The British chainring specialist AbsoluteBLACK were the first in the world to release oval sub-compact chainrings two years ago. We tested the CNC machined chainrings for three months and can tell you more about how hard it was to switch over and how applicable they are to you and your gravel bike.
If you’re looking for oval sub-compact chainrings for your gravel bike, you won’t be able to ignore the products that AbsoluteBLACK offer. The concept, which has existed for decades, more recently found its comeback with Chris Froome’s love of all things oval. The idea is to maximise your pedalling force when you are in the strongest part of your pedal stroke and conversely, minimise resistance for the dead point at the top and bottom of the pedal stroke. The system promises smoother pedalling, more efficient riding and a reduced perception of effort. The AbsoluteBLACK chainrings are compatible with all 110 BCD Shimano 4-bolt cranks, whether they are 10-, 11- or 12-speed. The small chainrings are claimed to weigh 27 and 30 g (30 T and 32 T respectively) and are available only in black. The large chainrings weigh 99 and 110 g (46 T and 48 T respectively) and alongside the black finish, are also available in grey or champagne.
AbsoluteBLACK Premium sub-compact on test
We tested the smallest 46/30 T version of the AbsoluteBLACK chainrings on a DURA-ACE 9100 chainset (110 mm BCD, 4-bolt). Fitting the rings is quick and poses no problems. However, you should pay attention to the detailed manual regarding the setup of your derailleur, to ensure that shifting continues to work perfectly. Other than that, no other changes are required. The industrial CNC look makes a great impression and the rings are nicely finished. AbsoluteBLACK have self-professed experience in the realm of oval chainrings and have conducted studies with independent universities to come up with a solution that will suit 90% of users. However, some riders will still place stock in being able to adjust their chainrings. A good alternative is offered by ROTOR, which allows the rotation of the ovality to be adjusted. However, you’ll also have to get a matching crankset. We see a lot of potential for sub-compact chainrings, in particular for gravel riding. 50/34 T gearing is too hard to pedal easily on steep gravel ramps or with lots of luggage on your bike. Here, 48/32 T or 46/40 T chainrings are a great option, allowing you to benefit from the small steps on a road cassette combined with a wide gear range.
After switching to oval chainrings from round ones, we had no problems or niggles and getting used to them was surprisingly quick. While pedalling, you immediately feel that the dead point at the top and bottom of the pedal stroke is gone and pedalling efficiency feels improved. It almost feels as though the pedal gets a little push or helping hand, making it easier to get back into the 3 o’clock ‘power’ position. Having set up the front derailleur correctly, we didn’t notice any differences in shifting worth mentioning. Gears shift quickly and cleanly, though the system is slightly more sensitive to small changes in the cable tension. As a result you should make sure your derailleur is perfectly adjusted. After 2,000 km of daily winter commuting, the chainrings show no abnormal signs of wear.
The new oval chainrings have made a convincing impression! AbsoluteBlack offer a great way of speccing sub-compact chainrings on an existing groupset. Even the steepest slopes are now rideable, yet you’ll still have a hard enough gear left for the flats. Thanks to the oval shape, your pedal stroke will become smoother, while shifting performance is on a par with the series Shimano rings.
- smooths out your pedal stroke
- great CNC look
- smooth shifting
- easy to get used to
- sensitive to changes in cable tension (for shifting)
Duration: 3 months
Price: € 76.95 (30 T and 32 T), € 115.95 (46 T and 48 T)
Weight 28 and 101 g (30 T and 46 T)
More info: absoluteblack.cc
Words: Philipp Schwab Photos: Benjamin Topf