I'm writing this after owning, and then breaking, three Surly Mr. Whirly spiders, none of which lasted longer than about 2 months. Right now there's sweet FA out there on the internet on the Surly Mr. Whirly crank in terms of failures, so it will be interesting to see if anyone else has the same experience as me. Apparently Surly do take the feedback from MTBR and similar forums, so hopefully this will result in improvements to future versions.
TL;DR: If you pedal hard, pedal lots and/or are not obsessive-compulsive over your bike maintenance, strongly reconsider buying this crank and instead go for something else until Surly change the design.
My Surly Mr. Whirly misadventure:
If you look online for "Surly Ogre Rohloff" builds, one that comes up pretty quickly is the Monkey Lab build. It's a very nice setup, and everything looks right including chain line, which was my reason for going with a Mr. Whirly crank - especially when you're looking for the very, very short list of BCD 110mm 5 bolt cranks with a 54mm chainline and a Hollowtech II bottom bracket (BCD 110mm was desired as I wanted to run a Surly chainring, with something larger than a 36T - the largest size available in a 4 bolt pattern Surly Chainring). As far as I know, that list is very short: it's only 1 item long, and the only crank is the Mr. Whirly crank. I'm all ears if someone else has a suggestion to make.
The instructions for Mr. Whirly are pretty comprehensive. Since I didn't know any of the torque specifications or how to set it up for a SS setup with a 54mm chainline with this specific crank, I took a look at the instructions. For the first install, I made sure I used my torque wrench, and set it as close to the specified torque settings as I could for my particular wrench, as per the instructions. As a disclaimer, the torque wrench is a Craftsman torque wrench, and is 2 years old and hasn't been calibrated in that time, however it is stored properly and does not see much use, so it should be approximately correct - I have used this on my motorcycle with great success and nothing has fallen off. After setting everything up, I took off, enjoyed the bike, rode it for a bit. Everything was pretty good and I was stoked to have what I thought was another solidly engineered Surly product.
A long time ago I had some chainring issues, so I'm very OCD about checking all bolts related to the chainring - especially so after a new install - and this quickly made it on to the weekly inspection list. After 3 weeks of use, I noticed some unexpected deformation, and about 2 days later the spider broke on the way to work about a mile from my destination and warped the chainring enough that I could no longer pedal the bike, resulting in me being late to work. This was also a few days before a charity event I was doing that weekend on that bike, a 7500 ft elevation gain 100 mile ride. Some pictures of that failure are below.
Looks kinda like a biopace chainring, only less awesome. You can see that once the spider deforms and breaks there's nothing holding it in position. This quickly causes the chainring to warp. Chainrings are very strong when the forces are in the same plane as the chainring - the instant the force is to either side, the chainring will warp and bend. Unfortunately, spindles do bend very slightly when force is exerted on them, and that is what consistently happened for me - the chainring would warp, bend, then throw the chain, and the bike would be unridable, unless some creativity with a set of pliers was used to temporarily keep going (and Surly chainrings are ~2.2 mm wide steel; they're pretty strong stuff).
I ordered a replacement spider and chainring immediately with a rush on the delivery, accepted delivery Friday night, installed it, and did the event Saturday morning. Initially I thought I might have done something weird on the install, so I had a chat with Surly and sent them some photos, and their initial impression was that I didn't do anything wrong with the install (more on this later). For the second install, I did everything by hand, then verified it at least met the minimum torque specifications as per the instructions when I did the final inspection on the crank install (thus everything was at least as tight, or tighter than the specifications in the instructions).
This time, it faired a little better. After a few weeks, the spider slowly started to warp again, but this time it was warping the spider and chainring more slowly than before. I placed a non-express order for parts through my local bike shop, and this time had them fit the spider for me, after explaining what had happened before. Their installation process was no different to mine other than they applied more torque than I did to the bolts. After this I started inspecting the bolts with greater frequency (twice a week, Sundays and Wednesday nights). I've been riding around 300 mi a week on this bike, so this is every 150 mi or so.
Everything was going well until Friday. I was entering a roundabout; a car came from the left side & failed to yield right of way, and I cranked hard to get out of the way. I heard a loud *CRACK* noise, and pulled over immediately to see that the spider had failed once again, cracking at one of the mount points. I was about 8 miles from home without any SAG, so I limped home soft pedaling in 4th gear on the flattest route I could think of, and didn't deform the spider or chainring any more than I had to.
Here's some photos of the latest failure:
Despite my best efforts to love, cherish and take care of something that is marketed as, "Tour with it" on the Surly website, I've done everything right, taken all necessary precautions, and found that it doesn't live up to the marketing material. There are only a handful of failures I can think of more debilitating than a crank failure, and while I'm pretty creative with fixing mechanical issues on the road long enough to get home, this is one that has left me walking every time. It's not cheap either - every time the spider failed it warped the chainring as well, which meant I had to cough up the $63 for the spider, and the $40 for the chain for the MSRP prices.
That other other thing - the warranty process:
I mentioned "more on that later", and that was referring to the warranty process. Surly did warranty a chainring and a spider, which I thought was pretty cool. I was willing to eat the cost of one of the failures to date and accept that I, the rider and occasional mechanic, could have done something wrong because JRA failures on Surly products just don't happen all that often, and user error is far more probable.
This post is long enough, so I'll spare you the miniscule details, but here's what you should know about Surly if you ever, EVER have to do a warranty deal with them:
1) Order replacement parts through your LBS. Whatever you do, do NOT order it through someone that's not your LBS.
2) Surly will credit your LBS's account directly by sending them a check for the wholesale price. This is the equivalent of what your LBS would be spending if they were to buy the part for you.
3) Keep an eye on the entire returns process. If you didn't pay attention to my warning in #1, this will probably not go smoothly. This is my second return to Surly (the first being a Steamroller frame which cracked along a weld), and of my small sample size of 2 returns, neither has gone smoothly nor quickly.
In this case, I first contacted customer service Feb 20, and the entire process was closed April 26; it wasn't the simplest of refunds since it involved an exchange of goods of equivalent value, but it wasn't exactly the most difficult either, and I got the general impression that they'd just forgotten about me in the day-to-day operations. Whether that's true or not, who knows, only Surly themselves can answer that question, but that's the perception I had. The irony was not lost to me that right around the time I was going through all of this, Surly had just posted their Customer Service (and Customer Service, again) blog posts - because it sure felt more like #1 than #2.
The final word:
As for what I'm going to do now about this crank, I don't know. I guess it could hold paper down, or I could figure out some way to turn it in to a bottle opener. Maybe turn it in to nunchucks. I've given up on the Mr. Whirly as a crank, and have lost all faith in it. I am replacing it with a Shimano XT FC-M780 crank, which should be pretty close to a 54mm chainline but with a 4 bolt BCD, and will have to use the 36T chain ring... or switch away from Surly Chainrings too.
There is one upside to all of this. I received a Surly wool jersey as the "refund" for the crank, and it is some top notch sh*t. If you're looking for a sweet wool jersey but don't want to sell your first born to Rapha, the Surly ones are pretty nice.
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