29 December 2007

bikefix Exclusive Review: Hope Headset

There is something almost fetishistic about folks' headset obsession. While it's hard to find a bad threadless headset over about $30, people routinely drop $100 or more on some anodized piece of sexiness. King headsets, with their simple beauty, reputation for durability and 10-year warranty routinely fetch over $70 used on eBay. So popular are King as the premium headset of choice, if I were a component manufacture and the topic of a high-end headset came up, I would suggest not bothering with that market and trying to compete. Still, companies do. Crank Brothers have an ingenious new headset on the horizon, and American Classic, Cane Creek (owner of the Aheadset patent) and others all produce high-end headsets.

While they build quite nice (and reasonably-priced) hubs and cool lights, Hope are best known in the US for their nicely machined and reliable disc brakes. They own their own production facilities and make everything in Yorkshire, in the North of England. As an Anglophile who can't just buy what everyone else already has, the company's new threadless headset caught my eye a year or so back and I picked one up when building an On-One Inbred 29er. The Headset weighs in at a competitive 105g, is machined from 2014 aluminum, and runs about $125, which is competitive with King's No Threadset. Thanks to Brits' obsessive, um, obsession with sealing,
it features sealed stainless steel cartridge bearings as well as several o-rings. It also includes Hope's own Head Doctor removable Head Doctor, which takes the place of the usual star washer inside the steerer tube.

Clearly well-made, the Hope has pressed into three head tubes and onto three or four fork crowns with reassuring resistance and stayed where put. Because the bikes on which it's been mounted have all had star nuts installed already, I haven't had a chance to use the Head Doctor, but the included top cap and aluminum bolt work fine with those too and no doubt save some weight. Thanks to the o-rings, the headset can feel a bit drag-y, even after a year of use, but not so much that it's noticeable when riding. The trade off, I presume, is resistance to the elements. After a year on a single speed mountain bike, our Cayne Uno commuter, and now a full-on road bike, the Hope Headset feels as good as it did new, and maybe a bit better. Not as drag-free as a good old-fashioned cup & cone headset, but not far off a King and it hasn't required any adjustment or service at all, which is what most people want. The 'Gunsmoke' gray anodization has held up well and shows no sign of changing color (unlike my 2 y/o black King, which is starting to look a bit brown), though the laser etched logos tend to hold on to greasy fingerprints (see pics). Sorry, but there's not much else to say- aside from being pretty, it's gone all-but unnoticed. All-in-all, a well-made headset that is worth a look, especially if you live or ride in wet weather. Available to bike shops from QBP...



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