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CeramicSpeed Upgrades Cervelo and Specialized Road Bikes with new Ceramic Headset

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Photo 1. CeramicSpeed Headset Full Pack

You might not give the bearings on your bike much thought, but as CeramicSpeed puts it, they are the “smallest, yet most important part.” That may be a bit hard to quantify, but one thing is for sure – without bearings, all of the spinning and moving parts on your bicycle would be pretty rough. Because of that philosophy, CeramicSpeed has spent the last 11 years making some of the world’s best bearings by hand at the company’s headquarters in Denmark.

After cornering the market on top level upgrades for hubs, bottom brackets, and derailleur pulleys (including their new $1000 3D printed Titanium pulleys), CeramicSpeed has their sights set on headsets. Well, at least the headsets of current Cervelo and Specialized road bikes. Most people are familiar with the claims of better rolling resistance and wear from ceramic bearings, but we were a bit surprised to hear CeramicSpeed’s claims of their new headset actually making the front end of the bike stiffer…

Photo 4. Tinkoff Saxo Specialized bicycle Photo 2. CeramicSpeed Headset on Specialized and Cervelo

Just how does a headset manage to make a bicycle more stiff? According to CeramicSpeed, that increase in front end precision is due to the material of the ball bearings themselves. Compared to a steel ball, the ceramic balls found in the new headset are 63% stiffer and 128% harder. Those numbers mean the balls should deform less on a minute scale under heavy load such as cornering, sprinting, or hard braking, ultimately making the front end of the bike more stiff. CeramicSpeed also claims the surface of the ceramic ball is 400% smoother than steel (and 100% smoother than competing ceramic) which prevents the ball from wearing the race like a steel bearing would. Reduced wear results in the performance of the headset staying more or less constant, instead of degrading over time.

Sounds great, but how much is this going to cost you? Like most CeramicSpeed products, the top level performance is reflected in the price with the complete headset, top cap, and spacers selling for 249€/$339. The headset is also only currently available for Specialized and Cervelo bikes though technically it should be compatible with other road bikes using the same headset standard. Officially, CeramicSpeed told us they are producing 4 different kits to match all of the Specialized S-Works models since they use different headsets, and one kit for all Cervelo models. The piece of the kit that is unique to the two brands is the headset cap and while CeramicSpeed says it should work on other models, currently the can only guarantee the perfect fit on Specialized and Cervelo frames. Once the kits are available in May, they will provide a fit chart that will outline the sizes used in each kit to make the selection process easier.

The headset has already been road tested by pro cycling teams including Tinkoff-Saxo who have used it for the past two seasons, stating “they may not be highly visible on our S-Works bikes but the riders’ feedback is they can notice that the steering is highly improved. We can easily feel it in the racing experience and we’re glad to be using it this season again.”

ceramicspeed.com

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Ilikeicedtea
Ilikeicedtea
9 years ago

A day too late.

tom
tom
9 years ago

^ amen. They should also quote a reduction in wattage to steer the bike, just to clinch the insanity of it.

nightfend
nightfend
9 years ago

Talk about a waste of money. Ceramic bearings on wheels and bottom brackets is marginal at best. Putting them in a headset is completely pointless.

pmurf
pmurf
9 years ago

You might not give the prices of their products much thought, but as Ceramispeed puts it “gigantic margins are the least publicized, but most important part”

i
i
9 years ago

I’ll bet anyone as much as they want that given 2 bikes, one with a steel headset, the other one of these, that they can’t tell which is which. Regardless of how much stiffer or smoother the ceramic model is.

'Merika
'Merika
9 years ago

The flip side of this insanity is that there will be a review in a respected publication in which the tester will claim that there is indeed a noticeable different between a standard headset and the CeramicSpeed headset.

This, my friends, is called the nocebo effect.

My favorite is when people claim a wheelset is stiffer, when all that was done is to increase the air pressure in the tires. (How does one separate rim flex from tire squirm while leaning the bike on a berm-less turn? I can see a pro rider *maybe* being able to feel it, but you hear all the time from weekend warriors around the campfire after eight too many high-IBU IPAs.)

tom
tom
9 years ago

the one reason I could see doing something ceramic (though not necessary, and certainly not at this expense) is that all my Cane Creek lower bearings rust and crap out after about a year and half. Would love to have something that lasted longer in my Cannondale.

benbart
benbart
9 years ago

And I’m going to notice the lack of flex of the ceramic bearings through the flex of the fork, wheels, tire, stem, handlebars and bar tape… How, exactly?

JasonK
JasonK
9 years ago

Technically, CeramicSpeed is not wrong to claim that their ceramic balls are stiffer than steel balls. But this is such utter BS that it makes me gag.

Silicon nitride has a Young’s modulus of about 300 GPa, or about 50% more than steel’s 200 GPa. So, in theory, the headset balls will deform 50% less. (The steel races will deform a bit more with ceramic balls than they would with steel balls, so the improvement will be less than 50%).

But your steel headset ball bearings deform infinitesimally…so little it would be extremely hard to measure in the real world.

Using hand calcs for Hertzian contact, it’s easy to learn that a 2mm steel bearing/race combo deforms about .0062 millimeters under a 75-Newton load, which is roughly equal to what the most highly-loaded ball would see when you’re really pulling hard on the bars. .0062 mm is 0.00024 inches, for those of you not metrically inclined.

A steel race with a silicon nitride ball under the same load deforms about 0.0056 mm. Better, yes, but an improvement of 0.6 microns (µm), or 600 nanometers. That’s a fantastically tiny improvement.

For comparison, spider silk is about 3–8 µm in diameter. CeramicSpeed is claiming that riders are telling them that they can feel a decrease in flex *an order of magnitude smaller* than a single strand of spider silk.

I have no doubt that riders said nice things, but this is obviously the placebo effect in action. Individuals will report all sorts of improvements that are physically impossible if they think they’ve got better gear. This is what sells golf clubs, audiophile stereo equipment and now, sadly, bicycle headset bearings.

If indeed there are any engineers at CeramicSpeed and if those engineers have an ounce (gram?) of engineering integrity, CeramicSpeed would not claim that this infinitesimal increase in headset bearing stiffness is perceptible.

This is not a minor technical claim being spun by the marketing department–this is lying with statistics.

/screed

FWIW, I’m a mechanical engineer. As if you couldn’t tell.

th1npower
th1npower
9 years ago

..the crazy part is that all the bearing sizes can be bought through other sources and w/ ceramic bearing for a fraction of the cost. i replaced all my swing-arm bearings w/ ceramics several yrs ago for less than $20 from direct sourcing. check ’em once a year, clean, add grease, ride on…

Rico
Rico
9 years ago

Headsets on road bikes are high maintenance. Someone desing one that doesn’t rust or get cruddy after getting sweat on. Maybe some kind of seal? I dunno but if it happens i’d pay a premium. Dont think the material of the balls matters in ghat regard though, not sure.

Archer Swift
Archer Swift
9 years ago

JasonK
Awesome Fantastic information. THANK YOU for telling it like it is.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
9 years ago

People who claim to feel the difference in headset materials are like people who claim to be able to hear the difference in digital audio signals between 2 Ethernet cables.

ChrisC
ChrisC
9 years ago

Given that the link in the article takes you to the Ceramic Speed website, where one will find exactly *NOTHING* about ceramic headset bearings, I am inclined to agree with Ilikeicedtea. This is one day too late. 🙂

SamSkjord
SamSkjord
9 years ago

JasonK, if this were Reddit I’d give you gold. As it is not I made you BR Gold http://i.imgur.com/KL7coaD.jpg

Veganpotter
Veganpotter
9 years ago

I’m already a fast rider, 95% of that comes from ceramic bearings in my bb, wheels and pulleys. I’m also a terrible bike handler. This will surely fix that too!!!

JasonK
JasonK
9 years ago

Sadly, ChrisC, you’re mistaken. Here’s a press release on CS’s web site dated March 30th:

http://ceramicspeed.com/media/286550/15.03.30.CeramicSpeed-Headset.Press-Release.pdf

Parodies are both more and less fun when they’re unwitting self-parodies.

JasonK
JasonK
9 years ago

Wow…thanks, SamSkjord!

I am drunk with power.

saddlesniffer
saddlesniffer
9 years ago

I don’t think they have the hardest balls… or the smoothest. I’ll contest that.

Roy
Roy
9 years ago

my vote is for JasonK to be a BR BS de-bunker! That mathematical breakdown and reference to spider silk puts things plainly in perspective….

gumby
gumby
9 years ago

I find rosary beads draped over the headset from my stem make my bike steer even better than ceramic bearings and ceramic lube gives me a rash.

turbojet megafred
turbojet megafred
9 years ago

The difference in bearing friction that ceramicspeed claims is mostly due to the reduced grease pack in their bearings. While most bearings in dirty low speed locations like bike wheels have around 80% grease pack, ceramicspeed uses less than half that. This makes the bearings roll with less friction, but also means they are more susceptible to rust. Regardless of the condition of the ceramic balls, steel races still rust faster with less grease, reducing the overall durability of these bearings. Seals and the ball material also have an effect, but the amount of grease is typically the dominant factor when it comes to bearing friction. So if you want to make your headset feel like a ceramicspeed headset, just flush the grease out of it and save $340.

keville
9 years ago

Throw my vote in with @Roy — @JasonK needs to be an official compensated commenter on any given story with fishy material engineering claims. Great breakdown!

JonB
JonB
9 years ago

Ceramic bearings are actually worse for applications like suspension and headsets, which are incredibly low speed and suffer from shock damage. Ceramic ball bearings are (well, can be) harder and smoother than steel bearings, and especially when coupled with ceramic races can improve performance in very high speed applications. They also have a lower coefficient of friction, so any sliding action that does take place (for example, in 4-point/gothic arch, tapered roller, or needle thrust bearings) will result in less friction and heat.

However, they are TERRIBLE in shock – the harder ceramic balls are both more likely to cause brinelling (false or otherwise, depending on loading) in a steel race, and even full ceramic bearings are more likely to crack under impact loads. Both bad news for headsets (and suspension, for that matter). Stick to steel there.

For wheels and BBs, ceramic bearings can show marginal increases – so if you’re a pro level rider, hey, that tiny gain may be worth it to you. Otherwise, just skip that dessert the night before the big race and see a much bigger improvement.

And that’s not even going into the bogus stiffness claims, as JasonK went into quite well above.

JasonK
JasonK
9 years ago

JonB makes some excellent points.

Also, one should never pay for ceramic bearings…if you’re good enough for them to matter, you’ll get them for free.

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