The Alpinist Mountain Standards reviews apply Alpinist's tradition of excellence and authenticity to gear reviews by providing unbiased, candid feedback and anecdotal commentary to equipment tested (hard) in the field. Our panel is comprised of climbers who use the gear every day as part of their work and play. Only the gear they would actually buy themselves, at retail price, qualifies for the Alpinist Mountain Standards award. The five-star rating system is as follows:
One Star = Piece of junk.
Two Stars = Has one or more significant flaws, with some redeeming qualities.
Three Stars = Average. This solid piece of gear is middle-of-the-road on the current market.
Four Stars = Better than most comparable gear on the market. It has one or two drawbacks, but still 90% positive.
Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
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Black Diamond Cyborg Crampons: A Beautifully Crafted Hack-Job
Posted on: March 2, 2011
With forearms fully pumped and unable to get secure purchase, I stare down at my gleaming pair of stainless steel Cyborg crampons. Frustrated and tired, I scowl, curse for the umpteenth time and drop the crampons onto the surface of my wooden workbench. I'm not even climbing ice—just in my basement in Denver—and these crampons are already giving me grief. The monopoint modification of my anti-bot plates is a one-time-only chore, but does just changing my frontpoints need to feel this cruxy?
Black Diamond's Cyborg Pro (2lbs, 7.5oz; 1120g)—a premier steep ice and mixed crampon—is now available in a stainless steel incarnation that maintains the essential qualities of earlier models. With a well-publicized web video featuring BD designer Bill Belcourt, the company has made it clear that it considers its lighter, stronger and "greener" model to be a significant upgrade. The new Cyborgs climb ice superbly, but may not live up to all of the marketing hype.
First off, stainless steel is three times more expensive, but no lighter than traditional chromoly steel, which Black Diamond still uses for the Cyborg's frontpoints. Instead of using any lighter or thinner metal to achieve the 2.8-ounce weight reduction from the previous generations of Cyborgs, BD slimmed down the heal levers and shortened the spikes and eliminated the epoxy paint or powder coating on the crampon body's exterior.
Black Diamond claims that the new Cyborgs wear slower, requiring less sharpening than other models. Belcourt credits a microstructure of the steel that "resists abrasive wear much better than the CrMo steels... as a result of the chromium carbide nodules formed with the alloy, deflecting abrasive particles off the surface." Climbers that used these crampons for two seasons did report slower dulling than with past models, but didn't observe the decreased snow-balling that BD credits to a smoother metal exterior.
For monopoint users, the recommended adjustment requires hacksawing the front of your ABS plates (seriously) to facilitate new spacing. While it makes for a memorable way to introduce yourself to the new neighbors ("Do you have a saw I could borrow to cut up my spiky shoes?"), this process—even if you already own the hacksaw—is simply frustrating.
But beyond marketing claims and initial frustrations, I found that the Cyborgs' excellent design is what makes these crampons perform brilliantly in a variety of conditions. On the brittle, dinner-platey smears of windswept Rocky Mountain National Park, the T-profile frontpoints penetrated easily and without shattering the ice. The secondary points are well thought-out, allowing for good traditional support when kicking on steep cascades. Stemming or thin edging with these points is facilitated by their placement well to the outside edge of the frame. The crampons' low-profile design fit my boots (Mammut Mamook GTX) securely and adhered closely to the soles, allowing for precision and sensitivity on slabby mixed terrain or pumpy rock pitches at Vail.
In comparison with other steep ice and mixed spikes like Grivel's G14 and Petzl's M10, the Cyborgs are king. The G14 (with anti-balling plates) are 158g heavier, and feature secondary points that I found more difficult to engage. The Petzl M10, with anti-balling plates, is 75 dollars more expensive and heavier as well. Such comparisons ignore the importance of finding a crampon that fits your preferred boot—something that makes other differences seem trivial.
Even though stainless steel doesn't create the miracle metal upgrade that one might want, Black Diamond's design and construction still make the newest Cyborg one of the best tools available for hard winter climbing.
Pros: perform well in a variety of climbing conditions; lightweight; low-profile design; easy to put on and take off.
Con: difficult to switch to monopoint setup.