Cane Creek ViscoSet review – damped headset for enhanced steering control

Unique headset with reconfigurable shims and viscous damping for improved steering control

Cane Creek ViscoSet
(Image: © Paul Burwell)

BikePerfect Verdict

The Cane Creek ViscoSet can take a bit of getting used to, but it reduces fatigue and lets you ride harder and faster in wet conditions and technical terrain. Once you’ve tried it, we guarantee you’ll never go back.

Pros

  • +

    Reduces steering flop and oscillation

  • +

    Easy to tune, several built-in damping settings

  • +

    E-bike ready

  • +

    High-quality sealed cartridge bearing

  • +

    Interlok spacer compatible

Cons

  • -

    Expensive for what is effectively only half a headset

  • -

    Increases stack height

  • -

    No extra fluro-carbon gel included in the box

  • -

    Adds weight

  • -

    You have to download the instructions

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Cane Creek claims the ViscoSet stops the oscillation of the handlebars before it grows to a dangerous level, which sounds alarming, but in my experience this oscillation or speed wobble isn’t usually a problem on a mountain bike. However, the front can just shimmy for a moment in wet or loose conditions and some impacts and deflections can at times feel like they’re going to wrench the bars out of your hands. Cane Creek isn’t explicit, but the ViscoSet can help with steering flop. This is something I’ve noticed on heavier e-bikes, especially climbing tight hairpins when all my weight is rearward, but it can also be an issue when you’re just trying to move the bike around – for example the front wheel can just slew to one side when you’re trying to load the bike into a vehicle or onto a bike rack.

Cane Creek ViscoSet

Inside the headset cups are 12 stacked plates (Image credit: Paul Burwell)

Design and specifications

At first glance the Cane Creek ViscoSet looks like a regular upper headset cup, but crack it open and you’ll see a stack of micro-thin steel plates covered in a white grease. There are 12 of these plates in total and half of them are connected to the outer headset cup, half of them to the inner race. When you turn the handlebar, they effectively rotate against one another so there’s more surface area and greater friction, but it’s the white coating where the magic happens. This is a fluro-carbon gel, which is basically a grease with a high PTFE content and this layer provides viscous damping. Essentially, it’s just a sticky gel, so it’s quite basic damping but it does significantly slow the steering. 

You can also reconfigure the shims to increase/decrease the amount of friction. They’re held in the aluminum cup by a thin circlip, which you can lever out with a small flat head screwdriver, and you can re-order them relatively easy. There are no instructions in the box but Cane Creek provides an online cheat sheet showing the different ‘damping’ configurations. 

Cane Creek ViscoSet

Cane Creek's online cheat sheet shows the damping configurations (Image credit: Paul Burwell)

Sitting underneath the shim stack is a high-quality Forty series sealed cartridge bearing, which is zinc-coated for longevity. The cup is made from a 6000-series aluminum and features a deep gloss anodizing. Headset weight is 85g or about 30g heavier than a Cane Creek 110 headset. There’s a low-friction upper bearing seal to keep out dirt and it’s fully captured by the top cover, so you’re not going to lose it when you service the headset. The ViscoSet is also compatible with Cane Creek's Interlok spacers, which as the name suggests, lock into place but also give a cleaner aesthetic and are lighter.

Like all Cane Creek componentry, the ViscoSet is top quality; my only gripe is you don’t actually get extra gel with it, so if you do remove the shims a few times the gel can eventually come off on your hands. However, fluro-carbon gel is used quite extensively in the automotive industry and is relatively easy to acquire, although it is slightly more expensive than regular bike grease.

Cane Creek ViscoSet

The shims allow you stack them in a way that gives you the feeling you want (Image credit: Paul Burwell)

Performance

I ran the ViscoSet with the maximum amount of damping and, as I saw it, the most benefit, but also to see if there were any negatives to having effectively stiffer steering. The first thing you notice is how tight the headset is but not in the same way as if you’d overtightened the bearing. There is no roughness, it just feels totally smooth but it’s only when you ride off-road for the first time that you notice how stable and controlled the steering is. I fitted the ViscoSet to a 26kg e-bike and it really calmed things down in such a way that I could ride harder and faster in slippery conditions. I’ve totally had less sketchy moments on wet roots and the bike seems to hold its line in a more predictable manner. Obviously, you can still slide out and a few times during testing this happened but only because I was pushing it so hard.

Climbing is better too. There was noticeably less wander when pivoting round tight uphill turns and I had to make fewer line corrections, which meant I could stay on the gas for longer and drive the bike into the turn rather than waiting for the tire to bite. And because you’re fighting the bike a lot less, you’re not getting as much upper body fatigue, which is something lots of riders say when they ride e-MTBs for the first time. 

The good thing about the ViscoSet is you can fit it to your bike and configure it in such a way that it feels exactly like the headset you’ve replaced, but then when the conditions deteriorate, like in the winter or you’re riding looser terrain and want a bit more control, you can easily re-stack the shims for maximum damping. However, I suspect once you’ve dialed in the maximum, you won’t bother with less.

Cane Creek ViscoSet

The stack of shims from the top half of the system (Image credit: Paul Burwell)

Verdict

The ViscoSet is not a cheap upgrade, it will add weight and around 15mm to the stack height, so for shorter riders that could be more of a problem if you’re running a low stem. The stiffer steering also takes a bit of getting used to, but if your bike sometimes feels like it has a mind of its own on technical trails, this lets you wrest back control. 

Cane Creek ViscoSet

A sketch of how the micro-plates sit inside the headset (Image credit: Paul Burwell)

Tech specs: Cane Creek ViscoSet

  • Price:  $42.00 / £79.99
  • Weight: EC34 – 84 grams, ZS44 – 75 grams
  • Size: 28.6mm
  • Stack height: 22.2mm
  • Materials: Steel and aluminum
Paul Burwell
Freelance writer

Paul has been testing mountain bikes and products for the best part of 30 years, he’s passed comment on thousands of components and bikes, from the very first 29ers and dropper posts to latest e-MTBs and electronic drivetrains. He first put pen to paper for Mountain Bike International magazine but then contributed to What Mountain Bike, Cycling Today and Cycling Weekly magazines before a  20 year stint at MBR magazine. An ex-elite level XC racer, he’s broken more bones than records but is now sustained on a diet of trail building, skills coaching and e-bike trail shredding.