Chris King

The headset pictured above was manufactured the year Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States. The year the U.S. celebrated its bicentennial. The year Frampton Comes Alive! was released. The year Taxi Driver, All the President’s Men and Rocky hit the theaters.

I was riding a kid’s bike. Because I was still a kid.

I didn’t know who Chris King was or even what a sealed-bearing headset was until I moved to Massachusetts shortly after Greg LeMond’s second Tour victory. It was while working in one of the bike shops that served the huge college population that the shop manager educated me about the wonder of Chris King headsets. He showed me how well they were made, convinced me how little service they needed, demonstrated how they were impervious to nearly everything—including ham-fisted wrenches inclined to over-tighten a headset.

I’d long-since learned how a headset adjusted too tight would pit. The technical term is brinell. Whatever, we all called a headset ruined by over-tightening “indexed.” It was one of my favorite shop jokes.

King headsets were the most unlikely of devices. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that some little company in Santa Barbara, Calif., had come up with an answer to the headset that had no flaws, at least, none that I could find. Sure it was expensive, but if you never had to replace it and knew it would survive almost any event, then wasn’t it easily worth the price? Sure, the Campagnolo headsets were wonderful, but I’d had the fear of God instilled in me by another mechanic who taught me that if you over-tighten a headset—no matter how briefly—you’ve already started the brinelling. It’s bearing cancer. The headset is dead, but no one knows just yet. To this day, I’ve never run across an indexed King headset. I’m sure it has happened, but not often enough for me to encounter it.

So I began purchasing Chris King headsets. Every time I overhauled a bike I owned, I’d replace the headset in it with a King unit. I even figured out how to overhaul the headset that was in my Merlin mountain bike. I had some dental tools that would allow me to remove the C-clips so I could clean out the bearings and races and then squirt fresh grease back in. When I sold that bike 11 years after first building it up the headset was as smooth as it was the day I installed it, and that was no small feat given that the first five years I had that mountain bike I rode it with a Ritchey fork. Put another way, it was rigid, and that means that headset took a beating.

Ultimately I sold each of those bikes and I suspect that no matter how many parts have been replaced on them, the headsets are still going.

King came on as an advertiser last week. Enthusiast media and advertisers have a curious, symbiotic and sometimes grossly incestuous relationship. Readers often wonder (understandably, if we’re honest) just how much of that love was earned rather than purchased. I count Chris King himself an acquaintance. Two of his employees are friends. We’ve been circling around one another, professing our attraction, flirting a bit, but never heading out for the date.

So last week, they finally asked me out. It means a lot to me both personally and professionally. I always wanted our advertisers to be a collection of companies that I believed it, that in aggregate it would be an implicit statement about not just who believes in RKP‘s content, but also an indication of what we respect.

I plain, flat-out, like these guys and this company. At this point it would be easy to request a Cielo bike, a set of wheels, just a set of hubs, or yet another headset. I’ll probably review something of theirs in the not-too-distant future. Why? Like I said, I like the stuff and it would be fun to try something of theirs I haven’t had the chance to ride much, if at all.

That said, I’ve wanted this blog to be transparent in how it works, what the relationships are, and it occurred to me when I received the new ad from King that what I really wanted to talk about were those headsets I no longer own. It’s funny, but once a company starts advertising, getting product to review usually becomes exponentially easier. It’s an odd phenomenon.

Because RKP started so small, we weren’t on everyone’s radar. And despite amazing readership growth, there are still companies that don’t return my phone calls. This, despite my 20+ years in the industry. So there are times when the publication of content about a company and the arrival of a company’s ad can seem oddly coincidental. In our case, it’s just taken some time to get some of these relationships going. Because what we are doing isn’t published by one of the traditional, mainstream publishers, there are loads of companies who have taken a wait-and-see attitude.

We’re talking to a bunch of companies about advertising with us. We’ve also got a fun announcement looming. These changes, these additions are part of a larger plan. I want to offer more of the kinds of content that RKP provides. I’d like to bring in a few new voices, people I think would fit with what you’ve come to enjoy here. Advertising is the engine that will drive that. And to the degree that we end up writing about those advertisers, it’s because we liked what they were doing long before they requested our media kit.

 

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11 comments

  1. randomactsofcycling

    I would say you are lucky to have an intelligent audience that can understand the difference between a proper review and an advertorial. But I don’t think luck has much to do with it. The quality of thought and the presentation of RKP is what has developed your audience.
    I’m truly happy that your vision for RKP is progressing.

  2. Tallmoots

    Thanks for the transparency.

    King makes the finest headsets, and with two sets of the R45 hubs, I will forever be a fan of their products.

  3. Wayne

    Chris King and Phil Wood ushered in the era of the sealed bearings in bicycles. Headset and bottom brackets will never be the same. That said they are just bearing and I have to replace my Chris King headset on my tandem about every 10,000 miles. Chris King makes great products but they are just sealed bearings and not magic.

    Wayne

  4. mark

    Thanks for the transparency, but I think Chris King is among the handful of brands one can gush about and never have one’s credibility or motivation questioned. Their stuff is just that good.

    I look forward to the announcement–hoping it’s something along the lines of iPad app/mobile edition that is readable offline (hint hint).

  5. Jeff Cozad

    As far as I’m concerned, Chris King should be the first definition when you look up the word “Best” and “Reputable” in the dictionary. The day they introduced the Campy Compatible R-45 hubs, they had at least one pair already sold to me. I’ve been using Chris’s stuff for years and if there is something that they make that I can put on my bikes, I will… Period… End of discussion…

    I’ve had several discussions with Chris on Cycle Oregon and it’s one of the things I look forward to doing when I’m out there for that ride. Chapeau!

  6. Souleur

    +1 to all above

    Chris King makes the best, I have never had a problem w/any of my King headsets…none.

    I haven’t owned a hubset, but look to the day I do, because I suspect that they will be the same.

  7. Hautacam

    Interesting to read this post and the Easton carbon wheel review back-to-back.

    Being a working stiff, I will pay attention when someone makes a carbon wheelset that is as reliable as a King headset.

    Until then, I’ll stick to aluminum rims, preferably with at least single eyelets.

    I have sampled many headsets and I can say that the King headset is definitely #1 and a good investment. It’s not just sealed bearings — it’s the quality and precision of manufacture, as well as the support/rebuildability. No, they aren’t indestructible; but in my 25+ years experience they are the closest thing to it.

    Glad they are supporting you. Two class acts, working together.

  8. Jesus from Cancun

    You are right about RKP not being on everyone’s radar… yet. I hadn’t heard about you until I got here while tracking “Mr. Explainer” Charles Pelkey.

    I have to say that anyone who gives him a space to write at can count me up as a fan. Thank you for giving Pelkey’s followers a chance to keep reading his intelligent writing.

    And I have to agree also about the quality of King’s headsets. I still ride my last sponsored bike, a ’95 custom Benotto with Columbus SL.
    The only parts on the bike that I raced on back then, and are still alive, are the Campy Super Record seatpost, Cinelli stem, Time Equipe Pro pedals, and the King headset. Right, bulletproof, and still smooth as new.
    Oh, I also still ride my favorite saddle ever: an Avocet O2 titanium, but that one has gone through a few skin changes already.

    Anyway, I am very glad to have found RKP. I am sure the word will spread and the site will keep growing. Keep up the great work!

  9. todd k

    Not much I can add… I tend to grab Chris King product when that option presents itself. Never had any failures with their product. I can say that the Chris King Bottom bracket pays for itself if you race cyclocross. It is a breeze to maintain and it is great to not have to toss out bearings and bottom brackets every season (or less).

  10. James

    Well, I hate to be the downer here but I have some Chris King hubs that I absolutely hate! Despite being made in Portland, OR they don’t function well in wet weather. I have to tear the rear one apart and clean it weekly or it will slip when applying power (I’m not sure what the technical term is but it is akin to when a chain and freewheel sprocket wear out and start slipping). I use those wheels as a back up pair now. I haven’t used any of their other items and I have met Chris King and he seems like a nice person and was helpful about another question I had with those hubs.

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