Ok, so they’re funny looking. Stop laughing: they work. For years, cycling aficionados have lumped together in their minds any and all chain rings that are something other than round; hence the incorrect interchangeable use of the terms Q-rings, Rotor Rings, Biopace, and Osymetric rings. These are all different products, with different engineering and physiological principles at work, and some (Biopace) were clearly failed attempts. What we’re talking about here is Osymetric rings, how they work, and where you can get them.
Going back to the late 90’s or early 2000’s, astute cycling fans will have noticed Bobby Julich riding some bizarre looking squashed-oval shaped chain rings. He managed to win some li’l ol’ races in 2004-’05 like the Criterium International and Paris Nice riding those same funny looking rings. Over the course of recent seasons, the sharp-eyed Tifosi should have noticed an impressive and convincing array of ProTour riders using the rings to great effect in big races. Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) won this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné on the rings; Greg Henderson (Sky) rode the field off his wheel to win one of the sprint stages of the recent Amgen Tour of California; David Millar (Garmin-Cervelo) won the final TT stage of the 2011 Giro D’Italia, and a host of races in 2010 using the rings, and the list goes on.
Early this year, former 7-11 team rider and Julich’s former teammate from the US domestic powerhouse Chevrolet/LA Sheriff’s team of the 90’s, Thomas Craven, decided to tackle the project of licensing the Osymetric design for US manufacture and distribution, and thus was born Osymetric USA. The traditional rings are still available in Europe and are hard to get in North America. The new, American made version, however, are coming soon to a dealer near you, and are made by American craftsman in Mebane, North Carolina.
“It’s like an intervention”, says Craven.
“You can’t tell people they should try the rings, they have to be open to it; they have to want to do it. But when people do try them, they almost always love them, though they do take some getting used to and aren’t for everybody.”
“At this point in the sport” Craven elaborates, “people assume the bicycle has been perfected, but it hasn’t. People spend all kinds of money on power measuring devices, nutrition, and as we all know, God knows what manner of performance enhancing drugs. So why not take a look at some of the science around pedaling? If I was still racing seriously and a product that cost $300 could give me a measurable and legal gain in performance, I would jump on it, no question.”
Fair enough, and there is certainly no hard sell at work, here. So apart from the history of the product, the real question is how the hell do they work, and doesn’t it feel bizarre to pedal like that?
For those inclined to geek out on scientific specifics, there has been quite a lot of objective academic research in a variety of places done on the science behind these rings, using world class riders as test subjects. The results are impressive, and reliable. In more practical, day-to-day terms, what the rings essentially do is to shorten the “dead spot” or weakest part of your peal stroke, and lengthen the gear at the point in your pedal stroke where your muscles are the strongest. Even simpler: try to pry a boulder off the ground with a 12” pry bar; then try with a 3’ crowbar. The longer lever is more effective, yes?
So science is science, but what do they feel like? Well at first they feel weird, no question about it. But the strangeness is more in the way of highlighting how odd it is to try to adapt one’s muscles to spin circles in the first place. Where in nature does that occur? After a ride or two on the standard 52×42 tooth set up for 130mm BCD cranks, I noticed that I stopped noticing the rings, and my first experience on a proper climb of 10 minutes or more made me a firm believer. The effect of the rings is most noticeable at low cadences when the extra torque or leverage is particularly wanted. At higher cadences you will likely forget that the rings are even there, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t working. Out of the saddle accelerations on climbs and in sprints are greatly improved by the simple availability of the longer gear—imagine if you could shift to a 56 or 57 tooth chainring for only the distance between 12 and 3 o’clock in your pedal stroke during a sprint. Magic, right? That is essentially what these rings do for you: you get more gear where you have the power to turn it, and less gear where your muscles aren’t doing much, anyway.
One other thing that may require some getting used to is the odd sizing. Many riders may balk at the idea of pushing a 42 or 44 tooth small ring uphill, but it is worth suspending your disbelief to give it a try. Owing to the squashed oval shape of the rings, there is a limit to the sizes available. To quote from the Osymetric website, “the dramatic patented Osymetric curve can not be created any smaller because of the closeness to the chainring mounting holes.” Our own experience here at Embrocation has been that given the fact that almost everyone is riding a 12-25 or 11-26 cassette these days, there is really plenty of gear available for even stiff and sustained climbs. Also important not to overlook, is the effective gear length of the ring, which means that a 42 tooth ring measures out to feel like a 37 tooth ring on the short side of the pedal stroke, and a 47 on the long side. It sounds almost too good to be true, but it feels surprisingly natural and simple.
The only widely reported issue with the rings that we are aware of is that some folks seem to have difficulty dialing in the front derailleur. For this reason, each set of rings comes equipped with a set of spacers to adjust the setback on clamp-on style derailleurs, and to widen—if necessary—the spacing of the cage, itself. In my experience, however, this was not at all a problem. I simply installed the rings, tightened the cable, and off I went, with perfect shifting. It is a good idea to lower the height of the front derailleur slightly so that the teeth of the large chainring are almost rubbing (see pictures). The rings are not ramped or pinned like most modern rings, so some finesse is required when shifting; but again, in my experience the shifting has been smooth and consistent, and I have yet to drop the chain after a series of varied terrain rides and races. Nevertheless, it is a problem for some, and some ingenuity, and occasional tweaking of parts is required at times. This problem is being addressed, however, and as the folks at Osymetric USA streamline and perfect their installation instructions, you can expect to see more riders giving these rings a shot.
We now carry several configurations of Osymetric chainring sets. View them in our store.