Classic Lightweights UK
Stronglight steel headsets
Author Steve Griffith
Stronglight have made a number of innovative contributions to cycling technology; cotterless cranks the 49D from the early 30’s, annular bearings bottom brackets and steel headsets. Made from the late 1940’s the steel Competition* family are for me simply the best of their kind. Amazingly enough Stronglight went on to make the best and lightest alloy headset, the needle roller bearing A9 & Delta family but that is outside the scope of this article.
The obvious distinguishing feature of these headsets is the knurled upper threaded race and a corresponding toothed locking spacer. This has the very desirable effect of preventing loosening. They also allow for micro-adjustment (Var made a set of pliers to fit the threaded top race). I have a number of these headsets fitted and even on bikes that do a lot of off road (punishing for headsets) they never need adjustment if correctly fitted. More importantly is the quality of the races if fitted correctly and greased regularly they really don’t wear out!
Brampton copied the Stronglight design in the early 1950s with their Alatet (identified by the octagonal threaded upper and lower race) although theirs was an inferior product with shallower teeth that tended to wear. Magistroni the Italian firm, best known for their cranks, made use of this design in their 50s headsets. TDC also
made an inferior copy in the 1960s. In the 1970s and 80s another French company Lightrace made a cheaper version. On the other hand, in the 80s and 90s Tange the Japanese maker produced some excellent copies.
Early 1950’s Competition headset before the introduction of letter prefixes
By the late 1950s the headset was known by two model numbers the V4 Competition (weight 6oz) and P3 (4oz). The most obvious external difference being the top nut design and the former having the deeper V shaped crown race. . Early versions of the P3 had an alloy top toothed spacer but this was dropped in the 60’s I think for reasons of wear. V$ and P3 shown below
P3 note the marking on all parts and the distinguishing top nut design
CLB made a front brake hanger which was toothed to fit the threaded race and saved on stack height. In 1972 Stronglight introduced the S5 which was similar to a Campagnolo headset alloy and took 3/16" bearings.
In the early 1980s they marketed the D6 & D8 which were alloy extra-lightweight versions of the Competition. In the late 70s they offered plastic versions the C11 and D9 which was singularly unsuccessful; in fact they were known in some quarters as suicide headsets as the plastic would fail!! Toothed models continued until the 1990s when it was replaced by their alloy annular bearing model.
If buying second-hand check wear on races especially the crown race. Also check the threading, not surprisingly there are lots of French threaded sets around. The original P3 and V4 models had all the parts marked Stronglight even the spacers. Early versions of the spacer are also marked 'marque depose'. The toothed spacer was made in a variety of fittings for different steerers. Later and inferior versions are not marked and if so they may be Tange or other clones so beware.
* Competition was also used as the name of their top quality steel cranks in the 1950s and 60s.
From a c1956 Stronglight catalogue the P3 and the Competition
Daniel Rebour by Frank Berto 2013 has a number of the superb drawings of Stronglight headsets
Holdsworthy Aids to Happy Cycling 1950s to mid-70s
Ron Kitching Everything Cycling late 1950s
My thanks to Peter Brueggeman and Bryan Clarke for their help
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