Oval chainrings are not new but certainly haven’t caught on in the way that they originally were expected too. Partially due to the lack of sponsorship in the pro peloton, they are a little more prevalent in the amateur world of cycling but this is still fairly limited.
Despite this, both Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome have successfully won all of their Tour de France’s using Osymetric oval rings. Granted they may have been paid a lot to use them, I am still convinced that if they did not believe that they worked they would not use them. So what exactly are oval chainrings and should you bother using them?
Oval chainrings are as the name suggests, they are oval shaped chainrings. Unlike normal chainrings which are round, oval rings are meant to provide a smoother and more effective pedal stroke. Due to their shape, they remove the dead spot in the pedal stroke (6 o’clock position) and mean that you can generate more power as you are in the downward phase of the stroke for longer.
Oval chainrings are a niche item of cycling and as such are made by specific manufacturers. The main one I am going to focus on is absoluteBLACK and their oval chainrings.
For a number of years I have been using oval chainrings on my bikes, and in particular the absoluteBLACK offerings for Shimano cranksets. What I like about absoluteBLACK chainrings is that they provide a more natural oval shape than the more extreme versions such as Osymetric or Rotor QXL. Due to their shape, it allows for much smoother front derailleur shifts which is often the significant flaw of oval rings.
For the 2020 season I have been using the Premium Oval Road chainrings for my Ultegra R8000 crank arms. This has been in a 53/39 configuration and has provided a really good balance of a sufficient gear for fast stretches of road, but also a small enough gear for the hills.
The inner chainrings are more oval in its shape due to the smaller circumference and because of this, the ovality is much more noticeable when pedalling. This increase in ovaility makes for a much smoother pedalling stroke, and I really enjoy how quickly it feels that you can begin the downstroke again.
I appreciate that the smoothness of a pedal stroke is very subjective, but it is something that I really notice and something that I find really useful when cycling. The point on subjectivity is a very prevalent point with oval rings as the benefits can only really be felt rather than seen in any clear increase in watts. I do believe I am significantly more effective when using oval rings and I think this is key for me racing longer distance triathlons.
I have used the absoluteBLACK oval chainrings with both Sram eTap and Shimano R8000 front derailleurs. With both of this configurations I have not had any issue with my chain slipping and front shifting has been just as smooth as round rings.
It is always an easy decision for me to use oval rings, and in particular absoluteBLACK rings. I believe in them and I think that they work really well.
DISCLAIMER: Samuel Wyatt-Haines is an absoluteBLACK sponsored athlete. He has previously purchased absoluteBLACK chainrings prior to endorsement, and so although these views can be seen as biased, he has experience as both a consumer and as a sponsored athlete.
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