Touché, BMX.

Back in the day when I was slingin wrenches at Country Roads Bicycles in Plymouth, Indiana, we had to deal with a bunch of BMX brats. These kids would come in and say one of three things.

“what do you have for a dollar?”
“where are your pegs?”
“can I see the Profile cranks?”

Usually a kid would progress through these questions in rapid succession, shortly after his first bike. Get the kid a bike for Christmas and he’s hooked. He’s barely ridden the thing, but he wants accessories and he wants to make the thing better. The first two questions stem from his low budget, for which I had a mild hatred. As a shop rat, I simply didn’t want to show the $9 pegs to someone who’d reveal he only had $3 in his hands. A simple waste of time…

So it took me a while to figure out this third question… why were these Profile cranks the object of every kids’ desire? As a mountain biker, I simply didn’t get it. My square taper cranks worked just fine, and so did his one-piece cranks. They seemed like a pain to remove, and they cost nearly $300–more than the purcahse price of every bike we ever installed them on, and we only installed one set in my four years!

Was it that the Profiles were just shiny and showy? Did they act as a secret handshake to allow access to bigger and badder jumps? When I inquired, all I got was, “dude, it’s 3-piece.”

And all I could think was, “yeah, and my square taper is 3-piece as well, but they’re surely not $300.”

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Fast forward 12 years
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Mountain bikes have seen innovation. We saw boutique builders offer CNC machined cranksets for $500. And we’ve gone from a square taper bottom bracket to ISIS spline bottom bracket, and now external bottom bracket.

No matter what anyone tells you, including the reviews I’ve written and edited, these cranksets are not what we say they are.

From the year 2001-2006, I wrote reviews on two ISIS cranksets and two external bottom bracket cranksets. Each review was fairly uncritical of the technology. Each review took roughly three months of testing, plus another month of writing and internal peer reviewing to prepare for publishing. And only until after each review was published did the true issues present themselves.

ISIS doesn’t last long. Well, sort of. I’ve had luck with a few bottom brackets, but it seems that it’s luck of the draw and how abusive a rider is on the component. But for the most part, ISIS is plagued with a short lifespan.

External has issues too. The bearing life, for the most part, is not as poor as ISIS, but it’s certainly not as long as square taper. The big issue with external bottom brackets (EBB) isn’t that they don’t last long, it’s that they don’t spin freely. Go ahead… try it… take off the chain and try to spin that crankset. If you don’t get at least four revolutions out with a good hand-spin, your bearings are too tight.

The only manufacturers I know of to address this problem are Shimano and Cannondale.

Shimano’s new FC-M970 offers a bearing compression adjustment, and Cannondale offers the SI BB30 with press-in bearings on a few of their bikes like the Team Rush

But each of these products are ridiculously expensive… $600 for the XTR set-up, and Cannondale’s requires the purchase of a frame to match the crankset.

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Touché BMX
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All this makes me really think back to that Profile crankset.

It had press-in bearings.
It had an oversize shell (all BMX bikes are “overzize bb shells” in mountain bike terminology).
It was spline (ala Shimano).

It was durable as all hell–hHeavy (for mountain bike standards), but durable.
And it was half the price of what Shimano and Cannondale are offering now.

Sure makes these things seem like a freakin’ steal.
And it makes those kids not seem so stupid after all.