sleek nor minimalist.)

Something about a forged stem in a threaded headset embodies the sleek minimalism of road bikes, for me. It's possibly my favourite component from an aesthetic point of view. It holds the most characteristic road-bike component (the drop bars) on to the frame, it's shiny, it has nice, flowing lines, and it's what you hold on to when you walk your bike. I also like the look of the wrench flats on a threaded headset: it complements the industrial-revolution, Bauhaus-esque aesthetic of the sleekly minimalist road bike in the same way that a TA Pro 5 Vis crankset does.

Cinelli or Singer stems are, I think, very beautiful. And for headsets, Stronglight Deltas are the nicest. And with some polishing, they look even better! I was really pleased with how this turned out...

http://tinyurl.com/29kuuc

Anonymous said...

I was suckered on a threadless set up on the last bike I bought. Never again. I respect the steel Tange, but am disappointed I have not been able to locate a Delta, though I've managed to get an A-9. It sounds like the Chris Kings are top-notch, though overpriced. I'm really turned off by having someone's name tattooed all over my bike, though. What I think is really clever about the Stronglights is that replacement bearings include the races!

Ron said...

OK, Joel et al, you have me re-thinking the threaded/threadless idea again. I'm back to leaning toward threaded for my rando rig. You're right; I don't ever recall a threaded headset/steerer every go out of adjustment on me, and I do like to change up bar height.

Anonymous said...

Ron said:
OK, Joel et al, you have me re-thinking the threaded/threadless idea again. I'm back to leaning toward threaded for my rando rig. You're right; I don't ever recall a threaded headset/steerer every go out of adjustment on me, and I do like to change up bar height.

I have a threadless on my Kogswell P/R and threaded on everything else. The only headset I've ever had come out of adjustment -- and repeatedly -- is the threadless on the Kogswell.

Sure, it's easy to adjust it, and all you need is an allen wrench, but if threadless is so perfect, why is this the only headset I've ever need to keep readjusting?

--sfp

BG said...

"I'm really turned off by having someone's name tattooed all over my bike.."

Chris King sold a threaded, no-logo headset in the past - I had one of these headsets on a Rivendell. Some here remember the early mountain bike days when purple-anodized components were all the craze. Thankfully that trend passed. While I find the billboard-look of most modern bicycles to be less appealing, others like it. Styles and trends change, good design hangs around. Both Tange Levin and Chris King headsets hang around for a reason - they function beautifully and last, and they serve different price points for the consumer.

Karl said...

I only have threaded headsets on my bikes: a Campagnolo Chorus on my Kogswell P58 and a Shimano XTR on my Mariposa.

For me it is about aesthetics. I think one can make an ahead stem and spacers work just as well for height but it simply doesn't look as good as the "reverse 7" of a quill stem, IMO.

At one point I was actually trying to convert a Bilenky from threadless to threaded (do-able with a Chris King conversion kit and threading of the fork) but in the end sold the frame in order to afford the Mariposa,

Even with the demise of the Stronglight A9, I don't think that we are all that short of threaded headset options yet and one certainly doesn't have to pony up $125 for a Chris King.

Riv sells an Ultegra for $65, a pricier but high quality Ritchey WCS for $75 and an inexpensive $35 aluminum Tange Levin. The basic Tange Levin, NOS Shimano STX and Ritchey Logic are all around $20 from internet dealers and the Shimano 105 at $40. Running counter to trend, Interloc has just introduced a very high quality Tange-made "Techno-Glide" threaded headset for $80.

Anonymous said...

why would anyone that doesn't love threaded headsets be looking at VO?

David said...

FSA makes a decent 1" threaded alloy headset in polished silver, with scant branding.

Anonymous said...

A shame to see one less choice available, but inevitable when so many new bikes are not using threaded headsets(except custom, I suppose.)

That said, I probably won't build another bike with a threaded headset. I like the possibility of S&S frame couplers to enable packing for travel, and a threadless setup is so much easier to drop the fork from than a threaded, not needing the big wrenches for disassembly and re-assembly.

Rocco said...

Old thread, but does anyone have any x14 top nuts? I broke mine.