Crankset Group Test

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Benji and the team look at a stingy bakers’ dozen of the latest cranks.

Bikes did fine for decades using cottered cranks. Then came nutted square taper bottom brackets, then bolted, then Allen key bolts. Suddenly we had sealed cartridge, square taper ‘disposable’ bottom brackets, ISIS (equally disposable) came along and now we’ve got external bearing bottom brackets with twopiece cranks. It’s all been moving very swiftly in the last few years, so we thought you might need a guide as to what’s out there.

The fairly recent switch of placing bottom bracket bearings outside of the frame’s bottom bracket shell is reminiscent of the big move from rim brakes to disc brakes a few years earlier. Except that, whereas the adoption of disc brakes was a technological move forward with very few (if any) bad points, these new ‘external’ crank systems aren’t without their niggles.

The benefits of having a stronger axle are obvious for the hucking brigade and the theoretical increase in overall stiffness can’t be a bad thing for anyone who pedals a bike anywhere (having said that, the whole stiffness thing is vastly overplayed for the majority of riding and riders). A noted decrease in creaking is also welcome.

The three principal niggles to be found on external cranksets are: increased Q-factor (the distance between your pedals), a minimal but not insignificant increase in friction/drag and not overly impressive bearing life (though thankfully longer than most ISIS BBs used to have). There’s not much the designers can do about Q-factor and drag. A couple of theories as to why the bearings on external systems don’t seem to last as long as old square taper systems: 1) with everything being so stiff and inflexible there’s a lot more force being sent into the bearings, and 2) manufacturers have no economic incentive to make bearings that last a long time.

Anyway, whether you like it or not external systems are here to stay (for the next few years at least). For this roundup we’ve assembled some cranks at different price points in different styles and with a range of different applications in mind for your consideration.

picture-151Shimano XT M770
HollowTech II
Price: £119.99
From: Madison www.ultimatepursuits.co.uk
Weight: 853g inc. BB
Aesthetics: Look a bit Plain Jane, but also
workmanlike. Carbon insert on the middle ring is a
nice touch though.
Value for money: Well priced for what you get, but
the £80 LX could be even better value for some.
Ease of assembly: Follow the instructions for
particular torque settings and it’s all straight forward.
Niggles: None. Just like a Japanese car.
Ideal buyer: Most riders. A good combination of
weight and value.
Notes: Drilled steel and carbon composite
construction middle ring, double anodised thicker
aluminium 44 tooth outer, aluminium 22T granny.
Overall: An excellent ‘do it all’ crank at a
respectable price tag.

picture-17Bontrager Race X Lite GXP Carbon
Price: £229.99
From: Trek 01908 282626 www.bontrager.com
Weight: 870g inc. BB
Aesthetics: Very smart. The raw carbon finish
mixes well with the sharp red Bonty graphics.
Value for money: There are more expensive
carbon cranks around. Does that make them good
value?
Ease of assembly: They went together smoothly.
After one mid-ride tighten, they’ve been solid ever
since.
Niggles: Not that light. The smart steel caps do
prevent you cracking the crank-ends on rocks, but if
you change pedals much, they’re prone to falling off
unless you silicon them on.
Their ideal buyer: The weight-conscious rider
keen on the carbon look.
Notes: They spin on a Truvativ Giga X-Pipe bottom
bracket.
Overall: Great carbon cranks for riders after topshelf
looks and performance. The arms scuff after a
while, but what carbon cranks don’t?

picture-23Race Face Deus XC
Price: £249.99
From: Silverfish 01752 313253 www.silverfish-uk.
com
Weight: 815g inc. BB
Aesthetics: Beautifully machined and so shiny that
mud feels bad sticking to them.
Value for money: Same kind of price as XTR and
look a bit different, at this level value for money
kind of goes out of the window.
Ease of assembly: Required hammer usage
and some scary high torquing which was a bit
concerning for such a lightweight crankset.
Niggles: Apart from assembly being a little scary,
none.
Ideal buyer: XC racer types and those looking for
something light, shiny and a bit different.
Notes: Built in British Columbia, Canada. The
lightest crank Race Face has ever made (Until their
carbon one comes out).
Overall: None-more-shiny and a good alternative
to XTR.

picture-16FSA Afternburner MegaExo
Price: £199.99
From: Windwave 02392 521912
www.windwave.co.uk
Weight: 870g inc. BB
Aesthetics: Classic Coke-bottle shaped arms
in grey anodising that won’t suffer too badly
with scuffing. Silver/black chainrings look nicely
different.
Value for money: For stiffness and weight they
do appear to struggle when compared to the
similar Shimano XT cranks but FSA’s chainrings
generally last longer.
Ease of assembly: As simple as Shimano’s
external bottom bracket design. You do need to
be careful not to round out the Allen key hole on
the aluminium bearing preloader.
Niggles: Nothing aside from the aforementioned
rounding-out preloader caveat.
Ideal buyer: Shimano-phobes and riders who
ride in chainring-eating conditions.
Notes: Available in racerboy 26/36/48t rings as
well as standard 22/32/44t.
Overall: A hard-wearing XC chainset that won’t
lose its looks or its teeth with the passing of
miles.

picture-24Shimano XTR M970 HollowTech II
Price: £270
From: Madison www.ultimatepursuits.co.uk
Weight: 747g inc. BB
Aesthetics: They look quite unassuming when brand
new especially compared to the previous generation.
They scuff really badly (like all previous XTR cranks).
Value for money: If you want the very lightest cranks
that Shimano (or anyone) has to offer then they’re a
bargain – for everyone else there’s XT.
Ease of assembly: A bit faffier to get your head
round compared to other Shimano designs and
requires unfamiliar special tools (that are supplied).
Niggles: If you can ignore the scuffing, none. They
function very, very well.
Ideal buyer: Weight weenies of all persuasions who
don’t want to compromise on strength, stiffness or
shifting performance.
Notes: The middle chainring is made of titanium
supported in a carbon shell.
Overall: Unsurprisingly very good – cranks with
faultless shifting even under load. Mucho kudos to
Shimano for making the lightest crankset and making
it work as well.

picture-18Bontrager King Earl
Price: £99.95
From: Trek 01908 282626 www.bontrager.com
Weight: 950g inc. BB
Aesthetics: Not that pretty. As with most of the
‘aesthetically interesting’ Earl range, function is
definitely more evident than form.
Value for money: Not too bad at all. They’re
heavier than Shimano Hone without feeling any
stronger but the chainrings appear to be wearing
better.
Ease of assembly: Very easy, no problems here.
Although similar in design to Truvativ cranks they
don’t seem to require a superhuman amount of
tightening up.
Niggles: As stated already, a bit ugly and and a
tad porky.
Ideal buyer: Chainring mashers and those who
want the psychological reassurance of having
heavy components.
Notes: The bash guard is polycarbonate and
does a very good job of protecting-withouthooking-
up.
Overall: A decently priced tough double-ring
crankset. The Truvativ Howitzer BBs we’ve come
across have lasted very well too.

picture-19Shimano Hone M601 HollowTech II
Price: £99.95
From: Madison www.ultimatepursuits.co.uk
Weight: 911g inc. BB
Aesthetics: They’re either ‘boring’ or ‘subtle’
depending on your point of view. While they’re
unlikely to add to the look of your bike, they
won’t spoil it either.
Value for money: Pretty impressive. Shimano has
always produced great cranks for this price point
and the Hone is no exception.
Ease of assembly: Maybe it’s because we’re
more practised with them but we always have no
trouble installing Shimano external cranks.
Niggles: Chainrings could wear better. Shimano’s
external BB bearings can develop premature play
if not checked regularly.
Ideal buyer: Someone who wants a tough and
stiff double-ring setup without paying a high price
tag or carrying excess weight.
Notes: The bash guard is plastic but seems to
withstand a lot of whacks. Steel axle and pedal
inserts explain a bit of the weight gain over
similarly-priced Shimano XC cranks.
Overall: Typical Shimano – boring but great. The
weight is excusable for a durable All-Mountain
crankset and they don’t scuff badly either.

picture-25Truvativ Noir Team Carbon GXP & TNT Rings
Price: £319.99
From: Fisher Outdoor Leisure 01727 798345
www.fisheroutdoor.co.uk
Weight: 800g inc. BB
Aesthetics: Something of a mixed bag. The arms look
good for a few rides but then start to scuff up. The
nickel Teflon coated chainrings are still looking good.
Value for money: Not good. The most expensive
cranks-and-BB setup in this test but not appreciably
offering much more apart from fancy coated chainrings.
Ease of assembly: Easy enough if you have the
requisite strength (and length of scaffolding) to tighten
them up sufficiently i.e. A LOT.
Niggles: Function-wise they’re fine but for this money
we’d like them to be something a little more than just
‘fine’ really.
Ideal buyer: Wealthy SRAM-o-philes who want the top
of the range cranks. Which is fair enough.
Notes: Made from uni-directional carbon laid over an
aluminium spine.
They spin on Truvativ’s GXP Team BB.
Overall: The lightest external cranks that Truvativ
has ever made. High price tag doesn’t buy you vastly
increased performance but if you like the look of ‘em
and have the cash…

picture-20Truvativ Stylo Single Speed GXP & Ring
Price: £109.99
From: Fisher Outdoor Leisure 01727 798345 www.
fisheroutdoor.co.uk
Weight: 848g inc. BB
Aesthetics: Not bad but maybe a little too much OEMlooking
for a crankset costing three figures. It’s the high
polish black finish that does it. We’re such tarts!
Value for money: A little on the pricey side for
what you’re getting. Hardcore riders might prefer a
polycarbonate bash guard and everyone would like a
lower weight.
Ease of assembly: As with Truvativ’s Noir cranks
elsewhere in this test the Stylo’s require loads of
tightening force when assembling or they never stay
tight afterwards. Tighten these up to 11.
Niggles: The aluminium bash guard looks like a good
idea yet in practice we’ve found polycarbonate ones to
be just as protective but without ‘hooking up’ as badly
during impacts over obstacles.
Ideal buyer: Hard to say. Someone after an off-the-peg
single ring crankset that can’t be bothered to remove
granny rings.
Notes: Spins on a Truvativ Giga X Pipe external bottom
bracket.
Overall: A disappointing offering from Truvativ. Not
a bad crankset performance-wise, it just looks a bit
overpriced

picture-211Race Face Ride DH Bash
Price: £129.95
From: Silverfish 01752 313253 www.silverfish-uk.
com
Weight: 1250g inc. BB
Aesthetics: ‘Come and have a go if you think you’re
hard enough!’ Wide and angular crank arms. In a
word – industrial.
Value for money: If you break stuff all the time
and want to pledge your allegiance to those crazy
Canucks then these will fit the bill nicely.
Ease of assembly: Much like their jeyboy brother
(the Deus XC cranks) they require a bit of heft
‘n’ hammers to install but are otherwise pretty
straightforward.
Niggles: Not much apart from the 1250g weight.
Some testers thought the aesthetics were a bit on
the naff side for a stylish company like Race Face.
Ideal buyer: ‘20ft hucks to flat before breakfast’
types who want the Canadian look without splashing
the cash too much.
Notes: Features a secured chromoly pedal thread
insert. Triple-sealed, grease-stuffed bearings for wet
weather riding. 6mm of chainline adjustment – ideal
for chainguide compatibilty.
Overall: Heavy, strong, freeride cranks with enough
little design extras to explain and excuse the slightly
higher price.

picture-221Tune Fastfoot
Price: £199.99 (not inc. BB)
From: Zyro 01845 521700 www.zyro.eu.com
Weight: 400g (not inc. BB or rings)
Aesthetics: Very svelte looking cranks from the
German weight weenies, with a hint of retro that belies
the stiffness of these arms.
Value for money: You begin to wonder how they can
cost so much for such a small amount of metal. These
are expensive!
Ease of assembly: They came with their own,
expensive BB, which was a particularly tight fit in the
frame. The cranks need to be attached and tightened
to the (proprietary, hexagonal and £149) BB with two
large Allen keys, one on each side levered against each
other.
Niggles: For the first few rides they kept coming loose
but not having two huge hex keys to hand it was a
struggle to retighten them until we got back to base.
After a few rides though they bedded in and we’ve not
touched them since.
Ideal buyer: Weight conscious single speeders with lots
of money – which as far as we know is an oxymoron.
Notes: Who said Cooks Bros cranks were out of style?
Overall: They are very stiff for such a slim offering and
they certainly look different in a retro style, but there’s
no getting away from that huge price tag for a set of
cranks. Definitely a money no object option.

Cranksets Group Test Conclusions:-

For XC/Trail riding we can’t find much to fault the Shimano XT cranks. Okay, they ain’t the prettiest looking cranks in the world (they’re the worst looking XT cranks so far in a lot of folks’ opinions) but they work great and don’t cost the Earth. If you can’t bear to put a naff looking set of cranks on your pride and joy – and being the bike tarts that we are, we don’t really blame you – then the Race Face Deus XC are beautiful cranks and will remain so even after lots of miles (unlike scuff-tastic XTR). They actually function as cranks damned well too, which is nice.

For All-Mountain type behaviour then we believe the only choice is Shimano Hone. Boring but brilliant. Not a bad price either. If you’re especially hard on your equipment (or a heavyweight rider) then you might like the reassurance of the bulkier Bontrager King Earl cranks.

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