When I was initiated into proper roadiedom, I was taught that if you were serious about doing things the right way, the Euro way, then you did things a certain way. The quickest way to show others you knew what you were doing was to show up on a Campagnolo-equipped bike with a Cinelli bar, stem and seatpost. Your saddle was Italian and your tape was the same color as your decals or the accent color in the windows of your lugs.
That mindset, though it created some gorgeous bikes that served well for tens of thousands of miles, squashed some great ideas over the years. I’m reminded of a Pasadena company, Sweet Parts, that made cranks and stems from steel of surprising stiffness and low weight. Alas, in the mid-1990s it was hard to get a rider to break rank with those suites of parts used in the gruppo or other componentry. After all, if your bar, stem and seatpost were supposed to match, what did you pair an oddball stem to?
Times change, and so do bikes. And while sometimes too much emphasis is placed on weight, it is tough to argue that today’s bikes aren’t noticeably superior in almost every performance aspect: Lower weight makes them easier to accelerate and speeds climbing; increased frame stiffness improves power transmission and more sophisticated componentry has improved shifting, given us more gears and increased brake modulation.
The proliferation of aftermarket components—everything from bars to brakes—means that we’re more accustomed to seeing bikes with parts that may not match. Zipp helped lead the way into this fray some years back. In fact, carbon fiber has been the company’s bread and butter for close to 15 years. Fortunately, the 3k weave used in many carbon fiber parts makes them more similar than not, even if the decals don’t match.
Zipp’s latest crankset for road (as opposed to TT/Tri) use is the VumaQuad. It uses a four-arm spider (the crankarm is one of the four arms of the spider) and is available in two different chainring configurations, either 53/39t or 50/34t; interestingly, both configurations use a 110mm bolt-circle diameter, so you can change chainrings out depending on the conditions or your fitness. The crankset is available in four lengths: 170, 172.5, 175 or 180mm. The spindle is oversized and machined from aluminum to the new BB30 standard; it is integrated into the non-drive arm and secures to the drive-side arm with a self-extracting bolt. And because Zipp is predicated on making you faster, the bottom bracket is offered with ceramic bearings (as well as precision steel); the cups are available in either English or Italian threads. All this in a sub-600g package.
My review setup was 50/34 rings with 175mm arms and ceramic bearings. I tried the cranks first on a bike that previously had a set of carbon fiber cranks that had some detectable flex. I immediately noticed the increased stiffness as well as a weight reduction. The easier spin of the bearings was noticeable (if not hugely apparent) when I sat down and shifted to a small gear for a hill; I felt like I was turning out an extra 10 watts or so.
Next, I swapped the crank over to my preferred ride. This frame is stiffer at the bottom bracket and I was curious to see how much of an improvement I’d feel over the Super Record Ultra-Torque crankset (a review of the Super Record will be coming). The change I felt was comparable to my first ride on the Dura-Ace 7800 crankset—I was stunned by the seamless transmission of power. I had the sense that the bike itself was stiffer at the bottom bracket, even though I knew that wasn’t the case.
Ten years ago I had concerns about parts not matching on my bike. Five years ago I had concerns about the durability of carbon fiber cranks. Last year I started wondering if you could even tell whether your bike had ceramic bearings anywhere other than the wheels. The VumaQuad has super-hero-like powers to alleviate me of anxiety and improve my performance. Of course, all this performance will cost you; $1250 (with ceramic bearings) is a weekend getaway at a swanky resort, but there’s no question in my mind this crankset is superior to every crank I have tried from Campagnolo, Shimano, Specialized and FSA. Honestly though, for that kind of money, you shouldn’t be left wondering if it was worth it.