TESTED: Shimano Hone Crankset

WHAT: Shimano Hone Crankset
HOW MUCH: $190
WHERE: www.shimano.com

BREAD: For the last seven months I've had the pleasure of stepping on one of Shimano's latest introductions to the burgeoning all-mountain sector: the Hone two ring crankset, complete with bashguard. The Hone retails for $190 and employs two rings (one 22 tooth and one 32) mated to a compact 5mm plastic guard that quite selflessly bears log- and rock-inflicted abuse in place of the more fragile rings. Like most cranksets it is available in an arm length of 170mm and 175mm, the latter serving in our test.

Reliant upon Shimano's new Octalink II external bottom bracket system for (claimed) improvements in stiffness and ease-of-maintenance, the drive-side of the crankset is pressed to a spindle which reaches through the BB and is clamped by the left crank. Like other cranksets of this variety (TruVativ's MegaExo, for example) the Hone was easily installed—but if you're thinking of putting it on yourself, keep in mind that the new BB cups require a new tool to install and remove.

Interestingly Shimano has opted to include one of these tools with every single DuraAce crankset it sells, so if your local shop carries Shimano road gear (what are the chances!) they probably have about a billion of these tools conquering their workspace. Hopefully they'll be nice enough to give you one free of charge. If not, bring a six-pack with you. Something good, though, like a tasty IPA. Natural Light does not a bike shop ally make.

MEAT: Before I can discuss the Hone's performance in good conscience, there is a veritable smorgasbord of pertinent issues that need to be addressed when considering this crankset. Namely: what are the advantages and disadvantages of using a two-ring setup over the conventional three-ring? How well does a bashguard really work? What the hell is up with this new external bearing system? And how does Shimano's new Octalink II compare to its competitors?

Before gracing my all-mountain bike with the Hone, I had a three-ring Truvativ set installed that performed admirably. Switching to a two-ring setup presented several disadvantages: obviously, downhill speed is limited by the absence of the big ring, and if you're a Viking-strong rider and you spend a lot of time on the 44 tooth, you will absolutely miss it. I was also irked by the need to re-adjust my front derailleur and shorten my chain. Not that I couldn't have left the chain/derailleur set up the way it was, because I could have. But dammit, if I'm going to convert to two rings, I'm not going to half-ass it.

Half-assery safely out of the picture, I noticed immediately the effect of the missing ring on my riding style. I felt sluggish and limited, and to be sure, a little piece of my racing spirit died inside. Then I got to a techie descent. And shit.

Having the big ring gone (and not having to worry about destroying the other two) I was content to rail at monster objects and let the Hone eat them—which it did, readily. I was content to make use of the extra two inches of clearance underneath, which allowed me to pick any line through tombstone-like rock gardens and over downed logs. All in all, my all-mountain 5×5 bike felt very all-mountainish.

Granted, riding here in the Virginia Blue Ridge rarely presents cyclists with the sustained descents that Southern California does, for example. Every time I started to miss the big ring going down, the trail made a roller-coaster change and I forgot my misgiving entirely.

And although the missing ring let me ride clean over most objects, when I did find occasion to actually hit something with the bashguard, it took the brunt of the abuse soundly and without complaint. After seven months of smashing into shit, there is still nary a creak from the system and no sign of warping in the rings.

Now, this thing doesn't make your bike invincible; you certainly still have to be wary of obstacles of frame-cracking proportions. But you can be much less wary than usual, especially about using the crankset to ratchet over things like boulders or downed trees.

As I've implied, the new external BB system wasn't fazed by all this abuse, and the Hone retained its considerably stiffness for the duration of the test period. All in all, it gave me no trouble and no complaint—a far cry from the square-taper days of old and a nice improvement on even the last-gen splined sets. I should also mention that on my bike, the Hone's predecessor (the Truvativ set with its GXP external BB) performed with equal composure and stiffness. It's no surprise, then, that almost the entire industry (road and mountain) has made the conversion; external BB systems are cool.

BREAD: If it sounds like I've had a positive experience with the two-ring Hone, it's because I have. Having never ridden a two-ring setup for any extended period of time before I met the Hone, I'm content with the advantages it presents in my riding conditions. However, taking the occasional ride on my race bike (which of course sports a three-ring set) makes me pine for more efficiency on my 5×5 bike. But then again, it always has.

In sum, I'll stress that the success of this crankset is based less on riding style than riding terrain. If you're used to sustained descents and rolling singletrack with the occasional log, two small rings and bashguard aren't worth the loss in versatility. If you're a rider who encounters plenty of moderate ups and downs, and rock gardens of ass-chapping proportions, check out the Hone.