We gave Barney a pair of Cane Creek eeWings. Is he still soaring?
There is something mysterious about titanium. From its use in rockets, spaceships, and military aircraft from the sixties on; its forging by the Soviets in enormous vacuum chambers; its use as a miracle metal in medical applications, Ti has pervaded popular consciousness as a metal almost other-worldly.
In aspect, it somewhat resembles steel, until you pick it up – and that magical sensation is re-inforced by its lightness.
It’s so stable once extracted that it doesn’t corrode. It is ductile, with a high tensile strength to density ratio, and can be alloys to other metals to enhance some of these properties. Of course, it’s also awesome to make bikes with. Well, it was.
White Ti and Tales
All that industrial strength awesomeness comes at a price – it’s an absolute bugger to extract from its minerals, and its an absolute bugger to machine into anything useful. The holy grail of hardtail bicycle frames (with a ride like steel on drugs) was crimped by the enormous cost of some, and the rise of full suspension.
The same properties that rendered it as otherworldly in hardtail frames gave it properties that were less desirable in FS frames – flex being key among them – and Ti was swiftly superseded as the chi-chi platform of choice by carbon, which is a whole other kettle of fish.
As the desirability of Ti diminished in the mountain bike world, so too did its caché, except to relatively few hardy (possibly bearded) retroistas. Carbon swiftly began to creep through the ranks; frames, seat posts, stems, bars, rims – and, yes, cranks. Carbon cranks were everywhere. Light. Stiff. Expensive (pick 4): everyone wanted them.
Until last year, that is. When Cane Creek raised more than a few eyebrows with the release of the ridiculously named eeWing cranks. Very light. Very, very stiff. Very, very *very* expensive. And, of course, titanium. Oh yeah, baby. The Chi Chi is back.
A few months ago, Singletrack got some of these glorious things in to test, and it was decided (decreed?) that I should be the one to test them.
The reasons were apparently twofold. Firstly, I’ve been around long enough, and am therefore jaded enough, not to be taken in by the ‘ooooooooh, SHIIIIINNNNY’ aspects of them. And secondly, I’m hefty enough and a hard enough rider that I will be able to put the stiffness claims to the test.
So to boil it down, it’s because I’m grumpy, fat and clumsy. Thanks, Hannah.
But let’s take a look at what you get, shall we?
Cane Creek eeWings Box of Dee-light
First up, for your cash (we’ll come to that cash thing later) you get cranks in the box, some copperslip, a tensioner, a few other little bits and pieces… and that’s it. No chainring. No bottom bracket (you’ll need one with a 30mm axle).
The cranks, though, are *utterly* gorgeous; that Ti sheen is truly glorious. Ti looks best in my opinion when it’s left in its slightly matte, brushed finish rather than polished all to heck, and these are lovely. And insofar as it’s possible to eulogise about a couple of squished tubes, they manage to look elegant and burly-stiff at the same time.
The eeWings arms themselves are made from 3Al/2.5V Ti alloy, and the spindle that joins them is made from 6Al/4V. The former is a bit easier to weld, form and machine, and the latter is a bit stiffer; Cane Creek using the alloys to their strengths here. In fact, everything is Ti, apart from the preload adjuster, which is good old aluminium. Even the tensioning bolt and the included chainring bolts are made from Ti.
All of this adds up to a weight that’s a claimed 400g (I got 407, but I’m not quibbling; I only used kitchen scales), with an alleged increase in stiffness compared to equivalent carbon cranks of over 30%.
And let’s spend a moment looking at the welds, shall we? The welding is *gorgeous*. Tiny little coins of weld have been laid neatly one atop the other where things are joined together; arms to spindle, and pedal threads to arms. The crank ends, too, are neatly capped and beautifully welded. Subtle laser-etched graphics add to the feeling of elan. Truly, you could just have these eeWings on the coffee table to stroke (and possibly lick) occasionally, and not feel hard done by.
The cranks are beautifully packaged. Sleek cardboard, good design. Mmmmm. A little tube of copperslip to prevent things from seizing, some little Ti chainring bolts. To this, I added an Absolute Black oval chainring (the eewings use SRAM’s X-SYNC interface) and my trusty (used – sorry, Cane Creek) Hope 30mm bottom bracket.
Installing the eeWings was pretty straightforward, although I did have to borrow a car torque wrench to tighten things up appropriately – Cane Creek eeWings require a hefty 52Nm to tighten the spindle correctly; my puny wrench only goes up to 12. Hashtag inadequate.
Getting them dirTi
The cranks ride beautifully. They’re cranks. They’re expensive. They’re lovely. Of *course* they ride beautifully. Up hill; down dale; they’re been all over the country, and they’ve not let me down once. They just quietly get on with transferring the power, whilst looking very subtly expensive.
As I previously mentioned, Cane Creek suggests that these cranks are over 30% stiffer than equivalent carbon cranks. Now I can’t claim to have ridden all of the swishest carbon cranks out there, but I have ridden a few, and I can categorically state that I’ve *never* thought that carbon cranks were too flexy. There are, it seems to me, opportunities to uncover flex in many places on a mountain bike through pedalling forces. Tyre sidewalls, wheels, chain stays or suspension pivots, I put it to you, will all demonstrate obvious flexiness before cranks, if properly designed.
Standing on cranks and bouncing up and down might introduce sensations of flex but I can’t say that I’ve found carbon cranks to be deficient in the flex department. And I am (as has been previously been implied) not light. So it may well be entirely truthful to claim that these cranks are 30% stiffer than top end carbon numbers, but I suspect that you’d likely not notice a difference in a blind test between these and carbon ones, beyond placebo.
One advantage over carbon cranks, though, is that they’re very solid. ‘Pedal-strike into rocks and break the rocks’ kind of hard. Where carbon cranks can easily be scored, and it’s always a good idea to put little rubber bootees on the end of them (awww, how sweet), the eeWings need no such embellishments. Most of the pedal strike marks I made on the cranks can be buffed out with some scotchbrite. The marks made on the rocks would need rather more fixing – damaging rocks is something that carbon cranks (even tip top ones) can’t boast.
For balance, I should say that I have managed to scuff some of the ‘W’ off the chainring side with my shoe, but the cranks underneath will simply need a quick buffing to restore them to their former glory.
And now comes the issue I’ve been skirting around here, and we need to headbutt it full on – the cost.
Ordinarily, I’d be content to put the price at the top of the review, and leave you to draw your own conclusions, but these things are in a league of their own. A pair of eeWings will set you back the very thick end of £1000, when it’s possible to get rather blingy carbon cranks for half that.
And if you want the eeWings with a power meter, then you’ll be forking over £1500. It’s not exactly chump change.
Yes, they’re extremely stiff. And they’re very light. But putative performance advantages are missing the point, I suspect. For Cane Creek surely can’t hope to be selling so many of them that it’ll make huge profits. But it has succeeded in getting people to talk about the brand, and the undoubted caché of these cranks will rub off onto their other offerings.
And for regular punters like you and me, they represent the very pinnacle of crank-dom. They’re subtly conspicuous on the trail, they’re totally flawless functionally, and they’ll last for years.
People will want them not because they represent a vast leap in function over everything else – as good as they are, the advantages are incremental, at most. They’ll want them because right now, they represent the best you can possibly get, at any price – if you’re prepared to pay.
|Tested:||by Barney Marsh for 4 months|