The Headset Guide: Covering Conventional, Internal, and Integrated Headsets
As headsets evolve, it seems the conventional headset is taking a backseat to the newer integrated headsets. That's not to say the legendary Chris King headset is going anywhere, but most major manufacturers are producing bikes made for integrated headsets instead of the conventional cup and bearing headsets.
This guide is here to explain the differences between each type of headset.
The Conventional Headset
Conventional headsets have cups that are pressed into the top and bottom of the head tube. Then the bearings sit in these cups.
A headset cup press is required to press the caps into the frame properly.
It may take some time to install, but a well-made conventional headset is very strong and durable.
The Internal Headset
On an internal headset, there are still cups, but the cups sit inside the headtube.
The main benefit of an internal headset is that the bike looks "sleeker" than a bike with a conventional headset. But I think regular headsets look just fine.
The Integrated Headset
With an integrated headset, there are no cups. Instead, the inside of the headtube is machined to provide a surface for the ball bearings.
There is a convenience factor because there are no cups to press into the frame.
It also provides a sleeker look and saves a miniscule amount of weight because there are no cups. (Although that's more of a sales pitch, because it doesn't take into account the reinforced headtube which actually yields a heavier setup!)
However, if the built-in "cups" need replaced, that means you need a new frame! (Instead of a new $20 headset.)
Whatever headset your bike uses, that's what you have to use. If your bike came with an integrated headset, you can't switch to a conventional headset to save your frame.
Want to read an even deeper look at headsets? Check out this PDF guide from Chris King.