Compass 11-speed Chainrings

Compass Cycles is introducing the first-ever 11-speed-compatible René Herse cranks and chainrings. And the first-ever René Herse chainrings with ramps and pins. These are not just any ramps and pins: They’re carefully engineered to shift as well as the best cranks from the big manufacturers. We are proud to offer this performance with useful chainring sizes – plus the beauty and light weight of the classic René Herse cranks.

The shifting performance of our new cranks is a bigger deal than it may sound at first, because developing chainrings at this level is a major undertaking. Our engineering team has spent almost 18 months on this project. We tested prototypes for thousands of miles (above) before settling on a final design. (Many readers have wondered how the Firefly’s 11-speed drivetrain worked with the René Herse cranks, and why that simple question didn’t get a simple answer…)

There are plenty of ‘ramped-and-pinned’ chainrings out there, because it’s not hard to cut a few ramps into chainrings and rivet in some pins. But, the ramps and pins don’t do much unless they are carefully aligned with the chain path. To work well, the chain has to hit the pin just right, in the middle of an outer link. Then it gets transported seamlessly to the big ring, and the ramp only acts as a cut-out to provide an easier path for the chain.

Another key element is to treat this as a dynamic system, spinning at 50-130 rpm. When we looked at other chainrings, we quickly discovered that this was the biggest difference between the best-shifting chainrings and those that offer only so-so performance. It became clear that the three big makers understand this, but everybody else seems to design their chainrings as a static system. Here is what ‘static’ means: When you put a chain half on the small and half on the big ring (above), it fits beautifully. But when you shift while pedaling, the teeth don’t have time to snug in between the links of the chain (which is running at an angle during the shifts). As a result, the chain rides up on the chainring and the carefully-planned alignment of the chain path is compromised.

By comparison, the chain seems to fit a little less perfectly on the ‘dynamic’ chainrings from the big makers – until you are pedaling. Then you are surprised by the smooth shifts. We benchmarked Shimano’s Ultegra cranks – widely known as the best-shifting in the business – for the performance that our 11-speed René Herse cranks had to match. Now we feel that we have achieved that goal, and so we are introducing the first 11-speed-compatible René Herse chainrings in a 46-30 combination. And of course, the excellent shifting performance of these rings works with 10- and 9-speed derailleurs, too.

While the upshifts get a lot of attention, the downshifts are just as important with 11-speed, because the distance between the rings is so small that the chain no longer can just be ‘thrown’ to the inside and then land on the inner ring, as it was with older systems. The new René Herse 11-speed chainrings feature special tooth profiles to facilitate downshifts. The chainrings also are machined specifically to reduce the gap between the rings, so the ultra-narrow 11-speed chains cannot get caught between the rings.

Instead of requiring you to buy completely new cranks, only the outer chainring is new. What this means is that older Compass-made René Herse cranks can be retrofitted. However, the 46-30 ring should be used with a 30-tooth inner ring, otherwise, the chain path doesn’t work properly. The small chainrings remain unchanged, because they don’t do anything during shifts, except release the chain upward. Because only the outer ring is new, this also means that our 46-30 tandem cranks (below) are 11-speed-compatible, too.


The production chainrings have just arrived, so we don’t have photos yet, but rest assured that they match the beautiful finish of our other chainrings. (The photo of the ramped-and-pinned rings show unpolished prototypes.) In the future, we also plan to offer other popular chainring combinations with 11-speed compatibility.

Click here to order 11-speed cranksets or chainrings.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
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38 Responses to Compass 11-speed Chainrings

  1. Max Sievers says:

    Wow! Long awaited. My next bike will be equipped with those — of course. Thanks a lot to all involved.

  2. jon h says:

    brilliant! if i could ask, is 48,32 on the compass clipboard?

  3. ORiordan says:

    This looks like a really interesting product. I’ve wondered why Shimano didn’t come up with “super compact” gearing for their latest Ultegra 8000 crankset as I’d have thought this would be in demand with the growth of “gravel” bikes.

    A couple of questions:
    – you mentioned you looked at “other” chainrings as well as the big 3. Do you mind saying which ones although I understand if you’d prefer not to!
    – what cassette combinations did you test with? Did you look at some of the wider range cassettes being produced now, like the Ultegra 8000 11-32T and any observations about how different cassettes worked with the new Compass chainrings?

    • 1. I’d rather not list names, but it’s obvious that most smaller makers haven’t spent a huge amount of engineering on their chainrings. If the big rings don’t list for which small rings they are designed, you can assume that the ramps and pins are mostly cosmetic…

      2. These days, the cassettes aren’t a limiting factor any longer. All cassettes seems to work well with all chains. Apart from that the front of the drivetrain doesn’t interact with the rear, so you can mix-and-match as you want. However, modern chainrings are very sensitive to the chain. We tested our rings with Campy chains, and they shift OK, but with the Shimano chain, they work far better. In summary, you can use the new 11-speed René Herse rings with any quality cassette, as long as you use the Shimano Ultegra chain. (Dura-Ace probably works, too, but we haven’t tested it.) On my Firefly, the Ultegra chain shifts perfectly with a Campagnolo Chorus cassette…

      • mattotoole says:

        Interesting about chains. I’m still running 9sp Ultegra with a triple. While I’ve found that all brands work fine, KMC have been the best for smooth shifts and quietness. Same with my mountain bikes, with 8 and 9 speed triples. It doesn’t hurt that KMC are also the cheapest.

        But as you noted, I’m sure 11sp is more finicky. As always, thanks for your analysis and explanation.

      • 11-speed really is way more finicky…

      • Conrad says:

        But to clarify: 11 speed chain must be used on 11 speed cassette, correct? And your Campy Chorus cassette is 11 speed?

      • You can use these rings with a 10-speed drivetrain and 10-speed Ultegra chain, too. Yes, my Campy Chorus is 11-speed. We haven’t tried every possible permutation, but generally, Ultegra chains and our new rings are a great match.

  4. Are you also working on a 1x (narrow-wide tooth) ring?

    • Frank Toman says:

      That’s my question as well! Best, Frank.

      • We’ve been thinking about a thick-thin ring for the same application. I have been running a 1x combination on my cyclocross bike since the 1990s, but with an old-style set of guard rings that I made by cutting off the teeth off larger chainrings. Advantages in ‘cross are that the chain doesn’t come off even if you fall, and if it did, you don’t have to line up the teeth with the chain to make sure the thicker teeth go into the outer links.
        Alan cyclocross bike

  5. Bryan Willman says:

    Marvelous. Ironically, you introduce these just as I have dropped enough weight to no longer desperately need them! Campy ought to pay you for fixing their lineup…

  6. Dr J says:

    Awesome! Now the next step would be to move to outboard cups BSA bottom bracket and integrated spindle.

    But on another note – you mentioned that only the outer chainring is new. Does it mean someone using “old” 30T ring with “new” 46T ring would end up with two chainrings of different teeth width? Does the new 11-speed ring have narrower teeth profile to match 11-speed chains or is it the same as older, 10-speed rings? If teeth profiles are the same – what makes the new rings 11-speed compatible?

    • An integrated spindle requires a larger crank, so it doesn’t work with the René Herse cranks. It’s ideal for carbon cranks, which have to be bigger due to the lower strength of carbon, but an aluminum crank with integrated spindle will be heavier and/or weaker than one with a square-taper BB. (Except if you make it hollow.)

      As to the tooth width, the big ring always has should have slightly narrower teeth, because the chain runs at an angle across it during shifts. This isn’t the case with the small ring. An 11-speed chain runs fine on 10-speed rings – until you shift! (And even then, it usually runs fine. Many riders have used 10-speed rings from various makers, including ours, with 11-speed drivetrains.)

      • Dr J says:

        I understand. Moving to integrated spindle and outboard cups would be a dramatic redesign for sure. But I think you’re wrong about weight. Herse cranks are very lightweight but SKF bottom brackets are very heavy. With integrated spindle you would have to add some weight to aluminum cranks but you would also save 200g on a very light bottom bracket. Overall, the complete weight for both systems would likely be very close, but I’m pretty sure that integrated spindle crankset won’t be heavier (based on weight of cranks on my bike and data from your website).

      • I can see the appeal of a René Herse carbon crank, with the small BCD and three-bolt attachment that gives so many chainring choices. Making a more beefy aluminum crank is less appealing – creating room to insert an oversized spindle would make the crank a lot heavier. I doubt there would be 200g savings on the bottom bracket, because even the (admittedly heavy) SKF weighs just 291 g. Even if we can match the weight of the current system, the question would be: What for? A system has to be a lot lighter to make up for the much smaller bearings that need replacing annually, and the lack of flexibility when it comes to fitting cranks to bikes with wider chainstays.

        The integrated spindle may turn out to be a dead-end anyhow. As tires get wider, the clearance between crankarms and chainstays is becoming a bigger issue. Right now, ‘road’ cranks from the major manufacturers don’t fit on many allroad and gravel bikes. Mountain cranks work, but their tread (Q factor) is too wide for efficient pedaling – at least for many riders. Being able to dial in the crank position by carefully selecting the BB spindle length is a big plus on these bikes.

        For example, ‘road’ cranks don’t fit on my Firefly, but a René Herse crank works great with a 116 mm BB. The tread is 6 mm wider than usual, but at 148 mm, it’s actually the same as most modern ‘road’ cranks. The chainline moves 3 mm outward, but that matches the rear, since the bike uses 135 mm rear spacing. The narrower cranks not only improve pedaling efficiency, but also shifting performance. Fine-tuning the crank position is easy with square-taper BBs, but very hard with integrated BBs.

        Ideally, the big makers would offer each crank with different spindle lengths, but good luck with that! Imagine the permutations: Different chainring combos, different lengths, and now different spindles. So what we’ll see instead is probably a further increase in tread (Q factor)… unless the pro racers balk at this, in which case the big makers probably would introduce dedicated ‘gravel’ cranks. But once again, you’ll get a ‘one-size-fits-all’ design, rather than being able to fine-tune things.

  7. Bryan Willman says:

    Yes, yet all of the cassettes I’ve bought in the last couple months are 11- something. Why? Some of them for a 1x drivetrain where they make a little more sense, but the “low range” ultegra setup is 34/50 x 11-32. Because 50×11 is something most people need every day???? (Yet somehow few complain about 42×11 as a high gear on a 1x…)
    That said, 30-46 x 11-32 should work great, even if a 13-32 would make more sense…

    • Grego says:

      Yes, I want tall gearing every day. It’s hilly here, and on my road bike I need a low gear like 36-34 to grind up the steeps; then I want to zoom downhill pedaling something like a 52-11. The FC-5800 mid-compact (52/36) crankset and an 11/34 cassette give me the gear extremes that I need. Before that I was using a triple crankset to get the range, because with the 50/34 cranksets, my legs spin out at way at too slow a speed.

      • These days, many of us have found that tucking and reducing our air resistance by 30% or more is much faster than pedaling downhill, hence there is less need for ultra-large gears. Of course, if you enjoy pedaling on the downhills, rather than try to go faster, then you’ll need larger gears. The down side, for me, is that the 52 is too large to use on the flats, while the 36 is too small. So I constantly shift on the front, which really breaks my rhythm.

      • ptt says:

        Jan, have you found a good way to “tuck” when riding in traffic? I live in a very hilly city, and need to pedal downhill to keep a decent speed when sharing the road with cars. The aero tuck takes my hands away from the brake levers. That doesn’t feel safe.

      • Good point – of course, I don’t use the aero tuck in traffic. Seattle’s speed limit on big streets is 35 mph (56 km/h), which corresponds to a 46-12 gear on my bike. But realistically, I only reach that speed when going down steep hills, where pedaling makes little difference. There, I am more concerned with braking, especially when I am riding a test bike with sub-optimal brakes… But I understand that many riders are stronger and/or use lower cadences, so we do offer bigger chainrings for our cranks – all the way to a 52. As we expand our offerings in 11-speed chainrings, we’ll look at the combinations that are popular, and offer those in 11-speed.

    • Gert says:

      48 – 13 as high gear is maybe appart from some downhill stretches more than enough for me. But 13 as start is uncommon. But Miche and TA Podium cassettes offer a much greater variety and cogs are available separately so you do not have change a cassette every time the middle cogs are worn. So for a new 13-29 cassette. I have ordered extra 15 16 17 18 19 21 cogs.

  8. Rick Thompson says:

    How much difference would the ramp and pin make for 9 speed shifting? (Since I just received the non-ramp Herse crankset and have not installed it yet).

    • It won’t make a huge difference, if you use good technique when shifting. For example, we’ve found that 10-speed Di2 works great with our ‘standard’ René Herse cranks, because the motorized derailleur shifts with conviction, all the way. Bad shifts mostly happen when you don’t push the derailleur all the way, and the chain scrapes along the big ring without ‘catching.’ This can happen with STI, since the huge swing of the lever is an unnatural motion for your wrist.

      • Rick Thompson says:

        Thank you. I will stick with the non-ramp, so I can keep the 26-44 x 11-34. That’s plenty of top speed for me, and a walking speed low for loaded tours in the hills.

  9. Conrad says:

    Maybe we should be talking about what an optimized drivetrain looks like. I still dont see the point of anything over 8 cogs in the back. Above that, the chain gets skinnier, more fragile, more expensive, and less durable. 8 cogs can cover the range that anybody needs. If you can’t find the gear you need on an 8 speed cassette, you are not going to find it on an 11 speed cassette. The wider that cassette gets, the worse your chainline is. What is the point, other than the old stuff being deemed obsolete by the big 3 so that you have to pay 100 dollars instead of 10 dollars for a chain? Dont even get me started on the 1X11. There is so much cross chaining in the smallest and largest cogs that it translates to measureable and significant friction losses in the drivetrain. Several top cyclocross pros dont use them for that reason. So far, the primary goal of the products offered by Compass is optimized performance, and you have bucked major industry trends in doing so. So I have to ask, why 11 speed? Is it because it truly works better, or because sensible drivetrain parts are obsolete at this point?

    • I understand where you are coming from. I have ridden Paris-Brest-Paris three times with 5-speed rears – once on a tandem – and also the Raid Pyrénéen twice, and never felt lacking for gears. That said, for steep gravel roads, I do need smaller gears.

      However, the bike industry has moved on. Unless we offer a complete 8-speed drivetrain, our parts need to work with current components. The more you ride, the less feasible it is to run NOS parts that are difficult to replace when they wear out. Our goal is to offer parts for bikes that are up-to-date in every way. That is why we also offer handlebars with 31.8 mm clamps.

      Chainlines have got worse not because of 11-speed, but because today’s cranks have moved further outward, and front and rear chainlines no longer match. For decades, the ‘road’ chainline was universally at 43.5 mm from the centerline of the bike. But when I measured a SRAM 1×11, the middle cog on the rear was 42.5 mm from the center, while the front chainring was 46 mm. The issue isn’t so much friction losses (Frank Berto tried to measure that and concluded it was negligible), but wear and shifting performance. Replacing the White Industries crank on my Firefly with a narrower René Herse that matches the rear chainline has improved the shifting a lot…

      • Jacob Musha says:

        “Unless we offer a complete 8-speed drivetrain…”

        Sounds like Compass’s next project! I’ll be first in line, as all my bikes are 7 or 8 speed.

        Chains are still readily available and cassettes are easy (though only the low-end, heavier ones these days.) Plenty of shifters are out there and rear derailers are easy since Shimano RDs are compatible up to 10-speed. The only struggle is finding good front derailers, since the cages on new FDs are too narrow for the wider 8-speed chain. The choices are hunting down old parts or getting something new that’s at the very bottom of the food chain.

      • marmottz27 says:

        Industry moving on that’s the problem. Getting 10 speed cassettes in certain cog combinations is starting to get difficult. Try finding a not fiendishly expensive square taper bottom bracket in ISO standard if you need a certain length. Etc…

    • Steve Palincsar says:

      Certainly 8 can cover the range (so could 5, for that matter) but the steps between gears have to be larger than would be the case if there were more gears to cover that range. 8 and 9 speed cassettes are the same width, and as far as I’ve been able to tell over tens of thousands of miles there’s no wear difference between them.

      • Conrad says:

        I feel like my 9 speed stuff wears out faster than the 8 speed stuff. Regardless, 10 and 11 speed is wider, creating a more asymmetric and weak rear wheel for gears you don’t need. I think the optimum number of cogs is between 6 and 8.

    • Conrad says:

      Jacob, my thoughts exactly. The front d. is the hardest to track down. There are a lot of old 10 speeds with the suntour cyclone group. That front derailleur is the best shifting I have ever used, gorgeous, and (not that it matters) lighter than a modern Campy derailleur. And it wasn’t even Suntours top of the line offering.

      • Tony says:

        +1 for an 8-9-10 mini group of hub, derailleurs, and cassettes. I mean, I’ll bet you never thought you’d be selling so many tires or cranksets, or sourcing and importing custom tubing. Dream big!

    • Francisco says:

      Of the alleged disadvantages of 11-speed chains only the high price is uncontroversial. A look at the specifications will show that 11-speed chains are actually stronger that 8 or 9 speed chainsm probably due to improved metallurgy. Regarding wear, I change my Campy 11s chains at twelve thousand kilometers but could keep them longer if the criterion was elongation.
      Regarding 1-by systems I have tried it on one of my bikes and swithced back. The reason was not too much cross~chaining. With properly chosen ratios you spend most of the time in the middle of the cassette of a 1-by system. Poorly selected 2-by gearing on the other hand induces chronic cross-chaining (plus too frequent gear changes on the front).

  10. ed b says:

    This is a very good decision to follow the ramps/pins of the big three. I recently went back to my Dura Ace 9000 rings and have not missed a shift. Not a one in thousands and thousands of miles. On PBP 2015 I used Rotor QXL rings 53/39 11 speed. I rarely ever had used the small ring but on the way back from Brest, I got tired a bit some hills demanded the small ring that on the way to Brest seemed less steep. LOL. I had to shift down many times and sometimes the chain would go between the two rings and it was very, very hard to get the chain out. Othertimes, it was jammed into the frame. The benefit was primarily to raise my temperature in 40F Tintineac night and thus, no complaints on my part. When I asked where the toilets were, they always escorted me. Pity must have been a factor. So, I think you made a great decision. Clean hands. Besides they are pretty.

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