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Tipping the scales at just 425grams the Race Face Next SL cranks are the lightest production carbon crankset on the planet. Pinkbike.com put them to the test to find out more.

Pinkbike.com

Weighing less than one pound (with a 34t direct mount ring) the latest version of Race Face's Next SL crankset is light enough that even XC racers should approve. This light weight is accomplished by constructing the hollow crank arms completely from carbon fibre, and then attaching them to a 30mm aluminium spindle made from a new aluminium alloy. Despite their lack of heft, Race Face claims the cranks are strong enough to handle nearly every type of riding except full-on downhilling.

Construction

Race Face manufactures the Next SL cranks at their own facility in Canada from carbon and aluminium imported from the United States, an increasingly uncommon practice in an industry dominated by products made in Asia. This tactic allows them to oversee the construction process from start to finish, making it easier to monitor the quality of the final product.

Part of the crank's light weight is achieved through the use of hollow carbon fibre arms. These hollow arms attach to an aluminium spindle that is 30mm in diameter, a change from the 24mm titanium spindle found on previous versions. According to Race Face, this change allowed them to achieve the same stiffness and strength of a steel spindle while still being lighter than the titanium version. Race Face also used a new aluminium alloy for the spindle that is claimed to be 20% stiffer than the more common 7050 alloy. Compared to other cranksets that have the spindle permanently fixed to one of the crankarms, the Next SL's spindle can be completely removed, allowing users to swap it out for one with a different width (Race Face has spindles available to fit fat bike BB spacing). Since the Next SL cranks have a 30mm spindle, in order to make them compatible with bikes that use Press Fit 92 bottom brackets a bearing with an outer lip is pressed directly into the frame. Eliminating the retaining cups allowed Race Face to use the same size bearings as are found in a 24mm spindled set up.

In addition to being able to swap out the spindle, the Next SL's Cinch interface means riders can run pretty much every imaginable chain ring combination, everything from a direct mount single ring all the way to a triple ring set up. An aluminium spider holds whichever gear combination is desired, and is then slid over the splines on the drive side arm (no spider is required for direct mount rings). The ring or rings are then cinched down using a lock-ring with the same pattern as a bottom bracket cup (Park Tool BB-22). We ran our review cranks with Race Face's 34 tooth direct mount Narrow Wide chain ring.

Installation

Installation was quick and easy - simply press in the bearings, the inner sleeve, and any necessary spacers using the correct tool, and then slide the spindle through the bearings. Next, tighten it all down with an 8mm hex wrench. The final step is to turn the preload ring found on the non-drive side to take up any play, and then secure it with a 2mm hex. Rubber boots are also included to protect the ends of the crankarms from rock damage.

Ride Impressions

We rode the Next SL crankset like we would any other crank, running them through the full gamut of trail styles and conditions. Crank stiffness can be difficult to quantify, especially when riding a full suspension rig, but there wasn't any noticeable flex to speak of, even off of larger drops into harsh g-outs, or when mashing down hard to power through a tricky uphill section. The best cranksets and bottom brackets are the ones that don't call attention to themselves, remaining quiet and creak free, and we were pleased to find that the Next SL cranks fell into this category - they remained silent for the duration of our test. The wet fall weather allowed us to subject the bearings to some properly nasty Pacific Northwest mud and grit, but they took it in stride, and by the end of the test they were still spinning smoothly. The muddy conditions did accelerate the wear marks on the crankarms caused by shoe rub; to prevent this we'd highly recommend installing protective tape, especially considering the price of these cranks.

We've had good luck with Race Face's four-bolt Narrow Wide chainrings, and the direct mount version installed on these cranks proved to work just as well. Set up with SRAM's X01 drivetrain and no chainguide, we never dropped a chain, even when plowing through steep, rooty terrain at race pace.

Issues

We haven't run into any performance issues with the Next SL cranks - they've taken everything we've dished out without complaint. The crank boots are a welcome additions, but we'd also like to see some protective tape come with the cranks to shield them from foot rub - it's surprising that this isn't included, especially considering their price. There is one potential issue that is worth mentioning about the Press Fit 92 version regarding the pressing of steel cups into a frame every time the bearings need to be replaced. It's essentially the same way a headset functions, except that with headsets it is possible to replace the bearings without removing the cups. With careful installation this process should be trouble free, but careful is the key word - getting creative with a block of wood and a hammer is not the correct way to go about installing press fit items, no matter how tempting it is. Care needs to be taken during removal as well - if the bearing is punched out crooked, it could affect the frame. To help with this, Race Face will have a bearing removal tool available next spring.

Pinkbike's Take

These babies are expensive, comparable in price to Shimano's aluminium XTR crankset, but bear in mind that the Next SL cranks are likely the lightest production crankset on the market. Plus, the large number of possible chainring and spindle options should help prevent them from becoming obsolete whenever the next chainring / bottom bracket "standard" arrives. We'd say the Next SL makes the grade, coming in at an incredibly light weight while still being able to handle the full gamut of riding styles, and the fact that they're made in Canada earns them bonus points as well. - Mike Kazimer

Read the review over on Pinkbike.com here

Click here to find out more on the Race Face Next SL crankset

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