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The way we all ride bikes has been changing dramatically in recent years, with the all-road, gravel, and adventure categories all seeing major growth. If anything, we expect to see the variety of riding styles continue to expand, not contract.
Despite the concurrent evolution of bikes to match, though, drivetrains continue to lag behind in terms of available gear ratios. SRAM has been a frontrunner in terms of single-chainring options, but Shimano and Campagnolo still primarily stick to the tried and true, and even SRAM’s double-chainring options are quite limited.
Want something other than 53/39T, 52/36T, or 50/34T for a high-end road double crankset? Good luck with that, at least from the big three, but Praxis has quickly filled the void with its latest Zayante Carbon crankset.
Hiding in plain sight
Long an OEM contract manufacturer behind the scenes for a wide range of forged aluminum fittings (under the Dragon Tech and/or Liow Ko brands), Praxis has steadily been making further inroads as a standalone brand. It first started with an expansive range of forged chainrings, and has followed that with drivetrain components like conversion bottom brackets, cranksets, and mountain bike cassettes.
The question has never been whether Praxis could make a quality product — it already has been for ages under other brand names — but whether the company could successfully go about it on its own.
Earlier forged aluminum cranksets like the Zayante and Girder have demonstrated that Praxis could hold its own in the midrange arena, and in fact, Specialized already includes a lot of the company’s alloy offerings as original equipment across much of its range. But the new Zayante Carbon takes Praxis further into the high-performance realm, following on the heels of the Lyft composite mountain bike crank that the company launched last year.
Praxis builds the Zayante Carbon using an increasingly familiar format, with molded carbon fiber arms that are joined in the center with a 30mm-diameter forged-and-machined aluminum spindle. That layout generally produces better overall stiffness than 24mm-diameter crank spindles, while still being compatible with virtually every bottom bracket shell on the market thanks to a wide array of available cups. Currently, the only fitment not supported is Trek’s BB90 system.
Weight is very competitive at 635g for the arms and 52/36T — less than 10g heavier than the equivalent Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 crankset — but the retail pricing is a comparative bargain at just US$325 / AU$475 / £300. Bottom bracket pricing varies with fitment, but for reference, a set of Praxis M30 BSA cups goes for a relatively modest US$45 / AU$73 / £35.
It’s all about the gearing
As is also fast becoming the norm, Praxis doesn’t bother integrating the chainring spider directly into the driveside arm, instead adopting the three-bolt splined interface used by SRAM to create a more modular setup. That format is well-proven at this point to run refreshingly creak-free, and it also provides users with a wealth of gearing options, either from Praxis or any number of other companies that use the same spline.
Want to run a direct-mount 1x setup? Done. Prefer a 2x setup instead? Sure thing. There are even several spider-based power meter options that are compatible, too. But for double setups, Praxis unfortunately follows another industry trend of using its own proprietary mounting pattern, in this case a symmetrical four-armed forged aluminum spider with dedicated 160mm and 104mm bolt circles for each chainring.
Many riders will undoubtedly be put off by the non-standard fitment, but the reality is that there are few things standard about modern chainring mounting patterns these days. SRAM still uses standard 110mm and 130mm five-arm BCDs, but Shimano and Campagnolo both use their own custom arrangements, as does FSA, so it’s not like Praxis is the outlier here.
One major benefit of that “X-Spider” pattern is that it offers an impressively broad range of double chainring sizes, including not only the usual 53/39T and 50/34T options, but also the 52/36T semi-compact and the newer 48/32T sub-compact sizes, all without any additional changes.
Regardless of the gearing selection, that burly aluminum spider provides ample reinforcement to help keep the chainrings from flexing under load — the same reason why Campagnolo switched to a similar configuration several years ago.
But it’s the sub-compact option in particular that drew my attention here. Today’s increased selection of wider-range cassettes is all well and good, but when paired with conventionally sized double chainrings and larger-volume tires (and the larger roll-out that results), what you actually end up with is more duplicated gear ratios and even less use of the top end of the range. If you instead decrease the size of the chainrings to offset the diameter of those wider tires, you retain the same total spread as before, but shift the gearing window back to where it once was.
In the workshop and on the road
Installing the Zayante Carbon crankset is a very straightforward affair, particularly given that my personal Seven Evergreen Pro that I used for testing features standard threaded cups. One minor annoyance is that Praxis uses its own spline pattern for its bottom brackets, but the tool is at least included so there’s no additional expense incurred.
Once those are installed, you simply slide the spindle through the bearings, and then install and tighten the non-driveside arm to spec. The inner race of the non-driveside cartridge bearing is firmly sandwiched between a machined shoulder on the spindle and the crankarm to keep things from sliding axially under load, while a stainless steel wave washer is on hand to take up any leftover space between the driveside bearing and crankarm.
Such an arrangement minimizes any undue preload on the bearings (much like SRAM’s original GXP design), and the assembly spins impressively freely when all is said and done.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the 48T outer chainring is likely smaller than what was originally intended for your frame, so it’s critical to check that your front derailleur can be positioned that far down on the seat tube. Bikes with clamp-on mounts will likely be fine, but traditional frames with braze-on tabs will be hit or miss.
Out on the road, it’s difficult — if not impossible — to discern any differences in overall stiffness between the Zayante Carbon and any number of other high-end carbon road cranksets I’ve used recently. But that said, independent testing by Arizona bike shop Fairwheel Bikes showed the aluminum Zayante to be one of the stiffest models on the market, and I have little reason to suspect that the carbon version would be appreciably softer. Indeed, it certainly feels stout underfoot, although that admittedly doesn’t mean much.
What was far more meaningful to me, though, was that brilliant 48/32T chainring combination.
Such chainrings would have been viewed as unusually small just a few years ago, but when you crunch the numbers, the 50/34T chainrings and 11-28T cassette I favor on conventional road bikes with 25mm-wide tires is replicated nearly perfectly by the Zayante Carbon’s sub-compact 48/32T chainrings when paired to the 32mm-wide slicks I now use more regularly.
Shift performance is also very good, particularly under load, although I still wouldn’t say it’s quite up to the same level as a complete Shimano or Campagnolo setup. It’s also important to note that, true to Praxis’s word, it’s best to use a Shimano, Campagnolo, or KMC chain if possible, as a stock SRAM chain tends to run a little clumsily.
The chainrings have been faring quite well since I started testing five months ago, too, no doubt helped by the fact that Praxis forges its outer chainrings for improved durability (inner ones are still CNC-machined). Bearing durability has been harder to gauge given the dry Colorado climate, but while online reviews have generally been pretty favorable, the fact that Praxis only covers the Enduro 6805 bearing cartridges with non-contact aluminum shields makes me question how well they’d hold up under persistently wet conditions.
The generous layer of marine grease applied at the factory in between the cartridges and outer shields should help in that respect, but proper rubber contact seals would still be better.
That one caveat aside, the Zayante Carbon is a winner in my book, and well worth considering if you’re looking to downsize your gearing. They’re lightweight and stiff, reasonably priced, shift smoothly and consistently, and are chock-full of options for both gearing and frame fitment. From a performance and value standpoint, that’s a tough combination to beat.
Follow the link to learn more about the Zayante Carbon crankset at the Praxis website.