Edging Towards Real BB Standard?


Earlier in 2011 FSA announced their new ‘BB386 Evo’ bottom bracket standard. To put it simply, it’s PressFit30 in an 86mm BB shell (PF30 and BB30 both use a more traditional 68mm shell) which should mean a stiffer BB axle due to the bearings being more outboard on the frame.

It could result in big developments in frame designs around the BB area too as chainstays could be attached at a wider stance with a bigger contact area and downtubes could end up being *MASSIVE* (even more so than they already are on many carbon frames) where they attach to this wider BB format – although it’ll be interesting to see how Ti and steel manufacturers adopt it.

But this one introduction from FSA can’t just ‘become’ the new BB standard, can it? Of course not.

Since ISIS BBs never truly took on (with their bearings made of cheese) there hasn’t been a single standard that’s emerged as ‘the one’ to fill the gaping hole left by Square Taper. External BBs threatened to fill the void for a while, but even then SRAM couldn’t play ball and had to do their own ‘GXP’ version (damn them), and Campag chose to take a different approach too. At least they all use the same tool to be fitted with…

More recently BB30 emerged from the ignored years of Cannondale’s ‘Si’ system to begin to change the approach to BBs. Except almost as soon as it was beginning to take hold variations on the theme appeared from the likes of Trek (with a 90mm wide version), Scott (86mm), Giant (also 86mm) and SRAM – the latter of whom changed the approach completely and simplified BB30 into a press-fit system.

But that’s still no evidence of it becoming a new standard?

Not on it’s own it’s not, no. The thing to note is that chainsets designed to run on BB386 Evo are backwards-compatible with, well, pretty much everything since ISIS. That, along with the fact that the likes of Wilier, BH and Litespeed are already producing frames running BB386 Evo and that people like Tune already make their chainsets in a BB386 Evo format is what makes me think it possibly has the legs.

If you were a big manufacturer now and about to design a new frame, why wouldn’t you adopt it? The only people you’re alienating are those who currently run BB30 or PressFit30 chainsets, and they’re still in the minority. Likewise if you were about to buy a chainset – why not get a BB386 Evo one? You can run it on anything then. It’d be a big decision for a custom frame just in case it didn’t take off (i.e. future-proofing your custom frame would prove trickier), but I bet lots of custom frame builders are itching to get using it to see what performance enhancements it’ll make (although equally it could adversely affect the handling qualities of some custom frames).

Would I run it? For an off-the-peg frame, yes – almost a no-brainer. For a custom frame, probably not just yet despite being a fairly early adopter. Give it a year and my answer might be very different though.

The real question – and probably deciding factor I think – is whether or not SRAM and Shimano will ever decide to toe the line…

Rich [@RichTheRoadie]