Analyzing The Good Qualities of Tapered Head Tubes

This post presents the advantages of tapered head tubes.


Head Tube – the shortest tube of a bicycle frame. It’s called a head tube because of its frontal position and the fact that the steerer of the fork passes through it.

Bicycle Frame Anatomy

Tapered Head Tube – A head tube with a cone-shaped lower end. Tapered head tubes require forks with a tapered steerer that’s 1 1/8″ wide at the top and 1.5″ at the bottom.

The Advantages of Tapered Head Tubes

  • Larger Headset Bearings

The increased diameter of tapered head tubes allows the installation of larger bearings. Bigger bearings are associated with greater strength and endurance because the stress is spread over a larger surface.

Consequently, the headsets of tapered head tubes are expected to be more resilient. This property is one of the reasons why tapered head tubes first conquered the MTB market.

  • Stiffness

If the parameters (material, thickness…etc.) of two tubes are equal, the tube with the bigger diameter is more resistant to torsion and is, therefore, stronger and stiffer.

(This could be easily illustrated if one tries to bend a plastic pipe of a very large diameter. Despite the soft material, the pipe will be pretty rigid.)

A stiffer head tube reduces input lag and makes the front end snappier and more responsive.

  • More Choice

Tapered head tubes have become standard and come in greater variety. By choosing a tapered head tube, the user is “future-proofing” their setup. Conversely, if the user goes with a straight head tube, the number of new high-end forks shrinks massively.

  • Larger and Stiffer Downtube

Since the lower part of the head tube connects to the downtube, tapered head tubes allow the installation of larger downtubes which in return increase the stiffness of the entire frame.

  • Lighter/Stiffer Steerer Tube

The tapered end of the fork’s steerer doesn’t need as much material as a straight steerer to provide the same strength and stiffness thanks to its larger diameter. Thus, one can argue that tapered forks have the potential to be ever so slightly lighter without losing stiffness. That said, the difference in weight is extremely small and practically inconsequential.

The Downside of Tapered Head Tubes

  • Incompatibility

The switch to tapered head tubes and consequently forks has created a potential for incompatibility issues.

A tapered fork cannot be installed on a non-tapered frame by default. To do that, one will need an adapter that positions the lower headset bearings outside of the frame (video below).

The downsides of using such adapters are:

  • Unnecessary complication
  • The head tube angle is slackened (the front end is elevated by about 10mm because the cup of the adapter is sitting outside of the head tube). This change affects the geometry and consequently the handling of the bicycle.
  • Additional expenses

The upsides are:

  • An option to equip an old frame with a newer fork of better quality. (Many companies don’t bother manufacturing high-end forks with straight steerers anymore.)

A tapered head tube can accept a straight fork but needs a reducer.

  • Excessive Stiffness

In the case of rigid forks, the additional stiffness resulting from a tapered system could make the ride a bit harsh.

FAQ: Why do some bikes come with a tapered head tube (frame) and a fork with a straight steerer?

It’s quite possible for an entry-level bike to come with a tapered frame and a non-tapered fork.

The reasons for this phenomenon are:

  • High-end suspension forks are expensive. Hence why most entry-level bicycles come with a generic suspension fork to cut expenses. You can’t expect a USD 200 bike to come with a USD 200 fork.
  • Upgrade potential. The value of the frame increases if it’s compatible with better forks without the need to buy adapters. Thus, users who want to future-proof their machine without paying large sums upfront could see such a frame as a good investment.
  • Higher perceived value. A tapered frame is associated with modern and more expensive bicycles and has a positive marketing effect.
  • Higher perceived value. A tapered frame is associated with modern and more expensive bicycles and has a positive marketing effect.

Note: If you’re looking at a tapered bike and wonder whether the fork is tapered too, the easiest way to find out is to look up the fork model online or contact the manufacturer/seller.

FAQ: Is the difference between tapered and non-tapered frames perceivable?

In most cases, the answer is no. The only way to make an accurate assessment is to test both systems without knowing which is which. As you can guess, such studies haven’t been done and aren’t “in the queue”.

It’s possible that the people claiming to feel “undeniable” difference are making statements on the basis of the placebo effect.

The reality is that non-tapered forks and frames have been here for a long time and have operated to a very acceptable level for decades. A tapered fork is an improvement, but it’s not a total game-changer.

FAQ: Is a switch from a non-tapered to a tapered head tube worth it?

It depends on the rest of the bike and what it will be used for. If the bicycle in question is satisfying the needs of the rider, a switch to a tapered frame and fork can be a needless upgrade.

For example, if the user has a XC bike that serves its purpose well, a new frame with similar geometry but also a tapered head tube will not change much.

However, if top MTB performance is the main goal, one is pretty much obligated to use a tapered fork and frame since new high-end models come with those features by default. Of course, an older high-end frame and fork can offer decent performance too, but those are not easy to find and the price tag is not as low as one might expect.

Summary: What You Need To Know

Tapered head tubes offer the following advantages:

  • Stiffer and thus more responsive front end
  • Potentially stronger head and down tube (whether this is the case depends on the particular frame)
  • Upgrade path to a higher-end fork.
  • It’s possible to install a non-tapered fork on a tapered head tube via a reducer.
  • It’s possible to install a tapered fork on a non-tapered frame via an adapter sitting outside of the head tube.

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