Some of the world’s leading headset manufactures have joined together to develop a standard way of describing headsets, so it should become easier to get exactly what you need. Although there will still be a zillion different formats out there, the new Standardized Headset Identification System (SHIS) is intended to make the buying process more straightforward.
“As a bicycle manufacturer I have participated in many conversations with customers who are struggling to understand modern headset fitment,” said Michael Bonney of Orange Mountain Bikes. “During Eurobike and Interbike [trade shows earlier in the year] I suggested to a couple of headset makers that a universal system for talking about headsets was needed, and I’m excited to see it happening.”
Other manufacturers leading the development of the new naming system include Acros, Cane Creek and Ritchey, and they’ll all be integrating it over the next year.
The SHIS incorporates the four critical dimensions you need to know for fitting a fork to a frame, and also includes the bearing location/cup type.
Be warned, the rest of this story is for bike nerds only. If that’s not you, get out while you can.
A headset might be described as EC34/28.6 EC34/30, for example. That sounds like gobbledygook but, we guess, so does 700c x 18/25 to describe an inner tube if you don't know what it means, yet we can all cope with that.
The two separate parts of the description refer first to the upper headset fit, and then to the lower headset fit.
We’ll take them in order. First, EC34/28.6
• EC refers to the upper headset type, EC standing for external cup. The other possibilities here are ZS for ZeroStack, and IS for integrated. Easy enough.
• 34 refers to the upper head tube bore – the internal diameter – which in this case corresponds to a 1 1/8in external cup. This is the awkward bit because most of us don't currently talk about a head tube bore.
• 28.6 refers to the stem clamp diameter. That's simple.
• EC refers to the lower headset type and again stands for external cup.
• 34 refers to the lower head tube bore.
• 30 refers to the crown race seat diameter.
Even if you don’t remember what it all means, as long as you know the SHIS code for your bike, buying a replacement headset or the right fork should be relatively simple.
Okay, it’s not the easiest system to understand but that’s because there are so many variables. The crossover period could be a bit of a pain, but we can see it working as long as all the other manufacturers adopt it. If they don't, we've just got yet another way of describing headsets to add to the list.
As clear as mud? Right, bottom brackets next…
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.