Being Frank – Sweet and Not Sweet Wings

 

 

Brent Graves Cane Creek
Brent Graves, President and CEO

In the mid-nineties I got wind of a super cool product. At the time cranks were either forged (good) or cast aluminum (usually acceptable) from Japanese suppliers Shimano or Sugino. Then the CNC mini-boom hit and we were inundated with American CNC machined aluminum parts including cranks. However, as cool as many looked, and as light as many were, many of the CNC cranks would break. In the middle of this was a tubular steel crank with some unique features. It was not the first tubular steel crank, BMXers can tell you about Redline, Profile, Cook Bros and Bullseye cranks from the decade prior. However, this unconventional steel crank was developed for multi-geared mountain and road bikes. The cranks were called Sweet Wings.

That the Sweet Wings were competitive weight-wise despite being made out of steel was a surprise. That they were much stronger and stiffer was not a surprise. The Sweet Wings also offered up some novel features. With nearly all mountain bike and road bike cranks using a 3-piece design, the Sweet Wings had just left and right arms with partial spindles and instead of attaching arms onto a four-sided taper, the left and right arms were attached with a splined interface that was held together with an axial bolt. How the Sweet Wings interfaced with the frame was also different. One bearing resided inside the bottom bracket of the frame, while the other was outboard. Lastly, the wild looking spider was actually individual arms welded onto the spindle. Many of those features (outboard bearings, non-tapered spindle, axial spindle bolt) are found on many popular performance cranks 20+ years later.

Sweet Wings were a shooting star. They were the talk of the mountain bike world for a while and even ended up under 5-time Tour de France champion Miguel Indurain. However, technical issues in manufacturing and disagreements between the partners caused Sweet Wings to disappear as fast as they appeared. The fundamental concept never left the designer’s mind, and his heart yearned for many years to do an even better crank. His profession in architecture kept him busy enough, but he still found time to design some mind-bending brakes (eeBrakes) for road bikes and continue toying with crank designs.

Once we connected with Craig Edwards and began making and selling his eeBrakes, it was only natural that the subject of cranks would come up. We then worked together to make his tubular titanium crank concept a reality. It took over eighteen months to design, test, validate, open tooling, and begin production. It was not a smooth path, but we learned a ton and ended up with what we feel is the best mountain bike crank in the world. In homage to the Sweet Wings, the new crank was named eeWings.

Despite the visual similarities, eeWings are a completely new design and share nothing more with Sweet Wings than being TIG welded tubular structures. As mentioned above, Sweet Wings were steel. eeWings are made of two titanium alloys. Sweet Wings used a splined spindle interface, whereas eeWings use a Hirth joint. Sweet Wings had a welded-on spider, eeWings use a bolt-on spider or direct mount chain ring. eeWings have a 30mm titanium spindle compared to the smaller 24mm steel spindle of the Sweet Wings. eeWings also have an integrated bearing preload adjuster and fit numerous bottom bracket styles in addition to the threaded BSA the Sweet Wings fit. And while comparable in strength and stiffness, the eeWings are about 20% lighter and are impervious to corrosion.

But in the end Sweet Wings and eeWings are both designs that shook conventional design and delivered peerless results. We are super pleased to have had the chance to develop and bring to market such a unique product, and one that pays homage to a legendary design from twenty-five years ago.