I’m often skeptical, if not resistant, to radically-different technology. Oval chainrings seemed like a fringe product until I noticed more and more riders that I admire using them. So, when Absolute Black asked us to test one of their new products, I jumped at the chance to try one–if anything to prove to myself that oval rings are not for me. Still, I approached this chainring with an open mind, and secretly hoped I would discover a breakthrough in drivetrain tech. Is the oval everything Absolute Black claims it to be?
Why use an oval chainring?
According to Absolute Black, oval rings work better than standard circular chain rings because riders do not consistently produce even power through every pedal stroke, stating that their oval rings “maximize the part of the stroke where power is produced and minimize resistance where it isn’t.” They set out to design a ring that would capitalize on wasted power and create a smoother power stroke with more torque. Absolute Black advertises that their oval ring therefore produces more traction, and that the smoother transition generates less stress on knee and ankle joints, allowing riders to maintain a certain power effort longer without injury or pain. They also claim that this results in a faster overall average speed.
They back this up with 11 studies (which I did not investigate) from various universities globally that suggest that oval rings “utilize more muscle groups (compared to a round one), but each of them to a less degree.” The question is, will normal riders such as you and I benefit from any of that?
The Deets (from Absolute Black):
- Finest design to provide excellent weight to strength ratio
- One of a kind special oval shape (Patent Pending)
- Unique Patent Pending narrow-wide teeth profiles to keep your chain in place for minimum 12 months!
- They save weight because they don’t need the spider and chainring bolts.
- The ability of installation of a smaller ring sizes that can’t be mounted on regular spider.
- Superb quality and great look.
- You will ride faster using ovals. If you keep using round ring then others will get quicker.
- You will not “feel” the oval shape at all
- Reduces stress on knees
Installing the oval chainring was incredibly simple, particularly if you reference their online videos and installation guide. You have to be sure to order the correct chainring for the type of crank that you have, and I elected to try the GXP-style ring to replace the spider and ring on my SRAM XX1 drivetrain.
You start by removing the crankarm using the correct allen key (typically 8-10mm). This can be sticky if you have not removed it in a while (or ever), but gentle traction should loosen the arms and allow you to remove them fairly easily. You will need to unscrew the 3 torx t-25 bolts from the rear side of the spider, then remove the spider+chainring as one unit. Make sure you make note of how everything will fit back together when you reinstall the arms.
Clean the ring, splines, and arms, and grease them accordingly before positioning the oval chainring on the drive-side crankarm. The oval chainring only fits one way onto the crank– which makes it very easy to install. Next, screw in the three torx bolts using 5-7Nm of torque (i.e. a good snug). Reinstall the crankarms in the manner your removed them, and you are ready to go!
Absolute Black makes an oval ring for almost every conceivable modern crank, so installation will vary based on the type of cranks you have. The oval ring obviously is designed as a single ring 1x setup for a 9/10/11 drivetrain, but it will also work with singlespeeds drivetrains.
I was sent this product in winter and elected to test it on my Salsa Bucksaw fat bike in the front range of Colorado, full of steep climbs made even harder by traction-robbing snow. I also figured that trying this product on a 30lb fat bike with much heavier wheels (and thus heavier rotational mass) would help me appreciate any nuances between an elliptical and round ring. Absolute Black sent me a 28T chainring (what I normally use), and to be honest, I was actually hoping for a 26T to muscle up some of the impossible climbs that slippery snow creates on my local ascents. The 28T proved to be more than adequate, however.
As I mentioned, not long before I was offered to test this chainring, I recall a few conversations with friends who had tried these, or had friends of friends who loved their oval chainrings. In fact, one of my closest riding buddies who lives and races enduro in Albuquerque swears by them–which for some reason shocked me because I never associated these with the enduro crowd. It was because of these personal references that I elected to give this product a try.
I fully expected this thing to feel weird, foreign, and strange for the first few rides. I thought I’d actually kind of hate it until I got used to it, then have a difficult time going back to a regular round chainring. The truth is, it felt very natural from the first few pedal strokes. Something did feel different, but that feeling disappeared after 1-2 minutes of riding, and I never felt it again, even after switching to other chainrings.
Absolute Black claims that this product will give riders more traction. I am honestly not sure if it does after testing, but I do know that the places that I tested it (mud, snow, ice, slush, and packed powder) were the most difficult conditions any bike could be ridden in, and this chainring never failed me.
The manufacturer also claims that the elliptical shape may reduce knee pain. I was really skeptical of this for many reasons, and in fact felt a little bit more knee pain after the second ride using it. However, after that first ride, I had no problems whatsoever, and in fact did notice knee pain when I went back to a conventional round chainring. This is all subjective, of course, but one thing was really clear: that going from a 28T elliptical ring to a 30T round ring was immensely more difficult than going from a 28T round ring to a 30T round ring, leading me to believe that a 28T elliptical ring is in fact easier to pedal than a 28T round ring.
On my final test, after riding round rings for about a month, I tried the Absolute Black oval ring on a long 4-hour slog, and the stroke absolutely felt smoother and easier than I expected.
This oval chainring is as good, if not better, than any round chainring of any size that I have ever tried, and for that reason alone, I would recommend it to anyone–especially if you are prone to knee injury. I do feel that the stroke is smoother, and from what I could tell, I was a little faster on climbs, though too many things factor into this to attribute it to the chainring alone. It may not be a huge game-changer, but Absolute Black is definitely on to something.
If you are considering a new chainring, I would strongly recommend that you give this one a try. Absolute Black also stands behind their product and offers a 30-day trial period for their oval rings.
money back guarantee, which is nice If you personally don’t like the way it feels, you can exchange it for one of their round rings. They also warranty the rings for the normal life of the product against manufacturer defects. You can order them online and in certain retail stores.
You can find out more about the Absolute Black Oval Chainring here.
Thanks to Absolute Black for sending the chainring over for review!
Last updated at 10:34am, 03/10/2016.