Sealed or unsealed headset?- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Sealed or unsealed headset?

    May be a silly question. Most of my bikes have a sealed headset (with a rubber gasket to prevent dust into the bearings). Seems to me like a no-brainer, when compared to non-sealed headset cups.

    However my Rocky Mountain Instinct came with no seal on the bottom cup, and the bearing already presented some dust contamination (I bought this bike in April). The top cup has seals, as expected. Remember that this is not a budget bike, so some degree of good criteria for parts selection are expected.

    I do have sealed cups that I can replace, not a big deal, but I wonder if there's any recommendation that I don't know about not using sealed cup on the bottom?

  2. #2
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    So... no response means no, right? Nobody had ever heard anything about non-sealed cups being better in any aspect than sealed cups?

  3. #3
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    It comes down to the crown race... the standard ones are bare but some headset manufacturers like Acros will do make them with seal flanges for their headsets. Best bet is to clean and grease your headset bearings regularly...

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Heist30 View Post
    It comes down to the crown race... the standard ones are bare but some headset manufacturers like Acros will do make them with seal flanges for their headsets. Best bet is to clean and grease your headset bearings regularly...
    Yes, that of course.

    But seems to me like a cheap enough feature for a bike not to be standard. All my previous bikes that I cared about had sealed headsets; my Instinct is far from a budget bike and does not.

    If you mean "regularly" by every 3 months, it's even worse, for a part that has a good solutions to keep it clean and lubed. Anyway, thanks for the response. Seems like I shouldn't expect anything bad from using sealed cups.

  5. #5
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    Most current decent bikes use cartridge bearings with integral seals in the headset. There are some brands of headsets with caps and crown races that have a rubber lip that contacts the headtube to further exclude contaminants.
    Do the math.

  6. #6
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    Sealed bearings vs open bearings in cages. Both will go bad without proper attention.

    Neither is better than the other unless you go really high end, IE Chris King, or maybe Cane Creek 110.

    I know the CK headsets have excellent seals & bearings, whereas most other cartridge bearings headsets are just good ol' standart steel or stainless bearings with sub par seals. They will get contaminated faster than a CK.

    Benefit of a standard caged ball headset is ease of servicing & a longer life when contaminated. I guess due to the larger bearings. They might be low tech, but a quick clean and regrease once or twice a season will keep em running a very long time.

    Whereas most sealed headset bearings while sealed will injest water & self destruct faster due to most people not bothering to pull the seals & clean & grease. Also the smaller bearings don't last very long once contaminated.

    From my experience Chris King headsets are hard to kill but expensive. Other sealed bearing headsets aren't really that good. Open caged bearing headsets are inexpensive, not very cool but easily serviced.

    3 years ago I had a caged bearing headset that was so crusty & gritty I was sure it was toast (came on a used frame) I cleaned the bearings & slathered it with water proof grease. Surprisingly enough it's still going strong without a hint of grittiness or play.

    In that same time I've replaced 2 sealed bearings in two other headsets, one Cane Creek 100, the other a Works Angleset. When I pulled the seals on those bearings it was filled with rust & moisture.

    If you do go with a sealed bearing headset Other than CK), do yourself a favor & pull the seals & top off the bearings with & slather the seals with water proof grease. That should go a long way towards making those last quite a bit longer
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  7. #7
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    Thanks for the valuable considerations.

    So looks like I have a sealed bearing; however, it is grinding with contamination, after only 4 months of use, never on mud, but with some dry dirt.

    Cleaned it up as much as I could, assembled again with a lot of blue grease and sealed cups. May not last long, but then I can replace by an open bearing instead.

  8. #8
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    Part of the reason I almost exclusively buy CC 110 headsets has nothing to do with the seals on the bearings themselves (pretty sure mine all predate the Hellbender bearings, which are supposedly sealed better) but rather that the headset cups themselves have seals at the top cover and the crown race. I also pretty much pack grease into the space between the bearing and the outer seals. My oldest is running on about 8 or 9 years this way, occasionally dropping the fork to clean out the old grease and install new. Bearings themselves don't get contaminated because I keep junk away from them.

    One thing to point out is that with unsealed caged bearings, even though they're easily serviced, if you ride in the wrong conditions, you'll need to do it frequently because the grease will get contaminated faster and wash out faster (lack of seals).

    Working in shops, I've seen poorly cared for headsets of almost all types turned to rusty powder because they weren't cared for.

    Also, I've seen plenty of occasions where a bike manufacturer puts a nicer upper bearing/cup on a bike and a cheaper lower bearing/cup on a bike. My wife's Juliana Furtado came with a CC40 top cup/bearing and a CC10 lower, as an example. Something like a $4500 bike or so.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold View Post
    Also, I've seen plenty of occasions where a bike manufacturer puts a nicer upper bearing/cup on a bike and a cheaper lower bearing/cup on a bike. My wife's Juliana Furtado came with a CC40 top cup/bearing and a CC10 lower, as an example. Something like a $4500 bike or so.
    Exactly my case. I just can't see reason to that.

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