This review is LONG overdue, but here we go.
A few months back I got picked up as a brand ambassador for absoluteBLACK(http://absoluteblack.cc), a small company out of the UK that is focused on making the best oval chainrings out there. In full disclosure, as an Ambassador, I do not get free stuff, but I do get a bit of a discount. I was pretty excited when I got the notice that they had selected me, as I had been reading quite a bit online regarding the positive feedback folks have had with the current crop of oval chainrings.
Those of you who have been riding as long as I do surely remember Shimano’s effort to create an oval chainring a few decades back. Biopace was supposed to revolutionize our pedal stroke, but, surprisingly for a Shimano product, it failed miserably. Changing my chainrings out was the first “upgrade” I made to my Cannondale SR500, and I never looked back! A pedal stroke with Biopace was awkward and ungainly, and made keeping a high cadence much more difficult.
3 decades later, enter absoluteBLACK. The folks at absoluteBLACK decided to re evaluate the concept and created a beautiful product that really seems to do what it claims to do. Based on the reviews I had been reading, as soon as I was chosen for the Ambassador program, I got an order in for a Cinch compatible 28t ring for my new Waltworks F/S bike. Yes, that’s right, 28t! I’m a clydesdale and live in Colorado, so I wanted all the help I could get!! http://absoluteblack.cc/raceface-oval.html
When opening the package, one can’t help but be impressed with the quality of the chainrings. Instead of a flat ring, the AB rings
are concave and they have chosen to leave the machine marks on the ring, which gives them a bit of character. For an old shop teacher, and someone who really appreciates industrial design, I really like the looks of these rings.
Installation on the Race Face Aeffect cranks was a “cinch”! Once you’ve got your cranks removed, and the old rings, all you need to install the new ring on a set of Cinch cranks is a Park BBT-20 tool in order to tighten down the cinch lock ring.
Now, while I might be a bit biased, I think the new cranks and chainring looks great on the Waltworks!!
So, how did they ride? The first few hundred yards or so, you do notice that this chainring just flat out feels different! It’s really hard to describe the feeling, but your pedal stroke just feels different than normal. However, after the initial bit of riding, the rings start to feel really good!
At this point I should note that since I started biking in the late 80s, the common wisdom was that you should pump your clinchers up to about 100lbs and you should spin a cadence of 90 to 100rpm!! Thankfully we’ve come to realize that some things should change. What this did for me, however, was help me actually learn to pedal with a smooth pedal stroke. This has followed me to this day, even on the MTB. Most of my riding buddies tell me I pedal way too fast, and should shift up and pedal slower. I guess 30 years of a high cadence just can’t be changed! I wasn’t sure how this cadence would be affected by the oval rings, but I have to say, they lend theirselves very well to my typical cadence. Additionally, it really felt like I was gaining 2 extra gears on the low end.
The idea of the oval ring is that you get increased power during the power portion of the pedal stroke and a bit of a reprieve during the slack portion of the stroke. I can’t begin to explain the science behind this, but if you’re really interested, you can check out this video: https://vimeo.com/146847332
An unfortunate issue with my original cranks meant a warranty upgrade to some new Race Face Next SL G4 cranks!
The ring looks even better on the G4 cranks, and again, installation was a snap!
This crank swap did, however, give me the opportunity to ride my backup bike which does NOT have an absoluteBLACK ring on it, but rather a normal narrow/wide 32t ring. The difference in pedal stroke was pronounced! I could actually feel the rear end of the hard tail bob with each stroke. This really demonstrated how much the oval ring was helping to smooth out what I thought was a good pedal stroke!
Bottom line is this, going forward, all my MTBs will have absoluteBLACK rings on them, whether or not I continue to participate in the Ambassador program. The quality of the product, the friendliness of the people at AB and the improved pedal stroke and power really have made me a believer in this product!