Every now and again, I find a discussion online that on the surface has points to consider but when you dig deep… something is missing. That recent discussion about Paragon’s Tapered Steerers started simple enough, then veered off only to discuss the “perceived” or implied notion that the move to taper was not necessarily a good one and I have to say left one massive question unanswered: WHY a tapered steerer over a straight steerer? Yes, taper comes from the road side of things and early carbon forks being terribly under built. Yes Paragon’s Taper steerer is terribly over built as it’s original purpose was for a Tandem 29+. But, in my opinion, when we look at a tapered steerer for mountain bikes it’s one of the single best improvements “forced” on us in a long time. It’s one of the times that a new standard is better. Let’s look a bit deeper. Here’s a close up of Paragon Machine Works 9″ long Taper Steerer, PMW Part No. MS2009 (It comes in both 9″ lengths and 12″ lengths, and in a 1.25″ taper as well). The above is a fork I made at a later date for a client who I built a fat bike for in Switzerland. At the time, I did not have the tooling ready to build forks, and not many build custom Fat Forks, so we decided to go with a off the shelf option until I was ready. The above is that fork I built for this build. But, that’s not the point. The point I’d like to make is WHY taper is a much needed improvement. But to understand a tapered steerer, we have to discuss what is happening INSIDE the head tube when you’re hauling on the brakes. We all know that feeling: Fork flutter. You yard on the brakes, you get some flutter. Some times a bit, some times a lot. Sure the fork legs are moving a touch, but what you’re not seeing is that the fork’s steerer is moving too. It’s pretty basic: The fork’s legs are the lever arm. The axis of rotation is the crown race / lower headset assembly. You apply the brakes, something has got to give since the fork is fixed at the head tube. The front wheel moves backwards. The 1.125″ (~28.6mm) O.D. steerer flexes. If a suspension fork, chances are your stanchions are 32mm, 34mm, or 36mm’s perhaps. Last I checked, 32mm’s is a larger O.D. than 28.6mm’s… We all know, or rather some of us know, that when you increase the O.D. of a tube, strength and stiffness go up by a factor of X (That’s TERRIBLY simplified I might add). So if your fork’s stanchions are larger than your steerer, chances are you’re looking at your steerer flexing before those fork legs give. Most rigid mountain forks made of true temper blades are in the 1.25″ O.D. range up by the crown. Again, larger than 1.125″ O.S. threadless steerers. Ever have your headset loosen up on you after a lot of hard braking or tackling gobs of tech? Here’s what’s going on when the steerer is flexing. In order to flex, one side of the tube is under compression, while the other is in tension. This makes the steerer push UP on the upper head set assembly and push down on the lower head set assembly. This forces your stem UP and if enough cycles happen, you have a loose headset. The bearings are also doing the same thing. For example, the bottom bearing on the crown race: The front of the bearing is rocking downward, while the backside of bearing is rocking upward. Do this enough and mix in some grit-n-grime and you’ll be packing your bearings again with grease or replacing the whole assembly. Chris King also seems to agree with me here on page 6 of their headset’s explained… This basic example is WHY tapered steerer’s matter. Fork manufacturers like Fox Racing Shox pretty much only offer all their forks in taper. This places the required structure and meat EXACTLY where the rider needs it. And this is a major reason why I don’t see my own headsets on my own mountain bikes needing a little love or tightening now and again: That taper helps to cut down on the amount of flex that a fork’s steerer will go through under heavy braking and seeing aggressive riding in tech. Strength AND stiffness where you want and need it. They have effectively raised those numbers for the rider. Couple that with a 32 or 34mm fork, O.S. 1.375″ O.D. Top Tube and a 1.5″ O.D. top tube and throw in a 15mm TA on your fork and you have one strong and stiff front triangle on a steel custom bicycle. That’s how I build all of my mountain bikes. This translates to a more “sure footed” feel out on the trail, you’re able to hold your line when the going gets tough and you’re yarding on the brakes or tackling those tough sections at speed. That “washy” feeling of the front end on a 1.125″ straight steerer are relatively a thing of the past. First ride out on this set up and I KNEW deep down inside that not only was taper a great step and advancement in mountain bike technology, but I also knew that this was the new way moving forward. As far as Paragon’s part: Yes there is a weight penalty. Yes it’s terribly overbuilt. But presently, that is the only steerer available to custom builders. I hope to work with Henry James to fix that in the coming months, but for now, Mark Norstad had the vision to see that part become a reality and answer a much needed call for custom builders looking to offer their clients a solution and build matching forks to compliment their custom frames. Suspension correction is a tricky subject. Personally, I do not build anything taller than what a 100mm fork would be with sag for that rider. Most times I’m hovering in the 425-460mm range for axle to crown length which is on the conservatively safe side. Most times if a rider wants to run a suspension fork and swap it out for a rigid fork on occasion, I recommend heading in the carbon direction of ENVE or Whisky and build around a 100mm fork (I’m talking about a 29″ mountain bike here). I’ve even steered (pun intended) clients away from a rigid option because of their style of riding and the terrain they frequent. That is the job of the builder: Listen to the rider. Hear what their conditions and requirements are. The answer is to recommend and build the best bicycle given those parameters set forth by the rider and their terrain/riding style. If you’re a custom builder and you’re reading this, you’re doing your client a great disservice if you are not listening to your client with open ears and mind. It’s our job to deliver what the client needs. And sometimes, a rigid fork is not the answer. If a rigid fork, build the frame appropriately too. I recall a time not too long ago when bikes made the switch from rigid with the advent of suspension forks and you saw a lot less reports of snapped crowns and buckled down tubes. You are seeing that again as more and more riders rediscover rigid but still ride like they are on a full suspension or front suspension mountain bike. All that hammering, something will give eventually. Nothing is unbreakable. But none the less, there you have it. My opinion on tapered steerers and why they matter. Strength and stiffness where the rider needs it by increasing the steerers diameter exactly where the structure needs it. Taper IS the standard moving forward and all of the above is WHY I think taper is just that good.