- Shimano Saint cranks
We expect everyone's fairly familiar with Shimano's heavy-duty Saint components now. But just to recap, Saint marks something of a departure for Shimano in that it recognises that different riders want different things from their bike bits beyond just different prices. Yes, there's been burly things like 636 and 646 platform SPDs in the past, but Saint represents the first acknowledgement by Shimano that some riding styles demand more heft.
The biggest chunk of Saint is the chainset. It's available in three versions - a conventional 22/32/42 triple, a 22/32 with a bashring or a single ring with choices of 34, 38, 42 or 46 teeth. We're looking at the triple here - the only differences between the versions are the obvious ones.
The Saint units use Shimano's Hollowtech II system. For the uninitiated, HTII involves the oversized, hollow bottom bracket axle being permanently attached to the drive-side crank arm. With a big axle, there's not much room inside the BB shell for bearings, which can lead to the sorts of bottom bracket lifespans that many ISIS users may be familiar with. So HTII moves the bearings outboard with housings that position the bearings either side of the BB shell rather than inside it, giving you a big axle and big bearings. Bonus.
The left-hand crank slides on to splines on the axle, an end-cap threads in to pull it on to the axle and preload the bearings (just like a headset) and a pair of opposing pinch-bolts keep it locked in place. It's all a lot more trouble-free than the conventional BB-and-two-crank-arms setup, and with all the major manufacturers now doing something very similar at ever-lower prices, this is clearly the new crank standard.
One side-effect of the new design is that the front chainline has nudged out slightly - the distance between the centre of the bike and the middle ring is now 50mm rather than 47.5. To put that into perspective, it's just over half the distance of one rear sprocket to the next further out, which shouldn't make a difference on most bikes but does mean that you've got a better chance of being able to set the front mech up to reach the inner ring.
The main difference between Saint and, say, XT is the arms themselves. Being Hollowtech they are, naturally enough, hollow. But they're rather bigger and slightly less hollow than the more XC-oriented parts. To give you some idea, the complete Saint setup weighed just over 1.1kg on our scales - about 250g more than XT. As well as extra girth, the Saint arms have a steel insert for the pedal threads and come with a pair of pedal washers to ward off fretting damage from the pedal axle.
Something that Saint appears to share with XT is a selection of not-terribly-sturdy chainrings. This has always been something of a Shimano bugbear, but we'd have thought that after all these years they might have figured out what it is in UK mud that wears things away so quickly. Alas, no. After a few hundred miles the middle ring on our test set is looking a bit weary, although it hasn't actually started to misbehave yet. And despite some rather gritty and damp riding conditions and regular (whisper it) jetwashing, the BB is still spinning smoothly.
That's about the only thing we'd have cause to complain about, though. To be honest, we've always had a hard time detecting any of the claimed stiffness benefits of splined bottom brackets versus the old square-taper ones, but the HTII stuff is a definite leap forward. The Saint cranks are ridiculously stout-feeling whether you're heaving on the pedals up hills or landing like a sack of spuds off the other side.
You'd have to work pretty hard to break them, but given their stiffness and strength they're not all that porky. They're certainly a load lighter than the three-piece chromoly cranks that are the obvious other option, as well as being about a thousand times easier to fit and in another universe when it comes to looks and finish.
Inevitably the price tag is rather high - Saint exists outside the usual Shimano heirarchy but it's pitched between XT and XTR in price. The cranks are pricey, but on the other hand they're considerably cheaper than some of the competition.
Positives: Bombproof, super-stiff, look great, vaguely sensible money
Negatives: Put some cash aside for new chainrings
These are great. Until recently, heavy-duty cranks were hulking great ugly things, but Saint is at least as strong as anything else and looks lovely to boot. Rather soft rings are our only niggle.