Saturday, September 21, 2013

Low gearing on a road bike - Part 3/3: "Sugino OX601D - The Freedom Crankset"

In the previous part, I considered Sugino OX601D cranks with 44T and 30T chainrings as the best solution for low gearing a road bike. I realized that this option would work better for me, since I can get this crankset with a dedicated 44T ring that is ramped and pinned to work well with modern STI shifters. Should I choose a triple crankset from Shimano instead, I would have to buy a ramped 44T chainring separately.

It is always a good idea to do some research and read other people impressions first. There are a few reviews out there, but not having enough, I contacted Mark from gravelbike.com and bugged him with some questions. Mark was super helpful and convinced me that I was making the right choice. You can read Mark's review about OX601D here. He should know what he's talking about. He does a lot of that kind of riding I would like to do, but lives in a nicer area than mine, with more gravel roads around.
Sugino OX601D on my bike - what a difference!

Having said that, I decided to buy these cranks and try them on my Poprad. For $330 with free shipping and a bottom bracket included, this looked like a pretty good deal. I also ordered a 28T chainring separately ($16) and decided to replace the original 30T one at a later time. The original smallest ring is not ramped and pinned so technically you can install any one that would work with a 10 speed chain and have a 74mm BCD.

The measured weight is 832g for the crankset (175mm long arms) and 94g for the bottom bracket cups. Compared to my original Bontrager Race GXP cranks the new setup is heavier by 84g, which makes me think how lightweight those Bontrager cranks were (718g for a 46/38T crankset)!

Installation of the new cranks was straightforward but removing the old ones wasn't. GXP cranks are supposed to be self-extracting. Technically, all you need is a 8mm Allen key. The left crank has a large retaining ring threaded into the crank arm. Underneath that ring is the main bolt that secures the left crank arm to the spindle. By unscrewing that bolt the left crank is supposed to be pulled off the spindle. Well, in my case it didn't really work this way. Once I tried to unscrew the bolt, the retaining ring came out as well. I didn't have a 16mm Allen key needed to tighten that ring back again. I had to visit my local bike store and they were able to finally remove those cranks.

Next, I installed Sugino cranks with their dedicated bottom bracket. That was simple and all I needed to do afterwards was to shorten the chain a bit. I tried to lower the front derailleur as well, but it turned out that I can't really do it since its cage would hit the chainstays. As you can see in the picture below, Shimano 105 front derailleur is clearly not designed for such a small chainring as its cage's curvature doesn't match the 44T ring at all. It's also too long. I am guessing that a cyclocross derailleur such as Shimano CX-70 may work much better with Sugino cranks, as it is designed with smaller chainrings in mind. But despite all this, shifting is very fast and smooth both up and down, likely thanks to ramps and pins on the larger chainring. Also, I didn't have any dropped chain problems at all.

The gearing range these cranks offer when combined with a 12-30T cassette on my bike is simply amazing. For 95% of my riding I can stay in the large chainring. By replacing the 46T in my original cranks with the 44T, I can now use the full range of the cassette much more efficiently. Not only I use the high gear range (12-15T) more often, but also I don't have to shift frequently to the small chainring when riding some hills. Still, knowing that the 30T ring is there and the 1:1 gear is available, I can now easily ride steep hills sitting. No need to ride out of saddle anymore. That's better for my knees.
 
After riding many kilometers with these new cranks one thought immediately came to my mind - "Why none of the big three manufacturers offers a crankset like this?". For an average cyclist, the gearing range Sugino cranks offer is simply amazing and it is difficult for me to understand why an average road bicycle must be purchased with a compact double (50/34T) cranks and a 11-28T cassette at best. Apparently, the Big Three (Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo) think that people who buy road bicycles are professional racers only. The truth is - most of us don't race and a 50T chainring with a 11T sprocket is simply useless for an average Joe.

Conclusions
I was thinking about writing something smart to summarize my impressions, but then I found out that epicureancyclist has already done it:
The Sugino OX601D Compact Plus‘s best feature is freedom (cue music). Freedom from the tyranny of road racing conventions that muck up cranksets for the rest of us. In all seriousness, it is wonderful to see a crankset that really gives you carte blanche with your chainring choices. It really allows you to fine tune your bike to your style of riding….and they are also compatible with modern STI shifters. You can set up a standard wide range double of 44-30, or even do something crazy like a 44-26! The only real downside is the cost. They are admittedly a bit spendy. However, if you are tired of waiting for Shimano and SRAM to make a crankset for your style of riding (instead of trying to fit into theirs), then the Compact Plus is just the ticket.
My rating
+ Complete freedom with chainring selection! Ever wanted a 44/26T crankset on your road bike? Now you can!
+ STI shifters compatible.
+ Fast and smooth shifting.
+ Low q-factor.
+ Simple installation.
- On the heavy side (926g for a 44/30T crankset and the bottom bracket).
- Simple finish (not polished), although they do look better in real light than in all those pictures on internet.
- Pricey? Yes, but once you start comparing them to all other cranks of this kind (such as Rene Herse, TA Carmina, White Industries VBC) you will realize that Sugino OX601D are... the cheapest.

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