Category Archives: bearing

FSA "The Hammer" Headset Review

Update 13/05/13: After one bicycle trip abroad and probably 2500km more, I have not developed any issues with this headset. Nor have I disassembled it for maintenance – the seals have held up and it has been a solid performer through-and-through.

After a little more than 1000km, I thought I’d start doing a follow-up on some components. Full Speed Ahead’s (FSA) The Hammer headset is the first up for review.

The FSA “The Hammer” headset is a cheap/economical loose-ball headset for threadless systems, and I managed to purchase mine for $16 + ~$2 shipping. Not bad for any headset, especially one billed as “Heavy Duty”.

But how has it fared? Well, when I bought it, the box had opened during shipping, and the bottom bearing seal had fallen out. Disappointing, but no fault of FSA. So, in order to use it right away after installation, I used to top seal on the bottom – not a great seal, but more protection that none at all. Later, the seller sent me a replacement bottom seal after contacting them, and I switched the seals around again.

I installed the headset myself to save on installation fees, so in it went not with a headset press, but with a few whacks from a hammer on a wooden block. Despite this… traumatizing installation experience, it hasn’t shown it to be any worse for the wear.

The top seal, in its proper location.
As can be seen, using the top seal on the bottom
meant it has been stretched, and the seal is slightly compromised now. 

Despite being a loose ball headset, it has not developed any symptoms of indexing, or rough rolling when spun. Unlike other headsets I’ve owned on other bikes, this one does not exhibit any tendency to ‘prefer’, or index to, the straight-forward position, even after 1000km. Only 200kms ago did I add a front fender, so mud, dust, dirt and water have splashed against the bottom seal without much of an impact. That’s pretty impressive, in my opinion. The top seal, however, isn’t as great, and its design leaves a little to be desired, since it is essentially a plastic cap with little else to stop dust. Rain probably won’t get in, and hasn’t ever posed a problem, but if you plant on leaving this exposed often, it may become a sticking point (literally!).

Supposedly the construction uses oversized ball-bearings in the races, so this may be why it has been so trouble free. The races are full steel, black powder-coated inside and out, so I expected worn-off paint chips to cause grinding in the headset, but this hasn’t been the case either. It continues its smooth performance, even off-road with a lot of stress load. What is noticeable somewhat is the light friction the headset has on road when turning. It may be smooth, but it has a slight grease-like internal resistance for rotation, which is noticeable when comparing more expensive headsets to this one.

Certainly, this headset won’t be as durable as any Chris King would be, but I give it a 4/5 star rating, because of its smoothness and durability. It loses the 1 star because despite smoothness, the headset isn’t the most freely moving, and the design of the top seal means that dirt and contaminants can easily enter.