Friday, May 25, 2012

Unsolicited Product Endorsement #1: Praxis Chainrings

I love SRAM double tap rear shifting and the Red group. I loved the the SRAM road components from the first time I tried them, except for one important part, the front deraileur shifting. Know that I relied on crisp accurate Shimano Dura Ace shifting for 7 years. It never failed me, but a pivoting brake lever never felt secure. That feature always seemed too loose in a tight crit corner. I have not used Campy 9 or 10 speed shifters enough to get the feel of them. The SRAM shifitng was intuitive to me from the 2nd ride. The crisp down shift and sweeping up shift just seemed natural. The total group is lighter than Dura Ace, reliable (for me) and good looking too.

The SRAM Red drivetrain had one big draw back, the front end shifting was poor to say the least. When I first used a Red front derailuer it would throw the chain over the outer chainring when upshifting for a sprint. This only ocurred at the top of a climb when I was slamming the chain up to the big ring for a hard sprint, but that is a critical time to have a chain drop. Moreover, because the chain was completely off and wrapped around the crank arm, I had to stop, dismount, and reset the chain on the outer ring. Not Good, not good at all. This happened a dozen times in a season and a half.

I tried to solve this problem with improved new SRAM Red outer rings, a stiffer Force front deraileur, and even going to a super stiff SRAM Time Trial outer ring. None of these solutions worked well. At best I would get hesitant up shifting on the front. Oddly, I never had this issue on my cyclocross bikes, perhaps because the front shifting only goes 10 teeth from 36 to 46, perhaps because I use different after market rings, perhaps because I just don't get out of the big ring than much on my cyclocross bike.

This spring I was encouraged to learn that SRAM was revamping its Red group specifically to improve the front end shifting. I was a little crest fallen when I understood that I would have to buy a front deraileur, shifters, and crankset, at over $1000 for the whole works for improved front shifts. I was even more disappointed to find out that the parts were as rare as hens teeth. I could be waiting until fall before they were shipped to my Local Bike Shop.

Then I read about Praxis Works chainrings in Pez Cycling and Bike Rumor. My first reaction was "these are only chainrings, how much difference could they make?" Yes, they are cold forged like Shimao Dura Ace rings, but that can't make so much improvement in shifting, can it? Frustrated at the delay in shipping the new SRAM Red parts, and after another botched town line sprint, I decided to give them a try. This was not an easy decision since they cost $160 a set. I followed the Praxis recommendation and also installed a new KMC chain with the new chainrings. To my surprise the front shifting was dramatically improved from the first ride. No more hesitation in up shifts, no more clunky drops in down shifts, and most important to me, no more over thrown chain during hard accelerations. For once the hype about an aftermarket bike part was true. These rings are delightful if you use a SRAM drivetrain. Get them and you'll never again look wistfully at a Dura Ace crankset or front deraileur, promise.

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