Do Oval Chainrings Really Work?

A few years back, all bicycle chainrings were round. However, things have changed of late, and the quest for performance gains necessitated reconsidering the shape that gave birth to oval chainrings. But do oval chainrings really work to enhance performance?

Oval chainrings work to improve your pedaling action by balancing your power output. In essence, it makes turning the cranks at the 6, and 12 o’clock positions easier. Consequently, the oval chainrings reduce the stress to the knees making pedaling more efficient and less tiring.

In addition, the oval chainrings are the most effective when climbing on going over objects where you have to keep pedaling in quick succession.

It is for this reason that the oval chainrings are common with mountain bikes.

All the same, these chainrings are not popular with every rider. So, do they really work?

Do Oval Chainrings Really Work? A rider on a mountain bike

Do Oval Chainrings Really Work? – Why Don’t Pros Use Them?

On visiting bike forums, you will realize that there are so many conflicting opinions about oval chainrings. Actually, the ratio of those who like the oval chainring and those who don’t is almost 50/50.

Therefore, this begs the question of whether oval chainrings really work.

For pro riders, the over chainring may have a little, almost negligible effect on their ride. But, again, this is because they have almost perfect phases in their pedaling cycles.

According to Tim Kerrison, the performance director at Team Sky, the Asymmetrical ring has little to offer pro riders. Notably, most professional riders have efficient pedal strokes that have reduced dead spots.

Consequently, some professional riders have tried the oval chainrings and reverted to the conventional rings. All the same, some continue with their newfound favorite Asymmetrical rings.

Although oval chainrings may not have much of an effect on a pro rider’s experience, it works well for beginners.

Technically, oval chainrings help make the pedaling action smooth for beginners who haven’t mastered the power and recovery pedaling phases. In addition, when properly set, the asymmetrical rings help in the activation of the hamstring and the glutes.

Do Oval Chainrings Make A Difference?

If you are a beginner, an oval chainring may be one of the few things you need for a smooth learning curve.

First, an oval chainring maximizes the power phase of a pedal stroke and gives your legs work to do at their strongest position.

At the same time, the asymmetric ring ensures that there is less work for the leg muscle at the weakest (recovery) point.

As a result, a rider can ride uphill faster without getting extremely worked out.

Secondly, the oval ring enhances a cyclist’s ability to turn the pedals with smooth power delivery with less strain on the joints, especially when climbing. It reduces the peak load on the knees, which allows the rider to maintain a high level of performance for a long time.

Also, an asymmetric chainring improves a bike’s traction on slippery and loose terrains.

So do oval chainrings make a difference? Yes, they do.

Actually, if you don’t have a perfect pedaling action and you have to ride uphill, a small oval chainring such as the Wolf Tooth Boost monoplato Oval for Direct Mounting (View on Amazon) is one of the best to start with. It has 30 teeth and a 3mm offset.

Do Oval Chainrings Really Work? -Wolf Tooth Boost monoplato Oval for Direct Mounting, Black, 30 Teeth

Best Oval Chainring For Beginners – What Tooth Oval Chainring Should I Get?

According to absolute Black; mountain bike oval chainring manufacturers, it is advisable to swap like for like. In simple, you need to maintain the same number of teeth on the oval ring as you had on the round one.

All the same, if you still aren’t sure of what oval chainring to go for, the best way to arrive at a conclusion is by observing your usual gearing habits.

Generally, your chain should spend about 80% of the time on the central gears of the rear cassette. So, if by chance you out that your chain is mostly on the lowest gears of the rear sprocket, you need to reduce the size of your chainring.

On the other hand, if your chain spends most of the time on the high gears, you need to increase your chainring size by a couple of teeth.

Therefore, if you have a bike that has a 2×, the chainring between the current two should be the default size.  

Some of the best oval chainrings include:

  1. Jgbike EliteBest for the budget.
  2.  Absolute Black SramBest in quality
  3. Unlike Bike Narrow Wide 104 Bcdlight in weight

How To Install Oval Chainring

When you want to install an oval chainring on your bike, you need to remove the crank from the bike first.

Once you have removed the crank, unscrew the bolts that the current chainrings. As you unscrew the rings, place them on one side to avoid mixups.

The 9-piece TEKTON Star Key wrench set will help you get over the job easily. The keys have chamfered and straight edges that offer a snug fit.

Then, position the new outer oval chainring with the triangular timing indicator behind the crank arm.

Once you have done that, get the inner chainring and place it properly with the timing indicator at the right place, just like you did with the bigger ring. Make sure the recessed holes on the smaller wheel are facing you.

Afterward, screw the bolts back and tighten them with about 5-7 Nm of force. Finally, mount the crank on the bike and readjust the derailleur, and you are good to go.

How To Install Oval Chainring

Do I Need a Longer Chain For Oval Chainring?

Generally, oval chainrings work with all the chains except the half-link chain. Therefore, you won’t need to buy a new one.

In addition, if you maintain the same number of chainring teeth as that of the round ring, the length of the chain should remain the same.

In essence, the oval chainring only changes the shape and not the circumference of the ring.

However, when setting your chain tension, you need to set it at the tightest point since the gear wheel is elliptical. Consequently, there will be different chain tensions as you pedal and rotate the cranks.

To help you set the chain to the correct tension, get a chain tensioner such as the CyclingDeal Bike Chain Tensioner. The device works for both single and multi-speed bicycles.

So, all you need to do with an oval chainring is to set the chain tension when the bigger diameter is vertical to the ground. But your usual chain will work perfectly.

Since the return of oval chainrings to the cycling world in 2010, pro riders and beginners have been using them. As nature would have it, the rings have pros and cons. Let’s have a look at them.

Oval Chainring Pros

  • Better Than Round Rings At Climbing Hills

With the conventional chainrings, the hardest part while pedaling uphill is going through the dead spot. Oval chainrings make going over this spot a lot easier.

  • Oval Chainring Helps To Develop A Better Pedaling Technique

Generally, using an elliptical chainring consistently helps riders pedal more efficiently since the human leg doesn’t cycle in a perfect circle.

  • Over Chainring Offers More Torque

The asymmetric chainring focuses on the power phase and shortens the weakest point of your pedaling stroke. As a result, the bike has better torque that makes it easier to ride uphill.

  • Better Acceleration.

With improved torque, oval chainrings make pedaling a bike from a stationary position faster and easier.

  • The Oval Chainring Is Efficient And Less Tiring

Using an asymmetric chainring over a long time saves a lot of energy as compared to round ones. In addition, each pedal stroke takes less force which allows a rider to ride for long without getting exhausted.

  • They Are Better For The Knee Joint

Most beginners find oval chainrings to be more comfortable than round ones. Actually, the chainring makes pushing through the dead spot and the recovery phase shorter and easier.

  • Better When Riding At Low Rpms

Due to its improved torque, the oval chainring is more efficient when riding at a slower pace. All the same, a higher cadence of about 120 RMPS makes the ride a bit uncomfortable at first.

Can You Use An Oval Chainring On A Single Speed

Oval Chainring Cons

  • The Ring Is Uncomfortable At A Higher Cadence

Since the oval chainring is elliptical, the leg accelerates and decelerates fast when riding at high RPMs. As a result, some cyclists complain about knee pains.

  • You Have To Learn Again

Once you change round chainrings for the ovals, you may feel weirdly different. Actually, it may take some time for some riders to get used to the walking-like motion while others never get used to it.

  • Higher Risk Of Dropping The Chain

When using multiple chainrings, there is a high likelihood of dropping the chain. In essence, it is hard to set the front derailleur as the chain keeps moving up and down. Though the problem is uncommon, it is still a great challenge with some bikes.

  • It’s Not Beneficial To All Riders

Riders with excellent pedaling techniques may not benefit from oval chainrings. However, the main advantage of an elliptical ring is smoothing out dead spots and enhanced power delivery.

Can You Use An Oval Chainring On A Single Speed?

Oval chainrings have different diameters across the entire ring. Therefore, chain tension fluctuates during pedaling.

If these fluctuations are significant, they can cause chain falls.

So, do oval chainrings really work with single speeds?

The answer is yes.

If the chainring is properly shaped, the fluctuations in chain tension are almost negligible and cannot cause chain falls.

In addition, a good elliptical chainring for a single-speed bike should have narrow and wide teeth pattern for max chain retention.

Relevant Article:can I remove the crank without a crank puller?.

Final Thought on Whether Oval Chainrings Really Work:

In most cases, you will get different answers when you pose the question, “Do oval chainrings really work?” Notably, this is because of different riding styles and experiences.

However, oval chainrings come with a hose of benefits. Notably, the main benefit is a reduced and smoothed-out dead spot and enhanced power delivery.

As a result, a rider using an asymmetrical ring enjoys better acceleration and uphill pedaling. Also, it helps beginners to develop a smooth pedaling technique.

Of all the riders, mountain bikers benefit most from oval chainrings than road users.

To help you find out if you like the elliptical chainring, ride on a bike that features asymmetrical rings.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you explain the science behind oval chainrings?

Oval chainrings are specifically designed to minimize the unproductive moments in your pedal stroke, particularly those that occur in the 12-to-6 vertical plane. This is achieved by modifying the conventional round profile of the chainring into an oval shape. This unique design allows for a smoother transition of the front ring’s teeth to the chain’s links when rotating through those tougher 12-to-6 positions. The science behind oval chainrings lies in optimizing the cyclist’s pedal stroke, transforming the shaky pedal motion into a more efficient and effective power transfer.

Does an oval chainring provide a different feeling while cycling?

Definitely, using an oval chainring adds a distinct sensation to your ride. The feeling I experienced riding a full suspension mountain bike equipped with an oval chainring was one of enhanced traction and more efficient power transfer to the rear wheel. When I was climbing, even on challenging terrains, I felt like I had gained an edge. The oval chainring simply seemed to make these technical climbs easier, more controlled, thereby enhancing my overall riding experience.

What are the benefits of using an oval crank?

The advantages of oval chainrings are manifold. First and foremost, they make pedaling, especially sustained bouts of it, smoother and less strenuous thereby reducing the pressure and stress on our knees. This is a significant benefit that becomes increasingly evident the longer you use an oval chainring. Besides, these chainrings significantly boost our capacity for acceleration and enhance the pedaling cadence. Thus, oval chainrings offer both immediate and long-term advantages to cyclists, particularly those who ride frequently and for longer durations.

What would be the most suitable size for an oval chainring?

The ideal size of an oval chainring depends quite a bit on the kind of riding you expect to do. For instance, a 46T Oval chainring is great for hill rides on mostly gravel trails with some paved roads in between. On the other hand, the 48T Oval chainring would be well-suited for cyclists who spend most of their time on paved roads with only a little bit of off-road flat terrain. Lastly, the 50T Oval chainring is best for riders whose mainstay is road riding, with only an occasional venture onto flat, off-road terrains. Thus, the choice of chainring size should primarily be based on where you are planning to ride and your personal biking style.