Review: e*thirteen DH Cranks and PF30 Bottom Bracket
July 18th, 2011
By Olly Forster
Mountain Biking is a sport seemingly plagued by a constant upheaval of industry standards and new fangled ways of fixing what wasn’t broken in the first place. You can look at this in two ways: one being the cynical route, which is that were all suckers for new stuff and the marketing department have got us all, well and truly sussed out. The other, is that we wouldn’t be where we are now, riding bicycles that are as advanced and as pleasurable to ride, if the designers and engineers didn’t constantly push the boundaries of what is considered ‘standard’. And the latter is the reason we have these awesome new cranks from e*thirteen; because this is a company that doesn’t follow the crowd and blazes their own trail, exploring what could and can be done to improve our bikes. Enter the new e*thirteen DH cranks…
Words and Photos: Olly Forster
Lets cut to the chase here; why these cranks and why not the competitions for our first crankset review? Well, having the 2011 Specialized Demo as the long term test rig for the site and with it coming as standard with the new Sram designed Press Fit (PF) 30 bottom bracket, I wanted to get something specifically designed to fit without any of the potential hassles that I’d heard about regarding the plastic adapters supplied by Specialized. Well, the adapters were crap, but we’ll talk about that in a later article. Right now, it’s all about these sexy and very unique DH cranks and the new PF30 BB.
The arms are forged and CNC’d from 7050 aluminium and the 30mm spindle is manufactured from heat treated chromoly. These aren’t going anywhere and check out the black on black graphics too – sublime!
The PF30 BB is designed to increase both stiffness and durability while maintaining weight at a minimum. I’m not one for going into the techy side of the things too much, but these are pretty light at 860grams with the BB and as far as I can tell, they’re bloody stiff too. For me, I want a product that will work flawlessly and has the looks to match, which is why these cranks initially stand out from the crowd. It’s only when you fit these cranks that you cant help, but fall into the tech and quality of their manufacturing.
Chunky is good! They look bombproof, hard wearing and above all else exude reliability. Mated up to the SRS guide and the Guide ring from e*thirteen makes for one ‘factory’ package and one that you would imagine is a pleasure to bolt together; and they are, fitting together seamlessly.
The standard BB was used for a few months with the supplied plastic adapter and really didn’t work – the adapter, not the BB! While I was having issues with self-removing adapters, e*thirteen and Silverfish sourced the only PF30 BB in the UK for our test bike and as soon as that was installed, it was game on.
You can just see the plastic adapter you have to run in your Demo. It presses in, like you would if you had the right BB in the first place and you then thread your standard BB into it, like you would a regular BB shell. The only problem was the driveside adapter would move outwards over a few rides, loosing your chainline and throwing the chain mid run. Great aye? I’m not the only one having issues, but Demo owners can now relax as here is your answer….
It’s a beast! Check the size of that shell. The PF30 BB is exactly what it says on the tin, “Press Fit” – just like a headset, which is also exactly how you install it – using a headset press. This, I think is a stumbling block on the design as who has a headset press in their tool kit? It’s only a 5 minute job (providing there’s nothing in there) for your LBS to do it for you, but it’s still annoying all the same.
There they are, the only PF30 BB (as I write this anyway) cups in the UK. Like the cranks, the manufacturing is amazing and the quality is everything we’ve come to know and expect from the brand. Notice the left cup has had the bearing cover removed. This is required to install the cup as you you’ll need to find a suitable headset bearing adapter to fit and if your using the supplied BB tool required for threaded shells, this also needs to be removed for the tool to fit correctly over the designed grooves. These also allow great access to the bearings for cleaning and adding any grease if you want.
This is pretty cool and ultimately what separates these cranks from the competition. e*thirteen, as usual, looked outside of the bike industry for inspiration and strangely found it in a design dating back to WWII German tanks, known as the Polygon interface. This design hasn’t just be resurrected by a bicycle component company; this design has seen applications in many industries over the years including F1 and e*thirteen have just applied it to bicycles. The main advantage of the design is that it increases surface contact between the spindle and the crank arm, ensuring that the rider delivers maximum force through the drivetrain.
This is another unique feature: these cranks have no pinch bolts and instead use a ‘wavy washer’ to add preload to the spindle and keep the system smooth and solid. At first I was pretty much dumbfounded by this approach, but it works and works really well.
The whole package includes all the tools you’ll need including the BB tool for standard threaded BB shells and these rad little hex tools for installing the supplied chainring bolts, which by the way are supplied in two lengths: one for bash guards (SRS) and the other for boomerang style guides (LG). The quality continues all the way to the packaging and instructions, which have all received a great deal of attention that resonates from one end of the product to the other.
The e*thirteen PF30 BB should be available very shortly and e*thirteen will be the first brand to offer a solution to the woes of Demo owners who are struggling with moving adapters. Regardless of this, these new cranks represent a brand so firmly associated with the chainguide market, one which they happen to dominate quite considerably and taking their unique approach to component design and lesson learned, applying it to cranks where the design ethos is carried over to good effect.
Does the market need another mounting system? I don’t think so in all honesty, but the PF30 is here and I’m pretty sure it’s here to stay; at least for a while anyway and at the end of the day it works and works pretty well. Using presses to install headsets hasn’t caused too much of an issue over the years and like anything new, it will surely become the norm and become nothing more than ‘standard’, but I can’t help but be slightly frustrated that a tool as specialist and as expensive as a headset press is required for installation? This kind of takes away the ‘home mechanics’ ability to strip and rebuild their bike and may ultimately lead to a cheap tool or maybe some instructions on the web on how to make your own…..
On to the Polygon Interface; well, this is cool no matter how you look at it and using the wavy washer and dropping the pinch bolts, combined with the excellent aesthetic finish and engineering qualities of these cranks all add up to some pretty special cranks. I think this reason alone is enough to consider them over the competition. So what is the competition and how do these fare? Well, against the popular and virtually de-rigeur Shimano Saints, they’re roughly a similar weight, but your paying another £50 for the privilege of being different with these bad boys coming in at £260 for the cranks, BB and chainring bolts. This is by no means cheap, but considering the features and uniqueness these have, it’s no surprise I’m seeing more and more at the trails.
Next year will see more brands offering PF30 BB’s, but no one will be offering a crankset inspired by second world war German tanks and there’s a good chance they won’t touch these on looks and on the quality of the engineering. If your after some solid cranks with a difference, you should check ‘em out. Happy trails!
e*thirteen is exclusively distributed in the UK by Silver Fish. For more information e*thirteen’s product range, slap the logo and check their site out!