Just been out for a blast on the 24 with the teeny weeny 89mm cranks.
Top recorded speed according to the computer was 16mph, and my back of the envelope calculation translates that into 224 rpm. I simply can’t believe that, but the other readings are plausible and consistent, so it must be true - if only for a very brief burst.
After half an hour, I had travelled 3.86 miles which is an average of 7.72mph. Not substantially faster than on the old 102s, and the lack of control meant that certain sections were unrideable (slimy mud in particular).
On the last leg of the trip, I had two or three no-obvious-reason UPDs on level tarmac. I’m pretty sure that these would not have happened with the slightly longer 102s. I was aware that on all difficult sections (inclines, declines, slimy bits, road junctions, kerbs) of the ride, I was slowing down more than I would have with longer cranks. Not the fear factor (at 7mph!) but the caution factor. Less leverage means you need more power i reserve.
Of course, with more practice (I’ve probably done 15 miles on the 89s) there will be improvements, but with the same amount of practice, there would be the same amount of improvement on the 102s, and they would always be that bit easier and more torquey.
So, for anyone who’s followed my ramblings over the weeks, my provisional conclusion is that very short cranks may be challenging and jolly good fun for short bursts on the flat, but a law of diminishing returns operates after a certain point. Higher top speed can translate into lower average speed for a journey on mixed surfaces.
For me, 110mm is probably the most practical size for general use, 102mm for fast ‘n’ furious, and 150 for slow but controlled. And surprisingly, these sizes of cranks seem to work similarly across the range from 20 - 28 inch. I’m as happy on the 28 with 110s as on the 20 with 110s.
Perhaps these numbers would vary for other riders, depending on experience and weight, but the principles will presumably remain the same.