Pros and Cons » Oval vs Round Chainring in Cycling

Oval vs Round Chainring in Cycling

The oval chainring (also known as an elliptical chainring) is a cycling trend that is slowly expanding. This unusual bike component is becoming more and more well-liked among commuters, mountain bikers, road cyclists, and tourists who ride bicycles. 

An oval chainring transmits torque to your back tire more smoothly than a round one. Oval chainrings maximize the portion of the stroke during which power is generated and reduce resistance in the remaining portion. If you use an oval chainring instead of a round chainring, you will notice that your pedal stroke is more “round.”

The use of oval and round chainrings is also somewhat debatable. Some cyclists adore them, while others see them as something unworthy.

In this article, I’ll try to address the pros and cons surrounding oval and round chainrings.

What Is an Oval Chainring?

Oval chainrings are chainrings that have an elliptical shape rather than the typical circle. As you pedal, this shape effectively modifies the gear ratio. Theoretically, an oval chainring enables you to exert more force because it makes riding in a higher gear easier. This also boosts the effectiveness. 

Additionally, some cyclists think that they are easier on the knees.

Difference Between Oval and Round Chainring

Oval ChainringRound Chainring
Better tractionTheoretically, less traction
Great for climbingTough for climbers
ExpensiveEasy on the wallet
UniqueTried and tested through decades of use

Is Oval Chainring Better Than Round Chainring?

The answer is subjective and it depends on personal preference and knowledge about chainrings. Oval chainrings go easy on the legs during a climb and improve a cyclist’s ability to spin with smoother power delivery; you’ll move more quickly and feel less weary. 

The thing with an oval chainring is that it helps you pedal more easily than round chainrings when you are in a less-than-ideal part of your pedal stroke. It does this by enhancing the power you exert when you are at an optimal part of your pedal stroke. 

Just to be clear, the chainring does not generate more power. You just have help with maximizing your true cycling potential with it. 

In essence, the oval chainring enables you to exert a little less effort while achieving more at the same time.

If you are knowledgeable about oval and round chainrings; have experienced them over a period of time, then you are most certainly in a position to decide which chainrings are better.

» You can also read my post: How To Shorten Bicycle Chains?

Will an Oval Chainring Improve My Climbing?

Yes, it does help with climbing by increasing the effective gear ratio when you are at your strongest. The biggest improvements for climbing occur during your recovery phases and dead spots, whereas your power phase will only slightly benefit from an oval chainring.

The first push of each pedal stroke is actually the hardest part of climbing if you carefully think about it. After the recovery phase, it moves on, completely interrupting the flow. 

You can pedal more smoothly and achieve an easy climb by making recovery phases easier.

Not only are they easier on your legs, but they also greatly improve traction. When a surge of power or spin force occurs, traction is lost. 

That immediate power cannot be transmitted to the ground by your tires. It is much more difficult for tires to lose traction when the power delivery is evenly distributed.

Principle Behind Oval Chainrings

The chainring’s radius changes as you pedal because of the elliptical shape. 

The radius of the portion of the ring where the chain rests on traditional oval chainrings is smaller when the pedals are vertical. The radius on the area of the ring where the chain rests is longer when the pedals are horizontal.

By adjusting the chainring size, you can effectively change the gearing as you pedal. It is simpler when the chainring’s section with the smaller radius is engaged.

Consequently, it becomes more difficult when the chainring’s section with the larger radius engages. 

For instance, as you pedal, an oval chainring with 32 teeth switches between a 30-tooth and 34-tooth chainring.

When the pedals are horizontal, the radius increases. When the pedals are in the ideal position, you’re essentially pushing a higher gear. This enables you to exert more force during the pedal stroke’s power phase.

Pros of Oval Chain Rings

Lead to a Better Pedaling Technique

The riders improved their pedaling technique after using an oval chainring for a year (3000–1000 km), according to a study. This enhanced effectiveness and performance.

With round chainrings, you’re putting the most power into the pedals when they are horizontal. Oval chainrings deliver power to the rear wheel more smoothly. 

As the cranks ascend to the vertical position, where pedaling is more difficult, the power decreases. Oval chainrings alter the gearing as you ride, smoothing out the power delivery. 

In this way, as opposed to a pulsating power, power is delivered to the rear wheel more steadily. A more even speed will be maintained by your bike.

Better Traction

Your rear wheel is less likely to lose traction as a result of the smoother power delivery. The power is less pulsating and more constant, which makes this possible.

When riding on slick surfaces like snow or loose gravel, the pulsing force of a round chainring can cause your rear wheel to come off the bike. 

You simply waste energy that could be used to propel you forward when your back wheel spins out.

Excellent for Climbing

Oval chainrings really stand out in this situation. The most challenging aspect of hill climbing is getting through the dead zones on each pedal stroke so you can continue pedaling. 

You can use your body weight to continue going for at least one more stroke once you’ve managed to push the pedals past vertical. 

It is simpler to push through the dead zone with oval chainrings. Because of this, climbing hills becomes much simpler.

» Read my blog post: How To Find the Bicycle Chain Master Link

Better Torque

Oval chainrings concentrate your pedaling force where you will naturally apply the most force. More torque is produced as a result.

With more torque, it gets much simpler to accelerate from zero or climb a steep hill.

Distinctive

Oval chainrings might be worth trying if you like to experiment with new cycling technologies or ride a bike that stands out from the crowd. 

This is definitely one of those things that you won’t know if you’ll like or not until you give it a try. 

Better Acceleration

Oval chainrings make it quicker and simpler to pedal through the dead zone when you’re starting from a stop. You can accelerate more quickly thanks to the added torque.

Riding a challenging terrain is made simpler by oval chainrings because there is less risk of getting stuck in a dead spot. 

If you overindulge, the additional torque enables you to move through obstacles that a round chainring might have prevented you from passing.

Better For Low Cadence Riding

Oval chainrings are more comfortable and effective to ride with at lower RPMs, making them better for riding at a slower cadence. 

This makes them more suitable for recreational riders, mountain bikers, and bicycle tourists. The ride feels a little less comfortable at higher cadences. 

The cause behind this is the acceleration and deceleration of your legs as you pedal. This motion can appear strange when moving at 120 RPM.

Due to your uneven pedaling, you also lose some efficiency. Clipless pedals could reduce this issue though.

More Effective

The cyclist saves 5N with each pedal stroke while cycling at 90 RPM, according to a scientific study. The rider conserves 27,000 N over the course of an hour. 

According to the article’s conclusion, cyclists who use oval chainrings for a longer period of time will expend less energy at a given power output and may be able to ride for longer. 

The rider can travel further while exerting the same amount of energy by pushing off the pedals with less force.

Cons of Oval ChainRings

May Result In Knee Pains

One of the most frequent drawbacks of using an oval chainring is knee pain or spasms. Some people have experienced knee pain, particularly in the early stages of using oval chainrings.

This issue is referred to as a whiplash effect by experts. You might not be harmed by this as many riders haven’t experienced any problems at all.

Greater Likelihood of a Chain Drop

Another significant problem with oval chainrings is the dropping of your chain. The majority of the time, this occurs as you change gears.

In round chainrings, the chances of chain loosening are fewer.

Unusual

It might seem strange to ride on an oval chainring if you have always used the standard round chainring.

You might experience this more strongly if you have been a bike rider for a very long time. Switching to an oval chainring will feel off at first.

Some individuals might never fully recover from the peculiar sensation of riding with an oval chainring.

Muscle Soreness

If the oval chainring is unfamiliar to you, certain muscular aches could occur. When you have painful knees or your back hurts, avoid using high gears.

Reasonably Expensive

Oval chainrings typically cost more than round chainrings because they are more difficult to find and are specialty items.

Top-tier brands’ oval chainrings can cost as high as $200, but other high-quality rings start at just $100. These prices are significantly higher than the typical range of $15-$50 for round chainrings.

Not Ideal for Beginners

Due to their unique feel, oval chainrings might not be a good option for beginner cyclists. It is better to start off with the standard rounder ones.

This is because, if you buy a normal round chainring, you’ll find lots of variety to suit your taste out there. 

Second, you will have lots of opinions and reviews out there which can help you in making a good decision. Reviews come in handy when you get to decide on your first bicycle.

In comparison, you’ll not find that many users or reviews for oval chainrings.

And lastly, you might not be wanting to spend more on equipment when you’re just learning how to ride a bike. You will surely want to start in a simple and less expensive manner.

Pros of Round Chainrings

Tried and Tested

Round chainrings have been there since the birth of the bicycle. Over the span of years, cyclists, enthusiasts, bike manufacturers have all used, tested and tried round chainrings and have developed it into what it is now.

There are more people that can guide, train and help you with round chainrings as compared to oval ones.

Variety

Round chainrings come in a lot of varieties and options for buyers and cycle enthusiasts.

This is mainly because a major chunk of the cycling population of the world uses round chainrings in their bikes. 

This has naturally given rise to lots of competition in terms of design, size and material for these chainrings. Competition, in turn, leads to availability of various designs and features.

Oval chainrings, on the other hand, have far less options to choose from.

Inexpensive

You can easily buy or replace a round chainring without having to empty your wallet.

As round chainrings are older and are used in almost all of the bicycles worldwide, there are lots of varieties available; meaning there is lots of competition for chainring manufacturers.

This has made these chainrings inexpensive as compared to oval ones. 

Easy Availability

As round chainrings have been the standard for decades in the bicycle world, they are, naturally, easily available everywhere.

Therefore if you ever have a need for replacing your chainring sometime while touring, you can easily find replacements in any country or locality worldwide.

In comparison, oval chainrings are unique and may not be known in most far-off regions of the world. Hence making it difficult for you to swap your chainrings and probably making you stranded where you are.

Pro Tip: If you are planning to tour a remote region on your bike, it is better that you keep a set of new oval chainrings with you, in case you do not find them in the local market.

Universal Maintenance and Repair

Round chainrings can be easily repaired and maintained from anywhere around the world. 

Most bike systems worldwide make use of round chainrings rather than oval ones. Hence it is very easy to find bike mechanics that are experts in round chainring technology rather than the unique and far-less oval chainrings.

So unless you yourself are knowledgeable in repairing, adjusting or replacing your own chainring, I suggest that you stick with round chainrings while touring remote regions locally or internationally.

Aesthetically Pleasing

As they are a new concept, most people tend to find oval chainrings a bit weird, when fitted in their bikes; they find them less aesthetically pleasing.

Round chainrings, on the other hand, have been the standard cool for bike enthusiasts for decades and their look and design is significantly more pleasing to look at overall, as compared to oval ones.

» Read my blog post about: How to Remove a Link From a Bike Chain?

Cons of Round Chainrings

Low Traction

As it is said that the power transformed through oval chainrings is better, which transforms into better traction, the inverse may apply for round chainrings.

Hence they may give out lower traction as compared to oval chainrings.

Note: This might not be true for ‘all’ round chainrings and is still a concept open for discussion based on individual experiences and characteristics of the rider.

Not Ideal For Climbing

As there are pedaling ‘dead zones’ in round chainrings, they give rise to lower performance. 

In oval chainrings, their unique elliptical shape allows them to go through this dead zone in an efficient manner.

Conclusion

Now that you have a certain amount of know-how for oval and round chainrings, it is upto you to decide whether to go for them or not.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to using them. Weigh them out carefully; go on and experiment with them and then choose the best riding experience that works for you.

Remember, it’s never about ‘oval’ or ‘round,’ but what helps you best move around!

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