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I came upon this marvelous explanation of headset types.

However, this got me wondering. Isn't the role of the headset cups similar to that of the derauler hanged - to not waste the frame as soon as some wear-outable components ends it's life? How do frames with integrated headsets survive more than several years?

enter image description here from forums.mtbr.com

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5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Here's an excerpt from Chris King about headset types:

What is an “Integrated” headset?

It is a bicycle frame, fork and bearing system designed to eliminate the humble headset cup. To integrate means to combine and hopefully to simplify. What has been “integrated” by the integrated headset? The bearings now rest inside the frame instead of inside pressed-in cups. All of this trouble and confusion is to remove two 12 gram headset cups from the front of your bicycle. True, an integrated headset can give the bike a nice, smooth looking front end, but the consequences of this change to your bicycle are significant.

Simply put, the performance and lifetime that you expect from your new bicycle will be reduced, most severely in aluminum mountain bikes. All bicycle frames that use integrated headsets will ultimately have substantial performance and reliability problems due to the inherent flaws in this design. The largest flaw is a bearing system that does not positively attach the bearing to the frame, leaving the bearing to “float” resulting in wear and impact damage to the frame.

As an additional complication, each manufacturer seems to be doing their own thing, with no real standardization to date. As a result, there are multiple bearing types and sizes (some of which have been discontinued with no replacement options) and the frame builders and bearing makers are not all working from the same drawings. Lack of standardization is a bad thing for everyone. It means that you may not be able to get replacement headset bearings for your bike, and you will need them.

So, to answer your question, yes, an integrated headset will eventually wear out, but that service time is dependent on riding type, style, number of hours, and quality/material of the frame.

You can read more about all three types: Integrated Headsets Explained

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I'm not saying that I disagree, but it's probably worth noting that Chris King's business was built on traditional headsets. As a result, he's not exactly an impartial authority. –  jimirings Jun 25 '14 at 23:06
This answer doesn't even try to address the question of whether the frame has to be discarded when the headset wears out. –  Mσᶎ Jun 25 '14 at 23:15
@Mσᶎ While not explicit the answer does indeed: "leaving the bearing to “float” resulting in wear and impact damage to the frame." There's not a hard and fast rule for when a frame is "too worn out" to be used anymore. It will depend on riding style, miles, maintenance, weather, etc. –  Aaron Jun 26 '14 at 13:00
Fully integrated headset is the antipattern when we are considering the technical side of things. It was designed and introduced only to reduce costs. Trek and other overgrown companies are reducing costs of production advertising lots of those "new" things as cutting edge and "better". Installing standard or semi integrated headset requires specialized tools, time and knowledge. Previously mentioned Trek doesn't know how to do those things. My Fuel Ex from 2008 had horribly installed standard headset (frame was not faced). If you want quality product buy frame with semi-integrated HS (Pivot). –  goroncy Oct 13 '14 at 12:45

It is true that integrated headsets can wiggle a fraction of a millimeter when properly installed, more if they're not adjusted correctly. For most bikes, the wear caused by a properly adjusted integrated headset is going to be trivial. Something else on the frame will likely fail before the bore for the cartridge bearing gets wallowed out. Keep in mind that the head tube is not the bearing race for an integrated headset- you're just dropping a cartridge bearing down into the head tube and with cartridge bearings the races are part of the package.

if you run your headset out of adjustment continuously you may wear some slop into an integrated headset, but running a headset too loose can cause damage to any headtube regardless of the headset it accepts.

one final point for clarification, installation for an integrated headset into the headtube does not require any special tools. Installation of a standard or internal headset into the headtube will require a headset press as they both use cups that must be pressed into place. Once the cups are in place replacing the bearings requires nothing more than a hex wrench to remove your stem and top cap with. Installation of a crown race will require a special tool (if you want to do it right) if it is not a split type race- split races go on with no special tools. For removal of any of the above,if it took a special tool to go on, it will take a special tool to come off. Yes, you can use a screwdriver if you don't mind gnarling up your components.

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I have a Schwinn Mesa lt frame that I'm sure uses an internal headset, and as far as I remember the cups come of just by hand. Does this contradict part of your answer or is my frame busted? (I've been riding it for 5+ years during wich I have installed two forks on it) –  Jahaziel Jun 25 '14 at 22:53

I'm pretty sure that the stress of changing worn-out press-fit cups does more damage to a head tube than the drop-in integrated variety.

Changing a set of cups on a frame is a high-stress, creaking, cracking job requiring dedicated tools with lots of mechanical advantage. If you don't use the right tools you need to use a hammering action, which is even worse for the frame!

Integrated headsets have never ruined a frame in all the years I've been working on them.

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The necessity of specialized tools usage during disassembly does not mean that the semi integrated or standard headset design is worse. It just mean that you need specialized tools nothing more. And no. Changing a set of cups does not cause creaking, cracking or any other unpleasant noise. It is very simple and clean procedure. Next set of cups when installed correctly will work with no degradation of any kind compared to the previous setup. –  goroncy Oct 13 '14 at 12:41

Integrated headsets use sealed cartridge bearings, so extra cups are superfluous as all of the moving parts are hidden away inside.

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The image is wrong when it says you don't need special tools. There are special tools for both the installation and removal of integrated and internal headsets.

My point is that they are removable and replaceable. Having one wear out doesn't ruin the usefulness of a frame.

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Do you agree with alex's answer? If no, please clarify further what tools and techniques are available for integrated headsets. I am curious to learn about headset maintenance. –  Vorac Aug 15 '13 at 8:17
It sounds like you're saying that the cups are removable as well as the bearings. If so, could you provide references? Everything I've seen seems to indicate otherwise. –  jimirings Jun 26 '14 at 15:55

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