A few months ago, the classic bike enthusiasts at Velo Orange sent us a sample of their new Polyvalent crankset to test out. As I had just moved from the flatlands of Florida to the rolling hills and valleys of the midwest, I was “voluntold” to be the reviewer.
First, a little about the cranks themselves, straight from VO’s description:
The wide range Polyvalent crank has 46/30 rings and comes with a high polish alloy chain ring guard. The 46/30 rings give almost the range of a triple when used with a wide cassette, while the chain ring guard helps keep your pants clean. This is a great crank for city bikes and utility bikes.
The crankset is a standard JIS square taper interface and takes a 118mm bottom bracket spindle. I wound up using a 122mm spindle on my test platform, a salvaged Puch road bike-turned-dedicated-commuter. That extra spindle length helped clear the splayed chainstays of the Puch. The crankset is finished in VO’s signature “high polish”, which I always refer to as “high satin” when I try to describe the finish to someone who has never seen it. The cranks/chainrings have small and tasteful laser logos etched onto them. This crankset comes with nicely-made domed dustcovers and the spindle fixing bolts. The chainrings are lightly ramped and pinned for smooth shifting, and the included chainguard should keep many commuters happy as it negates having to roll up a pant leg to stay grease-free.
For those of you familiar with compact cranks on traditional road bikes, this crankset operates in much the same way. With a 16-tooth jump between large and small chainrings, this provides most of the range of a triple crankset without the extra complexity and fussiness of shifting that come with three rings. My test platform was set up as a 1×7 prior to installing the Polyvalent crank (44T chainring, 13-26 7-speed freewheel). That gearing setup was ok for Florida, even with a largish load in my panniers. Once I got to Ohio, though, I was simply outgunned…while the hills aren’t high here, there are a lot of them and many of them are quite steep. The Polyvalent crank solved my hill problem quite satisfactorily…cruising around the flats on the 46T ring and dumping the chain to the 30T when the road tilts upward. In fact, I enjoy this range so much that the Polyvalent crankset is in the process of migrating to a touring bike that I am building…one with a true “wide range” cassette (11-34 9-speed). I should be able to conquer mountains with that gearing range, even with a full camping/grocery load.
There have been a number of reports of compact cranksets having problems with overshifting inward past the inner ring — after all, a 16-tooth jump is a bit extreme. The Polyvalent has the same 16-tooth jump between outer and inner rings, and things are further complicated by the need to place the front derailleur above the chainguard to avoid interference. Nevertheless, I experienced no overshifting with this crankset. Careful setup of the limit screws on one’s front derailleur helps, and those users still concerned with overshifting can install a simple chainwatcher inboard of the inner ring. Avoiding abrupt “panic shifting” from outer to inner probably helps, too.
Although VO doesn’t mention it anywhere in their description of the Polyvalent cranks, one of the tabs on the chainguard makes a handy bottle opener. Take a look at the 12 o’clock position in the photo below, and rest assured this crankset has you covered if you’re itching for a post-ride beverage.
Velo Orange makes a lot of really nice, reasonably priced components…all with classic lines and great finishes. The Polyvalent cranks are no exception, and they are well worth the retail price of $105.00. And, if you’re not in the market for a crankset but really like the idea of a chainguard, VO sells a similar chainguard separately.
Visit the Velo Orange online store page for other components and accessories, and take a look at their blog for some interesting reading about product development and classic bike design.
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