Bike Sports & Fitness

Mountain bike oval chainring explained

Thinking of getting an oval chainring for your bike? In this post, we quickly and easily explain what you will get.

Rotation is frequently associated with a round or circular path, and because of this, round chainrings are the standard.

However, if we analyze the dynamics of the legs during pedaling, we can see that some moments or points are more difficult than others. In short, the power we apply to the pedals is not uniform.

For this reason, “oval” or “elliptical” chainrings have become popular. According to most manufacturers, legs have a hard time maintaining even power on round chainrings.

What’s the oval chainring principle or main advantage?

Oval chainrings propose fit better to human physiology, facilitating power delivery and providing greater comfort in difficult spots (for example, when climbing) while reducing resistance in dead spots (also called Dead zone), where no power is produced.

Dead Zone and Power Zone
Approximate location of dead zone (also called dead spot) and power zone

Some companies like absoluteBLACK provide study results showing “higher pedaling efficiency” when using oval chainrings compared to round ones. However, these studies can be influenced (or biased) by the companies, and even other research show results that are not clear regarding the efficiency of oval chainrings.

Does oval chainring produce more power?

NO, OVAL CHAINRINGS DON’T PRODUCE MORE POWER. They’ll help you to maximize the efficiency of your pedaling, so you can conserve more energy and apply it when you need it, or just make you tire a little less.

Although oval chainrings maybe allow you to work a bit better, be careful with some reviews. Some people say: “Oval chainrings help cut times significantly”, even showing videos with times and comparatives. This does not mean that people lie, but our minds tend to be deceived when advertising promises us better results instantly.

Again, oval chainrings don’t produce more power.

Can the oval chainring help if you suffer from knee pain or problems?

Oval chainrings weren’t created to fix knee problems. We also found no evidence (we mean to research-level) of benefit in people with knee problems or pain.

Of course, there are testimonials from people on the web who claim that their knee problems decreased with the use of oval chainrings. In this sense, the dynamics (movement) of the oval plate may help people with certain conditions or discomfort in the knee. But again, these chainrings weren’t created for people with knee problems at first glance.

Remember: Oval chainrings fit better conform to human physiology for better-pedaling efficiency.

Does the oval chainring need a chain guide?

There is a popular belief that the chain tends to come off the oval chainrings, but this is not true.

I have used an oval chainring for over 1000 miles with no chain drop problem.

If the components are installed correctly, an oval chainring should not cause problems. In the next post, we show you quick recommendations about chain guides.

Our appreciation after using oval chainrings

After using an oval chainring (Leonardi Gecko Track Elliptical 32-Tooth) for 6 months and over 1000 miles, we can honestly tell you:

  • Feel a slight difference in cadence, especially in the power phase (the part of the pedal stroke from 12 o’clock to about 5 o’clock).
  • There is no gain in speed or time.
  • There isn’t an improvement in technical climbs.
  • We have noticed the only difference on a physical level when the ascents begin to lengthen (in our case, after the 10-mile climb). Specifically, there is less tension or pain in the back of the legs, in the hamstrings (8 to 9 o’clock), when our legs move higher to enter the power phase again (12 o’clock).

Which oval chainring is the best?

The eternal and difficult question. As always, there are plenty of cheap options, starting at $10 for both Shimano and SRAM cranksets.

As key factors to consider: a design that guarantees functionality and quality for an adequate duration over time.

We’ve seen people with generic chainrings or even identical copies of absoluteBLACK who say they have no problems.

On the other hand, there’re recognized brands such as Wolf Tooth, absoluteBLACK, SRAM, and LEONARDI RACING, all with prices between $60 and $100.

Personally, I have used a Leonardi brand oval chainring (32T) for 6 months and about 1000 miles of travel. To be honest I haven’t had any problems.

Leonardi Racing oval chainring
My bike with a Leonardi 32-tooth oval chainring

If you have the budget and want more peace of mind in terms of quality, buy a chainring from a well-known brand. Now, if you have a limited budget or want to test whether an oval chainring is worth using, it may be an option to buy a cheap one.

ABSOLUTE BLACK SRAM Oval Boost148 Direct Mount Traction Chainring

ABSOLUTE BLACK SRAM Oval Boost148 Direct Mount Traction Chainring

Boost your SRAM drivetrain with the Absolute Black SRAM Oval Boost148 Direct Mount Traction Chainring.

ABSOLUTE BLACK Shimano Oval Traction Chainring

ABSOLUTE BLACK Shimano Oval Traction Chainring

Designed to Shimano XT or XTR crankset.
Shimano Oval Traction Chainring brings claims of improved rear wheel traction resulting from a more consistent pedal stroke. 

SRAM Unisex’s X-Sync 2 Oval 32T Direct Mount Boost Alum Eagle Black Chainring

SRAM Unisex's X-Sync 2 Oval 32T Direct Mount 3mm Offset Boost Alum Eagle Black Chainring

INTEGRITYEagle Technology creates the smoothest, quietest, longest-lasting, and most efficient drivetrains were ever made. 

Leonardi Gecko Track SRAM Spider Less Elliptical 28-34 Tooth Chainring – fit SRAM

SRAM Unisex's X-Sync 2 Oval 32T Direct Mount 3mm Offset Boost Alum Eagle Black Chainring

Available in 0, 3, and 6mm offset.
10/11/12 chain and Eagle Compatible
28, 30, 32, and 34 teeth options
Made in Italy!

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