FSA Orbit Extreme Pro headset

A year had passed, since I had bought and installed this particular headset on my bike. I gathered that the time is right for me to finally write a review of what has got to be the best headset one could possibly buy.

When I started putting together my bike I already had a quality frame (Cannondale CAAD3), but at the time I didn’t have enough money to buy a really good suspension, so I bought the rigid Cannondale P-bone and made an adapter for so I could use it.

Close up picture of a successfully mounted Xtreme Pro headset.

Close up picture of a successfully mounted Xtreme Pro headset.

What seemed like a thing of real importance was the juncture point between the fork and the bike. There was no suspension which would absorb the impacts which had to endure by the bike, so the headset had to endure all the stress due to the rigid P-bone.

I really did use this bike a lot, I made at least 2000km on it, probably more, mostly under bad weather conditions (cold, mud, rain) during fall, winter and spring of that year. I also did a lot of jumping with my bike, several dangerous falls happened on “Sljeme”, a couple of 2m leaps etc. Orbit had successfully endured all of it. I won’t even mention the regular “going wild” with my bike.

What has to be noted, is the fact that everything went fine with the first 2m jump I took on my bike, but the second time around I didn’t manage to properly raise the front portion of my bike so I landed completely horizontal to the ground. I had fallen so hard that I have been coughing out dirt and leaves (which broke my fall) for a week. And the pain in my shoulders… my god, a rigid bike can really hurt your shoulders. What is fascinating about this story is the fact that the bike itself was never damaged in any way. I slowly got up after the fall and went to bandage myself. I thought that the fork would at least be bent, that something would grind upon turning, but everything was in perfect working condition.

Once I took a fall near my university, the aft rigid part threw me over the nose. Once again I had to recover for a week, but the bike was unscathed.

I didn’t do any precise calculations on the subject, but I suppose that the stress which the fork had to endure was immense (probably more than a few tons of direct pressure) so I really have to commend the fork for its awesome durability.

During the entire time of me using this fork, the fork gave showed exemplary performance. No other bike has ever given me the same wondrous feeling of fine and precise turning of the steering wheel. (Update 2006. – three years later, the only bike part which still remains undamaged is this headset.)

This product has a 10 year warranty attached to it, extending to and including ball bearings, although I seriously doubt that anyone is capable to actually damage it in any way. Smiley

Orbit is packed in a nice round box in which you can find somewhere around 15 separate parts. The quality is supreme, precise to a micron. The cups were lathed using 7075/T6 aluminum, these cups had factory tightly fit closed ball bearings inside… It weighs 119 grams. The one piece ring used on the crown is made of rust free steel and is mounted by hammering it on to the fork. The sealing system is especially interesting, it uses 3 rubber pieces placed on different points along the structure, plus the insulation itself which can be seen on the ball bearings, plus the labyrinth on the upper cap. I drove under very bad weather conditions, and the seals remained intact. With the headset you will also receive a written manual (follow the link to the first and second page of the manual, you can find the links following the text) for the installation and proper use. You can use this manual to learn more about FSA headsets since you can find schematics for all of them in the manual.

One other thing of note about this headset is how the engineers solved the problem of squeezing the fork tube. The lower part is hammered in and it supports the frame. You can lean the lower ball bearing onto it, this lower part is much stronger and is of the exact same width as the fork tube, and there is a wider ball bearing on the upper part. You put a small ring on it, made from rust free steel which is conical in shape and whose purpose is to serve as a wedge between the bearing and the fork. This part in turn is pressed upon by the upper cap which has a rubber ring in its center used to protect it from water. The system used to implement all of this is radically different from anything you could see. You need to invest a lot of time and effort into the installation procedure until you learn how much to tighten in up so that it isn’t tightened too much or not tight enough. I haven’t touched the thing for more than half a year and I was doing stupid things during the entire time, and it never loosened. With this you really don’t need a bike head tightening system.

And now, concerning isolation from water, it’s great, but in order to make it extraordinary, you have to add non solvable grease around the seals and on to the other adjoining places. After that you can put the whole thing under a miniwash without any concern for the bike.

When the time came, and when I was installing the new fork (Marzocchi Z1 Freeride, 2004.) on my bike, I also took the orbit apart and cleaned it up a bit. I cleaned the original grease and carefully put some new grease. When I took apart the seals found on ball bearers I could find no visible signs of any damage, except that I found no grease on one spot (manufacturing fault? maybe water got into it? dunno…), so that spot was dry. Maybe some water dissolved the original lithium grease. I put a new layer of grease there so it didn’t matter in the end.

I still own the same headset and it still works great. It is totally sealed in head tube, with its own seals combined with waterproof grease, just to make sure. It is so reliable you can forget that it is there.

One thing I have to say about this product in a negative sense; there are no stainless steel ball bearings. (Update 2006. – There are some manufacturers who make hubs and headsets out of stainless steel, but I don’t know which. I think one of those may be the British “HOPE”, get more information by surfing the net.)

If you somehow manage to grind or damage the industrial strength ball bearings on your headset (which is very unlikely), or if they somehow get damaged by water (even less likely), you can easily get replacement parts from the SKF, they cost around 50kn (about 5 dollars or 7 euro).

On this picture you can see ball bearings taken out of their housing, one of them was freshly lubricated, and you can see one of my plans which I developed during the time I was trying to figure out a way to put the headset together.

P. S. I forgot to mention one other added value of this headset, it comes with a double sided star. Only a few hours ago mine got broken and I went crazy. It was Sunday, where was I supposed to get a new one? Then it occurred to me that I had an old star which I got with my P-bone so I neatly hammered it out, straightened it up a bit, assembled it onto the fork and drove on! Smiley