RaceFace Next R first ride

New wheels, cranks and cockpit solutions for the trail-riding crowd

Earlier this year I was invited to RaceFace headquarters with the promise of good riding and new products. With a reputation that seems to have been revamped in the past five or six years, the call to RaceFace HQ was definitely of interest.

The Next R nomenclature explains a lot about the intended use of the new components. Although ‘R is for rally’ is in the eye of the beholder, Next was a definitive callout.

RaceFace, like many other brands, has a tiered product line, with Next as its top-shelf product. Next is then followed by Turbine and Aeffect in terms of price point and materials.

Within its marketing template there is, of course, a series of subcategories: so far, SL for the ultralight, XC-style products and R for its trail/enduro category. So, Next R indicates a top-shelf trail product.

Because I already own two bikes equipped with Next SL products (using my own wallet), I figured as long as it followed suit with the new components, and didn’t throw out astronomical price tags, I’d be in for a treat.

RaceFace Next R components spec overview

Next R wheelset

  • 27.5 or 29in
  • 6 pawls @ 3-degree engagement
  • 31mm internal width
  • Tubeless ready
  • 1,765g (claimed)
  • Hub spacing compatibility — too many to list!

Next R crank

  • Handmade in Canada
  • 7050 Aluminum 30mm spindle (CINCH)
  • BB92, 68/73 BSA, 100mm BSA, PF30 30mm
  • 495g (32t ring, no bottom bracket)
  • Spiderless direct mount or 64/104mm

Next R handlebar

  • 800mm
  • 8-degree backsweep, 5-degree upsweep
  • 35mm clamp
  • 10, 20, 35mm rise
  • 210g (20mm rise)

A look behind the curtain

It stands that any company willing to take you through its test lab and show testing protocols is pretty confident. Because I’ve had access to several different test labs (from the manufacturer’s side) I was ready to give the old stink-eye. After all, I was a marketing guy in a previous life.

Admittedly, the experience in not just the RaceFace lab, but also partner companies Fox and Easton, was more than I expected.

This is a progressive drop test that culminates in failure — better in the lab than on the trail
This is a progressive drop test that culminates in failure — better in the lab than on the trail

I’m familiar with all the industry standards for frame and component manufacturing testing, but where any test lab shines is the creativity of engineers and how they seek out performance opportunities beyond standards. Although I can’t share everything I saw, at RaceFace’s request, it’s fair to say they’re a clever bunch.

Furthermore, they didn’t hesitate on calling out flaws of previous generation products, which for some companies seems impossible. To me, that authenticity is a sign of learning.

To learn about durability, this bar flex test runs continuous cycles until engineers are satisfied
To learn about durability, this bar flex test runs continuous cycles until engineers are satisfied

Next R wheels

The RaceFace Next R wheels are 31mm internal and designed for trail riding, complementing 2.3-2.6in tires
The RaceFace Next R wheels are 31mm internal and designed for trail riding, complementing 2.3-2.6in tires

As a self-proclaimed ‘wheel guy’ my ears perk up to anything related to roll. But the truth of the matter is, in the age of 142mm and 148mm rear spacing, unless a wheelset is really lacking in one of the individual components (rim, spokes or hub) it can be difficult to compare ride quality or tease out feature/benefits. At least for off-road wheels with big rubber.

But from a technical standpoint I can say that the Next R wheel engineer team checked every box that needs critiquing, and then some.

Without diving too deep, the most important concept of the day was the affect of 44-50t rear cogs on modern drivetrains. The test lab showed the difference in torque on 28t road cassettes versus what they referred to as the ‘Eagle effect’.

In short, hubs see increased torques as a result of the much taller chainline on a 50t cog. From a physics standpoint this is logical, as torque is a result of a force and the distance from the center of rotation it’s applied to (the perpendicular component of its vector to be precise). But to see a test machine show the phenomenon first hand was an eye opener.

Following the test lab, RaceFace outlined two opportunities for updating hub design for the Eagle effect: the hub shell diameter and the drive mechanism. For clarity, these design change philosophies were introduced with the Turbine R wheelset so are not entirely new.

Test labs are always interesting, but RaceFace shared proprietary tests to assess hub design — no, this isn't it
Test labs are always interesting, but RaceFace shared proprietary tests to assess hub design — no, this isn't it

Its explanation is that wheels commonly use a drive ring that threads into the hub shell, with pawls located on the cassette body. For years this worked fine, for the most part.

But with larger cogs, the resulting torque is so high that it can move the drive ring in the threads, even stripping it. This often creates a creak that sometimes goes away and sometimes doesn’t. In fact, I recently tested new wheels that had this issue.

I was clearing tricky wet root sections better than with any of my drivetrains at home

RaceFace’s solution is a design that puts the pawls (six in total, three engaged at all times) on the outer hub shell, with the drive ring machined and press-fit on to the cassette body. Not only was there no creaking, it was a freehub I actually enjoyed hearing out on the trail.

The buzz of the Next R hubs reminded me a lot of old Hugi freehubs — definitely expensive, but not arrogant — and the engagement was flawless, with only three degrees of crank rotation before confidently locking.

Aside from the hub design, the rims have an internal width of 31mm and a fairly low profile, which I think complements a trail bike. Too tall and it looks roadie… harrumph. The graphic design is pretty subdued, but if going wild is your thing, color options are available.

Last but not least, because of offset rims and hub shell spacing, the entire wheelset uses one length of spoke, and spares are included. A nice touch for wheels meant to be ridden hard and put away dirty.

What can I say from a first ride except they rolled smooth and fast. They were perfectly round and straight at the end of the ride. There were too many other new variables for me to make grandiose claims, but we are getting a set for long term review.

Next R crank

Next R cranks are slightly beefier than Next SL and are direct-mount or 64/104mm-ready with 30mm CINCH spindles
Next R cranks are slightly beefier than Next SL and are direct-mount or 64/104mm-ready with 30mm CINCH spindles

The crankset was exactly what I expected, as a result of owning Next SL cranks already. They’re very stiff and despite a lot of uncontrolled variables (new bike, new wheels, new trails), the direct-mount system, CINCH assembly and overall arm stiffness gave a sensation of instant acceleration.

Combined with the three-degree engagement of the hubs, I felt like the features had in fact created a riding benefit. I was clearing tricky wet root sections better than with any of my drivetrains at home — and riding better on new trails than at home says something.

The only complaint I can muster with the cranks, new or old, is that they only come in 30mm spindles. During our ride I mentioned how quickly I was going through a set of bearings in PF86/92 frames with my Next SL cranks. The product manager said they recently introduced a bottom bracket setup with dual-row bearings and that this has significantly prolonged the life of bearings. I’ll look forward to trying it out as it may kill my only criticism.

Obviously, this has nothing to do with the crank, spindle size or bearings, but rather the struggle between frame manufacturers and standards.

We’ll be seeing the cranks with the wheels for long term testing, and hopefully a set of the dual-row bearings too.

Next R handlebar

I'm not a big fan of billboard logos and RaceFace did a nice job keeping things muted, but color decals are an option for the 'wild' crowd
I'm not a big fan of billboard logos and RaceFace did a nice job keeping things muted, but color decals are an option for the 'wild' crowd

The handlebar presents a bit of the same story as the other components, leaving me little to comment on, at least for a first ride.

But because of my experience on Next SL bars and Turbine 35mm stems, the new Next R bar falls in line with what I’ve come to expect: light and stiff, and I’m yet to require a trip to the dentist.

The bar has a good shape for trail riding, meaning it has a good balance for hand positions between seated pedaling and out-of-saddle descending. Not once did I think about hand comfort, which I can’t say for all bars I’ve ridden. The combination of backsweep and upsweep was pretty ideal and I didn’t find it time consuming to find the sweet spot during setup.

As I’ve mentioned too many times already, I was riding an entirely new bike (new Ibis Ripley LS) and there were a lot of variables, but the bar and stem were super stiff and certainly added to the fact that the bike went where I pointed.

Last but not least, I think the graphics on the entire Next R range, including the bar, are ideal. It shows that RaceFace is proud of its brand and the product, but doesn’t expect you to be a billboard for it.

First ride impressions

A new tool makes Turbine installation much simpler than before
A new tool makes Turbine installation much simpler than before

Worth a quick mention is the reworked Turbine dropper post and updated installation process. The post functioned as it should and I appreciate the top-out damper that keeps it from sounding like a gun went off every time it was released.

The new tool for setting the cable tension makes for a no-brainer install, but the Turbine post has a slightly troubled past and in-depth testing is required to see if issues have been resolved.

The combination of the Next R wheels and crank were standouts on the three-hour ride in Santa Cruz, CA. The engagement and crank stiffness were apparent from the first pedal stroke, even in the parking lot.

The lateral wheel stiffness helped right the bike in a few sections where I simply chose the wrong line. So, from first ride impressions, all signs look good.

But, as my colleague Josh Patterson has so elegantly stated, trail bikes and components are the current honey pot of mountain biking. There are a lot of competitive products available, with new brands popping up every day. Although the Next R equipment looks and rides nice, will it prove to be worth the money in the long run?

Only dedicated testing will tell whether or not the new components will continue to elevate the RaceFace brand name. Full reviews to come.

RaceFace Next R pricing

  • Next R crank: £399 / $550 / AU$TBC
  • Next R wheelset (front and rear, 27.5 or 29in): £1,548 / $1,500 / AU$TBC
  • Next R bar: £124.95 / $170 / AU$TBC
  • Modular options for CINCH power meter: £759 / $TBC / AU$TBC
  • CINCH power meter with Next R crank arms: £TBC / $1,150 / AU$TBC
  • Turbine dropper post: £TBC / $380 / AU$TBC
  • 1x Turbine remote lever: £TBC / $60 / AU$TBC

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