Recently, we were able to track down Craig Edwards from EE Cycleworks and ask him a few questions. Craig and his innovations hold an interesting place in the more recent history of bicycle components, and the man himself offers some valuable insights into both the past and future. At the present, Craig is in the final production stages of his hotly anticipated road crankset, which should set some new benchmarks for weight and stiffness. Beyond this, EECycleworks has already made a name for themselves with the emergent success of the EE Brake – a completely new road brake engineered from the ground up by Mr. Edwards himself. We at Fair Wheel consider Craig a friend as well as a business partner, and have worked with EE Cycleworks using their testing facility during our Crank Shootout. We feel that Craig has some interesting views on his own products and the direction of the cycling industry and we are excited to publish this interview.
Fairwheel Bikes: You were half of Sweet Parts, which made arguably one of the most sought-after cranks of all time. What happened to Sweet parts?
Craig: We imploded as a company. We had a dot com mentality of growth; as big and as fast as possible. We over spent, tried to move too fast and sold too much ownership to raise money. The window was open for us much, much longer than we thought it would be. We were so focused on not being squashed by our competition, we were not paying attention to running our own business in a way that we could sustain ourselves for the long haul. WE DIED A DOT COM DEATH. It wasn’t too fun at the end, but a good learning experience.
FW: There have been rumors for years of titanium sweet part cranks, was that true?
Craig: Yes, I made 3 sets of TI cranks. They were made of 15-3-3-3 TI alloy. it is a very strong, heat treatable alloy. They were made to the same wall thicknesses of the steel version. The strength was about the same so on paper it would be strong enough, but with a stiffness of a bit more than 1/2 of steel it was not as stiff. The spider was machined from sheet because we couldn’t be laser cut TI that thick. The tubing for the arms was made from sheet by Timet. I’m not sure what happened to them, I don’t have any of them. I think my former partner still has a set.
FW: Did they make production?
Craig: The TI cranks never made it to production.
FW: Why not?
Craig: We weren’t around long enough to get there.
FW: What have you been doing in the time between then and the opening of EE?
Craig: I was doing and am still doing my day job. I am an architect by training and trade (another area of design). I have been a self-employed architect for over 20 years doing custom residential work. I also continued to do my share of riding and have 3 kids that take a lot of time too.
FW: First what inspired you to design the ee brake as it is?
Craig: I love to design and build things as well as cycling. After Sweet ended, I never really felt like I was done with bike parts.
Like cranks back in the 4 sided taper spindle BB days, traditional brakes had not changed for 30-40 years, save dual pivot. It seemed to me there had to be a more efficient way to do it. So I started working on it.
FW: The brake is certainly complex looking, how long was it in development?
Craig: The basic concepts came quickly (a month or 2) and are always the easy part. Getting from there to the real deal takes some serious doing. I went from sketches to CAD drawings to a prototype which did not work well. I was missing the mini link – the thing that makes the arms move equally and consistently. I built a card board model to figure it out (architect style). Once I figured out what I needed, I retrofitted a mini link on my first prototype and was off and rolling. From there I went in to the 1st production run. I think this took me more than a year. Getting stuff made always takes more time than you think it should.
FW: There has been some concern that cleaning solvents or lube may affect the bushings, is this a valid concern?
Craig: The bushings are pretty tough very high tech plastic. They have been designed to be self lubricating and don’t mind being in wet dirty conditions. They can be lubricated with oil if desired in the winter months to displace water and fine grit as an option. I believe they are fine with any reasonable bike cleaning solvents. FYI: I have never seen one wear out – and in that event, they are inexpensive and easily replaceable.
FW: Is there a reason the spring on the brake is in the front vs the rear?
Craig: The eebrake is different than the others, I wanted to keep it simple, light and efficient. To conceal it on the back, it got more complicated and heavier (I really tried). For me it was form follows function and I like going against the grain. I have had a lot of people tell me to change it, but I am not willing if it meant a functional compromise and to make it look like the others. Remember the Sweet wings were pretty ugly too.
FW: For the cranks, why choose aluminum when all the rage seems to be carbon?
Craig: I like carbon for frames where there are long spans and relatively few areas of super high stress. With cranks, spans are short and there are many interfaces that are tricky to do in carbon or carbon/aluminum (interfaces at the bearings pedals, chain rings and joints between main parts). Also there are space limitations with cranks where stronger materials have some advantage. With all of this, carbon has less of an advantage on metal. So far the most exciting crank in carbon I have seen is the 1 piece one that Look did. They had to really go outside the box to take better advantage of carbon. With the current constraints of today’s standards like BBs, chain rings and pedals I’m pretty comfortable going against carbon with aluminum.
FW: Do you foresee a carbon version of the crank eventually?
Craig: Possibly. as the standards change like even bigger BB shells etc., carbon could become the material of choice, but that is a ways down the road.
FW: Whats the target weight of the crankset?
Craig: 620 – 650 grams for the complete system including rings and BB. I was at 650 grams on the last prototypes and the current ring and spider design is a bit lighter now.
FW: Have there been any changes in design since the version shown at Interbike last year?
Craig: Yes, quite a few little ones, but the crank is basically the same (it would be hard for you to tell what I changed by looking). Most the changes are to increase fatigue strength.
FW: Any plans for a bb30 version of the crank?
Craig: Yes, I am hard at it. I am very excited about what I have going. If I can make it happen, it will be a huge improvement over current stuff.
FW: Speaking of bb30, what’s your opinion of it as a concept? Do you prefer the standard BSA, bb96 or bb30, and why?
Craig: In concept, I like it. We need a bigger BB. Originally, almost everything was designed for steel (frames, cranks, handlebars…) When things went to lighter, weaker, less stiff materials, the logical direction is bigger. The BB has needed to get bigger for a long time. I think it needs to be even bigger than BB 30 and we will see if the press fit system ends up winning out (threads have done a good job for a long time).
FW: The crank seems to be taking a while since we’ve first seen them, is there any problem with the development?
Craig: Yes, tons of them. Building a crank that is as good or better than anybody else is a BIG problem to start with. With limited resources, it is tough to compete with the big guys. As a small company, I don’t have 10 engineers and a huge factory with lots of manufacturing capacity and technology at my disposal. Getting things done quickly is especially hard.
I have used to use my own fatigue test protocol that I have been using for more than 10 years. I recently started using the new CEN test standard (fatigue test). The big change for me on this fatigue test was using a 65mm pedal spindle length, which is a lot longer than any road pedal I have seen. This doesn’t sound like much, but it has a huge impact on the location of high stress and the resulting failure mode. Cranks fail on this test in ways I have not seen cranks fail before. As a result I have had to rework some things to pass it. I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.
All that said, I wouldn’t keep working on it if i didn’t think I have something that will successfully compete against the best. I’m down to the last little details now and pretty happy with what I’ve got. I think there is more room to improve in the future. I want to be a part of the cutting edge of cranks for a while. I guess I feel like I have unfinished business with cranks at this point.
FW: Do you expect to do an mtb version of the cranks?
Craig: I have not planned to do so yet, but it seems logical in the future. Maybe a 2x version.
FW: What colors of crank will be available?
Craig: Black and silver for sure. Custom colors probably as well.
FW: You took the brake world by storm with a truly innovative brake, and now have what looks to be an amazing crank lined up, have you begun to think about what’s next?
Craig: It seems more like heavy fog and a light drizzle rather than a storm to me, but thanks. My focus is to really develop a full crank line and get it dialed in as well as continue to refine the eebrake right now. That said, I am always looking for things that I think I could improve on and better/push the state of the art. If I see something, I will get into it. I am definitely not interested in developing new products JUST to add the product line. Bottom line is: I love designing and building and I hope EEcycleworks will provide an avenue for me to continue to do that.
FW: We here at Fair Wheel think you have some really special brakes and the cranks that appear to rival them. We thank you for taking the time to answer our questions and wish you the best of luck in all your future endeavors. Hopefully we’ll be able to visit with you again next year and talk about what’s on your horizon at that point.
Testing the EE Cycleworks Crankset