Vintage Bicycles Done Proper :: Portland, Oregon
My Raleigh Kodiak is an experiment.
If I am unsure of a product, the Kodiak becomes the test subject. Since it is my main commuter, I would rather be the guinea pig giving the product plenty of trial time rather than use the item on a new build, which usually finds its home within someone else’s stable. Another reason for the Kodiak as a control subject is because, at times, a modern part doesn’t quite fit a vintage look. If it stands out, it fails the test of cohesion, and since the Raleigh fits snugly within the definition of a true, vintage bicycle harking back to 1986, it quickly becomes the judge, jury and executioner. So, when my headset started to go, I seized the opportunity to try out a modern part with updated technology on a vintage frame.
Something just wasn’t right with my steering. Low-level grinding is an ominous sign, yet with the winter term beginning at school and a freshly updated workload bestowed upon me, replacing a headset slipped to the low-priority list. When I did get to it, I saw my tried and true Tange headset chewed up and mangled on the inside. I am still not exactly sure what the issues were, but the verdict was in: the headset was shot.
Instead of replacing it with a direct replica, I decided to try a classy, modern upgrade by Full Speed Ahead (FSA). The Duron X is a near replica of the Tange; however, the FSA is lighter and twice as expensive. The extra scratch is a worthy upgrade, as it features sealed bearings. Quite the peace of mind, especially for those of us who commute in the rainy Northwest climate. Upon disassembly, the old loose ball bearing Tange I recently overhauled, less than a year ago, was already showing signs of gunky bearings and races.
A Chris King headset would have been an even bigger step up in the sealed option department, but that was too much cost for an experimental project. Although King clearly has a higher quality product, in my opinion, the gap between both King and FSA has narrowed over the years, so I felt my choice was a sensible alternative. The FSA should fit my needs, as most headsets in this class are within the threshold I was looking for with most of the differences being within serviceability and sealing precision.
Actually, the issue between manufacturers is low on my list of concerns. What raises my eyebrow the most is the fork crown race. The race is made of aluminum, a soft alloy, much like the Dura-Ace headsets of the past. Mainly the 7400 series. They too came with aluminum races, which were understood as an unspoken one-use only product. Pulling the fork crown race off would mar the soft metal, rendering it utterly useless. How do I know? Because the manufacturer sent me a 26.4mm race instead of 27.0mm, and I did just that with attempting installation. A friend told me that back when Dura-Ace was selling the 7400 series, local bike stores in the know would swap out the aluminum ring for a steel ring. It was “you’ll thank me later” foresight.
The end result is a near Tange replica, which provides butter-smooth steering and a big slice of peace of mind. So far, with only a handful of commutes under my belt, the product performs wonderfully. Time will tell if the FSA lives up to its rock-solid sealed reputation, but for now, aesthetically, it fits the bill and the function seems to be spot on.
Vintage bicycle fans, we may just have a winner on our hands.