195mm crankset – Wow!!!

Posted by SuperClydesdale on July 9, 2010 under Commentary, Cranksets | 36 Comments to Read

My 195mm cransket came in from High Sierra Cycle Center.  Tom Slocum, who owns the place, was very patient with my myriad of questions — I highly recommend these guys.

The cranks are beautiful, and its now apparent just how long they are compared to the 180mm ones.  The funny thing is, 180mm are much longer than most people’s cranks — even 95% of the big & tall people who read this web site, and yet these 195mm make them look tiny.

They are beefy too.   A bit heavy, but Tom says they’ve never had one break.  With all the extra leverage the longer crank arms provide, and with the weight and power of a Clydesdale, its probably a safe play to have them a bit over-engineered.

So…. the important part.  I’ve done three rides with the new cranks.  All I can say is, “wow!”   After sending back the other crankset (I had an adjustable crankset to try multiple lengths of crank arm), I’d been riding my Rocky Mountain that has a 177.5mm crankset.  The 195s seem to be a good length for my 36″ true inseam because  I was expecting it to feel odd at first coming off of the 177.5′s.  But, as soon as I put the 195s on the new S-Works (more on why its new later) frame and started pedaling, it felt entirely normal.  Just better.  Much better.

With three rides and 100 miles, I feel I’m ready to make an initial report.  One ride that I do regularly (16 times since March) is 34 miles with pretty significant climbing (3,200 feet).    My average time is Cialis 2:13:08.  The fastest I had ever done the loop was 2:08.

This Thursday, I did the ride, and was fighting a tough headwind for part of it.  Despite that, I completed the loop in 2:00:32 — eight minutes faster than my faster-ever to date.  I was blown away.   8 minutes on a 2 hour ride is 6.5%! faster than my fastest-ever ride.  If you compare that to my average of 2:13, it’s 11% faster than my average over the last 15 rides.  You just cannot argue with that.

I didn’t make the change to make it easier — if I just wanted to make life easier, I’d be fat dumb and happy with my triple crankset.   I’m fat and happy, now I feel like I’m just not as dumb — dumb enough to be using baby cranks.  Let the little guys use the baby cranks.

I made the change to allow me to use bigger gears than I have been able to do.   And… it works!

At 6’3″, I am taller than average, but I know that there are many people who read this site that are taller than me.   In reading some of the initial data on my survey (by the way, if you haven’t taken the survey, please take it now), there’s only one other guy even riding 180mm cranks, and most everyone else has 175mm or 177.5mm, which I think is now proven to be absurd.

So, guys (I think I’m pretty safe to assume that my readers are guys), if you are tall and don’t switch to a proportionally correct crankset, then you’re missing out.

The adjustable crankset experience

Posted by SuperClydesdale on June 17, 2010 under Cranksets, Road Bike Components | 2 Comments to Read

As regular readers will know, I am evaluating different crank arm lengths to see what is best for me.  I’ve concluded that “standard” cranks are just too short for a guy like me with a 36″ true inseam.   I want proportionally correct cranks (apparently, that’s the correct phrase — “longer cranks” implies that somehow the cranks are longer than they should be).

To test this out, I rented an adjustable crankset, which allows me to go from 180-200mm.  I just installed these on Friday.  So far, I have done four rides on the new cranks:

  • With 200mm crank arms:  Two 25-mile rides with moderate climbing (1700 and 1600 feet of climb)
  • With 190mm crank arms:  Two identical 34-mile rides with 2967 feet of climb.

The square taper bottom bracket:  the standard for custom-length cranks

I think it’s for ease of manufacture, because all of the custom cranksets that I am looking at use a square taper bottom bracket.  A square taper crankset  just needs a square hole to mount, unlike more complicated systems like Shimano’s Octalink, so it’s very easy for limited-production items like a custom crankset to be produced relatively inexpensively with just a square hole to worry about.

Luckily, a low-end bottom square taper bracket is pretty cheap, so It was only a $19 investment to get one at my LBS.

The evaluation of different crank arm lengths

I have been riding 180mm Dura Ace cranks on this particular bike, so the goal of the evaluation was to compare longer crank arms  from 190mm-200mm.  Unfortunately, the unit that Zinn (where I rented them) sent would really only go to 200mm, and that was a bit of a stretch because the crank arms that slide in & out of the “base unit” of the adjustable crankset were cut too short.  Only one of the two Allen bolts could clamp down on the arm.   This is not very secure, so, while I could try it out at 200mm, I couldn’t risk a  vigorous ride without fearing of damaging the cranks.  The only remedy for this would be to get Zinn to send longer arms.  I’m not patient enough for that.

200mm Crank arms

My first trial was at 200mm.  I set the crank arms, then lowered my seat by 20mm to keep my knee bend at the end of the stroke the same as I am used to (which I consider be correct).  As I cruised around my driveway, I could feel my legs making the more exaggerated orbit around the bottom bracket.    I made some turns to get a feel for how sharp of a turn I could make without the pedal striking the ground.

Satisfied that I had a feel for it, I headed out for a 25 mile ride with moderate climbing.  Perhaps jumping from 180mm straight to 200mm was a bit aggressive.  The first few miles felt very strange.  Surprisingly, after about 5 miles the unfamiliar feel faded somewhat, and I became accustomed to the pedal stroke.

I could definitely feel the increased leverage created by the longer cranks.   There was a noticeable difference in climbing ability.  It felt like I had some extra gears.  There is a ½-mile-long hill of about 7% grade a little less than a mile from my house.  Normally, I grind up it in 44/27 because I’m not warmed up (this is literally a few minutes into the ride).  On this ride, I was up in 44/25, and really could have gone lower, but I was still adjusting to the new feel.

On the flats and downhill, I could really jam.  My cadence initially seemed to be a bit lower, but in looking at my stats, its right there with that of my 180mm crankset.

The next day, I went out for another 25-mile test ride.  This time, I the pedal stroke didn’t seem awkward — It felt great.   I really felt the extra power.  My  intent was to open it up on the flats.  I found that could sustain a higher average speed over rolling terrain with the longer cranks.  The average pace for the ride was nearly 1mph faster than my average for the same loop, although the work effort was what I would call normal.

190mm crank arms

Next up was the 190mm.  This length I can test more vigorously because the arms can both be firmly clamped down by both bolts.

With this, I did two rides, each my standard 34-mile loop from my house that has significant climbing (2967 feet of climb).  I’ve done this loop many times, so I have a lot of data on it.  I finished these rides with an vigorelle does it really work average speed about .75 mph higher average speed for the loop.  The cadence was pretty much my average for the other rides with shorter crank arms.

This was interesting in that the pedal stroke felt normal from the first moment I tried the 190mm cranks.   On hills, I noticed that I had the power of at least one more gear.  On stretches where I normally have to get out of the saddle, I remained seated, which is far more efficient for a big guy when climbing.

Larger chain rings on longer crank arms

I picked up a 54-tooth chain ring this weekend.  I hope to be able to try that out with longer crank arms soon.  That will mostly be for downhill, but I look forward to really being able to fly.

Conclusion of using a longer crankset

After just four rides, I have convinced myself that I can effectively use and will benefit from the use of longer cranks.  While I was unable to test the 200mm as vigorously as I would have liked, I was able to get a good feel for them.  According to the two schools of thought around appropriate crank are length (basing it on inseam or on femur length), I should be using somewhere between 183- 197.5mm cranks.  This is a bit of a rehash for people that have read articles on this topic here before, but take a look at the two tables below the first table is inseam-based, the second is femur length (based on femur lengths I extrapolated based on research revealing average femur length to height for Caucasian males).

Recommended crankset length based on inseam

Recommended crankset length to femur bone

Recommended crankset length to femur bone

I’m “voting with my pocket book” — I just ordered 195mm cranks.  I decided on 195 over 200mm to reduce the chance of pedal strike.  Without a custom frame with a higher bottom bracket, the pedals are going to more apt to hit the ground if I’m not careful on sharp turns.  195 will reduce that a bit.

I spoke to Tom at High Sierra Cycle Center (1-800-438-4399), who has been making custom cranks for more than 20 years.  Tom is nice guy, and a wealth of information.  I told him that after studying the pictures of his cranks and the cranks on Zinn’s web site, that it appeared that the cranks were identical.  He admitted that for the Zinn “non-integrated” cranks, he has been manufacturing them in partnership with Zinn.

Here’s the plus:  High Sierra is a lot cheaper.  Same crank, lower price.  You decide.

High Sierra is coming out with a new integrated bottom bracket crank design in the immediate future as well.  They will still offer the traditional square-taper crankset, but it sounds like the new one has some special characteristics.  I’ll hopefully provide more on that soon.

Why did I order longer cranks? Even after just four rides, the result is obvious.   190mm cranks felt exactly like my 180mm, but I get power for less effort. That means faster climbing, and more power on those long pulls. Plus, It’s a relatively inexpensive modification.  $350 for a crankset is a good price  – what else can you spend $350 on to get such a big impact on performance?  People will drop $1000 on a wheelset just because they are a little more aero.  This effects your quality of life!

The cranks come with a 1-year warranty.  They are a little beefier than my Dura Ace 180mms but they are designed for hard use by big riders.  That’s worth a few grams in my book, as longer crank arms means more leverage on the cranks and more stress on them.  Plus, the extra power gained overcomes the negative impact of any slight increase in weight.

A Special Offer for SuperClydesdale readers

I spoke with Tom at Sierra about getting a group discount for superclydesdale.com readers. If at least 10 people to buy cranks, he will give everyone a 15% discount.  15% off of an already inexpensive crankset is a screaming deal.  It’s too late for me – I already ordered mine, but if you are interested, fill out the form below.

Once I get my cranks, I will re-post this offer, along with a photo of the crankset.

Tom is a wealth of knowledge, having been making these cranksets for over 20 years.  If you have questions, please ask me.  I’d like to collect the questions and answers and share them with everyone for mutual benefit.  Send your questions to jack@superclydesdale.com and I will update this post with answers.

Fill in your e-mail address and I'll send you an e-mail when there's enough people to qualify for High Sierra's 15% off offer.

180mm crankset – baby step towards going big

Posted by SuperClydesdale on May 24, 2010 under Cranksets, Road Bike Components | 6 Comments to Read

Last week, I wrote that I am going big – big cranks to match my big legs.

I have not yet determined what length of crankset to go for, and since it’s an expensive experiment, I decided to try out different crank lengths by using an adjustable cransket.   Zinn Cycles rents these out for $50, plus a $500 security deposit.  This will allow me to try out varying crank lengths, without blindly picking a length, then being out anywhere from $370 (High Sierra Cycle Center) to $675 (Zinn) – note that custom cranks lengths are available from www.customcranks.de as well, and are priced from 170 Euros to 220 Euros.  The www.customcranks.de guys have some great looking cranksets, available in many colors and finishes.

In preparation for going big, I dug out an old Dura Ace 180mm cransket to begin to get accustomed to longer cranks.  I’ve had the 180mm crankset for a while, but didn’t really use it.  I went straight to a 175mm compact double on my S-Works, and put a triple on my Rocky Mountain.

2010 is the year of bigger gears, getting out of the saddle, strength building and other names for the regimen of self-flagellation that I have decided to submit to.  As a result, I have not been using the granny gear on my triple, and have not been riding the S-Works with the compact crankset.  For a big, heavy guy, abandoning triples and compact cranks is a huge move.   Really, it’s self-inflicted torture.  My legs are getting pretty cooked on nasty climbing rides, and while I know it’s all for the greater good, I also am hungry to take advantage of my long legs.   The 180mm crankset is the first of potentially several steps toward using a significantly longer crankset.

The flagellator

Should I buy this, and keep using my triple crankset? This would satisfy my sadomasochistic urges, but it won't improve my fitness level.

As I stated in my posting last week, 180mm appears to be the longest road crankset you can find from a major manufacturer (Shimano, Campy, SRAM, FSA, Ritchey, etc.).   And, even though manufacturers say that they make them, they are few and far between.  The only way I found my 180mm Dura Ace was to get an older model (7700), and I had to get it used on Craigslist.   When I say, “used,” I mean it looks like the guy was using it as a hammer.

When I went to look at it, I asked the guy, “What the hell have you been doing with this?

I used it!” was his reply.

Now, I don’t baby my bikes.  I ride them, and I put them in the back of friend’s trucks, put them on bike racks where they sometimes rub shoulders with other bikes.  But, I usually at least try to prop the bike up against something when I stop, and I almost always stop before I get off the bike and walk away.  I suspected that perhaps this guys had loaned his bike to Danny MacAskill.

By the way, if you’ve never heard of Danny MacAskill, or watched a video of him.  Stop reading this and do it.  Now.  Watch this, or this, or this.  He’s from a different planet.

So, I had a 180mm crankset, but it was so butt-ugly that I couldn’t bear to put it on my bike.  While some may argue the point, I do have some standards.   Now that I’ve decided I’m going big, I decided to invest some time in “restoring” the cransket.  I bought a bench-mount polisher, and removed about 99% of the scratches and gouges from the cransket.  Now, it’s highly polished, and it looks pretty cool.  Based on what I’ve read about refinishing cranksets, I decided not to clearcoat it because it will just show wear more easily.  So, no clearcoat, no Dura Ace decal, and no paint (I was thinking of painting it but couldn’t decide what color).  This is temporary anyway if I get the 190mm or 200mm crankset.  The biggest problem is – what will I do without that Dura Ace decal?  How will people know that I am a top-shelf kinda guy?  They might  think that I am riding with an Ultegra crankset, or (god forbid), a 105!!!   Since that won’t do, I used a Sharpie and I’ve clearly labeled these bad boys as Dura Ace, so that nobody will think I’m riding something less expensive.  That won’t do.

Oh yeah, I'm riding Dura Ace. Eat your heart out.

I’ve installed my cadence meter on the bike, so I can compare my cadence on the 180mm vs. the compact and the 177.5 that preceded it.   As of this writing (3 rides), I cannot notice any difference in my cadence.  In looking over my data, my cadence appears, on average, to be the same as it was with the 177.5mm compact.  While this is a very small number of rides from which to try to draw any conclusions, I don’t know that I will see any difference until I get into a substantially longer cransket (200mm and above) – I guess I’ll know soon.

I’ve been thinking (some might call it fantasizing) about the longer cranks.

One tantalizing possibility that is opened up by using longer cranks is to explore larger chain rings.  Imagine being able to use a 54 or (gasp!) a 55  instead of a 53!  I could really scorch down hills.  Those smaller riders had better wheel suck right behind me, or I’ll just pull away.   The effects of gravity combined with a 55-tooth big ring could be… impressive.

A splash of cold water on this long crank fantasy may be this — I have noticed a  potential red flag:  frame flex on my aluminum frame when using the 180mm crankset.  When I get up out of the saddle and really hammer it, I’ve been experiencing “ghost shifting” on all three of my test rides.   The bike shifts beautifully, even on steep climbs, but when I really crank hard for a rapid acceleration, it will shift around on the cassette.  My concern is that the longer crank arms are allowing me to exert more leverage on the frame, causing the frame to flex to the point of pulling the chain slightly off the correct cog on the cassette as I bear down.  I am now concerned that if I go even longer (I want to try all lengths between 190mm and 220mm in 5mm increments), that the frame flex will be even more exaggerated.  That could be bad, and may  mean that a longer crank arm requires a much stiffer frame.   Given that I have already broken three frames in my life, I am wondering if these longer cranks are going to put a lot more stress on a frame, particularly around the bottom bracket.

For those interested in exploring this route as well, the three manufacturers of custom (longer) cranksets that I am considering are:

If you are using a longer crankset (longer than 180mm), please share your thoughts and insights.

Crank arm length for the taller rider — I’m going big!

Posted by SuperClydesdale on May 9, 2010 under Cranksets, Road Bike Components | 4 Comments to Read

Man on tiny bike

Cranks too short?

If you’ve ever been to a circus, you may have witnessed a clown riding a tiny bicycle, with his knees way out to the side, and the massive-looking clown towering over the contraption trying to keep it moving.  This is obviously supposed to be ridiculous, as though the clown does not realize how incredibly inefficient the bike is.  The audience sees immediately that it would be much faster and easier to simply walk than ride that tiny bike.  I have, at times, felt like that clown on the bike.   I hate clowns.

I’m wide, but for a Clydesdale, let alone a Super Clydesdale, I am probably at the lower-end of the height spectrum.   I get e-mails from riders who are 6’5”, 6’6”, 6’7” and I’m not accustomed to being the shortest guy in the room.   This site attracts the attention of a lot of big dudes.    So, while far from being the tallest of cyclists, I’m taller than average – at 6’3”, which puts me in the top 5% of American men in height.     I have often felt that the crankset in particular reveals that most bike manufacturers are ignoring the upper end of the market.   Like any market (and political campaign, and collective bargaining negotiation), the manufacturers want to focus where the money is – the average.  In this case, it’s the average-sized rider.  It’s expensive to design, test, manufacture, distribute, and sell a massive range of products that will accommodate all sizes and shapes of riders, so manufacturers simply make what 95% of the market requires.  Everyone else is supposed to try to make what’s available work for them.  That’s fine for recreational use, but when you are racing or riding with extremely fit, competitive riders, you start searching for all means possible to improve performance, or in my case, to level the playing field.  I want to keep up with the little guys on the hills as best I can.

The resistance I get when discussing this is amazing.  I don’t  really understand it, as any thinking person should realize that the length of a rider’s legs should dictate the proper length of the rider’s ideal crankset.  So there you have it – if you disagree with me, you are not a thinking person.  I think I’ve summed that up rather nicely.

From a simply mathematical point of view, there should be no argument.  As height increases, everything else should scale up as well.  There are excellent arguments against using cranks that are too long, primarily the impact that it has on cadence, and the resulting strain it puts on a rider’s knees, and the loss of efficiency.  But, how long is too long?  Correct crank length is entirely based on a rider’s legs, not made-up anecdotal or emotionally-based arguments, or those meant to hold us Clydesdales back.   The guy at the local bike shop is just jealous because he needs you to reach up and grab the helmet from the top shelf (he can’t reach it), or to open his jar of Accelerade (his hands are too small), so don’t listen to the little guy about proper crankset length.

Crank length directly impacts the amount of leverage that a rider can impart on the drivetrain.   Longer cranks, more leverage.  More leverage, easier climbs.  If your body can handle the longer crank arms, there is no reason at all to not use them.  It puts a cyclist at a disadvantage to use cranks that are proportionally shorter than their competition’s.  I think that this could go a long way to leveling the playing field for a Clydesdale when it comes to climbing.  It allows larger riders to play to their strengths (longer legs) to confront their primary challenge (gravity).  Even if I take back some of the advantage that a smaller rider enjoys, It doesn’t mean that I cannot complain, shout expletives, or otherwise belittle smaller riders while climbing.

Anyone who disputes that there’s defacto discrimination going on in the cycling market need only to look at crank arm length for validation.  Bikes are designed by and for smaller riders – it’s all part of the grand conspiracy to get back at us well-to-do Clydesdales.   Most cranksets come in sizes from 165-180mm (Dura Ace 7900s come in 165, 170, 172.5, 175, 177.5, and 180), which is fine for the average-sized rider.  The only way to get a Clydesdale-appropriate crankset is to go to someone like Zinn Cycles, or High Sierra Cycle Center and order one.

The main reason that I want to get longer crank arms is my weight.   The height (or, more specifically, leg length) of the cyclist is really only needed to determine the capacity of that rider to handle larger crank arms.  So, if you are 6’3” but weigh only 180 pounds, then you may not feel near the benefit of longer crank arms, as the wattage that a 180-pound rider needs to put out on a climb is far less than the 6’3” 220-pound rider.   A 230-pound rider is — trust me — desperate to find any means possible to make the climb easier.  The solution:  proportionally appropriate crank arms.

I have been riding a bike with 177.5 cranks for about 2 years now.  I have come to the conclusion that this is way too short for me.   I have decided to take the plunge and try a much longer crankset.

From what I can determine, the crank arm length, while generally best determined by a rider’s inseam, is most precisely predicted by the length of a rider’s femur.  The femur is the bone from the hip to the knee.   The femur length is largely what determines how much leverage a rider can impart on the pedal.   I created the following table, based on the crank arm lengths in use by the general cycling population, and scaled it up for man-sized cyclists.  The femur length to height was determined based on established data for estimating femur length in Caucasian males, and is really just to show the ranges.  While you might find this a useful guide, you should measure your own.

Recommended crankset length to femur bone

Recommended crankset length to femur bone

This is where the arguments start.  But, the arguments are largely based on a desire for smaller riders to stop us bigger guys from whining about the lack of appropriate equipment for man-sized cyclists, as well as to keep as much of their advantage as possible, as outside of horse racing, there’s not a lot of sports that have much of a use for smaller guys (okay, perhaps as a coxwain).    The average cyclist uses a crank arm that is between 38%-41% of the length of their femur.  Obviously, few, if any people have measured their femur and decided to buy a certain-sized crankset.  Most people just use what came on their bike, and for 95% of cyclists, that’s probably fine.

For those of us lucky enough to call themselves Clydesdales, or for the human genome lottery winners that make up the Super Clydesdale class, this is almost certainly not right.  You are being inadvertently screwed by the bike industry.   You are the clown on the tiny bike.

To pour salt into the wound, using a longer crankset may cause you to have “pedal strike” – where your pedal hits the ground if you try to pedal through a sharp turn.  This can be disastrous.  Make sure that you are comfortable with this trade-off.  Pedal strike can mean instant crash.  Personally, I don’t pedal through sharp turns.  It’s possible to get a frameset with a higher bottom bracket height.

Looking at the chart above , and trying to estimate your femur length, I can see that I would likely be able to handle a 190-210mm crank arm.  I have a 36” inseam (as tested with the technique as described by Colorado Cyclist ), and I estimate my femur is 20” – calculating that while sitting down, and measuring from where I think the hip joint is to the font of the knee cap.  Bill Boston Cycles has a great summary of the argument for basing crank length on femur length.

Zinn Cycles’ “big & tall” approach is based more on inseam — in my mind, a less accurate indicator of proper crankset length, but much better than your local bike shop’s approach, which is “you’re full of crap — use the cranksets that I sell.”  Using Zinn’s recommendations, I created the table below.

Recommended crankset length based on inseam

When using inseam don’t go by what you use for buying clothing.  You need to really estimate the height of your “sit bones” from the ground to get an accurate measure (see link to Colorado Cyclist above).

I’m going big.   Stay tuned..