Friday debate: Doing my headset in


Words: Ali Todd

Photo: Andy Lloyd

Evolution is a simple concept. Things develop for better and for worse, and eventually the least advanced die out, disadvantaged by comparison to their opposable-thumbed counterparts. Simple potted explanation of natural progress.

Banshee’s new Rune caters for 26 or 650b wheels, but let’s not even go down the wheel size debate route… Headsets, chainguides, BBs, steerer tubes. The industry likes to faff with new ‘standards’, or does it?

The same principle applies in economics – unless held up by a subsidy, a substandard product is overshadowed by the better one, and is pushed out of the market because no one buys it. The bloodline dries up. It withers. It dies. Seen no more. Only the best survives.

So why am I sitting here, surrounded by bikes with so many different variations of the same component? Why has this whittling of the supply not happened? Why, when buying a headset, do I feel I need to employ half of Bletchley Park’s crack team? And why do we need all these different variations of an apparently simple product?

Negative Ali Todd: Pointless

S.H.I.S, before you thing I’ve just mis-spelt a very similar word while leaving caps-lock on, is the Standard Headset Identification System. The world of S.H.I.S is a very confusing one, where new “standards” breed like little rabbits. They all have their codes or names, and they serve seemingly just to make life miserable. Ed H (Technical Editor over at Dirt Mag and former mechanic for the Atherton family) tried counting all the different headset standards that have been invented since the introduction of the mountain bike, and got so angry that he had to stop by 25. Yes, 25. And most of those are still in use.

If all these standards came about because of major innovations, offering more stiffness, better functionality, less weight, more compatibility etc., then I could accept it. The painful truth, though, is that a lot of them are within a few mm of each other. So why?! A lot of the more sceptical forum commentators suggest it’s a scam to make us spend more money on new things as our beloved standards, but in truth, it isn’t. It’s because the manufacturers have yet to get together and decide on a handful of sizes, and are instead producing in an unsynchronised way.

Let’s not get stuck on headsets though. Bottom brackets are another version of the same trouble – BB30, 92, 83, 86, and then square taper, octalink, ISIS… And chainguide mounts are pretty bad too. The ISCG mount changes are problematic.

Right up to date, we’re currently on handlebars. 35mm bars are the new thing..

Positive Ali Todd: Let’s not get too wound up

So manufacturers don’t change things without reason. The huge amount of standards we have is a mark of the trail of progress – a relic or monument to the evolution of the bike. Things get wider, stiffer and stronger – like handlebars, or wheels. If we stopped new standards entirely, stupid or not, we wouldn’t move forwards. And if there’s one thing we mountain bikers love, it’s something new and shiny.

Some ideas, like zero stack headsets, are great – they let us run longer forks without having the bars up at chopper height. Clever stuff.


I’m a sucker for “progress”. I love the marketing buzzwords, and there are few novel ideas I won’t consider carefully. Yet even to my mind the sheer scale of standards in use seems amazing. Can we get all the manufacturers together and agree on a few real “standards” please? Say, three sizes of BB, a few different headsets, and only one chainguide mount… Or is it just me?

Let me know what you think in the comments box below.

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