Cane Creek 110 Headset
It must be noted that Cane Creek is the inventor and current patent holder on the threadless headset. We'll be reviewing their 110 headset here, so we'll come right out and say it -- we expected a lot. While they created it and others have had to pay their penance in licensing fees to Cane Creek, we've always felt that some others, notably Chris King have taken the idea and made it all it can be. There, we said it. The Chris King headset
is or was has been our favorite for a long, long time. At first glance the Cane Creek 110 ascends right up to the top tier with the King units we've been so fond of. The flawless machine work, the rich anodized colors gracing the polished parts, and the microscopically accurate laser etching all create a figurative scent of perfection. In your hands, the 110 rivals any other.
This reviewer has been accused of wearing rose colored glasses. If anyone is looking for deeply set criticism, it is not likely to be found here. Although, I've been riding the 110 for a number of months, there are those here who've ridden them since their product launch a year or so ago. We have them installed on road bikes and mountain bikes, in the press-in 1-1/8" traditional variety and in the integrated style. So we'll be talking from experience, across the board.
First, you must know that the 110 headset carries a 110 year warranty. The mere thought of it assures us that the nice folks at Cane Creek are very proud of this product. It's kinda freaky, actually. We've certainly had King headsets go from bike to bike for a decade or more without fail. We'll be keen to put the 110 through the same long-term testing, though it might take a while. As for the 110 year lifespan, we'll get our living wills straightened out so that the parts get transferred to aspiring youngsters or their kids for that matter, although the warranty is only good for the original purchaser. It's like a good set of teeth -- get 'em while you're young!
We installed the 110 TR (traditional press-in) on our Santa Cruz Chameleon single-speed test mule, 'ol Blue. After a proper face and ream session in the shop to ensure perfectly round and parallel headtube bores (note to Swamp Thing at SC: Good job on the bike. She's a thing of beauty! Our machine work was really just a formality), the 110 pressed in straight and without a hitch. We used Cane Creek cup adapters so that we applied pressure to the outer race only when we installed them. Please note that they work like Chris King adapters for your Park or similar headset press, but they are slightly different diameters designed especially for the Cane Creek headset bearings. The greatest concern was lining up the 110 logo perfectly from top to bottom (yes, the one hidden in the headtube). Nobody will see it, but 'ol Blue knows it's in there and it'd be a shame for her to feel that we cut corners on the build. The next few steps are rote and not necessarily noteworthy, but we did notice that the crown race has a rubber flange that sits lightly up into the lip on the bottom cup. When we pulled the headset out of the box, we checked it out with a quick test-fit in our hands to see how tight it was and whether or not we could discern any palpable resistance because of it. The answer was no, not really. It looks as though it might ward off some contaminants, so we're in favor of that.
The most notable component of the 110 headset is the part of the threadless headset that is the most proprietary to Cane Creek -- the captured compression ring. You've seen it. It's the split aluminum ring that drops in right on top of the bearing and has a cylindrical section just below a taper. It is split so it can compress around and support the steerer tube when the headset gets preloaded at the top. The important function is that the compression ring centers the steerer in the headset bearings and exerts the clamping force on a 7mm tall portion of the headtube. Our favorite Chris King headset uses a slightly different system. The top bearing cover on a King No-Threadset houses an integral o-ring. It fits very tightly on the steerer. In fact, when we install them, we use a good dab of spit or grease to lubricate the o-ring and help it slide down the steerer. In light of potential caustic effects to the o-ring, we'd have to recommend the spit instead of grease since the chemical formulations of grease are all over the board and spit is well, just spit. Once slid down into place however, the King top cover nests down into the inner race on the top bearing and it too has a taper that centers it. The difference is that steerer is supported mainly by the compressed o-ring as the aluminum bearing cover is machined to have an inner diameter of 1.130" and the steerer is 1.125"give or take. Now .005" is a pretty darn snug slip-fit, but there is just enough extra space in there to wobble it on the steerer tube if the o-ring is not in place. And the point is…the Cane Creek usurps the King on steerer support. The compression ring applies the loads over a taller section of tube. Is this an advantage? If you are using a beefy alloy steerer on a mountain bike, it's moot. On a super-fly carbon road steerer, then the 110 offers up a legitimate benefit in our minds.
The 110 IS (integrated system) works very much like the 110 TR. We installed the 110 IS on our Ibis Mojo SL test mule, Doris. The IS version of the headset lacks the machined aluminum cups of the 110 TR and the bearings are simply dropped into place in the headtube. The angular outer race of both top and bottom bearings self-centers between the tapered bores of the headtube and the tapered crown race and compression ring. The IS version may offer up a technical challenge depending on how far your upper bearing drops down into the headtube. If it sits low inside the taper, it might be necessary to install one or both of the included stainless steel shims between the top bearing cover and the compression ring. That was the case with Doris. We didn't want the top bearing cover to rub the top of the headtube, so we just followed the directions that came in the box. The only difficulty lies in "peeling" the compression ring out of the groove it's snapped into in the cover. Once freed, we installed one shim, snapped the compression ring back into its groove, and reinstalled the top cover on the headset to see that we had the proper clearance. No problem! Bearing preload is obtained the usual way by tightening the top cap bolt into a star nut inside the steerer. We simply tightened it with a gentle touch, feeling the preload take shape by grasping the stem with one hand, dropping a finger down to the upper bearing cover to get some sensations, and twisting the front end assembly. That test would determine potential overtightening. When all was good there, we performed the old hold-the-front-brake and rock-it-back-and-forth test while holding a thumb and forefinger around the top cup. No wiggle or knocking meant we were ready to hammer down. Both the 110 TR and IS felt remarkably smooth.
Out on the trail, we never thought about the 110. We didn't on the first day and we haven't since. It's only when we stop for a snack in a sunny spot and we take the time to admire the luscious ano accent that it gives our bike that we give it a moments thought. This speaks volumes. Install a King headset and you'll forget it's there -- for ten years or more. We hope that the 110 gives us such admirable and trouble-free performance that we eventually have a moment that sounds like this, "yeah, I put that headset on my aluminum (gasps and gaping mouthed awe from the listeners) mountain bike back in oh-nine. I'd forgotten it was on there… looks to be doing fine." I can hear my old man voice as I write this. In truth, we've attempted to put this headset through its paces. Having nothing of substance to report about other than exemplary performance is a testament to the 110 and the folks that make it.
With a benchmark like the Chris King No Threadset, Cane Creek had to work all the angles to even compete, let alone surpass the standard. They claim to have gotten there with the seals on the 110. Most sealed cartridge bearings have a single-lip rubber seal that attempts to do two things -- keep grease in and contaminants out. This is a tricky job! It can be done with 100% efficiency of course, but not if you want your bearings to spin freely. So each facet of performance is sacrificed a bit to make the seal be a jack of all trades. The 110 uses a new double-lip seal. The two lips on the seal can fit just a tad more loosely, ensuring a free-spinning bearing. Each one has but one job to do -- one to keep grease in and one to keep nasty stuff out. Our short term testing (relative to the expected lifetime of the product) would indicate that the seals are doing a fine job. For certain, the Cane Creek 110 headset spins freely and easily. There is no perceptible sign of contamination contrary to our attempts in the mud and rain and at the bike wash stand.
We're not sorry to anyone that we keep comparing the 110 to a King headset. The King is what we believe to be the most trouble-free, longest lasting, and by god the sexiest headset on the market. So is the Cane Creek worthy of comparison? We'll nod our heads and say yes. The 110 has the sex appeal. The finish rivals the King, although it lacks the multitude of color options and is available in Silver, Red, Blue, and Black in contrast to King's 12 color palette. The weight is comparable as well, but the King gets the nod in that arena by a few grams and cost-wise, the 110 commands a few extra dollars at checkout. The Cane Creek is the warranty winner by a longshot, and we feel like the added support offered by the aluminum compression ring is superior, especially for lightweight steerers. The Cane Creek also comes with 17.5mm worth of interlocking and matching anodized aluminum spacers. They sweeten the Cane Creek pot and suddenly the price difference over the King becomes nullified. In the end, all we can say is this --we love King headsets and would recommend them to anyone. Period. Now it seems our recommendation will have to be more liberal. Close your eyes and pick a hand. You'll be good to go either way.