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We have another somewhat controversial mountain bike component. The opinion on whether to run a normal or an oval chainring rages on. Although the debate goes on there are some solid benefits to oval chainnrings. Our friend William shares his thoughts on the absoluteBLACK Oval Narrow-Wide Direct Mount Chainring. Check it out!
I have been riding mountain bikes for around 20 years now and have always enjoyed trying out the latest and greatest in components. I used to race XC (though I hate to admit this one), Enduro, Dual Slalom and DH from Cat 3 to Pro I am currently riding a 2019 Intense Tracer Carbon with all the bells and whistles: Push ElevenSix Shock, Vorsprung Smashpot Coil in my Fox 36, Cane Creek eeWings, you name it I’ve tried it. Especially after making a decade worth of trips to Interbike and riding different bikes at the Outdoor demo. I live in the Phoenix Metro area in Arizona where it is notoriously dry and loose on our trails. I have some more secret trails in my neck of the woods and a few have been more purpose built DH trails with a very steep chute on one of them that has been up until this point un-climbable except for an ebike. I have witnessed a couple dirt bikes attempt it and fail but I’m sure some of that was due to rider skill. But as I said it is made to be ridden downhill so we usually just hike that top portion of the ridge, until now...
Enter the absoluteBLACK Oval Narrow-Wide Direct Mount Chainring. I have seen these more and more in reviews lately including recently with the one right here on Worldwide Cyclery, so of course I was intrigued. I have never been one to worry about climbing necessarily obviously being on a 32lb Enduro rig but it is nice to not have to get off the bike and walk at anytime during my ride. I do like to make sure for the downhill I have the biggest pedaling advantage for sprinting which is why I run an e13 11 speed cassette with a 9 tooth cog and a 34T round chainring in the front (had a 36 but it was rubbing the chain stay). I was a little leery to get the 34T oval because on the large side of the oval it would have a been essentially a 36T in size which like I said caused rubbing issues in the past.
Even though absoluteBlack recommends generally sticking with the same size oval ring as your round I decided to try a size down to avoid issues with rubbing and got a 32T. My biggest worry was losing top end speed when sprinting but also thought that possibly it might stay relatively the same because a 32T oval would be like 34T when putting the power down. Now I know it’s not scientific by any means but when comparing a 34T round to the 32T oval sprinting for top speed on a flat road I got within .6 mph of each other with the slower speed coming from the oval chainring. So not a big deal in my opinion. When pedaling around on the flats or even downhill I don’t even really notice there is something different going on and maybe it’s because I don’t and probably most of us don’t have a perfect pedaling cadence.
When I took it up that really steep climb on my local trail I was able to climb it and hold traction the entire time. Now I’m not saying it’s magic and made the climb easy. You still have to be strong enough to push that gear but on the loose dry soil my tires never lost grip and I was able to motor up to the top, grant it I was redlining my heart rate but the now “impossible” climb was made possible by something as simple and in expensive as changing the shape of the chainring on my bike.
So now after friends have seen and heard about this I can say at least half a dozen have now converted their bikes also to oval and are enjoying the benefit of more traction just like me.