First Impressions: absoluteBLACK OVAL chainring
I've never been a super strong climber - definitely more of a grinder than a vert devouring welter weight - so when I had the opportunity to test out an OVAL ring thanks to the legends at absoluteBLACK I jumped at the chance.
Essentially, an OVAL ring is as the name implies - a chainring thats oval in shape as opposed to a perfect circle.
The reason? in simple terms, we aren't biomechanically able to produce constant force all the way through our pedal stroke - particularly if you don't have a smooth pedal stroke. Whilst you can put great force when pushing down on the pedals - ie. the down stroke section of your pedal stroke - you simply cannot when transitioning between down strokes. There is a dead or weak spot in everyones stroke, regardless of how 'perfect' you feel your technique is (unless you're a professional cyclist and have spent hours perfecting your technique) - at least this is the notion brought forth by absoluteBLACK - personally, I feel this makes perfect sense. Majority of riders must then be forced to compensate for their weak spot, and can only run the maximum chain ring size their weak spot allows for.
If you want the technical details behind the claims that absoluteBLACK are making they are summarised rather effectively in the video below
Overall findings showed that the absoluteBLACK OVAL ring [note this is important, as OVAL rings differ between brands - these results are specific to the profile and degree of ovality found on the absoluteBLACK rings - which also differ between models and ring sizes] offered a 9% increase in force effectiveness, up to 7% less oxygen consumption, up to 15% less ventilation (breathing) and up to a 10% reduction in heart rate in comparison to a standard round chainring. This study was performed by Dr. Borut Fonda from the University of Primorska in Slovenia.
Ultimately, I am not qualified to comment on Dr Fonda's findings. I cannot dispute them with confidence, nor can I hand on heart tell you he is not pulling your leg - so I'll summarise from a real, authentic weekend warrior's point of view - ultimately it's then up to you whether or not you buy into the #ovalrevolution - but make sure you hear me out before forming judgement.
Firstly; and to my surprise, pedalling the OVAL ring felt entirely natural. I did not expect this - I whole heartedly expected to feel the awkward shape of the OVAL ring, and I was prepared to go through a familiarisation period with it. Now, pedalling a round ring feel's awkward. I can detect the flat spots in my technique, and the sensations I expected to incur with the oval ring I feel on the round ring. Secondly, and most importantly, whilst I can't tell you this ring will improve your performance drastically or immediately, on my first proper ride on the OVAL I had a great day - one of those days you feel fresh, strong, and climbing does not feel like a chore. Was this a result of the ring? Perhaps - also could have been the good nights rest the night before. However I definitely had a great time towing my friends up the hill for a change as opposed to the opposite.
Whilst I can't promise the claims OVAL make are 100% fact and not marketing talk, I can't ignore the fact that there is something special about this product, and for me it just makes sense. If you're not putting down even force right through your stroke, why should your chainring be built as though you are? That sounds like sore knees to me!
Overall this is great product - asides from its unique shape and function it's built well, looks beautiful, shifts great and is far lighter than the standard chain ring that came on my bike. I'm a convert and will now always opt for an absoluteBLACK OVAL on my builds given the chance. If you're in the market for a new ring, suffer knee pain or are curious about the OVAL ring I would highly recommend looking into one of these. Feel free to reach out if you've got any further questions about it!