AbsoluteBLACK Oval Traction Chainring review

Ovalized rings can help lessen knee pain, and might make you faster, too

Components
Absolute Black’s Oval Traction ring and Oval Chainguide offer claims of improved traction and power delivery. Both are extremely high quality products that certainly don’t detract from mountain biking.

absoluteBLACK’s Oval Traction chainring and Oval Chainguide offer claims of improved traction, a smoother pedal stroke, and reduced stress on the knee pain.

Lowdown: absoluteBLACK Oval Traction Chainring

While claims about the advantages of non-round chainrings are hard to substantiate, they do help some riders decrease strain on knees, increase traction, and smooth out their pedal stroke. Keep reading to learn more.

Stat Box
Weight: 55 grams (30T) Price: $66
Options: 28, 30, 32, 34t, black and racing red Rating: 4.5 Flamin' Chili Peppers 4.5 Chilis-out-of-5

Pluses
Minuses
  • 10-, 11- and 12-speed compatible
  • Oval rings not for everyone
  • Can be exchanged for round rings w/in 30days
  • Boost, BB30, GXP, e*thirteen, Cannondale, RaceFace, Shimano compatible
  • Oval rings can help riders w/knee issues

Review: absoluteBLACK Oval Traction Chainring

Ovalized chainrings have been around for a long time. There are lots of options on the market for mountain, cross, and road bikes. And in case you missed it, a certain Chris Froome just won the Tour de France on a set of the radically shaped Osymetric rings.

Shown here is the ring clocked for maximum power output. The ring is effectively a couple teeth larger (taller) at this point in the pedal stroke.

Shown here is the ring clocked for maximum power output. The ring is effectively a couple teeth larger (taller) at this point in the pedal stroke.

As a mechanic I was initially skeptical of oval rings, as early attempts led to poor front shifting. But with more refinement, and now the advent of the single chainring mountain bike drivetrains, ovalized rings are becoming more and more popular.

I began experimenting with non-round rings after years of suffering from knee issues, and the results were good. I can’t attribute my recent pain free cycling entirely to these rings, but I do think they helped me on the road to recovery. I feel a lot better on the bike than I have in a long time.

Here’s the gist of oval rings: Once mounted they make your gear larger in areas of the pedal stroke where you can apply the most power. Simultaneously, they decrease the size of your gear when in the dead spot of your pedal stroke. From what people smarter than me have explained, it appears the science is sound. No one has a perfect pedal stroke where pressure is applied evenly throughout a given rotation. Or to put it another way, oval rings are designed with a fallible human power source in mind.

This is how absoluteBLACK spins it: “Our traction Oval chainrings work because a rider does not produce power evenly through a pedal stroke; they maximize the part of the stroke where power is produced and minimize resistance where it isn’t. Oval rings make the spin cycle smoother and are easier on legs while climbing. Believe it (or not), but a round chainring doesn’t transfer torque to your rear wheel as smoothly as an Oval one. You will actually feel your stroke to be more “round” with an Oval shape than with a round chainring. Smoother power delivery to your rear wheel means that you will be able to maintain better, constant cadence, have less stress on the joints (knees), and therefore be able to keep certain level of effort for longer.”

A close up of the ring, showing it at its taller and therefore largest development.

A close up of the ring, showing it at its taller and therefore largest.

Mounting an absoluteBLACK Oval Traction ring on my mountain bike was an experiment. I wasn’t sure about it for off-road purposes, but the claims of increased traction had me curious. And I have to say that at the very least, power and traction have not decreased. The profile, that is the placement of the oval shape in the pedal stroke, is seamless. You simply don’t notice any difference after a few rides.

It’s when riding easily that you might feel some pulsing in the delivery of power. Cruise around your block and you may feel the resistance drop away as the ring phases to its smaller diameter. With the bike in a workstand you can also feel the changes as you pedal.

But under load, especially on hard uphills, I don’t feel the oval profile at all. This is a very good thing. The ring isn’t any louder than a standard round ring either. Pedaling along on a flat section of trail, the ring feels normal as well. This may be because I’ve ridden oval rings on the road before, but other riders I know on oval rings express similar experiences. There is no pulsing or jerky feel to the drivetrain. I experienced no change in rear shifting performance either.

It’s hard to quantify an increase in traction and especially difficult to attribute it to the absoluteBLACK chainring. But I’m inclined to believe the company’s benefit claims. Often a loss in traction is due to a spike in power delivery. Smoothing out the delivery is precisely what these oval rings do.

AbsoluteBLACK changes the placement of the oval based on the chainring size, ensuring that power output and traction are optimized no matter the ring. Unlike Rotor chainrings that are fitted to an existing spider using a series of mounting points, you cannot adjust the placement of the ovalization on absoluteBLACK’s Oval Traction rings. There is only one way to install them and so only one way for the timing of the chainring to function. But again, it appears the British firm has done its homework.

Conversely, the ring becomes a couple teeth smaller during the phase of a pedal stroke where a rider can develop the least amount of power.

Conversely, the ring becomes a couple teeth smaller during the phase of a pedal stroke where a rider puts out the least amount of power.

The construction of the ring is exceptional. AbsoluteBLACK uses 7005-series aluminum. Installation was easy with the spline a perfect fit for the SRAM crank arms. This should come as no surprise, but the wide narrow tooth profile worked well in all conditions.

To aid with chain retention absoluteBLACK also sent along its new Oval Chainguide. While I’ve rarely dropped my chain while using a wide/narrow ring and clutch type rear derailleur, the $60 guide does add some peace of mind that is hard to beat.

I’ve now had the absoluteBLACK Oval Traction ring on my bike for over two months. My knees feel great and the ring has showed very little wear. I don’t see myself taking it off for the foreseeable future. For me, there is no downside, only happy mountain biking.

At $66, the price of the Oval Traction ring is very competitive. It’s actually cheaper than a replacement SRAM ring, making trying an oval ring even more attractive. AbsoluteBLACK also offers a 30-day trial period on its oval rings. If you don’t like it, they’ll replace it with a round ring. So you’re saving money and getting a chance to help your knees and potentially increase power and traction while mountain biking. Sounds like a win-win to this tester.

For more info please visit absoluteblack.cc.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

About the author: Nick Legan

Nick Legan is happiest with some grease under his nails and a long dirt climb ahead. As a former WorldTour team mechanic, Legan plied his trade at all the Grand Tours, Spring Classics, World Championships and even the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In recent years, gravel and ultra-distance racing has a firm grip on Legan’s attention, but his love of mountain biking and long road rides hasn’t diminished. Originally a Hoosier, Legan settled in Boulder, Colorado, 14 years ago after finishing his time at Indiana University studying French and journalism. He served as the technical editor at VeloNews for two years and now contributes to Adventure Cyclist, Mtbr and RoadBikeReview.


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  • TAG says:

    I don’t have a guide on mine and the chain has never fallen off.

  • Nick says:

    I couldn’t hold back, from six months of riding on this ring I have only one, rather large, complaint for this ring. When riding it feel like in my petal stroke there is a sort of dead spot on flat road/trail sections. Its a really funky feeling. On the trail I have no complains, but also have found no real clear advantages for the oval ring thing. If you are not ready to change out all the rings on all of your bikes.
    I do however find the quality of the ring to be top-notch (comparable to wolftooth) and it to be on of the best looking rings around.

    • absoluteblack says:

      Hi Nick,
      You should consider going one size bigger if you feel strange on the flat. What you describe is the classic example of having too small of a ring mounted so on the flat you just spin too quick.

      hope this helps.

  • Wilkzab says:

    I wonder if these rings really work on mtb. In order to obtain any performance gain from Oval and Twin-cam rings, the rider needs to have a very high cadence. Over 90 RPM. This has been extensively studied over the years. It is a rare bird in the road pros peloton and it should be an indication. Twin-cam produces higher gain than Oval. Claiming there is a “correct” formula for oval shape is pure speculation. Shimano biometric was spot on for the 80′s pedaling style, but I read “it was wrong” on many sites. Knee issue are due to pedaling style and position, not ring shape. Yes, oval rings can push riders to spin rather than mash (the Shimano bio-m intent). I would like to see some data from the various researches AB and other companies do. What kind of terrain/pedals/RMP/duration etc.
    And how/if oval rings reduce the life or your rear derailer.
    It may be interesting to see some research on performance loss from NW rings. From the photos I have seen on many sites, the chain seems to be glued onto the rings. This cost some extra energy to engage and disengage. Chain guides? Last time I checked, these were “a thing of the past”.
    1x and wide spaced cassette because cadence is not important – and then push asymmetrical rings where cadence is key? Everything is simpler today, but is it also better? That said I may order a 26 oval form AB because they are the only one producing the size (thank you), I am curious and I have money to burn.

    • absoluteblack says:

      Hi,
      It’s actually exactly opposite. Ovals shine where your cadence is lower. This is why it does not help to the pro riders who ride over 100rpms because the time they spend in the dead zone of the pedal stroke is minimal. But if you ride like most average people do with 50-70rpm ovals really shine making your pedal stroke a lot smoother and this brings all sort of benefits. Have a look at our Facebook profile with thousands of testimonies from real users who post their experiences over there.

      Regards the researches you can read on internet. Issue is that they all tried to prove/disprove “more power” benefit. We don’t claim it as ovals does not produce you more free power. They only optimize the pedal stroke to be more smoother and this is big benefit on its own. So all researchers over the years only tested oval rings with pro riders, in short Time trial with sub maximal power over only 10-20 seconds. This is not where oval rings are best. They are best with sustained climbing, normal riding at 30-90rpm where they can help you to smooth out your pedal stroke and get over the hills easier. Wherever you climb or accelerate, they help you a lot. If you just cruise along the beach they will behave like regular ring with no additional benefit.
      This is why they became so popular in mtb, because you either go up or down.

  • zoso says:

    I’m a fan for just 1 reason. On tough, techy, slow rpm rocky climbs, they win. You are simply in the dead spot for a shorter period of time and that will render success more often on some spots of trail.

    All the other hyperbole? eh

  • Johnny Rotten says:

    I have one on my singlespeed mountain bike. It is an older Trek carbon frame with vertical dropouts, so I’m running it with a Surly Singleator chain tensioner. I’ve had it on almost 2 years now, and have never once dropped a chain, (much more likely due to it being a singlespeed, I’m sure, but anyway).

    I bought it with the hope of reducing the dead spot, which I believe to be an even bigger deal for a singlespeed mountain biker such as myself. When you only have one gear, (which 90% of the time is the WRONG gear, heh heh), anything that helps you be more efficient and even with your power delivery is a good thing, no? I find that I’m not spinning out as much anymore on those steeper ascents, which is great. I use it only on singletrack trails, never on flat roads or anything like that. It performs as advertised, and the build quality is excellent. For my bike’s somewhat unique circumstances, I love it, and plan to keep running it. Hope that helps.

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