Review: Sugino OX601D Compact Plus (aka The Impossible Crankset 44-26)

Leica 25mm Test

I’m a big fan of wide-range doubles and smaller chain rings. When I first got into cycling, I never quite understood why double chainrings started in the 50t range. As a beginner cyclist, the 52t chainring is more aspirational than functional. As a touring cyclist, the 50t+ chainring (for me anyways) acted more like a pointy bash guard. It seems like a pointless standard that slavishly follows racing trends (though believe it or not, most cyclists don’t race). Years later and having about thousands of miles and a cross-country trip under my belt, for me a 50t+ chainring is still bonkers. When I caught wind of Sugino’s OX601D Compact Plus (here on out referring to it as “Compact Plus” in this review), which promises smaller chainring combinations that simply don’t exist in the mainstream cycling market, I was ecstatic. Having previously tried Velo-Orange Grand Cru cranks, I was sold on the wide-range double concept and was interested on Sugino’s take on them.

The Impossible Crankset

I got the opportunity to try them out and was given a choice of chainrings. You can order the outer rings in 44t, 46t, 48t and 50t flavors and the inner rings from 36t to 30t in two tooth increments. For most, these permutations of inner and outer rings would be plenty. However, I wanted to see what was possible and asked about the SMALLEST chainring I could get for the inner. As a point of reference, I’m currently running a SRAM mountain double in 42-28 on my Vaya but wanted to see if I could have an even wider range than that! Low and behold, Sugino offers a 26t that will work with the Compact Plus!

I decided to try a 44-26 combination with a modern 10 speed drive train and STI shifters… and wait for the universe to implode. A 44-26 is absolute heresy when compared to standard double offerings, even when set against mountain doubles and SRAM’s WiFli. If anything a 44-26 would be WiFli EXTREME PLUS XXX.

Sugino Compact Plus

There are a myriad of reasons why this should NOT work. A 44-26t shouldn’t be possible with the somewhat anemic tooth capacity of most modern rear derailleurs. And lets just say that you managed to make it actually shift, it would be an absolute dog with STIs, right?

I will be the first to admit that I am not an expert bike mechanic. Give me a wrench and I am liable to inflict more harm than good, so I left this enigma of a request to the fine folks at VeloCult. When I handed the crankset and bike over to Jack, the lead mechanic, I believe his reaction was “You want to do what?” Always a good sign : ) It’s good to know that you can throw a curve ball every now and again even to a bike shop that has seen every strange and esoteric permutation of bike.

Why did I want to do it anyway? Who the heck is a 44-26 crankset for?

For me, a 44t chainring is just about perfect for 95% of my riding. It’s great for commuting, for touring and even long day rides. I’m not a hammerhead, but with a 44t I can go reasonably fast (probably limited more by my lung and leg capacity than anything else) and I have no need to go time trialing downhill (I’m a pretty cautious descender…esp. with our healthcare system or lack thereof). On my current rig, the 28t inner is good but there have been a few times (especially with touring load or when I’m pulling a trailer) that a little bit lower gear would be helpful – hence the 26t inner. So for my style of riding, a 44-26 would be just about perfect: both a little bit higher gear and a little bit lower gear than what I currently have on my Salsa Vaya.

Sugino Compact Plus

Does it Work?

A few days after dropping off my bike with the crankset to be installed (I actually expected weeks as custom derailleur cages had to be formed out of bar stock or something), I got a call that my bike was ready. When I got to Velocult, my first question was, “Does it work?” It’s that moment when wacky idea faces reality – which will win?

“Yes it works.”

“Does it shift?”

“Yep.”

WTF! I received a technical explanation. Let’s say it involved some bending of things but lo and behold it worked.

In Use

I’ve been riding the Sugino Compact Plus set up as 44-26 for a few months now. I’ve put on a few hundred miles doing a lot of climbing, pulling a trailer and shifting under load and it works beautifully despite itself. In the rear, I’m using a Deore long cage mountain bike derailleur; the rear cassette is a 12-36 and my shifters are 10spd Tiagra STIs. Amazingly, though these parts probably weren’t envisioned to work together in unison they all manage to get along.

Rear shifting is not a problem. It is crisp and it’s not noticeable that anything funny is going on. Front shifting works surprisingly well even with such a big tooth difference. It will drop to the 26 no problem. I tend to upshift a little more methodically to the 44t to give the rear derailleur time to take up slack. The best way to describe it is that it is like having the convenience of STI shifting but the deliberateness of friction shifters.

Like anticipated, for 95% of my riding I’m in the 44t. When I see a climb coming up, I have to decide if I have to drop down to the low range of gears. Is the hill that steep? Is the climb really long? How good are my legs feeling? It’s a little more of a commitment to drop low. When I do drop to the 26t, I usually upshift the rear about 3 to 4 gears to pick up where I left off on the 44t. That is probably the only niggling thing about my setup (which is no fault of the cranks btw, just my own peculiar curiosity about this combination), there are a few extra shifts to take up slack so you’re not suddenly spinning your legs like Wile E Coyote falling off a cliff.

Conclusion

The Sugino OX601D Compact Plus‘s best feature is freedom (cue music). Freedom from the tyranny of road racing conventions that muck up cranksets for the rest of us. In all seriousness, it is wonderful to see a crankset that really gives you carte blanche with your chainring choices. It really allows you to fine tune your bike to your style of riding….and they are also compatible with modern STI shifters. You can set up a standard wide range double of 44-30, or even do something crazy like a 44-26! The only real downside is the cost. They are admittedly a bit spendy. However, if you are tired of waiting for Shimano and SRAM to make a crankset for your style of riding (instead of trying to fit into theirs), then the Compact Plus is just the ticket.

Pros:
-great finish on cranks
-amazing customization possibilities
-works with STI shfiters

Cons:
-Cost