Here’s the deal, in my day job I’m an ad guy. You know, a Mad Man for lack a better example.
That said, if you recall, Race Face announced the Next SL cranks last year with a stunning print ad featuring a helium balloon holding up a crank off the ground. I nearly bought the crank set for the sake of honoring the creative team behind that ad alone, but there were a few more compelling points that must be noted. I also wanted to see if this claim was all hot air. You know, truth in advertising.
When I was building up my Trek Farley last year I knew a 1×10 drive train was the goal. I scoured every website known to mankind searching for a crank that wasn’t a chunky monkey and offered some good looking design IQ. Meaning, the crank looked like someone actually cared about how it looked.
I also wanted a front chain ring that positioned itself around providing the technology to not drop the chain. Adding a chain guide to a clean 1×10 drive train wasn’t what I was looking for. The Race Face NARROW/WIDE single chain rings looked to be the answer to this goal.
The Next SL fit both criteria above, but, the carbon scared me quite a bit. I’m 220 pounds, most carbon screams when it sees me walking their way. My first question to Race Face via their website was: “Is there a rider weight limit on these cranks?” To which they quickly responded. “No, there’s no rider weight limit on these cranks.” Boom! I was in, the first three phases of tests were passed with flying colors.
The next criteria was having the ability to easily change out front rings. In the winter I wanted to run with a 28T front ring, and in the summer transition to the 32T front ring. The reason why is simple, climbing our single track hills in the winter is more challenging, and, it’s nice to have smaller gears in the winter to spin the pedals uphill versus stopping, walking, and destroying the winter groomed single track trail. Having the ability to easily change the chain ring for the summer/winter seasons was a compelling reason to move forward with this product.
Fast forward nearly a year. You probably wonder what’s the good news, the bad news, and the news Race Face wishes I wouldn’t report on? Well, no worries Race Face, all is well, just like the Next SL cranks.
What I like about this product:
- The Crank Boots. Honestly, I have no idea if these things work or not, even after a full year, but, having these little padded socks on the end of my cranks gives me the added confidence I need to ride the rocks and shale during the summer in Cuyuna. A good investment for my brain. I will also say having carbon cranks helps myself be much more diligent and purposeful about knowing where my cranks are positioned while cycling through rocky terrain. This has helped me pick better lines, and actually improve at this type of riding.
- The completely hallow crank arms are Superman strong. I have not felt the cranks flex, or get sloppy, when I hit the pedals I immediately feel a turbo boost to the rear wheel. So much that the front ends lifts off the ground. That’s sweet.
- Carbon has two benefits in my opinion. The first benefit is the slight weight savings, (Cranks + 28T ring = 425 grams). The second benefit is more important though, vibration dampening. As your feet should be on the pedals the majority of the time, having 40% of your anchor points to the bike benefiting from vibrations dampening carbon creates a preferred ride experience. On a side note, if your fat bike handlebars aren’t carbon, you may want to consider that too. I hear Whisky Parts Co has a new offering coming out soon!
- Today I like a single ring in the front, what if in a year or two I think a double ring is the way to go? With the Race Face Next SL CINCH technology and interchangeable spiders, I can make it happen. Or, if I start bashing my front ring up, I could change it out to have a bash guard and single ring. That’s cool, multiple options, all within one product. This technology helps “future-proof” my investment.
Opportunities for product improvement:
- When I first ordered the parts, I could not get the 28T front ring (Out-of-stock), I needed to get the 26T. It obviously worked, and did the job, but there were times in the winter while riding our groomed single track I didn’t have enough gear on the downhill. That’s the beauty of mechanically groomed single track, when the conditions are right, it’s nearly as fast as summer dirt riding.
- When I ordered the parts, only the 175mm cranks were available. I wanted to purchase the 170mm in an effort to reduce the opportunity of striking the ground with a carbon crank. Thankfully, nearly a year later, I have no major pedal strikes to report.
- When we ordered the crank set, we didn’t know to also order the Race Face CINCH BSA bottom bracket cup tool. So, we missed a week of ride time while we circled back to Race Face and acquired the necessary tool install the bottom bracket properly.
Add here are some positive bonuses I’ve learned along the way:
- Since day one, the chain ring has not dropped the chain, not even once, that’s good, “as-advertised” as we say.
- During my first maintenance check-up after riding for 8 months, only the non-drive side bottom bracket bearing wore out, I can handle that.
Would I purchase this product again?
Yes. Over the past year I’ve had the opportunity to pedal XO1, XX1, XT, and XTR crank sets/drive trains. I’ve learned each of these products has their pros and cons. However, if you are looking to build up a drive train that is slightly different than what you can buy out of the box, the Race Face Next SL fits that opportunity.
I’m also a believer in riding a fat bike that isn’t a tank. I refer to it as fa(s)t bike. My riding consists of about a 90 minute session exclusively on single track. Flow trail, purpose built trail, year round. Momentum on this type of trail is everything, and a fat bike that rolls, and looses minimum momentum transitioning from downhill to uphill has proven to be a wonderful riding experience. The reduced weight in each component on a fat bike adds or subtracts to that cycling experience, and in my world, the Race Face Next SL cranks have added to that experience. Good job Race Face, not only on the Next SL cranks, but the amazing print ad that started it all.