I haven’t talked about anything new in the world of bikes for some time, so, let’s talk cranks, because I’ve realized they’ve gone through some interesting changes recently.
The Gold Standard in cranks has almost always been Shimano’s XTR. There might be lighter, or cheaper options than XTR, but historically, XTR has given buyers the best compromise of weight, performance, and price.
And generally, they’ve been the best looking too – but I’m not sure that’s the case anymore.
When the M950 group came out in 1996, it wiped out a cottage industry of CNC machined cranks and derailleurs that had begun to gain a foothold in the market, almost overnight. Kooka, Paul’s, Joe’s, Precision Billet, Gorilla Billet, Rhino Racing – all of these super cool and super expensive derailleurs and cranks suddenly had competition that was 90% as cool looking, about the same weight, and performed about 1000% better.
The earlier M900 parts were also very good, but everyone wanted the flat grey M950 bits on their bikes. Even today a set of M950s are worth decent money, in worn condition.
Shimano proceeded through M960, M970, and M980, all of which being good and looking decent. The M960 was my favorite of these for sure, even though that groupset also brought about the almost universally hated Rapid-Rise derailleurs, and Dual-Control shift levers.
Rapid-Rise reversed the spring on the rear derailleur, meaning it’s starting position was the bike’s lowest gear, rather than the highest. It took away the ability for you to jump down three gears with one swipe of the thumb lever when you hit an unexpected hill.
However, it did give you the ability to… well, I don’t know.
I really don’t know what the advantages of Rapid-Rise were.
But, I think I know why they did it; Dual-Control. Dual-Control was Shimano’s attempt to bring the highly successful STI system over from their road groups. With STI, the brake lever was also the shift lever. If you’ve ever ridden a good road bike with STI, you know that it’s terrific.
Upshifting Dual-Control was ok. Pushing down on the brake lever was easy because it’s nearly the same motion as pulling the brake lever it, or, making a fist. But pushing up? Our fingers simply don’t have the same muscles available for opening as they do closing. trying to push the lever up with the top of your fingers – even with the heavy derailleur spring assisting – is really hard.
Well. That was a mighty digression. But it does sort of tie in to my angle that Shimano has failed with the M9000 XTR crank.
Shimano started hiding the crank bolts with the M980 crank – which looked ok – and did it again with M9000, providing little caps to put over the bolts.
I’ve never been a fan of doing that. Crank bolts have holes in them, and holes = lightweight. Of course, lightweight = speed. So, conversely, no holes = slow. Also, previous attempts at this style – SunTour XCM, Mavic 631 “starfish” – just looked weird.
The M9000 with the caps off is far better looking. It looks serious. Business-like. Fast.
And another problem – that I only just clued in to tonight in fact – is the “spider.” Notice how on the M960, the X that forms the spider has the four arms at 90 degrees to each other? And the M9000 is more like two 60 degree angles and two 120 degree angles?
I get that it looks more like an X as it’s written or typed, but it just doesn’t look right. I’m sure this is not the case, but it looks like the chainring isn’t properly supported on the wide gaps.
And more importantly, chainrings made for the M960, M970, M980, and every other 4-arm crank made by other manufacturers won’t fit this new pattern.
This is what really drives me nuts.
It’s yet another “standard” that we have to account for. Which I’m certain is 100% cosmetic.
I just don’t see anyway this design performs better.
I suppose I shouldn’t be that surprised given that SRAM already did this same thing with it’s first 11 speed rings a few years ago. And then RaceFace brought out it’s “cinch” style cranks that had no spider at all.
The Pandora’s Box of chainring bolt patterns had already been opened, you can’t blame Shimano for pushing it further open.