www.ritcheylogic.com Price: $200
Tom Ritchey has a great track record as an innovator. His BreakAway travel bike is just one example of thinking outside the limitations of conventional bike and component design.
But along with his penchant for originality, Ritchey can also create standard components that don’t break new ground but are elegantly designed and work flawlessly. The WCS Compact crank is Tom Ritchey at his finest, using tried-and-true cold forging to create a crank that is unobtrusive but does exactly what you want it to do.
First a word on the compact crank revolution. For years, cyclists were stuck with double cranks with big chainrings’ 53/42 teeth was standard. Mated with a 12-23 or -25 cassette, the resulting low gear was fine for young, strong riders with good genes. However, the rest of us aging mortals struggled. The industry’s move to 39-tooth inner rings helped, but not for long. The alternative was a triple-chainring crankset with its accompanying cost, added weight and complexity.
The solution, in retrospect, was simple. Reduce the number of teeth on a double crank’s chainrings to lower the gear range. But that was impossible with the standard 130-mm bolt circle offered by the major manufacturers. And there was a stigma attached to smaller chainrings. Road cycling was stuck in a macho 53×12 mentality.
Then a few years ago, driven by the graying cycling demographic, so-called compact cranks using a 110-mm bolt circle began to appear. The stigma vanished when Tyler Hamilton and other pros used them on steep mountain climbs during stage races. Suddenly, fewer teeth up front were acceptable.
Compact cranks avoid the cost of retrofitting your bike with a triple crankset. Simply replace the cranks (and maybe the bottom bracket), lower the front derailleur and remove a chain link.
A 39×27 combo yields a 39-inch gear while a 34×27 is 34 inches—not far removed from the 32-inch low gear offered by the standard triple’s 30×25. High gears aren’t a problem—a 50×12 is bigger than a 53×13 (112 vs. 110 inches).
Note: To really get a triple-like range, Harris Cyclery offers a custom Shimano 9-speed cassette in 11-28. With a 50/34 double like the Ritchey Compact, you can have a low gear of 33 inches mated with a high of 123 inches. (I’ll soon be reviewing this cassette option for Premium Site members in What’s On.)
Ritchey’s WCS Compact crank was easy to install on my Shimano 9-speed-equipped Litespeed Vortex because it already had the required Shimano Octalink bottom bracket. I simply removed the Shimano cranks and bolted on Ritchey’s. Lowering and adjusting the front derailleur and extracting one chain link took only a few minutes.
Shifting on the WCS Compact has been crisp and perfect thanks to Ritchey’s special chainring pins and ramps. Because of the large 16-tooth difference between the rings, front shifts cause a significant change in pedaling resistance. To compensate it’s often necessary to double shift. That is, shift to a smaller cog when moving to the small ring; shift to a larger cog when moving to the large ring. This is the main drawback of compact cranks and it can seem like a hassle, but you get used to it and develop riding techniques to minimize it.
The cranks feel at least as stiff as the Dura-Ace cranks they replaced. I liked the black arms although some riders may yearn for the polished silver of conventional models. However, with carbon now appearing on many riders’ bikes, black doesn’t seem so different anymore.
I confess that the thought of carbon cranks fills me with uneasiness. Not that carbon isn’t strong and durable, but I’m enough of a worrywart to want failsafe strength when I stomp over a short climb or unleash what’s left of my sprint. The Ritchey alloy cranks give me confidence thanks to their cold forging as well as Ritchey’s experience in designing bike parts. I don’t fear any surprises while using these beauties.
The $200 price tag is wellbelow that of many top-end carbon cranks. For $165 Ritchey offers his Pro Compact crank, which provides the same ring-size advantages of the WCS version for a few dollars less (and 10 grams more).
After 35 years of riding in Colorado’s mountains, I’m sold on the advantages of compact cranks and now have one on both my road bikes. The ability to spin a smaller gear up steep climbs saves my knees. And it encourages me to climb more frequently with laudatory effects on my fitness. Ritchey’s innovative thinking and design expertise makes the compact crank revolution available to all riders.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred’s full bio.