Tapered Head Tubes: Everything You Need To Know

Tapered head tubes are becoming a standard part of the typical bike frame design. Almost all new high-end bicycles feature a tapered head tube and steerer column instead of straight tubes.

If you are in the market for a new bike, you may want to know more about tapered head tubes and whether they are worth it.

Bike handlebars and head tube purchased after cyclist learned what is a tapered head tube

What Is a Tapered Head Tube?

A tapered head tube is tapered instead of straight. The top of the tube has a diameter of 1 1/8 inches while the bottom of the tube has a diameter of 1 1/2 inches. The tapered headtube is made to fit a tapered steerer column.

Let’s explore some reasons why you should get a bike with a tapered head tube.

Tapered Head Tube vs. Straight Head Tube: What’s the Difference?

Understanding the differences between a tapered and straight steerer requires you to understand the basic components of a headset. You can choose from multiple types of headset designs, such as:

  • Threaded
  • Threadless
  • Low profile/zero stack
  • Integrated systems
  • Campagnolo Hiddenset
  • Microtech

Threadless headsets are the most common choice for the typical frame design. Most newer systems include many of the same components found in threadless designs.

The conventional threadless design includes bearing cups pressed into the top and bottom of the head tube. The steering column (steerer tube) is not threaded. It slides through the head tube and relies on an internal centering sleeve to maintain alignment with the bearing cup.

The traditional design allows the steerer tube to flex slightly when braking. The flexibility of the steerer tube puts pressure on the head tube, which may eventually cause the head tube to crack. The movement of the steerer may also cause the headset to loosen.

While these issues are rare, they can occur. A tapered design aims to reduce or eliminate these issues.

The tapered design still provides a little bit of flexibility from the steerer tube. However, the steerer tube has less room to move, resulting in a stiffer, more rigid feel.

Can You Put Tapered Steerers in Straight Head Tubes?

You may be able to use a tapered fork with a straight head tube, depending on the design of the head tube. If the head tube has a diameter of 1.5 inches, you can use a tapered fork by replacing the headset bearings.

Using an external upper bearing cup with a diameter of 1.125 inches for the top and 1.5 inches for the bottom should support a tapered fork.

Using a straight steerer tube with a tapered headset is a little easier, as you can purchase adapters for securing the straight steerer column. However, this only works with a 1 1/8 inch steerer column, as a 1 1/2 inch tube will not fit through the top of a tapered head tube.

Advantages of a Tapered Head Tube

The number of cyclists increases every year. Research shows that over 50 million people in the U.S. ride bicycles for fun, exercise, or transportation. Due to the popularity of cycling, manufacturers continually develop new ways to improve the performance of their products.

The tapered head tube is an example of one of these innovations. The design helps solve several issues:

  • Greater stiffness
  • Stronger design
  • Access to high-end forks
  • Increased versatility

Below is a closer look at the advantages of tapered head tubes.

Tapered Designs Provide Greater Stiffness

A tapered head tube may offer increased stiffness, responsiveness, and feedback when you ride. These features are especially beneficial for mountain bike riders.

The tapered design minimizes the movement of the steerer column inside the head tube. There is less leeway for the steerer column to bend when braking or riding over rough terrain.

The extra stiffness results in less lag, and therefore the front of your bike should feel a little more responsive.

A Tapered Head Tube Is More Durable

The tube itself is more durable compared to a straight head tube, as the conical design is more stable. It spreads the pressure from the force applied to the bottom of the tube, which puts less stress on the bicycle headset.

The bottom of the head tube also has a wider diameter compared to the standard head tubes (1 inch and 1.125 inch head tubes). The wider diameter allows for larger headset bearings. The larger bearings spread pressure across a larger surface, resulting in increased resiliency.

Getting a Tapered Headset Gives You More Options

Bike frame designs with tapered head tubes give you access to more options when you’re upgrading your bike. You can choose from a wider range of forks, as your bike will likely support the latest high-end forks and older designs with straight steerer tubes.

While you can use a straight head tube with a tapered steerer tube, you may not receive the full advantages of the tapered design.

As tapered bike headsets are becoming the standard, you may also futureproof your bicycle frame. You can ensure that your new bicycle frame design will continue to work with the latest high-end forks.

Are Tapered Head Tubes Worth It?

A tapered head tube offers several advantages compared to older straight tubes. However, switching to a tapered design may not dramatically impact your cycling performance.

If you are mostly happy with your current setup, you may not need to upgrade to a high-end bicycle with a tapered head tube. The difference in riding and handling may be minimal.

For cyclists who are looking to buy a new bike, you may want to focus on options with a tapered head tube. Bikes with headsets that are tapered offer a stiffer steerer column for greater control, handling, and responsiveness.

A tapered design also allows you to choose from a wider range of forks when you’re buying parts for your bike. Almost all high-end forks are made with a tapered steerer column.

While you can use straight forks with a tapered head tube and vice versa, using adapters and risers increases the complexity of your setup. There is a greater risk for something to go wrong.

The bottom line is that a tapered head tube is quickly becoming the standard for new bikes. Nevertheless, it may not provide enough of a difference to warrant upgrading your bike for this single feature.

Image at top: © Glory Cycles | Creative Commons