The NeedleBlasteur is our top headset, but it excels in a realm that's beyond the needs of most riders. It has needle bearings, not ball bearings, and the surface contact difference is about XXXXXX versus X. It has to last longer. More practically---and hold onto your hat for this one---it increases rotating resistance. The thing is, headsets can be too smooth. A little smooth-stiffness, a little gumminesss in the bearings, seems to eliminate the tendency of a bike to shimmy. Not all bikes shimmy. Ours, for the record, are not known for their shimmy, so please let me talk about shimmy without THAT thought entering your head. Sometimes, fact of life, a bike will shimmy. It's almost always when you're doing a stupid, like riding no hands at 19 mph with a loaded bike. (For some reason many riders feel they have a right to do this without consequence, but that is another ball of wax.) And in that case, a gummier rotation helps.
The rest of the time all the needle bearings do is not wear out.
All of this goodness encased in a really lovely set of cups, made and lustrously finished in Japan, by Tange. Fits all of our bikes and most but not all bikes that require a one-inch threaded headset. (Detail: Fork crown race 26.4, head cup 30.2. Most pre-'87 Asiatic bikes are 27/30, so no go. Later Bstones are 26.4/30.2. And....time for our favorite all time quote, by Adm Grace Murray Hopper ( Dec 9 1906 to Jan 1 1992):
"One measurement is worth a thousand expert opinions."
For more detail, read on....but all you really need to know you now do.
Headsets work remarkably well despite ball bearings being ill-suited to the job. Ball bearings are good for rotation, but not load-bearing. Bicycle headsets don’t hardly rotate at all, but take a pounding. Ball bearings got a leg-up early on because they were available, but now we have needle bearings, which spread the load over much more surface area than balls do….but there aren’t many needle bearing headsets.
Over the years, since the late ‘70s or so, there have been several but never many. They don’t revolutionize the headset business, because (as noted) ball bearing headsets aren’t as lousy in real life as they are in theory. But starting from scratch, all headsets would have lower needle bearings, not ball bearings.
Tange has made wonderful needle-bearing headsets. Most have had needles up top and on the bottom—two sets of needle bearings. Usually if a little is good more is better—words to live by, right there—but not in the case of needle bearings, and this is why: Needle bearings increase the surface contact, and friction because of that. So when you have two sets, top and bottom, the rotation gets slightly “stiff.” It’s not bad, but there’s totally no benefit from needles up top, and by putting balls up there, the rotation is lighter and there’s zero risk of pitting the upper bearings, because upper bearings don’t get pitted. When you ride over bumps, the lower bearings take ALL the brunt, and the upper bearings take less than none of it, literally. A bump actually reduces the load on upper bearings. Back in the late ‘80s I rode nylon ball bearings in the upper part of my (custom-made by Tom Ritchey) headset, and they never suffered.
The point is, this new Tange combo ball/needle bearing headset is a theoretically superior design made by a headset maker long experienced with needle bearings. It is hard to imagine it ever wearing out. There are steel floating races, the bearings are replaceable, it’s just---really, really good.
English threaded, for 1-inch steer tubes only. Silver.
For 30.2 mm inside diameter headtubes and 26.4 mm fork crowns, 35.9mm stack height.
The Tange Roller Drive headset is on the left and that's a "normal" ball bearing headset on the right.
AKA IRD RollerDrive Threaded Headset