I am going to take a little different approach on this article on the AbsoluteBlack oval chainrings. There are hundreds of articles and videos online that talk about the gains of an oval chainring. They make claims or arguments about how the peddling efficiency in +/- or that Wattage is improved. There are scientific explanations behind the design of oval chainrings. Enough information out there to make anyone question if an oval chainring is worth the cost of replacing an existing chainring. I’ve heard on the trail people swear by them and others accuse them of not adding any value for the investment.
I wanted to try an oval chainring for the one main purpose, to smooth out my pedals stroke. I’ve been suffering from all sorts of knee pain coming from many different locations around my left knee. This usually occurred when really mashing or pedaling hard on the pedals. After an MRI I was diagnosed with IT Band syndrome and patella tracking problems. These diagnoses usually point to outer knee pain along with front knee cap pain. However I was getting pain in all sorts of places. After seeing cycling specialist Massimo Testa it was decided the best thing I could do was to increase my cadence and focus on keeping my pedaling smooth.
An oval chainring from AbsoluteBlack was going to be my savior. I installed the chainring on my Pivot Firebird. It’s a direct mount with 3mm offset on the chainring to compensate for the boost spacing. I’m also running the SRAM eagle 1×12.
After the chainring was installed, I went for a quick peddal up the street, and initially was bouncing all over the place. I felt the difference especially in a higher cadence. It took just a couple minutes of pedaling around on the street to adjust to the different feeling. While my initial introduction to an oval chainring was pretty dramatic, after my first ride on dirt, I’d almost forgotten that I’d installed it and peddled as usual.
I started paying more attention to steady climbs and quick burst that would leave me in tears in the past. They did feel smoother, it almost felt like I’d dropped a tooth off the size, climbs were not as harsh as they were before. This is when I began to be sold on the idea of an oval chainring. The grinding and mashing all the sudden didn’t seem so harsh on my legs and knees. It also felt like it took the tension out of the chain on the bigger climbs.
The AbsoluteBlack chainring uses a narrow wide tooth profile, so far I have yet to drop a chain with the system, and I am riding a 170mm bike who likes to get rowdy! However, AbsoluteBlack does offer a few chain guides that offer a little insurance if you were racing, I would defiantly add one. The weight is nominal and devastation of dropping a chain during a race just isn’t worth it.
As I mentioned above I’m running SRAM Eagle on my current bike. With all the design work and adjustments that went into making the 1X12 cassette and chain work together I was a little worried there may be some issues. I’ve found that the AbsoluteBlack chainring performed pretty much the same as the SRAM X-SYNC chainring. Once I had about a hundred miles on the chainring I noticed it gets a little noisy if you ride it dirty. Cleaning the drive train keeps everything nice and quiet.
For about the same cost of a replacement good quality chainring the AbsoluteBlack oval chainring would be highly recommended as a replacement, or as a second chainring if you are looking to go up/down tooth size on to adjust you’re riding style/location. For someone that just bought a brand new bike, it might be a hard sell to go spend the additional money just to try a new chainring. If you need a larger or smaller chainring defiantly go for it. Do what you can to try a friends bike that has an oval chainring already installed. The difference might not be as dramatic as you might think, but it’s undeniably there.
I was really hoping that the oval chainring would smooth out the pedal stroke and help the knee pain I’ve been experiencing. I feel like it did exactly what I was hoping for. While it may not be as striking of an experience as you may expect or think. I really wanted to offer a subjective realistic point of view that other articles about oval chainrings often overlook. Most people I talk to who ride them love them. I know on my next bike, it will be the first upgrade I make, but it might wait until I need to replace a a worn chainring, or going up or down a size.