Thursday, 20 November 2014

Crankarms: The Long And The Short Of It



Photo: Highpath Engineering

This post is about options for crankarms with lengths outside the "normal" range -- particularly those shorter than 170mm -- available in the UK.  

You may be wondering why this question even comes up. For many of you, crankarms in the most commonly available lengths (e.g. in the 170-175mm range) suit you just fine.

But -- if you: 
(a) are a woman and/or 
(b) are shorter than, say, 5'8" and/or
(c) have proportionately short femurs and/or 
(d) suffer from arthritis or other chronic conditions of the hips, knees or ankles...
then you may just find that slightly shorter cranks fit better, give you more power and efficiency and perhaps cause less pain. 

I cannot comment on whether you personally may benefit from non-standard length cranks, or advise you on what length to get. I can, however, recommend that if this is something that interests you, you should consult a qualified, experienced bike fitter and/or a physiotherapist with a special interest in cycling to guide you in exploring this. Meanwhile, you may like to read what experienced bike fitters Julian Wall and Steve Hogg have had to say (or write) on the subject, and possibly even what a fit-obsessed middle-aged female blogger with a Goldilocks Complex (sound familiar?!) says.

BUT -- and this is a BIG but -- no amount of reading can be a substitute for getting hands-on assessment and customised advice from a practitioner "in real life". 

So - who does make shorter cranks and where can you buy them?

A few years ago, I was only aware of one supplier with a wide variety of lengths: Thorn. However, with each new bicycle build, I became aware of another. 

Then last year, Shimano offered its Ultegra groupset with a 165mm option. Unfortunately, none of the other groupsets go below 170mm. Further, there's no guarantee that Shimano will continue offering the 165mm Ultegra, much less anything shorter. Also, if you buy the Ultegra groupset just to get those 165 cranks, you may not be able to customise the rest of the group so easily, for example chainrings. 

While there are more options available now than a few years ago, they are still not mainstream options. You won't find them on Wiggle or Chain Reaction Cycles' websites! I have been keeping notes on where you can get them, however, and share those with you now. 

So, assuming that you're willing and able to put together the rest of the drivetrain in a way that's compatible with your choice of cranks, let's have a look at crankarms that you can find in sizes outside the 165-175mm range. Don't panic however, thinking you will have to plan out and source every single part of your groupset from scratch. In many cases, a full crankset (including double or triple rings and spiders) is available, but you may not have a full range of choices over the chainring sizes. You will also need to check that you have (or can get) the right bottom bracket and can run the right chainline with a chainset built around your choice of shorter cranks.

Turning now to the manufacturers and retailers: 

Thorn

Thorn Cycles in Somerset probably don't need any introduction to UK cyclists who have an interest in touring bicycles. They are also renowned for their tandem bicycles. However, they also make (or commission) various components, including chainsets and crankarms. All their products are sold through their sister company, St John Street Cycles -- usually referred to simply as "SJS". 

Here are the "short option" models of cranks made by Thorn:

  • Thorn / SJS Part No: 1673L140

    These require 110/74 BCD so will only fit a compact triple chainset and requires a 113mm bottom bracket.

    I have these cranks on Bridget the Cross Check, which first opened my eyes to the existence of shorter cranks. As I needed to replace the original bottom bracket in order to fit these, we took the opportunity to add an inner "granny" ring as well, turning my touring double chainset of 48/36 into a proper touring triple of 48/36/26. This has worked very well for me and turned out to be a relatively inexpensive but significant upgrade to a bicycle destined to be an all-round loaded workhorse ridden on a variety of terrains.

    SJS's website currently show availability only in 140mm or 145mm lengths. Mine are 160mm. It's worth phoning SJS or perhaps even Thorn directly to find out what they have in stock or in the pipeline at any time.


  • Thorn Part No. ATICK0625 / SJS Part No.: 31813L150

    These are interesting for requiring a 4-hole (instead of 5-hole) spider, have a BCD of 104/64 and work with a 110mm JIS square taper bottom bracket. As ever, check your chainline. Lengths range from 150mm up to 175mm, available in 5mm increments.

Miche

Miche too are a well-established brand for bicycle components but are Italian, not English. I don't know a great deal about them and have not, to my knowledge, used any of their products. The Surly dealer who assisted me with my Pacer build in early 2012 suggested we look at their range as I had stipulated wanting 160mm length cranks but frankly, aesthetically, I found them a little "meh". They are nonetheless considered to be decent quality and quite good value and are readily available from a number of bike shops and distributors. So here are the shorter length options that I am aware of. 
  • Young - Product Code No.: 19852

    These require a JIS square taper bottom bracket of 107mm and a BCD of 116. Available crank lengths range from 125, 145mm, 155mm or 165mm and you can build your own double chainset to match, with a choice of chainrings from 35t to 48t. 

Now we move on to the "pretty" options....!

Specialites TA

This French company grew out of the T.A. company founded just after WWII, renowned for its chainrings and for pioneering triple cranksets. Currently, there are two models in their range that come in a variety of crank lengths; the Carmina and the Vega. The full specifications for these can be viewed and compared here
  • Carmina
    These come in an impressive range of lengths with smaller increments than other manufacturers offer: 155,  160,  162.5, 165 and 167.5, plus 'standard' lengths of 170, 172,5 and 175 and then extending the range even further to 177.5, 180 and even 185 mm.
  • Vega

    These are available in 155, 160 and 165 as well as 'standard' lengths 170, 172.5 and beyond to 175 and 180. 
As well as the crankarm options, Specialities TA make compatible chainrings that are, in my opinion, not just functional but very attractive as well. For my custom Enigma, I originally ordered the Carmina chainrings with matching cranks, all in a lovely silver finish. Due to a last minute availability issue, I got the black Vega cranks instead. 



The UK distributor for Specialites TA has for many years been Chicken Cycles, who are unfortunately not known for the fastest service! It now appears that Specialites TA products are available from them as special order only. I suggest giving Chicken Cycles a call before you order, to double-check availability. Also get an agreed delivery time and keep track of progress. Chicken Cycles don't contact you to keep you updated on exact delivery or delays -- you will need to chase them up ("remind them" in American) yourself.

Stronglight 

Another venerable brand from the French cyclotouriste "glory days" is Stronglight. Their website has a rather amazing catalogue-search feature for cranksets -- do take a look!  Or simply browse the selection...
  • Impact

    These cranks don't run as impressively short as some of the other options I've highlighted, but they do go down as short as 160mm and go up to 175mm in 5mm increments. Spa Cycles in the UK offer a huge selection to fit a wide range of BCDs etc. You can also find options on Amazon and on Ebay from time to time. 

My 1979 (Austrian, not French) mixte roadbike recently got rebuilt with a Stronglight Impact compact double (50/34) chainset. I really like the clean, classic looks. 

Alternatives

If you're wondering if the cranks you already have can simply be shortened, you may like to talk to Highpath Engineering in Wales, who specialise in this. 

Another option is to buy "adjustable length" crankarms like these from SJS -- provided of course that they are compatible with the rest of your chainset or you're willing to swap out some bits to make them fit. If any readers have tried these, I'd love to hear how they work for you!


If you're in the USA and interested in what crank length options may be available to you there, this "Short Crank Database" from 2013 may be a good starting point. 

Happy pedalling!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Review: FASTRIDER Trolley Pannier


I may have found my perfect commuting bag!

A few months ago (after several months of commuting with my two-bikes-plus-train solution), the thought occurred to me, "Wouldn't it be great if I could pull this pannier along through train stations (between bikes) instead of carrying it?"

I seriously began going through my (extensive!) collection of wheeled holdalls, business cases and suitcases, looking for a suitable candidate that could be reinforced and to which I could fit pannier hooks (Klick-fix for preference).

And then I spotted this on ebay: 


Sunday, 16 November 2014

#Coffeeneuring DNF: Down To The Wire

Photo: paulscho/flickr via http://totalwomenscycling.com/

So today was the final day of the 2014 Coffeeneuring Challenge

I simply ran out of time to complete seven rides, squeezed between coursework deadlines, relatives coming to visit and a migraine ambush. 

Still, last year I only managed four rides, so I'm pretty pleased with six this year. If I hadn't missed the second weekend altogether and thus found myself playing catchup, I'm sure I could have finished. 

Meanwhile, I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing the photos posted up by other coffeeneurs on the Facebook page. There are some very talented photographers out there, pedalling, sipping and snapping. 

I hope the two other UK bloggers (The Pointless Project and Town Mouse) who I know were participating, have completed in style. 

How did you do? 

Same time next year, then? 

Saturday, 15 November 2014

#Coffeeneuring 2014: Ride 6


Destination:  Chilterns Gateway Centre (National Trust), Whipsnade Road, Dunstable, Bedfordshire, LU6 2GY
Date:  Saturday, 15 November 2014
Hot drink of choice:  Black Tea
Total mileage:  25km
Bicycle:  Lorelei the Puch Princess

My friend Tim* joined me for today's coffeeneuring expedition. He was quite intrigued by the whole concept! 

"Wow, a whole 2 mile minimum?!"
Which rules out the cafe in the village, unless I want to take the looooonnng way round. 

"Does it have to be a HOT drink?"
Well, yes.
And then he remembered the "hot beverage" designation, which is impossible for an Englishman to say without one arched eyebrow and tongue firmly in cheek. 

"Did you remember to get a photo?
Yes, I did. 


"Will I get mentioned on your blog for this?"
Well, of course!


*who I had not seen in... let's see... eight years as near as I can figure out, possibly longer. I remember a camping trip in northern France before I started my law degree in 2005. One dear friend on that trip has since died. It seems a lifetime ago. Tim and his girlfriend Kate (later wife) discovered kite buggy-ing on the beaches around the mouth of the Somme on that trip. The trip was also memorable for all the small snails on our campsite that worked their way into my tent, sleeping bag, everything I owned... and came home with me... mostly squished flat. I didn't own a bike, then. Neither did Tim. He 'found' me this year via this blog. Turns out, we've been crossing each other's paths at various local events for the past two years without spotting each other. It's almost uncanny. Meeting up with him again is one of the very nicest things that has happened as a result of this little blogging lark of mine. 

Friday, 14 November 2014

Winter Brings My Cycling Indoors


Right on cue, the rain is lashing at the house... and lashing at me when I go out on my bike. 

Almost exactly a year ago, I pondered whether getting an indoor trainer or rollers would be useful in maintaining a level of cycling fitness through the worst of the English winter weather*. 

I didn't pursue the thought last winter but it did stick with me even when the weather improved in the spring. As the summer segued into autumn, I laid a few hints in the ear of my beloved (who is no fool) and so now possess a new set of Tacx Antares rollers.

I had a very interesting first session on them last night and will post about that shortly. But first, here are some tips on setting rollers up and getting started riding them. 


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

#Coffeeneuring 2014: Ride 5



Destination: The Grove Lock Pub, The Grove Lock (as in, the canal lock), Grove, Leighton Buzzard, LU7 0QU
Date:  Sunday, 9 November October 2014
Hot drink of choice:  Cappuccino 
Total mileage: 42.8km
Bicycle: Riley the Enigma

This was an intermediate level ride hosted by the Luton and Dunstable Cycling Forum, led by Adam. We gathered in Grove House Gardens, our usual meeting place for Dunstable-based rides. We had an all-time high with a turnout of 23!



Thursday, 6 November 2014

Review: CARRADICE STOCKPORT Bag for Brompton S-Type


I've had my Carradice Stockport bag for 18 months now so it's time for a long-term report and full review.

Features

As I mentioned in my preview of the Stockport, this bag is styled differently from the City Folder M. It is in Carradice's "Classics" range rather than the "Originals" range. This reflects the more refined look that the Stockport has, with styling a little more appropriate to city/business use than the more "audax-y" look of the Originals range! 


Monday, 3 November 2014

#Coffeeneuring 2014: Ride 4


Destination: The Rising Sun (Public House), Front Street, Slip End, Bedfordshire LU1 4BP
Date:  Saturday, 1 November October 2014
Hot drink of choice:  Bog standard instant coffee. White. 2 Sweeteners. 
Total mileage:  6 km
Bicycle:  Bridget the Surly Cross Check

A very welcome break after six hours at the books.
On a wooden swing in the rays of a Setting Sun, if not a rising one. 
The coffee was instant but I wasn't the one who had to make it, so hey.
As Damo says, "it's all good". 

I had a brief mental tussle over which bike to take. The key factor was the lack of time I had for coffeeneuring today, so I needed minimum fuss: ordinary clothes, ordinary shoes. As I freewheeled out of the village on Bridget, I realised that, for every kind of ride I might do, there is a bike in my stable that does it better than Bridget, but there is no type of riding -- at all -- that Bridget can't do. 

Saturday, 1 November 2014

The Original Swoopy?

You may recall the story of my Puch Emerald, bought as frame + forks + headset (only) on ebay a few years ago, which we attempted to build up as my London Town Bike. 

I've never known what the original factory build may have looked like, but there is a complete bike listed on Ebay UK at the moment, which the seller claims is "totally original and unrestored". 



Monday, 27 October 2014

#Coffeeneuring 2014: Ride 3


Destination: Harpers, Half Moon Lane, Pepperstock, Nr. Slip End, Bedfordshire LU1 4LL
Date:  Sunday, 26 October 2014
Hot drink of choice:  Cappuccino
Total mileage:  11.5km
Bicycle:  Lorelei the Puch Princess

Almost exactly a year ago, I used a new-bike-shake-down ride for coffeeneuring.... or a coffeeneuring ride as a shake-down. Here I am, doing that again. 

This past Sunday, I wanted to check out the new Harpers Food Hall and Cafe the other side of Slip End. Harpers are a family run business going back to just after WWII. They started out basically as butchers, gradually expanding into a range of premium meats and even meat-based ready meals. For decades, they were in Studham, not too far to the west of us, but last year they refurbished an abandoned and delapidated old pub as a spacious "show room" for their wares, with a meat counter, cafe and function rooms. 

In any case, this was a perfect excuse to get away from the books (finally finishing my law degree) and see how the recent re-build has changed Lorelei. 

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