Race Face Next SL Crankset is Lightweight and Durable, but Loses Some Visual Appeal over Time [Review]

Race Face has been making some of the most widely used cranksets for a long time, both for OEM and aftermarket consumer purchase. In 2019, they revised the featherweight Next SL crankset, made to shave grams for anyone who likes to ride XC up to enduro.

Race Face says that the newest generation has an improved carbon layup process which improves stiffness and is now compatible with 12-speed Shimano drivetrains by using a compatible 1x chain ring.

The latest iteration sticks with the standard Cinch system interface, pedal insert, and US-sourced carbon. The Next SL cranks are covered by a three-year warranty.

Specs

  • Intended use: XC / Trail / Enduro
  • 30mm spindle diameter
  • 170, 175mm crank arm lengths available
  • Spindle sizes: 134, 136, 149, 170, 174, 190
  • Bottom bracket options: BB92, 68/73BSA, PF30
  • Fits Cinch DM rings, or 64/104mm Cinch Spiders
  • Weight: 375g arms only
  • Price: $430. Available from Competitive Cyclist, JensonUSA, and other online retailers.

On the cranks

I received the Next SLs in the summer of 2019, but didn’t get around to installing them until the fall. I took off the Next Rs that I reviewed in the summer of 2018 that had stayed strong for a full year of riding. Some consumers have reported issues with Race Face cranks when it comes to pedal inserts, but my Next Rs have stayed in one piece thus far after a solid year of use, as have the Next SLs.

First, the weight savings potential with the Next SL is pretty huge. The first thing I noticed pulling the crank arms out of the box is how sleek, pro, and lightweight they are. The carbon fiber crankset is about 100g lighter than the Next R that I tested in 2018. A hundred grams is a lot to shed from one carbon component to another, so for upgraders that may be rocking an aluminum crankset, the gram shaving potential should be even greater.

Race Face cranks are easily removable with an 8mm hex wrench.

Installation is made easy by the Cinch system, which is usually a pleasurable experience, because there aren’t any extra specialty tools involved — unless you’re swapping chainrings or bottom brackets. In that case, you’ll need those tools, but the process still isn’t overwhelming. I swapped the bottom bracket with the Next SL as the Race Face bottom bracket that I installed a year prior with the Next R was starting to feel a little grindy.

Pedaling out on the new carbon feet-holders didn’t yield a noticeable difference from the Next Rs. Both feel stiff and reliable, but the Next SLs are of course a few ounces lighter. Over the handful of months that I have ridden the Next SLs, they never called my attention for service, nor did they have any other issues. The cranks have allowed me to get the utmost performance out of my mountain bike, when it comes to being stiff, lightweight, and durable. However, I did notice something interesting when I inspected the crankset before writing up this review.

As I un-mucked the crank arms from my last wet ride on the trails, I noticed an interesting pattern on the middle of the inside of both arms. It was a little circle shaped imprint, very subtle in nature. I ran my fingers across and could feel the distinction of the line, although there wasn’t any splintering or visible cracking. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, so I asked my colleagues and then Race Face. Then, I checked the Next Rs that I removed and noticed the same circles had formed on the inside of those over the past year, which were not apparent at the time I wrote that review. The pattern on the Next Rs was much more distinguished compared to these Next SLs, although the Next Rs have seen much more use. I reached out to Race Face to see what they made of this mysterious circle. To me, the arms didn’t appear to be cracking, or in need of immediate attention, but the circles weren’t there when I received them. Race Face brand manager Rob Bohncke had this to say:

That mark is something left from our in-house production method when creating all our carbon cranksets here in Vancouver BC. Our proprietary carbon crank production leaves a small hole on the back of the arm [where] we install a small plug/cover. That plug is then covered by the decaling and finishing coating. Sometimes the edge of that plug can be visible like what you are seeing – there is 100% zero effect on performance because the outline of that plug is seen. The plug will remain in the crank and the crankset can be used without any concern. Zero effect on the structural integrity or performance of the crankset.

This plug outline may not be immediately visible when a crankset is fresh. An outline like you are seeing can become apparent through normal crank operation as the crank is flexed – the plug does not flex like the carbon material so the outline can appear. I can say that we are looking at other solutions that would cure this plug outline from being visible or eliminate the plug altogether.

Marks left from a trail unknown.

Aside from this issue, the cranks have been great. They have deflected rock strikes and trail damage in a laudable manner and I have yet to experience any issues with the pedal inserts (on either crank) despite frequent pedal swaps. On top of that they are very lightweight and stiff.

I still think the cosmetic issue puts both Race Face and consumers in a tough position. The circles may be completely superficial, but it is a bit of a bummer to see marks develop in such a good-looking and pricey crankset.

I will say that the marks do seem to be superficial and align with Race Face’s response. The only reason they drew my attention on the Next Rs is because I noticed on the SLs and went back to see if they had formed on that crankset since I first wrote the review. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. The Next Rs saw at least a year of hard pedaling and descending and feel as solid as they did on day one. It looks like these Next SLs will do the same.

⭐️ Find the Race Face Next SL cranks at Competitive Cyclist, JensonUSA, and other online retailers.

Thanks to Race Face for providing the Next SL crankset for testing and review.

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