Under Test: FSA Afterburner Disc Brakes

Full Speed Ahead will be releasing their Afterburner and K-Force hydraulic brakes in March. Both models feature tool-free reach and contact-point adjustments, and utilize mineral oil (as opposed to DOT brake fluid).

Stay tuned…

First Impressions: Sugino ZX801D Crankset

Over the years, mountain bike gearing has matured as drivetrain technology evolved. Rear cogs have increased in number (and range), while chainring counts have steadily declined. The once-ubiquitous triple crank has all but been replaced by double-ring cranks. And during this transformation, frames and rear hubs have become wider. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to deduce that the aforementioned growth has forced cranksets to become become wider. What if you prefer a crank with a narrower tread (aka, q-factor), though? Thankfully, Sugino’s ZX801D is one of a handful of cranksets that offer 2×10 compatibility and a narrower stance.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder Sugino ZX801D OX801D OX601D 2x10

The ZX801D configured with 26t inner and 40t outer chainrings.

Like its on-road counterparts, Sugino’s ZX801D crankset utilizes forged alloy arms and a hollow, 24mm chrome-moly spindle. Whereas competitors’ cranks feature 64/104mm or 80/120mm bolt circle diameters, the ZX801D is spec’d with the more traditional 74/110mm pattern. Crank arm lengths range from 160mm to 175mm in 2.5mm increments. Inner chainrings are available in 24, 26, or 28t. Matching ramped-and-pinned outer chainrings are limited to 40t or 42t. A single-speed version–the ZX-SS–is also available. Q-factor for both models is 156mm.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder 29er Sugino ZX801D Soul Cycles Dillinger

Sugino’s external bottom bracket is compatible with 68mm and 73mm shells.

As one would expect with a $500+ crankset, the ZX801D’s fit and finish are outstanding. Installation was straightforward, and didn’t require special frame preparation or proprietary tools. The chainrings ran perfectly true, and the bottom bracket exhibited less seal drag than comparable Shimano units. Clearance with the stock 26/40t chainrings proved more than adequate, and the crankarms cleared our test frame‘s chainstays by 3mm (4mm on the non-drive side).

For our testing, the ZX801D was paired with a Shimano XT front derailleur (controlled by a microSHIFT XCD shifter) and Wipperman Connex 10sB chain. Shifting between the 26t and 40t rings was quick and quiet. Even with the minimal chainstay clearance, the crankarms never came in contact with the frame. The ZX801D’s narrower q-factor made for efficient and comfortable pedaling. While the 156mm tread is wider than what’s typically found on most road cranksets (145-150mm), the ZX801D is 10-15mm narrower than many competitors’ 2×10 MTB cranks.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder 29er Sugino ZX801D Blackspire SuperPro Connex Wipperman 10-speed Soul Cycles

SuperPro chainrings from Blackspire offer plug-and-play compatibility.

After riding the stock 26/40t chainrings for a couple of weeks, it became apparent that the 40t outer ring was a little on the tall side for yours truly. Since Sugino doesn’t offer a smaller outer ring, I contacted chainring manufacturer Blackspire for advice on how to obtain lower gearing. The Canadian company recommended their SuperPro 74/110mm BCD chainrings in a 24/36t ratio. While the 36t chainring is technically not an outer chainring (it’s intended for use as the middle position on a triple), performance was not compromised. It should be noted that, however, the 36t SuperPro chainring lacks the anti-jamp pin traditionally found on outer rings (although there have been no issues with overshifting).

During GRAVELBIKE’s extended test period, the ZX801D has proven to be a fit-and-forget component, requiring only the most minimal, post-installation maintenance (limited mostly to checking bolt tightness). Even when exposed to harsh winter conditions (and the requisite post-ride cleaning), it’s been noise-free. The real benefit for me, however, is the cranks’ narrow stance. No longer do I spend the first half of my ride waiting for my knees to adjust to a wider crank. Thanks to the Sugino’s narrow profile, comfort and efficiency are greatly improved.

Disclosure: SOMA Fabrications and Blackspire provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.

First Impressions: NixFrixShun Chain Lube

NixFrixShun (aka, NFS) is the brainchild of BallersRide, a collective of enthusiasts and framebuilders that includes luminaries such as Richard “e-RITCHIE” Sachs. Unlike some of the more well-known lubes, the makers of NixFrixShun don’t claim that NFS will clean your bike’s drivetrain, double as furniture polish, or make you breakfast. No, the lube is designed to do one thing, and that’s to keep your chain running smoothly and quietly, and last a long time while doing so.

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At first glance, NFS doesn’t look that much different than the typical bicycle lubes found at your local shop. Viscosity-wise, NixFrixShun is thicker than your average dry lube, but not as heavy as Chain-L or Phil Wood’s Tenacious Oil. BallersRide recommends applying NFS sparingly to a clean chain, and wiping the chain down the side plates after every ride. Using NixFrixShun for the first time, I noticed that the lube had a subtle, but distinct industrial odor. I was pleasantly surprised to find that–even in freezing temperatures–the lube flowed easily without being runny (I applied a single drop per-link/pin).

One of the first things you notice about NFS-treated chains is how quiet and smooth they are. Even chains that are approaching the end of their useful lifespan feel rejuvenated after being treated with NixFrixShun. That new-chain-feel doesn’t go away after one or two rides, either. At the end of the first week, my commuter’s chain was still operating smoothly and quietly. I’ll admit that I was less-than-diligent about wiping down the side plates, but the drivetrain was still reasonably clean despite the dusty local conditions.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder NixFrixShun BallersRide chain lube

NFS-lubed drivetrain after a week of on- and off-road riding.

My NFS ah-ha moment came after a particularly nasty off-road, winter ride. The trails were punctuated with patches of snow and mud, and much of the slop ended up on me and my mountain bike. Despite those conditions, however, I never experienced any chain-suck or missed shifts with the NixFrixShun-lubed drivetrain. Afterwards, the bike cleaned up easily, and required only a touch-up application of NFS lube.

If NixFrixShun has an Achilles heel, it’s the fact that you probably won’t find it in your local shop. As of early 2014, NFS is only available from the BallersRide website, and select dealers in the Washington DC area. Don’t let that stop you from trying the lube, though. Despite the $15 price tag, NixFrixShun will probably outlast and outperform your current chain lube.

Disclosure: BallersRide provided product samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.