Review by Evan Turpen // Photos by Dave Trumpore
I remember when I first got in to mountain biking 14 years ago the cranks to have were the Race Face Turbine LP square taper. They were beautifully CNC machined and anodized in a variety of colors and at the time were some of the lightest and strongest cranks on the market. I saved up for what seemed like eternity to purchase those cranks and once I finally did I couldn't help but drool over how sexy they made my bike look and feel. Fast forward to the present day and with the introduction of carbon technology and advanced alloys Race Face has released what they feel to be the next level of crank technology aptly named the Next SL. Does it live up to their claims? Is this the next level of crank technology? Read on to find out…
Race Face Next SL Crankset Highlights
- Weight as tested: 534g (175mm length including 68/73mm threaded bottom bracket and spiderless direct mount 34 tooth Narrow/Wide chainring)
- 170mm or 175mm length crank arms available
- BB options: BB92, 68/73 BSA, 100mm BSA, PF30
- Spindle Diameter: 30mm
- Single, double, and triple front chainring options available
- “Cinch System” interchangeable spider interface
- MSRP $459.99 (armset) and $599.99 (2x/3x)
Setup and Initial Impressions
The Race Face Next SL crankset was easy to install. Depending upon your shell width the bottom bracket should be installed with either one or three bottom bracket spacers. My frame features a 73mm BB shell so it required one spacer between the drive side cup and the BB shell although I found that adding a spacer to the non-drive side as well helped me avoid having to max out the preload adjuster.*After the BB is installed you simply slide the non-drive crank spindle through the bottom bracket and tighten down the drive-side crank arm using a single 8mm allen. Any slop in the system is taken out using the threaded preload collar on the spindle that you then lock in place with a 2mm allen. No micro shims, no wavy washers, and no headaches with this system. Just a simple solid setup.
*Note that the use of an extra spacer on the non-drive side is a rare case, on most 73mm BB shell frames the system should be installed with just the one spacer on the drive side. In this particular case, due to slight variations in frame tolerances, the preload collar reached the end of its adjustment range when the system was installed without a spacer, hence the decision to add a spacer. On most frames, adding a spacer would cause the preload collar to be too tight even when fully backed off, which could lead to premature wear on the bearings. Contact Race Face for assistance with installation if need be.
After I had installed the cranks I installed my pedals using the provided pedal washers and optional protective rubber crank boots. The rubber crank boots help protect the ends of the cranks from rock strikes and I figured the extra 19 grams of weight for the pair (including pedal washers) was worth it. One cool feature to note was that these cranks also utilize what Race Face calls their Cinch System. Basically it allows you to have one armset that can quickly and easily be swapped between a plethora of chainring and gearing options. All held in place by just one lockring that’s torqued using a common splined bottom bracket tool. Want 3x10? 2x10? 1xWhatever? No problem. You can change it out quickly and easily with no fuss anytime down the road. A really nice feature to see.
On The Trail
After dropping nearly a pound of weight off my bike compared to my previous setup I was worried that these cranks had gone too far with weight savings and that performance would suffer, but this was not the case. I was presently surprised by the solid feel at the pedals with no noticeable decrease in stiffness over the much heavier setup I had before.
I rode these cranks in all kinds of conditions on all kinds of terrain (much of it demanding and rocky). I even rode them on the pump tracks, dirt jumps, and slopestyle lines at Valmont Bike Park. They also spent some time in the elements with the mud and freezing snow covered trails of winter in Colorado (an excellent test for bottom bracket bearings). Never once did they creak or show signs of any noticeable flex. They also never came loose. They are set and forget ultra-lightweight cranks that get the job done. Beautifully smooth bottom bracket action as well. Some of the smoothest I've ever experienced.
Things That Could Be Improved
The crankset we received was from the first production run, which was shipped without any kind of protection on the crank arms. This has led to a bit of wear on the graphics where the foot contacts the crank arm. All later production runs of the crankset feature factory-installed 3M protective tape on the crank arms to prevent this from happening. Customers who have received a crankset without the protective tape can contact Race Face to have it mailed out.
Long Term Durability
Even though these cranks are insanely light, they inspire confidence when going big. In fact if they made an 83mm BB shell option I wouldn't hesitate to race these on my downhill bike. The bottom bracket bearings are big and smooth and still spinning as effortlessly as ever with zero slop. There’s no reason I can see why these cranks wouldn't last for many years to come. They are extremely well put together with exacting tolerances and no corners cut on materials. Sure a freak accident could gouge the carbon deep enough to compromise its strength, but it would have to be a pretty major impact to do so!
What's The Bottom Line?
This is a top notch product that would be on every single bike I own, if I could afford it. If you are looking for the ultimate crankset to complete your ride and price is not a concern, this is it. It's that good.
For more details, visit www.raceface.com.
About The Reviewer
Evan Turpen has been racing mountain bikes for over 12 years. He raced downhill as a pro for the last 8 years with his career highlight being selected to represent the U.S. in the 2006 World Championships. More recently he can be found competing in Enduro races and having a blast with it. His first ever Enduro event being the 2012 Trans-Provence 7-day adventure race through France. He is an aggressive yet smooth rider who loves to flick the bike around to put it on the fastest line or to smooth out the rough sections. Fast flowy trails and long technical descents (Garbanzo style) are his favorite. Whistler and Santa Cruz are his two most favorite places to ride, but he can have fun wherever he goes. With an extensive knowledge of the mountain bike industry and its technologies, Evan is able to take all things in to perspective during a review. He has helped design, develop, and test products for multiple major mountain bike companies and has an attention to detail well above most. When he's not out ripping around on a bike he helps run the recently introduced California Enduro Series and is also in charge of the bike park at China Peak Mountain Resort.