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™.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Sturdy chainset that provides a very useful gear reduction for gravel bikes and other unhurried applications
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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?
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
Good standard of fit and finish.
Solid feel, no creaks, provides a very handy 10% gearing reduction.
A shade heavier than comparable Shimano cranks.
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
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.
About the tester
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
Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.