Winter in San Diego has its benefits. The cool mornings that give way to warm afternoons make fantastic cycling weather that can’t be beat. Even better are the occasional cycling events put on by various organizers and brands to keep us pedaling from January to March, one such event we attended back in February sponsored by the Eliel Factory Team was one we couldn’t miss.
The Birthdays, Bikes and Tacos Event, that would start in Escondido, roll through Valley Center and eventually summit Palomar Mountain, our favorite Beyond Category climb here in San Diego County. Lexie and Ryan would celebrate their birthdays the best way possible, with bikes, friends and a good fiesta! With almost 85 miles and 9000ft on the agenda, I had to join.
In preparation I swapped out the knobby Panaracer Gravel Kings SKs for something more road appropriate, and picked up a pair of Specialized Roubaix tires at Ride Cyclery (those would come in handy for the upcoming BWR). Leading up to the event I also caught up with Tony from absoluteBLACK. Tony was excited to share with me a new product, their Gravel specific oval chainrings. I must admit, I was a bit skeptical. Oval rings were never really on my radar and I always assumed they would bring only minor gains for high performance athletes. As he explained the rationale, technology and manufacturing process I certainly became more aware of the potential benefits of going oval for the average rider.
I agreed to give them a try and went with their Winter Oval Chainrings for my Specialized Diverge Smartweld Comp. I also snagged a cool little absoluteBLACK Chain Catcher in racing red. With rings in hand, and a couple of days away from the Birthday Ride, I went for the install. Swapping chainrings was fairly easy, with old rings off I was sure to install the new rings in the correct position. Part of absoluteBLACKs edge in this space is how they have optimized the oval shape and “timing” (crank position) of each chainring product. With a minor adjustment to the front derailleur height due to the ovality of the big ring I was good to go.
I figured the upcoming ride would be a good test, as we would be ascending Palomar South Grade, an 11.62 mile segment with an average grade of 7%. Chris Horner holds the KOM at 51:15, with Phil Gaimon a close second after his worst retirement attempt just 8 seconds behind. All set to roll I headed for the start that following Sunday morning.
The first few miles as we cruised out of Escondido and climbed up Lake Wohlford Road I wasn’t thinking much of my legs or cadence, which I was pleased to know the chainrings wouldn’t feel uncomfortable in any way. After a brief SAG support stop we descended towards Harrah’s
As we began the Palomar climb I settled into a comfortable cadance and began to notice my pedal stroke was definitely smoother and felt rounder. I learned that this is because as we pedal, the power produced is not distributed evenly through the stroke, and the ovality of these rings optimize the part of the stroke where the most power is produced, while minimizing where it isn't. Riding oval the past few weeks over a few hundred miles of various terrain I can definitely appreciate what absoluteBLACK has created and recommend it to anyone that's looking for an affordable and easy upgrade to any bike. The benefits for gravel may be even more pronounced, as I've experienced improved tire traction due to smoother power delivery to the rear wheel.
The Chain Catcher has worked pretty well too. Riding a 2x system on gravel I have had my share of chain drops. This simple add-on component has nearly eliminated that from happening, plus it just looks rad.
We regrouped at the top, enjoyed some soda & pretzels and agreed to meet up again at the Jilberto's. From their we were eager to get back to Kit Carson for the fiesta, where preparations had begun for fresh tacos and drinks.
Everyone had a blast that day, and we left wishing it could be Lexie's birthday every month! It turned out to also be the perfect test ride for my oval chainrings, and I don't plan on switching them out anytime soon.
For more information on absoluteBLACK chainrings and other products visit their website (link below) or ask about them at local bike shop.