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Verdict: 
Sturdy chainset that provides a very useful gear reduction for gravel bikes and other unhurried applications
Weight: 
730g

In its 46/30 chainring configuration, FSA's Energy Modular BB386EVO crankset provides a very useful drop in overall gearing for gravel bikes, touring, and unhurried riding in general. It's solidly constructed, very nicely finished, straightforward to install and flat-out Just Works™.

  • Pros: Useful reduction in gear range, good looks, sturdy construction
  • Cons: A shade expensive

In use, the Energy Modular feels just like, well, a chainset. There's no detectable flex from the arms, 30mm axle or the outer chainring (which also does service as the spider, supporting the inner ring).

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There was a time when Shimano was an order of magnitude better at chainring shifting than everyone else, but that's simply no longer the case. There's no perceptible difference in the way the chain moves from one ring to another on the FSA cranks compared with the Shimano chainset it replaced. Shifts are fast and firm in both directions.

What the FSA brings to the party that Shimano doesn't is simple: lower gears. Instead of the usual 50/34 chainrings, this Energy chainset has a 46/30 pairing for a roughly 10 per cent reduction in all the gears. Even with the common 11-32 cassette you find on gravel bikes, that provides some useful extra climbing gears and, as I've detailed elsewhere, it opens up the possibility of ultra-low gearing.

fsa_energy_modular_386evo_chasinset_-_detail_2.jpg

It's a pity we're not seeing more chainsets like this on off-the peg bikes. With an 11-tooth sprocket it still gives a top gear of 113 inches. Pedalling at a modest 90rpm, that's still good for 30mph. Honestly, how often do you go faster while still pedalling? On the other hand, you might not often need the 25-inch low gear that a 30x32 yields, but you will be really glad of it when you do, whether it's because you're climbing something very steep, carrying luggage or just plain knackered.

> Beginner's guide: understanding gears

The impetus for the existence of chainsets like the Energy Modular BB386EVO has come from gravel bikes, whose rise has had bike and component manufacturers taking a second look at the gearing options they offer. Any bike that's ridden away from roads needs lower gears, but gravel bike gears don't need to be quite as low as mountain bike gears. The result has been sub-compact chainsets and the widest range of options has come from FSA, which calls them Adventure cranks and now offers six different sub-compact chainsets.

The FSA Energy Modular sits below the K-Force and SL-K chainsets, both of which have carbon fibre cranks, but above the aluminium Gossamer, Omega and Tempo chainsets.

Fitted to my gravel bike, the FSA Energy chainset has provided very useful low gears (especially in conjunction with an 11-40 cassette) with no loss in shift quality or other performance.

First impressions

Where other chainset makers have gone for smoother and smoother lines over the last few years, the look of the FSA Energy Modular chainset is much more engineered. There's a distinct transition between the right hand crank and the spider, which is also the outer chainring. The inner ring mounts on the outer with four bolts on a 90mm bolt circle, a size that seems to be only used by FSA. The outer ring is attached to the crank by a lockring.

fsa_energy_modular_386evo_chasinset_-_detail_1.jpg

Unlike Shimano, FSA ships this crank with the left hand crank mounted to the axle, rather than the right. The right hand side, spider and all, goes on when you fit the cranks to the bike and is held in place with a 10mm hex bolt. That makes it easier to get at the lockring that holds the outer chainring in place, or the chainring bolts for the inner ring, which you'll need to do if you want to change them and take up FSA's promise that this is a 'modular' chainset. It also means the set packs into a much smaller, flatter box than Shimano's frankly humungous chainset boxes.

fsa_energy_modular_386evo_chasinset_-_reverse_side.jpg

If you're accustomed to Shimano's 24mm steel crank axles, the 30mm hollow aluminium axle here looks almost comically large, like a Toon cartoon. That doesn't matter in use because it's hidden inside the bottom bracket.

Fitting

Fitting the FSA Energy is straightforward, though it does need a specific tool for the matching 386 EVO bottom bracket bearings if you're fitting it to a threaded bottom bracket shell as I was. Beyond that, though, it's just a matter of tightening the 10mm hex bolt to the recommended torque. You will need a torque wrench, as the recommended range is 38-41Nm. That's quite a lot; there's no way you can hit that range by feel, and FSA warns against going over 41Nm.

While it has hollow arms, the FSA Energy is a bit heavier than a comparable Shimano crank. A 46/36 Ultegra crankset, for example, weighs 668g, 62g less than the FSA Energy, despite the FSA's smaller chainrings. That's not a huge difference and given that any sort of off-road riding carries the risk of the odd crash or whack against a rock, a bit of extra beef is no bad thing.

Fitting a crank with smaller chainrings means you have to move your front derailleur down, and this is something to look out for before buying any sub-compact cranks. My gravel bike just had the necessary 8mm of adjustment, but I'm pretty sure the front derailleur mount on my road bike is too high.

Alternatives

If you want the 46/30 chainrings of an Adventure chainset but have a bit more money to spend, FSA's SL-K Modular BB386EVO crankset is a bit more expensive but a bit lighter at a claimed 670g, while if money is tight, the Omega Adventure MegaExo crankset can usually be found for under £100.

If your tastes run more to old-school five-arm cranks, Sugino's OX901D set is worth a look or you could go very old-school with a £69 Spa Cycles Super Compact, with which you can go as low as a 40/24 combo.

Conclusion

I'm very impressed with the FSA Energy Modular BB386EVO crankset. It shifts well, provides a useful drop in gear range, looks good and is straightforward to fit. It's a bit pricey compared with similar-quality chainsets like Shimano Ultegra, but I think the lower gears it provides are worth it. If you want a chainset that provides a substantial reduction in your overall gearing, it's currently your best option.

Verdict

Sturdy chainset that provides a very useful gear reduction for gravel bikes and other unhurried applications

If you're thinking of buying this product using a cashback deal why not use the road.cc Top Cashback page and get some top cashback while helping to support your favourite independent cycling website

road.cc test report

Make and model: FSA Energy Modular 386Evo Chainset

Size tested: 46/30

Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?

FSA says this is "the latest FSA crankset for gravel, adventure, or road use. Thanks to the adaptable BB386 EVO 30mm spindle, this modular system will fit a wide variety of frames with a range of BB standards. 52/36 , 50/34, 48/32 or 46/30 are the offered ring combinations."

What we have here is the 46/30 version, providing a roughly 10 per cent drop in your gears compared to the 50/34 chainset you find on most gravel bikes.

Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?

FSA lists:

Hollow forged arms

Forged AL7050 BB386EVO spindle

Direct mount outer chainring and 90 bcd inner chainrings

Chromoly chainring bolts

Fits Shimano and SRAM 10-11 speed systems

Rate the product for quality of construction:
 
8/10

Good standard of fit and finish.

Rate the product for performance:
 
10/10

Solid feel, no creaks, provides a very handy 10% gearing reduction.

Rate the product for weight (if applicable)
 
6/10

A shade heavier than comparable Shimano cranks.

Rate the product for value:
 
7/10

On the one hand, you can get, say, a Shimano Ultegra crankset for less than this; on the other hand you can't get a modern chainset that runs these chainring sizes for less without it being significantly heavier, so I think it's decent value for money.

Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose

Extremely well. The lower gears are very welcome, and when they come without any detectable degradation in shifting there's really nothing to complain about here, and lots to love.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the product

Lower gears, fit and finish, looks.

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product

Nothing.

How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?

Perhaps the closest competition, the Praxis Zayante is a bit more expensive, significantly lighter, but doesn't provide gears as low. Just about every other rival sub-compact chainset comes from FSA!

Did you enjoy using the product? Yes

Would you consider buying the product? Yes

Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes

Use this box to explain your overall score

Fairly minor quibbles about the weight and price pull the FSA Energy down from what would otherwise be a perfect score here. If you want lower gears for whatever reason, and you've already harnessed a Shimano R7000/R8000 GS rear mech to an 11-40 or 11-36 cassette, this is currently your best option.

Overall rating: 9/10

About the tester

Age: 48  Height: 5ft 11in  Weight: 85kg

I usually ride: Scapin Style  My best bike is:

I've been riding for: Over 20 years  I ride: Most days  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding, mountain biking

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

5 comments

Avatar
fukawitribe [2600 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes
Disfunctional_Threshold wrote:

> Unlike Shimano, FSA ships its cranks with

> the left hand crank mounted to the axle, rather

> than the right.

Ummm, I think it's only FSA's modular crankset that has the spindle attached to the drive side. Other FSA cranksets have the spindle attached to the NDS. >

Guessing you might have intended that the other way around ?

 

Avatar
recurs [35 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes

I've been running this crank since April, and it's been great. As the reviewer noted, the quality is reflected in the fact that you never pay it any notice. I just works great in my otherwise Shimano group. 

 

I'm curious to see what swapping these "modular" rings will be like, and how easy those rings will be to source. The only annoying fact is the proprietary bb tool. That would give me pause if I were using this crankset on an extended tour. I'm not sure most bike shops would have that tool (or compatible bb) on hand. 

Avatar
John Stevenson [383 posts] 2 months ago
2 likes

@disfunctionalthreshold:

I thought I recalled other FSA cranks with the axle mounted on the non-drive-side, but I've tweaked the copy; thanks for the catch.

MegaExo bottom brackets bike might use the same tool as Shimano, but the spanner for the 386Evo bracket these cranks need is definitely bigger.

@recurs:

The days when everyone's bottom bracket could be fit and adjusted with a standard set of tools are long gone. Lots of bottom brackets need a specific tool, even if quite a few manufacturers have adopted Shimano's spline pattern, but yeah, if you're out in the back of beyond, you might want to use something more common. 

Avatar
Disfunctional_T... [337 posts] 2 months ago
2 likes

> Unlike Shimano, FSA ships its cranks with
> the left hand crank mounted to the axle, rather
> than the right.

Ummm, I think it's only FSA's modular crankset that has the spindle attached to the non-drive side. Other FSA cranksets have the spindle attached to the drive side.

SRAM's BB30 cranksets also have the spindle attached to the NDS, while their GXP (24/22 mm) cranksets have the spindle attached to the DS.

> It also means the set packs into a much smaller,
> flatter box than Shimano's frankly humungous chainset boxes.

Good point. It also might help out when packing a travel bike.

> Fitting the FSA Energy is straightforward, though
> it does need a specific tool for the matching 386 EVO
> bottom bracket bearings if you're fitting it to a
> threaded bottom bracket shell as I was

Every threaded bottom bracket needs a tool for installation. FSA uses 16-notch bearing cups with an outside diameter of 48.5mm. It fits the large end of a Park Tool BBT-29. Wheels Manufacturing sells a tool also.

Shimano bottom brackets use a 39, 41, or 44 mm tool because of the smaller bearings for a 24 mm spindle.

Also other companies make threaded bottom brackets for 30 mm spindle cranks. You don't have to use an FSA bottom bracket. Wheels Manufacturing, Race Face, Enduro come to mind. Search for "BSA 30 bottom bracket"

Avatar
Disfunctional_T... [337 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
recurs wrote:

The only annoying fact is the proprietary bb tool.

1. As I mentioned, it's not proprietary. FSA, Park Tool, Wheels Manufacturing make wrenches for it. Probably Abbey Tools too.

2. If you don't like FSA's bottom bracket, loads of other companies make BB386EVO bottom brackets.