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January 13, 2011

There was a pretty decent pro rider in the 60s/70s called Eddy Merckx. Although he was really into his equipment, he still realised that it was the cyclist who was the engine room of the machine. Hence his famous quote “Don’t buy upgrades – ride up grades”. Like me, I’m sure most cyclists were drawn into the sport by two things. Firstly the pure pleasure of cycling, the physical challenge, pushing yourself no matter what terrain or mother nature throws at you. But secondly the actual equipment we ride, the various exotica from around the world that help us conquer the open road. Most cyclists are obsessed with equipment. We’re forever striving to increase our cycling pleasure, make ourselves faster, lighter, more aerodynamic, more efficient. Now most of the money we spend on our bikes probably don’t give us much gains, just the pleasure of the buying and fitting the item that’s emptied our wallet. But occasionally there is a piece of equipment that make big claims about it’s performance potential and really makes you sit up and take notice.

I’m always on the look out for equipment worthy of upgrading my current set-up, especially something that will enhance the characteristics of my Viner’s. After plenty of research, I decided to take the plunge and buy a complete Rotor 3-d crankset system, including their much lauded Q rings, for my Kronus TT bike. The Spanish company claims their ovalised chainrings can improve power and reduce lactate build-up. Speaking to people who use them, they say that they can push a bigger gear (especially up hills), pedal smoother and that their leg speed has improved. Sounds great, I’ll have some of that! I won’t go into details, there’s plenty of info out there that explains how they work – suffice to say Rotor have already built an impressive palmares through the Cervelo Test Team and other pro’s who use them.

My crankset arrived a few weeks before Christmas. First impressions were good – build quality was superb with the added bonus that the system was very light. Most impressive of all was the smoothness of the ceramic bearings in the SABB bottom bracket.

First thing to do was fit the Q rings onto the crank. Rotor have developed a system where you can fine tune the rings using different settings. Essentially you’re moving the ‘oval’ to a different part of your pedal stroke depending on what type of cycling you do, or how you pedal. I fitted the rings to the road default setting of 3. Once I’m used to the set-up (Rotor advise a steady few cycle rides to get use to the new ‘sensation’ the rings create), I will look into moving the rings to setting 4, which is supposed to really help power and pedaling in the time trial position. I’m hoping that my new training programme and the new Rotor system will help to unleash the potential of the Kronus. I know she is capable of much more.

It wasn’t until the Christmas break that I was able to fit the system to the Kronus. The whole process really opened my eyes up to how older and modern equipment differ. Especially when it comes to ease of fitting. When first built up the Kronus had an alloy Campag Chorus chainset. Old school but beautiful and elegant with it.

Problem is there are so many steps to take it off. An allen key to take the cap off. (images below). Then an extractor tool to pull the cranks off the square taper axle. Then the actual BB has to be taken out. This used to be a right ball ache until I bought a Tacx tool that makes the job much easier. If you run tapered bottom brackets I suggest you invest in one. The chainset and BB have now been set aside for the retro Viner steel build I will one day get down to doing!

Fitting the Rotor crankset couldn’t have been more different. The use of carbon fibre, and the constant striving for lighter and lighter componentry means you can no longer tighten every bolt and screw as tight as you can get it. Tighter engineering tolerances mean more subtle bike building. For this reason I’ve invested in torque wrenches. OK you might need to buy more tools, but the actual fitting process of a crankset seems much simpler. Firstly screw the SABB BB cups into the frame by hand, then finish with a torque wrench to 40nm. The axle is already attached to the right hand crank, so it’s just a case of lightly greasing it and sliding it through the BB.

You then fit the important rubber O ring then slide on the left hand crank. The beautiful red CNC’ed cap is then screwed onto the axle. This  preloads the bearings. Once you’ve got the desired balance between smooth bearings and no play in the cranks, you torque the crank pinch bolt to 8nm. Simple.

I’ve been so impressed with the system so far that I’ve already ordered another 3d crankset system for my Maxima and a set of Campag compatible Q rings for my winter bike. I’m sure the Rotor system will really complement the stiffness of the Maxima, helping me fly up the Alps on my planned trip to France in the summer!

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