Back in the dim and distant past of mountain biking’s murky days of bold innovation (Think Odyssey steering dampenator. Scott AT4 bars. Suntour self-energising brakes) and ill-considered weight saving techniques (drilled out cranks anyone?), Browning had a crack at eliminating the front derailleur. Their solution was an intriguing one; remove the front mech altogether and install an electronic actuator that caused one quarter section of the chainset to pivot in or out.
Subsequently picked up by Suntour and marketed as the BEAST, it never really caught on despite being used by Specialized on their top of the line Stumpjumper Team bikes as ridden by the likes of Cindy Whitehead and Ned Overend. I still have two tucked away in their original packaging, unused and purchased on a whim for £10 each. German eBay anyone?
Jump forward to the present day and the shifting chainset is back. However, this time around the electronics have been dropped in favour of something altogether more sophisticated yet at the same time simpler. Austrian based VYRO have brought to market a chainset which has the potential to answer the question of how do you fit a double to a frame that has been designed so that it is incompatible with a front mech?
Dual shifting for the single ring generation
Single ring set ups continue to be flavour of the month in the industry, a trend which continues to baffle and irk me in equal measure. However, there are still an awful lot of riders out there who value a dual ring set up, the lower gear bail out options and not having ratios that jump by several teeth in one hit.
So what is the VYRO chainset and, more importantly, how does it actually work?
Having demonstrated it to a lot of riding buddies and friends in the industry, even after seeing it in operation, the collective reckoning is that it is a clever combination of magic and unicorn tears. Would that it were so simple. Instead, what VYRO have done is taken the outer ring and split it into four pivoting quarters. The inner ring looks like a normal ring, save for the fact that it has four moving guides that slide a few millimetres vertically. At the top and bottom of these are small tabs that stick out a few millimetres. Clear so far? Good!
Let’s get technical
Now here comes the science bit, as Jennifer Aniston used to say. In order to move the outer ring quarters in and out, a backing plate which doubles as a bash guard is attached to the ISCG mounts of the frame. At the bottom of these is a small, sprung pivoting tab that moves against the tabs on the inner ring when the front shift lever is pressed. These cause the inner ring tabs to move up or down thus causing the outer ring segments to pivot in or out and thus move the chain up or down.
Where things get really clever is that as each quarter moves in sequence, it is never under load when it moves as each quarter moves without being in contact with the chain. For those used to a normal front mech, there is no need to soft pedal. VYRO claims that you can shift under load and I found this to be the case. It really works!
In terms of chain line, the chain is always located above the inner ring as the outer ring quarters fold inwards when you shift up onto the big ring. As such, chain line issues that you may have experienced with a double set up in the past are avoided.
Each up or down shift is accompanied by a distinctive click. When you shift on a bike stand, it feels a bit clunky and a little resistant to shift but when you are on the bike and riding, you don’t actually notice the resistance. What you do end up doing, however, is looking down to watch it shift. This is fine once you get used to it but a couple of my mates who tried it for the first time nearly came to grief as they watched it shift as opposed to looking at the trail ahead.
It gladdens my heart when I see self- extracting chainset bolts. The VYRO features them as standard meaning that if you do have to affect a trailside repair, you can. Pedals screw into offset, replaceable mounts that tighten against the crank arms when you tighten the pedals. This is a pretty ingenious system as it means you have the choice of either 170mm or 175 mm chain arm length. It also means that if you strip the threads, you aren’t looking at a new crank arm. I would like to see other manufacturers adopt this approach. In use, the pedals felt solid throughout the test with no play nor unwelcome creaking.
Setting the chainset up is considerably easier than a normal front mech. Bolt on the bash guard / shift mechanism onto the ISCG mounts on your frame (there are spacers supplied if the machining on your frame isn’t bob on), screw in your threaded external bottom bracket cups (supplied) and mount the drive side chainset and axle. There are spacers supplied to help you get a perfect chain line. The chainset mounts very close to the bash guard but in many months of use, I never had a problem with mud build up clogging the space between them.
Using an old left hand front mech shifter, in my case an old SRAM X9 triple shifter, you run the cable housing full length to the bash guard. Thread through the inner. Secure it with a small grub screw and bob’s your uncle. Despite my limited technical spannering skills, I managed to get perfect shifting from the off. No faffing with the right cable pull. No requirement for a third hand to hold the mech. No alignment issues. It really was a quick and simple job.
Off the stand and on the trail
So what is it like in the real world of mud, grit and slop of UK riding? I have to admit that in the first instance, I was sceptical of just how it would perform. The shifting mechanism at the bottom of the plate mount looks susceptible to water and dirt ingress while the shifting tabs and pivoting outer rings look ideally positioned to clog with mud. After several months of Scottish Winter (read the same as Scottish Spring, Summer and Autumn, albeit colder), I have come away pleasantly surprised. I have ridden in some truly awful conditions but the chainset has performed remarkably well and continued to shift even when covered in wet mud.
For multi day rides, I’ve always been careful to give the chainset a quick wash down and spray with silicon spray or a squirt of lube on the moving parts to keep things running smoothly. Most of the time, only some lube is required. I have to hold my hands up and admit that I am hard on drivetrains – it’s not unusual for my mountain bike to be brushed down but not washed for several weeks or months at a time. With so many moving parts, you would expect this to be a recipe for disaster but in fairness it hasn’t been.
Shifting action feels exceptionally light, far lighter than any other front mech set up I have used. During the test, the outer housing on my cable split at the shifter end. Normally, this would spell disaster for shifting but it had no impact whatsoever to the extent that I have continued to ride the bike and not bothered to replace the outer housing. I’ll get round to it eventually.
The small shift mechanism at the bottom of the bash guard looks vulnerable but at no point has it given me any problems while the bash guard has taken several knocks such as from ill-timed log hops and protected the chainrings. When I first took the chainset out of the box, I was almost taking bets with myself as to how quickly I would bend or break one of the outer chainring segments. As it transpires, I’ve never even come close despite a couple of clumsy moments that would have almost certainly fubar’d a normal outer ring.
In terms of the four shifter tabs mounted to the inner ring, they can easily be replaced on the trail if you have the right Allen keys to hand. During the test, I broke two. The first was through brute force and ignorance on my part and wasn’t when riding. The second was when I fell off a log ride and caught the inside face of the chainset on the edge of the log snapping one of the shifter tabs. To be fair, I’ve never in all my years of riding experienced that kind of off so the circumstances were pretty unusual.
If I had taken a spare tab with me, I would have been back up and riding in minutes with normal shift service resumed. Of course, I left them at home in Scotland….and I was in Northern Ireland. As a result I had to manually move one quarter in and out when I wanted to change gear at the front. It was annoying but not a disaster and could easily have been fixed on the trail if I had brought along my spare one.
The bearings on the bottom bracket continue to run smooth and free while weight wise, compared to my previous XTR/ Middleburn set up which is in itself a lightweight set up, I managed to save the best part of a quarter of a pound. That’s pretty impressive in my book.
Still running smoothly
On the trail, despite not having thick-thin profile rings, the chain did a good job of staying on the chainset in rough terrain. It was only when I snapped one of the shifter tabs that I experienced any chain drop. It’s not fair to criticize the chainset for this just because I left the spare shifter tab at home.
Over the course of the test, I reckon that I have clocked well over 1000 kilometres of hard and clarty off road riding with the chainset. If there were flaws to be found, I am confident that I would have found them. As things stand, I haven’t. All the parts are user serviceable while shifting throughout the period of the test has been and continues to be excellent.
Going back to a normal chainset, I now miss the light action at the shift lever and the ability to shift under load. I’m struggling to find anything to criticize which is pretty unusual. The chainrings come in a 24 – 36 tooth combination. If I was quibbling, I would prefer a 22 -32 set up but then I am a spinner. As it was, I found an 11-42 rear cassette was an ideal partner to get the right gear range for me.
The VYRO is that rarest of products. It is both innovative and reliable. I was fully prepared to hate it but it quickly won me over. For those of you who like to ride with a dual set up at the front but have become frustrated by the increasing number of frames that are single ring compatible only, the VYRO chainset may be the product for you. Shifting under load never gets old, the chainset has proven itself capable of performing in some frankly appalling weather and it looks cool as hell too.
I get nervous when I come across a product that just works and have been unable to break it or expose its flaws. I’ve tried my hardest to expose weakness but have come up short. The acid test is whether I would buy one and to that the answer is most certainly yes. Looks weird but works brilliantly. Nuff said.
|Product:||VYRO FrEn1 Chainset|
|Tested:||by David "Sanny" Gould for 12 months|