I’ve become familiar with quite a few cranks over the last several years. They’re all supposed to work – some work well while others… well, not so much.
Sticking only with what I know, in order of perfection, I’d go with the Specialized S-Works crank over anything else I’ve seen. Light as you get, simple, elegant, and because the tolerances are so tight, very easy to keep clean. In fact, I’ve never had to take the crank apart to clean out debris that would cause creaking. The crank is amazing and when compared against other carbon fiber cranks in the same category, a fairly good deal (maybe not a bargain, but definitely reasonable). Just remember to order the right one for the right application (mine is a BB30) and with the carbon fiber spider.
Next up is going to be the Shimano line of cranks. I’ve got the middle to lower end of the line on my Trek, and I’m here to tell you, it’s a simple, stellar crank.
The one I’ve got is a bit on the heavy side, but it’s simple and it works. One more shining example of Shimano’s excellence. The 105, Ultegra, and Dura Ace models are as good and lighter – there’s not much difference other than weight in the upper grades.
There’s Praxis, not bad, but not spectacular, and FSA… Now FSA gets a little interesting. I have several friends who run FSA cranks, especially the SLK (their high-end carbon fiber model). From everything I’ve heard, the SLK is a competent design – I’ve never heard anyone complain about theirs. On the other hand, between my wife and I, we’ve got three FSA Gossamer cranks (the lower-end, alloy crank). One on her gravel bike, one on her race bike, and one sitting in a box in the shed that used to be on the Venge but was upgraded to the aforementioned S-Works:
While the Gossamer was respectable, it was definitely heavy and required constant cleaning. The problem is the wavy washer on the non-drive side. The S-Works crank is a tight fit to both frame cups, no wavy washer. For the Shimano on the Trek, a wavy washer was provided but not needed… With the FSA cranks (and the praxis on my gravel bike, too, for that matter), the wavy washer is a necessary evil. The wavy washer allows grit, sand, dirt, and dust into the crank system. Eventually, enough builds up that the crank develops a creak or a click. With the Gossamer crank, whenever I rode my Venge in rain or moisture (sometimes even through a puddle) I would automatically pull my crank apart to clean it. Waiting to see if it would creak was futile. Without doubt, it would.
Do your homework before you buy a crankset for your bike… and there’s a lot of homework.
There are more cranks, for more bottom brackets, for more applications, and all with five different crank arm lengths, that it might not be a bad idea to seek the counsel of a bike shop mechanic before you run off and order a crank. It’s easy to mess up and get the wrong one for your bike and they don’t make good paper weights.
Wait, does anyone even use paper anymore?