Is oval better?
It has been a while since my last blog post. I hadn’t cycle for a while since my last accident. I have to admit I had a hard time getting on my bike seeing that the last accident has left me with a permanent injury and the pain I have keeps reminding me of the risks of the sport I love. I really needed an incentive to get back on the bike and enjoy cycling like I did before.
I had seen many ads on Facebook about the Absoluteblack oval rings and decided to treat myself with two oval rings for my winter bike. I deliberately did not do any research into whether these would actually be better than the “normal” rings. My idea was to just try them and write about my experience on my blog. So, don’t expect this to be scientific whatsoever, it’s just me telling you what I think of my purchase.
When my oval rings arrived I went to Niek at Van der Velden wielersport, who fitted my Ridley Fenix SL with the new rings. All under the watchful eye of Tommy, the bike shop bird.
Here are the before and after pictures:
It was time to go out for a bike ride and try the new rings out. I wanted to know a few things:
- Do he oval rings take time to get used to and if so, how much time will it take me?
- Are the rings as silent as the Shimano Ultegra rings?
- Will shifting be as smooth?
- Will I have less pain in my knee with the oval rings?
- And probably the most important question: Will I be faster with the oval rings?
So, let me address every single point before arriving to my conclusion. (If you’d prefer to just read whether I believe the Absoluteblack rings are better, then just click here).
1. Getting used to the oval rings:
The first ride in the flat Dutch landscape was windy as hell, so I started riding a lot in the small ring. Pedaling in this ring felt not really different than turning the small Shimano ring and I comfortably rode for about 30 minutes in a strong head wind. When I finally had the wind in my back I shifted to the big ring and turning this one was clearly not the same as pedaling in the big Ultegra ring. I could clearly notice the oval shape of my pedal stroke, but after only 5 or 10 minutes it started to feel normal. I shifted back to the small ring to see whether when spinning fast I would start to bounce on my saddle (something which I kind of expected to happen), but it was no problem to stay seated.
During the first few bike rides after my first experience with the oval rings I noticed the ovalness of the big ring, but a few minutes in, I forgot about it and it felt completely normal.
Now when I go for a ride, I don’t notice the difference in pedal stroke at all. So in short, it took me a really short time to get used to the oval rings. A positive result! On with the next question.
2. Are the rings as silent as the Shimano Ultegra rings?
I don’t know about you, but I love a quiet bike. Nothing gives me more joy (strike that, I could think of a several things that bring me more joy, but back to the blog post) than riding my bike and to almost hear no sound coming from the bike. I hate annoying ticking or scraping sounds and I’d spend hours to try and find the cause of said sounds and eliminate them. Niek from the bike shop had also fitted a new Shimano chain, so when I went for a ride, I was testing the combination of a brand new chain with brand new rings an let me tell you, it’s as silent as I hoped it would be. All I heard was the soft “zooming” sound of the chain being gripped by the ring’s teeth. What a joy!
3. Is shifting as smooth as with the Shimano rings?
When fitting the oval rings it is important to correctly set the height of your front derailleur. Niek clearly did a good job, because shifting is indeed as smooth as it is with the Shimano rings. I also have not had any chain drop issues.
4. Will I have less pain in my knee with the oval rings?
Many years ago I wrecked my knee thanks to a very poor bike fit. I don’t feel the pain when I wear bib shorts, but I do when wearing bib tights (most likely due to the bib tight material pressing against the knee). I was hoping that the oval rings would eliminate that pain, but alas, no such luck. I guess for real magic rings I need to call Frodo.
5. Am I faster with oval rings?
I guess everybody who’s thinking about buying oval rings wants to know whether oval rings will make you go faster. I was no exception.
I have a power meter, but it’s impossible to measure the exact difference between the different rings. Many things influence power output, like how you feel that day, the wind speed and direction, and so on. Besides this, oval rings can cause your power numbers to be inflated. The more non-round your chain ring is, the greater the impact on the accuracy of the measured power data. I wrote to Absoluteblack and asked them what percentage we’re talking about with their oval rings and according to them, we’re talking about 1%. If that’s the case, then the difference is almost negligible.
I checked my rides on Strava and when comparing rides with the same route, I do see an overall improvement in speed with the oval rings. Especially on long head wind sections. The oval rings feel much more comfortable when riding in strong head winds. With every push, there seems to be an unloading phase, where the pedal stroke feels quite light and lets you “micro rest” a bit. It feels like I can push harder and for a longer period with the oval rings, so this indeed makes me go faster. I’m sure the oval rings have the same (if not a better) effect when riding up hill, so I can’t wait to test the rings in sunny Sicily!
There’s no scientific data that proves without a doubt that oval rings will work for everybody, but as mentioned before, they do for me. Luckily, the costs aren’t that high to try them out yourself (around 170 Euros), so why don’t you?