The Pinkbike Podcast: Episode 153 - Headset Cable Routing is... Good?

Nov 24, 2022
by Mike Levy  
Pinkbike Podcast
Art by Taj Mihelich

We love to get riled up about stuff, don't we? If it's not make-believe bike categories and wheel sizes, it could be electric motors and seat angles, and if it's not those things it might be frame materials, recycling, or that 10,000-word blog post on why you need 447mm rather than 443mm chainstays. More recently, headset cable routing has been in our crosshairs, with many brands releasing bikes that see their brake and shift lines disappear into either the stem or the headset top cap.

Headset routing sure looks good, of course, and it's been said to also make for a slightly lighter and stronger frame, but the drawbacks are obvious. Number one on everyone's list of complaints is that it's more difficult and time-consuming to replace any of those lines or look after your headset, and there are also proprietary parts that can be involved. Worse yet, it seems like the main reason we're seeing new bikes use headset routing is simply that it looks better, some brands admitted in Seb Stott's recent Burning Question article.

Today's episode sees Mike Kazimer and Brian Park fight the powers that be and believe that no bikes should use headset routing, while Henry and I try to make a case for completely hidden lines and added complication.

Scott's design looks clean but uses many proprietary parts.
Focus' spaghetti monster stem is a different solution.

November 24th, 2022

Why are we using it if it's more complicated, more challenging to work on, and probably less reliable?

What kind of cable routing would you like on your next bike?

Podcast presented by Bosch

Featuring a rotating cast of the editorial team and other guests, the Pinkbike podcast is a weekly update on all the latest stories from around the world of mountain biking, as well as some frank discussion about tech, racing, and everything in between.

Subscribe to the podcast via your preferred service (Apple, Spotify, RSS, LibSyn, etc.), or visit the Pinkbike Podcast tag page for the complete list of episodes.

Author Info:
mikelevy avatar

Member since Oct 18, 2005
2,032 articles

  • 75 4
 I'm a shop owner and I bill 100.00 an hour for brake swaps and cable routings. I support the most complicated, awful system that keeps bikes in my stands all day long. Thank you bike industry for making this a great holiday season.
  • 19 2
 so installation of the product is going to cost more than the product?
  • 19 1
 @jaydawg69: seems fair to me. It's an hourly rate. Brake and cable swap on an all external bike,? Small bill. 3 hour job? Big bill.

It's on the customer for choosing which bike to buy. That's on them. All shops should move to an hourly rate for these things.
  • 4 5
 @j-t-g: I don't have a problem with the shop doing the work as long as the customer is aware beforehand or when the shop sold them the bike. I like shops that have a fixed rate for a job like cars. Nothing worse than surprises on the bill.
  • 17 0
 @jaydawg69: Some jobs lend themselves to having a fixed rate, but working on integrated nonsense usually doesn't. Sooooo much variability.
  • 2 1
 @captaintyingknots: I get that but I'm not gonna pay $500 to change a drivetrain or brakes. I hope the shop explains this beforehand.
  • 14 1
 @j-t-g: but is the salesman going to tell you that downside when he's pushing the 'sleek looks'? Is he going to say 'it looks great but will either cost you an arm and a leg or your sanity if it needs messing with'? No, of course not, and that's the problem.
  • 1 0
 Do you tell the customers about that already when selling the integrated bike?
  • 4 0
 @jaydawg69: I feel ya, it could be a big bill, but the shop can't be doing work for free. Working on excessively complicated systems at a flat rate means they'd be discounting their labor significantly. The real solution is for the bike companies to keep this nonsense contained to road race bikes (where it actually does improve aero). MTB doesn't need more integration!
  • 4 0
 This sounds like a long and exiting sales pitch. Cable guiding on this bike is this much more expensive than on the other bike, unless you get AXS which by itself is this much more expensive. This fork you can service yourself or we'll do it for you, the other one we're going to send off and will cost you this much. Your rims are going to last this much longer if you run these inserts but tire swaps will be this much more expensive. This one has more expensive pivot bearings etc... People just need to know service takes effort. If you don't want to put in the effort, it is going to cost money. If you want to know up front, inform yourself. You can ask to be spoonfed but you have to ask for the spoonfeeding yourself.
  • 1 0
 @jaydawg69: well servicing almost does already, so why not?
  • 49 1
 What a clickbait, shame on you PB! Next article: He routed his brake through the headset and you would not believe what happened!
  • 3 0
 i love those articles Smile
  • 3 0
 I forgot Wink emoji, hope that most people will still notice I was kidding Smile You can put your pitchforks back to the sheds.
  • 26 0
 I routed my pitchfork through my headset, it's stuck
  • 5 0
 @DizzyNinja: what kind of suspension fork is that?
  • 4 0
 @lehott: It's rigid
  • 1 0
 Came here to say just that.
  • 2 0
 Pitchforks are great if you run two front wheels. Two front brakes too? Oh no...
  • 25 0
 To be perfectly honest while they might look cleaner from afar. Most of these thru-headset cable solutions look like more of an eye sore to me up close… not to mention with the trickle down of technology. More and more bikes over the next few years could have wireless shifting and droppers, leaving only the rear brake to deal with leaving this rather useless.

On a lighter note I can’t help but think how hilarious it would be if someone made a custom stem plate for that focus to look like an octopus with cables for tentacles.. because that’s all I can see when I look at that cable routing
  • 1 0
 I agree, headset routing looks bad to me, and it's not because I'm not used to it. I think it's a vocal minority that likes it and it will just be a passing fad. And I'm a person that has been into multiple cycling disciples over many years including vintage and historic bikes.
  • 22 2
 "Headset routing sure looks good"
Gave up reading after that. Fell at the first hurdle...

Headset routing looks shit.
  • 1 0
 Agree. Seems like HQ et al lost the plot on this one. I'm thinking about all the incredible stems and bars, all those style pieces, the epicenter of rider bike input... keep the cables away from this for the aesthetic reasons, if nothing else. People pay top dollar for stems for a reason, they look awesome, they serve a purpose, yes, but they look a certain way that speaks for the bike and the intention of the rider. Again, cables routed in this area detract from that style piece... stem/bar/ steerer interface should stand on its own, aesthetically
  • 16 6
 We don't need more manufactured controversy, cheers Pinkbike. It's a bit tiresome when your editors take a contrary stance on things like cable routing, purely for the attention.
  • 9 0
 I've always thought Canyon's downtube channel/cover was a great solution on the old model of Torque, not quite sure why the removed it.

For those who don't know it was essentially a plastic bolt on shield that held the cables underneath the downtube, which looked pretty good imo. Saved the need for downtube protection and looked almost as clean as internal with almost the same ease of use as external routing
  • 2 0
 This and internal tunneled cables through the frame are the only acceptable solutions for internal cabling. Every other solution plain sucks and headset routing takes the cake for being the worst idea from both a practical and esthetics point of view.
  • 1 0
 I bet that was a demand thing. Reviewers kept mentioning internal routing, customers started asking for it and so eventually they met the demand.
  • 13 2
 So good that we reached a point on our sport when the tiny little things are what get on peoples nerves.
  • 5 1
 Other people still annoy me more, but it’s nice to have a long list of things to be angry about.
  • 13 7
 Just because Pinkbike is an extension of the mountain bike industry’s marketing department’s doesn’t mean you HAVE TO support every dumb idea these companies push on us…you could, just maybe, every once in a while, attempt to let the industry know what the customers actually want.
  • 34 12
 Did you listen to the podcast before commenting or nah?
  • 51 1
 @mikelevy: hell no, informed comments are dumb.
  • 35 3
 @mikelevy: As kindly as I can say this, don't make clickbait titles and you won't get clickbait replies.

Cheers lad.
  • 9 5
 @sherbet: “Why are we using it if it's more complicated, more challenging to work on, and probably less reliable?”
  • 5 2
 @mikelevy: because dentists buy bikes based on looks … and dentists spend more $$$

I just got a Zerode Taniwha Trail (hey Levy, good review!) and I was pleased to see that the rear brake line was run externally.

Keep up the good work, live all the internal line routing, let’s keep those shops busy!
  • 7 3
 @mikelevy: For what it's worth, I'm so far not against headset routing. I will have to check your podcast on this one, but we've had the new Scotts in stock; they're just not that bad to deal with, and they sell like hotcakes.

People want gorgeous bikes, this fits what most people deem as hot. 99% of our customers never take a wrench to their bike, sadly even when cranks are loose on trail. Headset routing is not an issue for most riders out there.

So if it's a non issue to most, it drives sales, and it makes people believe they own the ferrari of the bike world, what's the issue? There's other bikes out there with external cables that people are able to buy. Get one of those if those are your priority. It's very interesting to me that something I see as completely not a problem is blown up this massively, and I'M LITERALLY THE DUDE WORKING ON IT.

Sorry, rant over. Have a good one dude.
  • 6 0
 @sherbet: The issue is that it’s a pain in the ass and turns one nice arc of cable into 3 sharp ones. Cables will need to be swapped more often and takes longer. They might be selling like hotcakes but it’s a slippery slope. I’m sure they’d sell just as well with cables slightly more visible.
  • 3 0
 @sherbet: because after a while most brands in the bike industry tend to follow the 'Ferrari' trends and we all had to put up with press fit BBs, BOOST ULTRA TURBO MAX DELUXE spacing and QR15 on DH bikes. Enough is enough.
  • 3 0
 @sherbet: Yeah, most of Scotts customers doesn´t wrench their bikes. But the disease is spreading to other brands and that is scary
  • 8 6
 Most customers of most brands don't wrench on their own bikes. I sell Marin, Santa Cruz, Scott, Kona, Niner, and a host of others. The vast, and I cannot overstate this enough, vast majority of customers bring their bikes back for service for years after we've sold it to them, then get a new bike and the cycle starts again.

To those that haven't worked on the systems, you're overexaggerating how annoying it is. Most people I encounter don't swap their upper bearing on their headset for years. You should be getting brake service within that timeframe regardless.

We have other gorgeous bikes in this same category of bike. Blurs, Tallboys, Spurs, Rift Zones, etc. People are going for the Scott citing that the lack of cables is a plus for them. People would walk past the externally cabled Spark and go for the internal one, I cannot stress enough how this is absolutely a given reason for why the bikes are selling, and it comes up every time we sell one.

Don't buy the Scott if you don't want to deal with it. I have a 5010, my partner has a Spark. I prefer to work on my 5010 over the Spark, but the Spark is far from an issue.

The real issue I see with the new Spark, for example, is hilarious as nobody really tends to mention it, everyone's so focused on the cables it goes unsaid. It also paints a great picture of people complaining and having not worked on the bikes, as there's a vastly more egregious issue you'd bring up if you had. Plastic headset cups that wiggle in the frame even under correctly torqued headset figures. They flat out move around. I've taken to putting some loctite inside them fresh out of the box so they don't suffer from this. People need to bitch less about working on bikes and actually do it before making these strongly stated remarks, and you can always spot out the person in the comment section that hasn't.

Pinkbike posters have a serious issue accepting the fact they aren't the average rider/buyer, and so the market will not cater to them. There will always be bikes available with different routing options, go support those companies and vote with your wallet.
  • 1 0
 @bok-CZ: i think your word choice here is exquisite

disease [ dih-zeez ] see also: plague, infestation
  • 1 1
 @sherbet: Do you think cables stuffed through the headset is a selling point because most those buyers aren’t aware of the negatives or do you think they’re aware but willing to deal with it?
  • 2 0
 @emptybe-er: It is a selling point, they enjoy the aesthetics of the bike. We tell people these bikes are Lambos when it comes to working on them, and it doesn't even make them flinch.

They're very willing to deal with it.
  • 2 0
 @mikelevy: when you give attention to things it makes them real. So yes, you are supporting headset routing just by making the podcast about it. Kind of like what you did with Downcountry. Frown
  • 3 1
 @Dogl0rd: @mikelevy invented downcountry, it was @mikekazimer that made downcountry famous!
  • 4 1
 @Dogl0rd: Send me a list of things you don't want to be real and I'll avoid talking about them Wink
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy: I broke 3 toes and maybe my foot when I clipped a pedal today, so please don't talk about that, also, the great Pacific Garbage Patch, never that
  • 1 0
 @sanchofula: Oh, tell me all about that one. Was it a new bike?
  • 10 0
 NO it's not.
  • 3 0
 Even after listening to the podcast I'm still with @mikekazimer unless there is a performance benefit.
  • 5 0
 This was such a quintessential Pinkbike podcast and it was great to have Brian back on it.

* 45 minutes of discussion of some almost inconsequential technicality for 99.99% of mountain bike riders.
* Levy having to pretend to advocate for something he doesn't really like.
* Henry telling crazy stories and acting like it's no big deal.
* Brian having to explain the perspective of the brands which is actually what drives all of these changes.
* Kaz being consistently reasonable.

Also, calling that most recent field test a "Downcountry" field test was such an epic troll. The constant argument about what constitutes "Downcountry" in the comments was daily entertainment.
  • 6 0

Is it just me or is there something wrong with the stream... It shows up as being 4hrs long on 2 different postcast apps
  • 3 0
 +1 the timecoding is all screwed up on the last few podcasts... every time I stop & restart the podcast it jumps back 15-20 mins, but displays the time from when I stopped
  • 7 0
 If you want to save 60 grams SCOTT then don't paint your bikes!
  • 7 0
 Gotta leave something for Gustav to do.
  • 1 0
 60 grams seems laughable, but that's not the whole story. In case of the Spark, by going with headset routing Scott managed to save 60 grams while also increasing the stiffness in the headtube area by 20%. That's no mean feat.
  • 3 0
 All the cable housing and brake lines are kinked where they come out of the headset. The brake housing is kinked flat, not sure if causes a long term problem but it is a concern. Also when you feed a cable through the housing you can feel the kink in the housing with noticeable friction on the cables. Very impractical technology.
  • 1 0
 If you kink or flatten a brake hose, you most likely will have a soft spot in the hose that will cause some degradation of brake feel, if not power. I’ve seen it a bunch of times on customer bikes, specifically people that haul bikes with under top tube routing on a old style hanger bike rack. You’ll have these flattened spots that will bulge slightly under pressure. They’ll have poor lever feel or excessive travel and you can bleed it but it will still have a slightly squishy feel. If you find those spots you can physically feel them bulge with your fingers.
  • 4 2
 I would like a reality check on Pinkbike polls going back maybe 5-10 years. How often did the responses in these polls reflect what was happening in the market afterwards? I have a gut feeling brands would be ill advised to follow these polls.
@brianpark: I can tell you for sure it is not anywhere near 50%.
I am involved in selling bikes of both kinds of cable routing since 3 years, the customer and dealer feedback regarding it is basically zero. If 50% of bikes would have issues for sure we would hear about it.
  • 1 0
 Any brand with half a brain understands these polls are completely useless.
  • 2 0
 It's just another barrier to entry. Bikes are expensive and time consuming enough as it is, and now you either have to spend way more time servicing your bike, or pay a fortune to get it fixed. More and more people will say fuck it I'll just play football. I think MX looks really fun, but I don't have the skills to service motor bikes, the time to learn to service them or the money to pay a mechanic, so I won't ever get into it. Bikes are comparatively simple to fix yourself or cheap to service at a shop, the less true that becomes the more elusive mountain biking becomes as a realistic hobby for people. Yeah they might buy a new bike because it looks nice with no cables, but they'll sack it off in a year when the headset is knackered and they don't have time to be bleeding brakes on a Friday after work before riding on Saturday... Again, fuck it, I'll just play football
  • 1 0
 What on Earth are you doing to wreck headsets that quickly. Mine last years. The one on my Cotic is 7 years old and running smooth
  • 1 0
 @chrismac70: He lives in the UK. The general rule there is new prime minister = new headset time.
  • 3 0
 I'd like to see a video taking one of these headsets apart to show how it works. Personally I think it looks stupid but you're not going to catch me buying a Scott so maybe I'm not the audience they are looking to convert.
  • 2 0
 Hey MikeL. Not being nasty, but you should listen to this podcast. Couple times to cut through the team who were talking and put through your opinion but dismissed other opinion’s a little too quickly. Still loving the podcasts. Thanks Ralph.
  • 5 0
 That's because they're wrong tho
  • 5 4
 @Kaz: I am confused. A cable mess like on the Scotts is terrible, a clean cockpit with AXS is terrible, a clean routing through the headset is terrible, ...
I honestly just ride my bike and do not care too much. I destroyed many lower headset bearing but rarely an upper one. And if it happens after some years it is probably not a bad idea to give my brakes a bleed, too. I dislike the internal routing with guides but without clamps at the ports much more. My previous Santa Cruz was rattling constantly due to this. I think many companies like Canyon, Orbea, Mondraker, etc. do an ok job with the headset routing by just going through the headset top cap, allowing for normal spacers and stems. However, the focus stem would be a real dealbraker for my. That seems like the worst of both worlds with extra complication for a terrible look.
  • 3 0
 Could brake levers be slimmed down enough to allow headset bearings to pass over them? So you'd not need to do a bleed if you were replacing the headset?
  • 1 0
 modern problems require modern solutions
  • 1 0
 If you use Magura and removed the lever I’d assume you’d be able to put a master cylinder through a 1.5” headset bearing. I haven’t tried but maybe a road lever with the blades removed as well. Looking at my XT levers, if you removed the clamp, I think they’d fit.
  • 1 0
 Honestly you might be able to with those new codes.
  • 1 0
 That's totally not unrealistic. Because these bikes with headset routing all use huge diameter bearings. Usually it's a ZS56 top and bottom, like on a downhill bike.
  • 2 1
 I actually hate internal brake lines so much that I got the transition sentinel a couple months ago. I see mountain bikes as a utilitarian kind of bike. It should be as easy as possible to work on. I race 3 to 6 times a year and the last thing I want to worry about is messing up a brake in practice before the race then having to do a lever bleed. With the sentinel it’s 3 bolts and a couple of zip ties, no bleeding needed.
  • 1 1
 I should mention bike before was an sb150. I was having press fit bottom bracket issues on the frame until they warrantied the frame. So a threaded bb was also a big selling point for me.
  • 1 0
 Formula has a brake hose connector called speedlock or something which allows the hose to be disconnected and reconnected without introducing air to the system. This should be mandatory spec on bikes with routing through the headset. @mikelevy @mikekazimer
  • 1 0
 Thoughts on this episode:

-I like the clean cockpit aesthetics facilitated and enabled by headset cable routing. It's not a priority to me, but I like it The fact that you can cut your cables shorter because they sit closer to the steering axis is great.

-From an engineering standpoint, headset routing makes sense, as the headtube area is just about the worst place on the entire structure of the frame to have holes.

-I honestly don't buy into the whole "OMG headset routing is much more maintenance intensive!!!"-argument. Even if it requires bleeding your rear brake when you're installing a new headset bearing, that adds a grand total of maybe 10-15 minutes of work - onto a service that you realistically perform once a year.

-It'll only get better over time. Maybe headset routing is not as good as it could be right now, but the majority of manufacturers will eventually get it right.

-Bearings can be effectively sealed against the ingress of water that the headset routing may cause. Totally not an issue.

-I agree that proprietary parts are the worst. Being locked into proprietary cockpit parts from a single company would be the greatest concern for me when it comes to headset routing. I want to be able to run the stem and bar of my choice.

-All that being said, I don't think cable routing is a big deal regardless. No matter if it's fully external, semi internal, fully internal or through the headset. I honestly don't care as long as it won't affect performance or lock me into proprietary parts.
  • 6 2
*did not listen to podcast.
  • 1 0
 I think that scott did the cable routing like this, so they could "hide" they're extra cables from switch lock. Imagine all those 5 cables if you opt for the cheap version (not AXS)
  • 2 1
 We will get the point when wireless stuff is just as good and similar prices and cable stuff. Then all this boo hoping about cables and shit will be just another waste of time! I can predict the future and it’s not good.
  • 1 0
 I'd be open to wireless shifting, if the batteries lasted twice as long as they do on AXS currently and if it wouldn't cost any more than basic Shimano Deore/SLX.
  • 1 0
 @mikekazimer: Hey so is that evolution of Scott’s new lockout similar to what cannondale attempted with those Gemini shocks a few years ago? Those were not reliable but a pretty cool concept.
  • 1 0
 To your question, would it stop me from buying a bike. Maybe. The normal routing style and something like GG will always exist so I will have options. There is basically no such thing as a bad bike anymore.
  • 1 0
 The real question is when we will see in-bar routed cables like the Dangerholm build. With a complimentary designed shifter and brake unit this will look uber tidy and give Sram AXS a run for it's money.
  • 2 2
 All things being equal, if my dream bike was perfect in every way but had cables going through the headset, I'd still buy it and make peace with taking it into the shop for some of the work needed on the front end.
  • 1 1
 Interesting, I’d sigh and walk away.
  • 2 0
 What bikes has @henryquinny worked on with headset cable routing that didn't go through the bearing?
  • 1 0
 I think I typed the tag wrong @henryquinney. Every “through the headset” setup requires the brake to go through the bearing, pretty much by definition. The bikes you worked on that didn’t… maybe you forgot, or maybe they were a different setup? Maybe into the front of the headtube, or into the top of the top tube like some aero road bikes? Genuinely curious, since that was a key make or break for you. Thanks!
  • 1 0
I would like to know also, I‘ve seen one road or gravel bike (can’t remember the brand) that had grommets in front of the top bearing, all others going through the bearing…
  • 2 2
 Mountain bikers used to be a manly bunch with sub par equipment... Now they're a bunch snowflake whining babies with elite level equipment... Embarrassing really. Learn to work on your own bike FFS!
  • 1 0
 Thank you @henryquinney for advocating for all of us left-hand rear brakers! My biggest peeve on my bikes! And the reason i’ll choose the Element over the Top Fuel.
  • 2 0
 Is this a fill in the blank question?
  • 1 0
 Changed mine out after a few months, wanted a shorter stem, and a more sexy one. Focus Sam 6.9, looks like a house brick
  • 2 0
 The headset/stem assembly also looks pretty bad to me, big and bulky.
  • 1 0
 Today I am thankful none of my bikes have cables running through the stem or headset
  • 1 0
 The irony of this podcast is that Henry rides a transition spire. Which normally has an external brake line.
  • 3 0
 Quinn's is my hero
  • 1 0
 I would like to see all the cables and hoses routed through the bars seem like roadies do. Looks better and nothing to catch
  • 1 0
 There actually is a Magic bearing for headsets- Henry saw them at the world cup in Lenzerhide Wink
  • 1 0
 Q: Who is doing internal cable routing well?
A: Single Speed coaster brake bikes.
  • 1 0
 From the Māori Dictionary
1. (verb) to be strong, able, capable, courageous, intense, energetic.
  • 1 0
 As soon as that guy said he likes centerlock, I realized this entire podcast is just a troll job.
  • 3 6
 I really want my next XC bike to be fully internal, I think it looks great on the road side and it takes me years to go through headset bearings anyways. I'd also totally believe that it saves aero watts even at MTB speeds, which can matter for super long races. I could care less on my big bike though, fully external is just fine there.

Sooo maybe the answer is both and it really doesn't matter that much?
  • 3 0
 saves watts, please
  • 1 0
 Tech "innovation" that isn't catching on:

Silent hubs.
  • 1 0
 @Henryquinny, I am also in Patagonia Chile! Where are you in Chile?
  • 4 0
 I was in San Martin for a few months then Pucon for a bit. This was recorded a few weeks ago though and I've just left sadly as I've got some stuff on in Canada.
  • 1 0
 Once wireless brakesvvare a thing this whole abomination will go away
  • 2 0
 Power for the brakes could come from the cranks, no wait that may have drawbacks
  • 2 0
 I'm putting a backpedal coaster brake on my mountain bike. That solves the entire problem... except actually stopping.
  • 1 0
 Quite sure that wireless brakes on vehicles that access public roads can't legally be a thing where I live.
  • 1 2
 Didn't Henry hate AXS before or was that just ebikes and people in general?
  • 2 0
 I'm still not sold on it. Yes, it works well on some bikes but not all in my opinion. I think there is some flex somewhere in the food chain, hence the new hangers we're seeing. However, I wouldn't deny that no wire is better than having one. Mega riding though! I hope you're enjoying yourself.
  • 1 1
 @henryquinney: Glad to hear that your position has shifted slightly. I have a bike full AXS and another with full cable. I will say my AXS has been pretty much maintainence free with no hanger or derailleur issues, while my cable bike has required much more derailleur tuning and hanger straightening. That's apart from how good it looks and how fast and flawlessly the dropper works
  • 1 1
 When did my Trailforks Pro turn into a full-on Outside Plus subscription?
  • 1 1
 Is that what the doctor said to your Mom when you were born?

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