Review: Absolute Black Oval Chainring

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The Absolute Black Oval chainring is a narrow-wide ring that can be easily installed on most 1X drivetrains and features an oval shape that’s said to smooth pedal strokes and improve leg comfort on the bike. Does the Absolute Black design deliver? Read on.

Oval Chainrings

Oval chainrings have actually been around a LONG time, though clearly they haven’t seen widespread adoption. Some Tour de France riders have used oval rings in the recent past, though research has shown there’s little to no increase in power or decrease in exertion levels when using an oval chainring.

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However, many riders report that oval chainrings feel more natural than round ones, resulting in fewer injuries and improved comfort. But oval chainrings present a number of mechanical challenges, including front derailleur compatibility and a supposed increase in the potential for dropped chains. With the rise of 1X drivetrains and the advent of narrow-wide tooth configurations, Absolute Black is able to resolve these issues, opening the potential market for oval chainrings for those who might benefit.

Each manufacturer has their own shape and “ovality” baked into their design, and Absolute Black has settled on 11% ovality. With this design, the company claims the 32T ring rides like 34T in the rider’s peak power zone and 30T in the pedal stroke dead spot. Honestly I find this difficult to quantify, but it may be helpful for some who are considering this chainring.

Absolute Black Oval 104BCD

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The Absolute Black Oval 104BCD is designed to mount to a 104BCD crank arm which is a pretty common size, especially among singlespeed setups. Absolute Black also offers a SRAM GXP Oval model which can be used to convert many SRAM 2×10 cranks to 1X.

I swapped out my round, 32-tooth Stylo chainring on a 1×9 drivetrain for a 34-tooth Absolute Black Oval. Note: Absolute Black recommends ordering the same size chainring you’re currently running, and that’s good advice. I was already considering moving up to a 34-tooth chainring anyway, so I decided this would be a good opportunity to make the jump.

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Installing the chainring will typically involve removing your crank and the four bolts that hold the ring in place. I was running a chain retention device with my old ring so I removed that too, then swapped out the ring. The whole process took five minutes.

When moving from a round chainring to the Absolute Black Oval, the company recommends adding two links to your current chain length to account for the elongated portion of the chainring.

On the Trail

Riding with an oval chainring feels odd at first, especially if you’re an experienced cyclist used to turning decent circles. Again, there’s no change in the power you’re able to generate, only the way you’re generating the power through your stroke. Halfway through my first ride I didn’t notice any difference when I was really hammering. The only time the oval ring felt odd after my initial ride was when starting from a stop or starting to pedal after coasting a bit. Depending on the orientation of the ring when I started pedaling, it either felt harder or easier than I was expecting.

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The Absolute Black Oval chainring features a narrow-wide design that’s meant to improve chain retention dramatically over a standard design. After several rides I can confirm this is absolutely true! Not a single dropped chain and no need to run a chain retention device.

One concern I had was with chainring clearance over logs. In full attack position with the cranks at 3 and 9 o’clock, it turns out the crank isn’t at it’s longest or shortest orientation, leaving it in roughly the same position as a round crank of similar tooth count. My own testing confirms that chainring clearance is not an issue.

I really dig the green anodized finish on my test ring since it matches the graphics on my bike. So far the finish is holding up well, except on the very tips of the chainring teeth where wear is unavoidable. The company offers a black version as well.

Of course oval chainrings aren’t for everyone and Absolute Black produces a number of round options too, including singlespeed cogs and bashrings.

Bottom Line

Will the Absolute Black Oval chainring make you faster on the bike? Probably not. But for many riders, it’s a more comfortable way to crank and in many cases offers the psychological boost some of us need. The Absolute Black Oval 104BCD pairs a thoughtful design with immaculate execution and is a great upgrade for anyone running a 1X drivetrain and looking to put a unique spin on things.

32T: $66 online, 41g. 34T: $57 online, 44g.

Thanks to Absolute Black for providing the Oval chainring for review.

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