Dissecting The Usefulness Of Tapered Head Tubes  

from Rookie’s keyboard

Hello, rookies

It’s Monday a.k.a time to do some real work. But luckily that doesn’t apply to me as there’s little to do in the office today. Lucky me, I guess. So, I will take my time to make a post for your favorite cycling site (hopefully).

Today, I will dissect the term tapered head tubes as some newbies might be confused about its meaning.

The head tube (HT) is the shortest tube of a bicycle frame through which the steerer of the fork passes. 

Before all HTs were the same diameter from one end to the other. But eventually, tapered head tubes came to the scene. They are cone-shaped. In other words, their diameter gets progressively larger from top to bottom. Hence the name.

Tapered head tubes require forks with a tapered steerer that’s 1 1/8″ wide at the top and 1.5″ at the bottom.

Why the change?

Well, the truth is that standard non-tapered head tubes were just fine…for decades. And there isn’t an essential reason for the existence of tapered HTs. Sorry, that’s just the reality of the situation regardless of what the bike industry says. 

Nonetheless, I will list the potential strong points of tapered HS. Those would be: 

  • Larger Headset(HS) Bearings

The greater diameter of tapered head tubes at the bottom allows the installation of bigger bearings. This is a positive because larger bearings offer greater strength and endurance. (The stress is spread over a larger surface.)

For that reason, the HSs of tapered head tubes are at least theoretically more resilient.

  • Stiffness

Whenever the bike industry wants to sell you something new, it makes it stiffer. Semi-serious. 

The reality is that when the parameters of two tubes are equal (material, thickness…etc.), but one has a larger diameter, it becomes more resistant to stress.  

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that. Trying to bend a plastic pipe of a huge diameter will be very difficult if not impossible. Meanwhile, a plastic pipe of a small diameter is easy to bend. This is the same theory behind the extra stiffness of tapered HTs.

The reality of the situation, however, is that this mythical extra stiffness is not measurable and also not perceivable. Thus, it’s also inconsequential. 

Nonetheless, manufacturers insist on pointing out that a stiffer head tube renders the front end snappier and more responsive thanks to the reduced “lag”.  

Good luck feeling a difference.

  • Future-proofing

Tapered head tubes are the current MTB standard and come in greater variety. If you choose a frame with one, you will be theoretically “future-proofing” your bike because it will be compatible with the latest suspension forks.

  • Tougher Downtubes

Tapered head tubes allow the installation of downtubes with a greater diameter boosting the stiffness of the entire frame.

  • Lighter and Stiffer Steerer Tube

The steerer tube is the one passing through the head tube. In the case of tapered HTs, the steerer is also tapered. The larger diameter near the crown makes it possible for the steerer to have the same strength and stiffness as a standard steerer thanks to the larger diameter. (I know I repeated that a few too many times.) 

Once again I am telling you this so that you have all the theory at your disposal. In practice, this point makes zero difference.

Ofc, tapered HTs have downsides too. On the top of my head, I can list the following:

  • Tapered HTs are not compatible with non-tapered forks unless you use an adapter that reduces the cup size of the frame. That adapter is also known as a reducer. 
  • A non-tapered frame cannot accept a tapered fork unless you use special adapters that position the lower headset bearings outside the frame. There is no other way as the steerer simply won’t fit in the head tube. 

This method will elevate the head tube and slacken the head tube angle by about 1 degree. The effect on the bike handling isn’t great, but it’s not zero either.

Entry-Level Bikes Could Be Weird

Somewhat ironically, there are entry-level bikes with a tapered frame and a non-tapered fork. The reasons for this pairing are economical. In this case, the money is saved from the fork. This doesn’t mean that all non-tapered forks are cheaper or low-end. 

However, virtually all low-end suspension forks are non-tapered. Thus, the manufacturer uses one of those while presenting the frame as “upgradable” and thus worthy of a higher cost.

Quality Over Everything

My take?

While it’s useful to know the difference between tapered and non-tapered forks and HTs, don’t obsess over those details. Instead, look at the bigger picture when choosing a frame or a fork. A tapered fork/frame can be subpar in comparison to a non-tapered duo. 

Personally, I have only non-tapered forks because my bikes are older. Nonetheless, they work just fine for me, and I won’t upgrade them just for the sake of it. 

Well, I hope this info was helpful, rookies. Time for me to return to work. I can see my boss approaching my desk.

Until next time

– rookie






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