Part 2: Headset Selection, Installation and Fork Steerer Cutting
As I was planning to document my bike build, I needed much of the work to be conducted on a table in what I call my “photo studio”. This was so that the photos would look half decent as I needed plenty of light and an uncluttered background.
Thus I needed the frame to sit nicely and be more secure on the table, so the first steps I took in my bike build were to secure the forks by adding the headset and so at the same time, I decided to jump right in and cut the carbon steerer tube on the fork down to size.
My Viner frameset was advertised as having a monocoque carbon fork with a tapered steerer that would accept a 1 1/8″ – 1 1/2″ integrated headset, meaning that the diameter of the fork steerer tube is 1-1/2 inches at the bottom and then tapers to 1-1/8 inch at the top.
Easy I thought, the purchase of my headset would be one of the simplest to make on this build, all I have to do now is find the appropriate sized one at a performance and price level that suit me.
Not so fast
After a little research into the current market, I decided that I was going to go with an FSA headset. They make high end products at reasonable prices and because I have one on my old bike that has lasted many years without any problems at all I trust their longevity.
So now a quick look at the FSA website to confirm what model I need to match my frameset and I noticed that they make a number of 1 1/8″ – 1 1/2″ integrated headsets, In terms of size almost were identical, it was just a choice between a Carbon top or an Aluminium one.
Head Tube Outside Diameter
Then I noticed that within this you can get two different ones to match the external diameter at the top of your headtube! Did my frame have a head tube that was 46mm or 48mm in diameter at the top? Either will ultimately work, but I don’t think many people realise that you can actually get a headset that will more closely match and thus look better on your frame depending if you get the right external size diameter.
For more on this, please take a look at my article on The FSA Orbit C-40 or C-40/48 Headset – Which One?
FSA Headsets – Money Saving Tips
- Carbon or Aluminium – As I mentioned earlier, you can get many of FSA’s headsets with either a carbon or aluminium top. I doubt there is a performance difference and the aluminium one is actually more lightweight than the carbon version, whilst the price difference between the two is huge (carbon obviously being more expensive)
- It pays to shop around – I eventually bought my aluminium one, brand new off where it was half the price of carbon ones listed on most online bike shops (see where to buy below)
Installing the Headset
These days fitting a headset is a really easy process and in some cases involves no tools at all:
Split Crown Race
As well as helping me with advice and supplying me with photos of his Viner Maxima bike build, I got a great tip from an instagram friend Niklas Michel who owns and runs NIkkLs Bike Blog and that was to get a split crown race as he found fitting the closed FSA one on his fork really difficult.
The alternatives meant either investing in an expensive and very rarely used crown race setting tool or making a tool with some PVC piping and a mallet. I decided to follow his advice as a split crown race is very inexpensive and meant that I could easily install my headset without any tools.
I simply greased and slotted it down onto the base of the steerer and then dropped in the bearings and the rest of the headset. A very simple process.
Cutting the Fork Steerer Tube
To quite a few people, cutting down your steerer tube (or seatpost) can seem a little daunting and so many will simply get their local bike shop to do it (at a price). However it really is not difficult, so long as you take a little care and are patient.
To cut your steerer tube, you’ll need a hacksaw and ideally a cutting guide.
However as you can see from the image on the right, there are ways around this if you don’t have one or cannot borrow one. Whilst not as bad as a crown race setting tool, a steerer tube cutting guide tool is an expense that you can do without if you are on a tight budget like me.
So I simply got myself a couple (I found you actually only need one) of very inexpensive metal pipe clamps (hose clips) and secured them around the steerer to use as a guide at the point I wanted to cut.
Measuring & Marking Where to Cut
To get exactly the right height to cut, you need to quickly slide the stem and any spacers that you plan to use over and down the steerer. Then with a pencil make a mark around the steerer. Note: You will need to cut about 3mm below/under this mark in order for the dust cap to fit over the top.
Hacksaw Blades – Aluminium vs Carbon Steerer
There are many who suggest that you should use a specialised carbide blade if you are cutting a carbon steerer tube as it will prevent the fibers from fraying.
However if you cannot get hold of one (there were none in my DIY store), just make sure you use a fine tooth hacksaw blade (32 Teeth Per Inch (TPI)) and if you are careful and take your time when cutting, like me you will have no problems at all. In fact in many ways cutting a carbon steerer is easier than aluminium as it is a much softer material, so you only have to apply very little downward pressure.
I also made sure that I went extra slowly and carefully towards the end so as to not fray the edges.
At first I was going to cut my steerer all the way down, but decided to leave a little at the top, just to give me time to test and then room to maneuver in case after riding my bike a couple of times I decided that I needed the stem to sit a little higher. It is so easy to cut, that once I am 100% sure, I will simple repeat the process above – best to be safe than sorry!
Carbon Stem Expander Plug
Once cut, all that was left was for me to replace the headset and forks onto the frame, add the spacers and then my stem and handlebars (which came straight off my old bike) and then fix the stem expander plug.
Please remember that if like me, you have a carbon steerer, you will need a special expander plug. The good news is that these don’t require you to hammer a star nut into the steerer.
I chose this one (image on the right) from MSC Bikes, it looked good, is made well and is inexpensive. Just make sure you get the right sized one for the diameter of your steering column.
All in all the whole process of fitting my headset and cutting the steerer tube was a really simple and inexpensive process and as I say if you are patient and careful and just a little DIY handy then this is most certainly one area where you can save some money and time on your bike build.
In the next article in this series, I will be installing my bottom bracket.
Until then, thanks for reading and please if you have any questions, comments or things to add – just use the comments section at the bottom of the page.