The folks at Crank Brothers have been very, very busy over the last year. How busy? Try this: they’ve added wheels, headsets, integrated cranks, a new take on the quick-release skewer…and oh yeah, they’ve also taken over production and distribution of the Speedball adjustable seatpost from Maverick, and they’re looking to boost production of the automated saddle dropper several fold.
So things are a little hectic in the company’s Laguna Beach H.Q., where everyone’s doing the customary pre-Interbike trade show shuffle before they officially debut the new product to the U.S. market, media and retailers.
Lucky for us, Crank Brothers is right up the road, so we popped in for a peek at what they’ve been up to.
First up: Wheels.
Start off with a tubeless rim extrusion that, if you take a cross section of it, will reveal an I-beam running vertically down its center. The vertical structure within the rim profile is possible because spoke heads never actually breach the rim cavity. In fact, there are no holes in any aspect of the rim profile, save for the valve stem, making for a stiff rim and easy tubeless setup.
Instead of traditional construction, Crank Brothers new wheels feature a rib of aluminum on the interior diameter of the rim that is drilled out for 12 separate cylindrical steel spoke shuttles, each of which, in turn, is drilled for two short stainless steel spokes.
The paired spoke segments then thread into long milled aluminum nipples that have standard-sized wrench flats cut into them. The heads of the direct-pull nipples fit into recessed carriers in the hub, where they swivel onto thin bushings.
Sound confusing? It could be, but it’s just another way to skin a cat. The hubs are new, too, and each rear wheel has six pawls, three of which engage every 7-or-so degrees of rotation. The only real difference between the cross-country and all-mountain wheelsets is the width of the rim, and weights for the cross-country wheels are somewhere in the 1550- to 1600-gram ballpark.
Next up: Directsets.
That’s what Crank Brothers is calling its headsets, and although they still license the basic Aheadset concept, they’ve managed to come up with a clever enough solution to deserve the right to call it something “proprietary.”
Consider a conventional cartridge bearing headset. It has a cup you press into a head tube, and then a bearing, which consists of an inner and an outer race. One cup, two races. Why not use the cup as a race? Why not. Crank Brother engineers found they could do just that and managed to save as much as 40 grams over the venerable 98-gram NoThreadSet from Chris King.
Crank Brothers next year will offer 10 different Directset models, each distinguished by a choice of titanium, stainless steel, or bearing steel cups/outer races, and by whether each top or bottom cup is fitted with 28 or 34 bearings. A deep cup free ride version and 1.5-inch model also are in the lineup.
Coloring Inside the Lines
With such a wave of new products to fathom, Crank Brothers’ crack designers were good enough to create a system for keeping everything straight: color coding.
Cross-country components fall under the Cobalt line; all-mountain components are called Iodine (orangish); downhill goods are “Opium” (red) and free ride components will be anodized a shade of sage (green). Everything eventually will also be available is straight black or silver.