Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Product Review: FSA - SLK Compact Mega EXO

I was hardly an early adopter of the FSA carbon cranks. Prior to purchasing my cranks I asked numerous people how they liked their cranks? Were they as stiff as the hype claimed? Eventually I too joined the party, purchasing the FSA - SLK Compact Mega EXO. The thought was the compact cranks (34/50) larger range would be better suited to ultra distance racing then traditional cranks(53/39). Many reviews one reads online often are written by people with limited exposure to products. I too must admit I've a limited exposure to the FSA cranks, I've been off and on them since 2005, I trained for RAO on these cranks, road a PAC tour, RAO camps, raced RAO solo, trained for the two man RAO, and now have trained for FC on them, ala I've logged thousands of miles on them.

First the good: The external bearing design of the cranks bottom bracket significantly reduces the total weight of the crank set and bottom bracket over traditional BB + crank set designs. But this feature is not unique to the FSA cranks; most all crank set manufactures (Shimao, Campy, etc.), have joined the external bearing bandwagon and are offering a weight saving crank sets featuring this design. As to the increased stiffness of this BB design, I'm sure the BB is stiffer, but to be honest I don't notice any real difference between it and my traditional cranks. So for practical value the FSA Crank Set stiffness is HYPE. The final good point for the FSA Cranks is they cost less then some, and are made out of swanky lighter weight carbon fiber, like the campy ones, unlike the alloy shimano ones.

The Slightly Bad: The FSA bottom bracket/crank set combination is prone to creaking. Yes, tightening the BB can help, but in general the crank set/bb design likes to talk while you pedal. Other friends who have been on FSA cranks have also experienced this wonder...

The Very Bad: The carbon/alloy bolt bindings can break. I haven't experienced this but I've witnessed this first hand at a race. Last year while riding for OSU, a women racer on our team had her FSA cranks catastrophically fail when the alloy threading connections carbon/alloy bonding failed and broke off. I also heard through the grape vine that a similar failure occurred at one of the 2006 RAO race camps.

Continuing in the very bad category is the general fixing bolt design for how the cranks are connected. Like all crank sets of this general design the crank axle is bonded to the drive side crank set spider thus removing the need for crank set fixing bolts from the drive side placing them only on the non-drive side. Now the problem with the FSA cranks that I've experienced multiple times, is that the crank fixing bolt un-threads while riding loosing up the crank set while riding. This year this has happened at least twice in the last few months out on the road, once climbing timberline at "RAO Llama camp", and once a few weeks ago I was 20 miles from home and my crank arm just sorta fell off. Is it just me who is experiencing this? Are my cranks cursed? No I don't think so, over Labor Day weekend I was up in Seattle training, and while riding with the Ti-Cycle racing team and one of the cat 3 riders had the same exact failure. Talking with Jay, he said he had attempted to have his cranks "Fixed" by sending them back to FSA and that he was now on his second set, which they had promised fixed/addressed the problem. But obviously they were incorrect as it was still was occurring.

It's worth noting an example of a superior fastening design. The shimano external BB crank set fastens the non-drive side crank arm through pinch bolts instead of a traditional crank bolt. The pinch bolts run perpendicular to the axis of rotation for the crank arm thus making it impossible to unscrew the bolts while riding.

My Review: FSA - SLK Compact Mega EXO = F-Suck-A,
Crankset itself (Two Thumbs Down) Compact Gearing ( Two Thumbs Up).



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