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On #1FG Oval Obsession (TT.1)

When I posted about Tunnel Talk yesterday I was thinking about 'talk' as in conversations with myself. I hadn't actually considered taking folding chairs into the said tunnel and talking about bikes with other people. Also, truthfully, I hadn't considered I could ride down there, with a folding workbench, stand, tools, and service bike components.

Herein lies the beauty of my supportive and sardonic - supportively sardonic? - friends. Even they're not sure when they're giving me a boost or taking the piss and we all like it that way. But an interview/salon in the tunnel could be interesting. Maybe?

Potential Tunnel Talk panel discussion #1 with featured guests Squidulous Toucan (AKA Typhoon) and the Dumpster Bear?!? For the record, this is the only photo I have of the three of us. You can see Typhoon and I are standing perfectly still while the DB explores his habitat for a burger-like-sandwich or sandwich-like-burger.

My first Tunnel Talk topic - say that five times fast - is oval chainrings. I've been almost exclusively riding oval rings on my single-speeds since May of 2017 and have never looked back. That's whether running clip-in pedals or flat pedals.

I'm not an oval chainring evangelist. On most platforms, I fall into the camp of people who maybe notice them being beneficial sometimes. Clipless pedals on a full-suspension bike? Round, oval, whatever. Flat pedals on a multi-speed hardtail? On some steep and loose climbs, I manage to find more traction when grinding up, which results in fewer slipped wheels.

I love these stainless steel CAMO rings from Wolf Tooth but the smallest oval ('elliptical') ring they do is a 30t. I'll likely go back to it when I get around to trying a mullet setup on my V2.

If you're currently running a round ring on your single-speed and wondering if, or where, you'd notice an oval option the most obvious answer is when you're spun out and flailing furious spinning 25,000rpm trying to keep with a group of geared riders on flattish gravel or pavement.

With clips or flats, my ability to thrash, drub, and flog my cranks around with abandon while keeping the rest of my body calm and in focus is significantly improved compared to inputting the same wild abandon into a round ring. Comparing Wolf Tooth v. Wolf Tooth rings, since that's what I've been running for ages, it's only an extra $5 for the oval option so it's well worth it to me just for my regular visits to the spin cycle.

There are other advantages for those of us choosing to be in the wrong gear all the time too though. Standing and pedaling I find it easier to maintain a consistent effort, and traction, up steep and loose pitches and track standing on the trail there's a perfect position to calmly put pressure on the pedals while waiting to power back up to speed. For the initial acceleration from a dead stop in technical terrain there's a beautiful balance of initial momentum and then getting the pedals around to keep my bike moving forward.

I have a lot of miles and some really loud thwackings-and-smackings on this aluminum 28t and it's been great. If they made a Cinch stainless 28t (and matching quality 22t single-speed cog) I'd own it though. I love stuff that lasts forever and ever.

It's not that I don't think all of these benefits are happening on my multi-speed full suspension bike as well, it's just that having a multi-speed drivetrain and decent shifting strategies significantly decreases any advantage from the elliptical chainring shape. Still worth the extra five bucks? Certainly, but there are a lot of good options in less expensive round rings for the min-max-minded.

And that's Tunnel Talk. Love round rings? Awesome. Love oval rings? Awesome. But if you haven't tried oval on your single speed give it a shot. I recommend dropping two teeth from your preferred round size (30t round becomes 28t oval) but many one-speed aficionados would argue otherwise, so be warned that some experimentation may be desired.


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