In case any readers are wondering why I tend to write out full model names of bikes and components - i.e, "1981 Fuji America" rather than simply "America" - this is done as a search engine service for both confirmed Fuji-holics as well as the merely Fuji-curious. Generally, this makes pages easier to find, so we try to maintain the editorial convention where the full model name is spelled out at least once in a post before reverting to a shorter reference.
If you don't believe me, click here - those interwebs are really something.
But back to the headset. Out of nothing much more than sheer vanity, I decided that part of the upgrades for the aforementioned America would be an alloy headset. This decision was fuelled by the several JIS Suntour Sprint alloy headsets I've got languishing on a shelf and one installed on a Fuji Finest frameset. These Sprint headsets bear a very suspicious similarity to very early Suntour Superbe alloy headsets and I'm guessing they are actually largely one and the same, the original Superbe's being redesignated Sprints when the Superbes got some nice engraving on the sides of the cups.
So with that image in mind, I went on a headset quest. It turns out that early alloy ISO Sprint/Superbe headsets are few and far between on the ground. Furthermore, even by the standards of old Superbe gear, they are hideously expensive.
I then began investigating modern alloy headsets. There are plenty of these about, but part of my criteria is using Japanese parts as much as possible on this America, especially for something as prominent as a headset. That narrowed things down pretty quickly to Tange. So far, this was quite good, as Tange parts used to show up on old Fujis, including their headsets, as well as sometimes being branded Suntour.
The other criteria is to maintain a suitably high bike snob value, which seemed to further narrow the choice down to the Tange - Seiki Alloy 1500. These are fairly widely available for about $50 and have the added appeal of being "NJS Certified", which will doubtlessly wow the folks on the bike trail.
However, the appearance of this headset posed a problem. Although alloy, its form is a Campagnolo clone, with the inset engravings on the cups. To my eye, this is more appropriate for a degenerately baroque eurobike like my Mondia, where I have the chromed steel variant of this Tange headset installed. On the Mondia, this fits in perfectly with the chrome Nervex lugs, pinstriping, etc., but I felt it would be a little out of place on the clean New World lines of the America.
This sent me into a little bit of a Fuji-funk, as I thought I was now boxed by either unwanted rococo, high-price, low snob value, or non-Japanese production. Fortunately, Google remained my steadfast friend and I happened upon the Tange Vantage DL, a headset that remains somewhat obscure on these shores although upon investigation, I could not understand why. From the pictures and descriptions I found, it looked nearly identical to the early alloy Superbe headsets and it wouldn't surprise me if some of the tooling from those is used in the production of the Vantage.
Well, actually, it would surprise me if some of the original tooling were used, as production techniques have advanced quite a bit over the past 30 years. I should probably rephrase that as it wouldn't surprise me if there weren't some connected lineage such as design specs between the Vantage and the Sprint/Superbe.
I managed to find one place that had some of these new in stock, two to be exact, and so I bought one. The other one remains in stock there should any reader want to buy one of these, although I am sorely tempted to buy it and squirrel it away.
So alright, already, here is the picture:
Again, this headset is very similar to the Sprint/Superbe unengraved/unsilk-screened headsets. The races are very well machined and polished and overall the headset appears to be of high quality manufacture.
The Vantage differs from the Sprint/Superbe in a few details. The first is that the upper cup has a small lip which goes partway up the outside of the tabbed lock washer. The second is the lock nut, which is silk-screened rather than engraved and is fully rounded all the way across the top for that 50's space age look. Below is the Vantage lock nut alongside a Sprint/Superbe locknut (note: the later Superbe's had Superbe engraved on the locknut):
There are also some other non-visible differences in the lower cup where it inserts into the headtube.
Currently, I'm collecting a few other parts so I can do handlebar wrap, new levers, and headset all at the same time for an economy of time and effort, but expect to see this on my new 1981 Fuji America pretty soon.
And if this post has given you the desire to buy a Vantage headset, don't let a whole lot of grass grow under that wish as I'm suffering from a pretty darn itchy trigger finger here after seeing this headset up close.