Review: Velo-Orange Grand Cru Cranks
I have to admit, at first it was my previous Epicurean Cyclist and randofile leanings that attracted me to the Velo-Orange Grand Cru cranks. They are definitely easy on the eye with the fluted cranks, 50.4 bolt circle and the way the wide range double creates a nice concentric ring pattern. Modern Shimano cranks, in my opinion, are ugly and look more like some Alien/stingray/circular saw mashup that look out of place on steel bikes.
I’ve had the Grand Cru cranks installed on my bike for the last few months and I have to say that they are more than just a pretty face. They come with 46-30 rings installed which make for a very practical range for both commuting and loaded touring. Why more modern cranksets don’t come with such a useful double combination is beyond me. Typical road doubles (53-39) and even compact cranks (50-34) I feel are geared too tall and mountain doubles (39-26) too low, leaving a big empty hole of useful double combinations in the middle. A 46-30 when paired with something like the 12-36 cassette gives an enormous range of very usable gears with lows in the mid-20 gear inches and highs in the mid-90 gear inches.
The first reaction most will have is “wow that’s a huge tooth jump” between the 46 and 30. Yes it is. But in actual use because the 46 is such a reasonable chainring size there is very little front shifting. I find that I am in the 46t ring for about 98% of my riding and only drop into the 30 when fully loaded on long sustained climbs. When I DO drop into the 30, I know well in advance that it is going to happen because of the steepness of the grade so it doesn’t come as a jarring surprise.
I do admit, I had a rough beginning with the Grand Cru cranks, but through no fault of its own. I left my bike and crankset at a local shop to have it installed. I was running an XT triple before so they had to replace the front derailleur with a narrow cage double so the body of the derailleur wouldn’t hit the crank when it was in the big ring. A few weeks later, I went on my first overnight tour and I noticed the chainring looked awfully wobbly. Upon further inspection (ie shaking the crank arm), I noticed that the driveside crank arm had worked its way loose. I had to borrow an 8mm allen head to torque it back down, but at that point the damage had been done. On the ride back from the tour it had loosened itself again and I had to stop at an REI to really torque it down.
Unfortunately, we were scheduled to go to Eastern Oregon very soon after for a bike tour and I didn’t have time to replace the cranks. I brought my bike into VeloCult to have them work some magic. We surmised it was a bad install by the previous shop because there were a few other things that weren’t working quite right (front DR not properly adjusted, chain length too short, etc.,). They applied some Loc-tite to the arms and cranked them down. They needed to get me through a 175 mile loop in the middle of nowhere.
The Eastern Oregon trip would be the first real fully-loaded test for the cranks. There were some good sustained climbs on the route and we were carrying full camping gear. My theory that a wide range double would be enough for a fully loaded tour was going to be put to the test. I didn’t have the psychological comfort of a 24t bailout gear to fall back on. Thankfully, the cranks performed as expected (and didn’t fall off to boot!). I was in the 46t for about 95% of the time, but did drop to the 30t during a long day which included a 1000ft climb after hours into a headwind. I feel that 46-30 with 12-36 is a great combination for fully loaded touring if you tour with reasonable loads. We’ve learned to pare down quite a bit since our early touring days and a triple back then was necessary. However, as our packing and gear has become more streamlined so has our drive trains.
There is some chatter on the interwebs about the cranks and rings being flexy. I’d like to give a definitive answer on that, but I can’t. Too many variables with the initial bad install were introduced for me to really tell. Also, I don’t have any experience with anything but square taper cranksets, so I wouldn’t be able to comment their relative stiffness to all the newfangled bottom bracket technologies out there anyway. Suffice it to say, that for me everything worked out fine.
I initially wanted these cranks based on looks and on the notion that a wide-range double might make sense for touring. After having used them on several overnighters and one longer multi-day fully loaded trip, I’m sold on the real world practicality of wide-range doubles. For hillier and off-road routes I might opt for a 44-28t combination or even a mountain double (39-26). The Grand Cru cranks are great looking and also perform really well (just make sure they are installed correctly). The stock combo is just about perfect for commuting, overnighters and loaded touring with reasonable loads. You’re not going to break any speed records on the flats with the 46 but if you don’t race and don’t want to be bothered with constant front shifting these cranks are for you.