Initial Review: e*thirteen XC Mountiain Bike Crankset

Fifteen.G keep their cranks' branding subtleWhat on earth would possess a small design group to jump into the crowded crankset market? I had to wonder when news of The Hive Collective’s Fifteen.G (now e*thirteen) crankset began popping up last spring. Unlike mountain biking’s salad days of the mid 1990s, the overwhelming number of mountain bike cranks now come from a handful of players- the ones with the resources and experience needed do develop and tool up for a fairly unforgiving component. With certain notable exceptions, it’s become pretty difficult to find a bad set, and for all of the talk of double cranksets’ magical front shifting, most triples’ performance has become almost boringly excellent.  Still, it turns out that the guys over at the Hive had some pretty cool ideas- hit ‘more‘ to see if those ideas were cool enough to justify jumping into the fray.

Two ideas set e*thirteen (formerly known as Fifteen.G) cranks apart from the rest of the market. The first (and most widely celebrated) is the interface between the crankarms and spindle. soc09-thehivechub_21The non-tapered polygonal interface, used to attach both arms, is derived from one long used on tank driveshafts. Looking like  severely bloated triangle, the interface insures that virtually all of each mating surface is called upon to transfer forces between the arms and the bottom bracket spindle. Probably not the most forgiving interface from a manufacturing perspective, but proven, solid, clean looking, and lightweight.

The second big idea was to use a 30mm aluminum spindle, up from the 24mm steel spindles used by Shimano and others. Being larger in diameter, the spindle could be made from lightweight and stiff aluminum while taking advantage of the same bearings as those in BB30 bottom brackets. The crank arms themselves are fairly conventional solid 7050 aluminum and have an almost retro slenderness to them. With so many good options available, The Hive chose not to develop their own chainrings- the ramped and pinned set is provided by an unnamed, established manufacturer in a standard 104/64 BCD 4-bolt pattern.

As neat as these two ideas are, it was really the e*thirteens’ combination of light weight and reasonable price that really got my attention. Driveside shot of Fifteen.G Triple CranksetLooking for something interesting to complete a cross country bike, I wasn’t in a position to splurge on fancy carbon cranks, but wanted to try something new, light(ish), and different. At a claimed 802g with a bottom bracket, the e*thirteens slot nicely between Shimano’s XT (850g) and XTR (775g). And at $305 (with BB), they ask $45 less than the XTs (and just a shade over half the price of XTR)- making them appear a good value. As of this spring, a riding buddy had been beating the $270 single speed version mercilessly for several months without any complaints- his endorsement made the sale.

When the e*thirteens arrived, I spent what seemed like an eternity fighting with the too-clever-by-half packaging before freeing the crankset and well-written installation manual. The extensive specification of installation torques inspired me to pull out the torque wrench and, while fiddling with the provided spacers meant that installation was slower than with other companies’ cranks, installation largely went smoothly. The only note I would make would be to not wait for the torque wrench’s “click” while torquing the reverse-threaded drive side BB cup- with most wrenches there won’t be one. Just install the non-drive side first and base the other cup’s installation on that experience. So far, exceeding the installation torque by a fair amount with a 2′ long wrench hasn’t caused any issues. Fifteen.G bottom brackets spin on oversized BB30 bearingsAs an aside, it may make sense to order e*thirteen’s $22 BB installation tool alongside with the cranks- it’s easier than running all over town looking for a 1 1/4in socket (the oversized bearings preclude the use of other companies’ installation tools) and really not much more expensive.

Since then, the e*thirteens have been pretty unexciting- though in the best way possible.  On a cross country full suspension bike with lightweight wheels (not exactly the stiffest platform), I haven’t been able to detect any undesirable levels of flex from the setup. The Hive admit that their crank arms probably aren’t as stiff as XTs, but I have to think that the larger axle goes some way to reducing that deficit. Similarly, the rings’ performance isn’t quite up to the XT or XTR level- but it sure isn’t bad enough that I’ve noticed it.  Other riders’ comments have been enthusiastic, especially when they learn about the cranks’ reasonable retail price.

I was a bit worried about what my duck-footed stance would do the the cranks’ “blackout” finish, but the textured outermost surface of the arms is holding its color surprisingly well. Similarly, rings have worn well- they are showing scratches but the teeth aren’t looking too tatty from chain wear. Of course, I have seen heel-rubbed e*thirteen cranks looking rather worse for wear after a single British winter – something for riders in wetter climates to consider. The Fifteen.Gs' satin finish is subtle and seems durableI’ve been bugging The Hive about a special edition polished finish that wouldn’t show wear quite as dramatically- but so far no dice (and Shimano has since beat them to it with the new XTR).

With their light weight, reasonable price and good performance to date, the e*thirteen Triples are looking very promising.  While they may not have the polished shifting of bigger companies’ offerings, The Hive’s first effort at a crankset is very impressive. For the money, there are few cranks that can compete and the relatively slender arms would look especially at home on a steel or titanium hardtail. We’ll be back in a year or so with some more miles and a better idea of the rings’ and bearings’ durability.

marc

www.bythehive.com

Comments

Jeremiah White - 08/23/10 - 8:45am

Competition is always good!

Pea - 08/23/10 - 2:27pm

Not another crank interface. Change for change sake

Keith - 08/23/10 - 11:25pm

Maybe they should ship with a set of Crankskins to ease your mind.

martini - 08/24/10 - 3:19pm

I”ve been happily thrashing a set of these for two years on my singlespeed with nary a creak. For the money, they get a hearty “buy it!” from me. FWIW, the additional option for the interface is MUCH better than ISIS could ever have hoped to be.

Steven - 08/24/10 - 4:52pm

The crank to spindle interface is nothing new in the crank world. Grove Innovations’ Hot Rods had the same three lobe design inspired by tank axels back in the mid 90′s.

Paul - 08/30/10 - 8:04pm

I’ve been thrashing my SS set now for over a year. Love’em and I am going to pick up a set of the triples for the next bike too.

[...] Even though they have now been re-branded as an e.thirteen product, the fifteen.g cranks are still garnering great reviews. Check out the review at Bikerumor.com [...]

D - 01/21/12 - 5:08pm

Do you know the q-factor of these please?

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