You may well have spotted that mountain bike head angles are getting slacker. Modern ‘enduro’ bikes are headed towards 65 degrees which used to be reserved for full on downhill bikes until just recently. Should you go slack in your new frame or play it safe with some less aggressive angles? Can you even tell the difference or is it all just marketing hype?
In theory the bike should be more composed when pointed downhill at the expense of some slightly more wayward steering when you’re climbing back up again. But short of jumping in and having a new frame made how do you know if it’s for you?
Well slip into your white coat, pop a biro into your pocket protector and step right into the lab…
I’d been looking at my trusty Nukeproof Mega TR (the old school version with proper sized wheels) wondering if it would benefit from a slacker head angle. It’s a bombproof bike that’s perfect for UK riding with 150 mm travel up front and 130 mm of rear suspension.
Handily for those slack-curious amongst us salvation comes in the form of the angleset; it’s like a headset but on the piss.
As modern head tubes are larger than the steerer you’re fitting in them we’ve got the option to put things on a slight angle with some offset headset cups. Not all combinations will fit of course but with the standard 44mm straight tube on the Nukeproof we’ve got some room to manoeuvre even with a tapered steerer tube fork.
But… it’s still a pretty tight squeeze, I’m glad I’m not the person that has to work out exactly how the cups are machined. Not surprisingly the range of sizes to cope with the various combinations of forks and head tubes is rather dizzying. Thankfully Works Components have done the head scratching for us – just make sure you know the size and length of your head tube as well as the type of fork steerer you’re using.
How far to take it?
How extreme to take it though, would I noticed a degrees difference? Would two degrees be too much? I decided to split the difference and go for their 1.5 degree kit. Fitting is… well, you know how you want to make sure the logos are lined up when you fit a standard headset? Like that but a bit more fiddly!
Normally my bike uses an internal headset at the top and external cup at the bottom. The angleset uses an external cup at the top too so don’t forget you’ll need to check your steerer tube is long enough to cope. Handily I already had a 10 mm spacer under the stem which was just swapped for a 2.5 mm one.
The cups come marked with a ‘mid line’, I found the tip of using a bit of wire around the seat tube to help get everything in line was the best approach. You then snug the cup in the head tube by hand and hope that it won’t move while you carefully install the headset press around it. One rather interesting tip I heard about was to put the headset in the freezer for a few hours to shrink it down after which you can install and rotate it by hand! I’ve not tried this but would be intrigued to know if it works…
What really happened?
So how far did things go? I did some before and after tape measuring and used an angle finding app on my phone. I tried each time to make sure my bike was lined up against a couple of reference points but there could still be a +/- few mm and +/- 0.1 degrees on each measurement.
Wheelbase: 1162 mm
Bottom Bracket height: 341 mm
Head angle: 67 degrees
Wheelbase: 1175 mm
Bottom Bracket height: 339 mm
Head angle: 66 degrees
Not quite the 1.5 degrees promised but we do have a measurable difference. It could be down to the length of the headtube. The kit I bought was for 115 to 122mm headtubes, at 120mm we’re at the upper end of that limit which could have take away the additional half a degree of slack.
Go on then, how does it ride?
It rides… Well it rides like a bike! One thing it didn’t do is suddenly turn into a mini downhill machine with ponderously slow steering. We did only slacken it by a degree so any effect is going to be subtle, which is probably a good thing.
It’s hard to be objective as you often look for things you’ve been told will happen. The steering should be slightly slower, the handling at speed less nervous and the wheel will tend to flop from side to side more when you’re pointing uphill.
I think all of those things happened but in a subtle way, this is very much still my ride but just refined a little! I fired down my favourite trails and PR’d them on Strava. Now that could have been because of the excellent conditions or having fitted a new front tyre recently, or even from the placebo effect of knowing my bike was ‘better’.
Or there could be something in this slack head angle business 😉
One thing I was concerned about was that being slightly further away the front wheel would tend to washout more in corners as there would be less weight on it. This didn’t seem to be an issue though, the steering and grip felt as solid as ever.
Should I go slack?
Yes, I think you should! If you’re designing a new mountain bike frame then I don’t see an issue with going for a slacker head angle to gee up the downhill ability. Don’t forget to consider the design as a whole though, you’d also be advised to match it with a nice stubby stem which will mean lengthening the top tube too.
This Works Components Angleset in particular?
Heck yes, why not! If you’re not ready for another frame just yet then it’s a great way to try out some nu skool geometry. At £80 odd it’s not cheap but it’s on a par with other high end headsets and all they have to do is go in a straight line. It’s also cheaper than the Cane Creek equivalent too.
Interestingly Works Components now do a 2 degree adapter that should fit my frame… Hmm, I wonder…
Wide range of fittings. I wouldn’t fancy trying to work out what every combination of headtube and fork would need!
UK designed and manufactured (in the West Midlands). And you can’t say that very often these days.
Quality design and feel. Instructions were a little minimal but did the job.
Great way to try out a slacker head angle on your existing frame.
A bit anonymous, the guys do put a logo on the top cap but not everyone will use that. Additional finishing work would put up the prices though.
Took a few days for delivery, given the range of parts it could be they’re made to order but you know what us impatient Internet mail order types are like.
Top bearing felt a little rough out of the packet, not majorly so but not as smooth as the bottom set. You should be able to get replacements from your local bearing factor/eBay though.
Didn’t get the full 1.5 degrees promised. Given the range of factors involved here it’s probably tricky to guarantee exact changes.
Bit tricky to fit, but you should be expecting that given what we’re trying to do.
You can find out more about the range of Works Components headsets and other UK manufactured goodies over on their website: http://www.workscomponents.co.uk/
And just in case you were wondering – no freebies were blagged during the making of this review, I bought this headset with me own actual money. Although Works Components are welcome to bung me a 2 degree version of the headset to try out as it would be interesting to see what going slacker again would feel like 😉