Review: absoluteBLACK Sub-Compact Oval Chainrings – 48/32 and 46/30 with Shimano Ultegra Cranks!

absoluteBLACK bills itself as “a cycling company devoted to extraordinary design, European manufacturing and production of parts that not only perform great, but also last long.” The company is best known for their line of ovalized chainrings, which we’ve tested for both road and mountain bikes in their normal size options.

Now, with gravel road riding and racing here to stay, a plethora of new products have come along specifically for this category. Frames, tyres, suspension, and a push towards 1x single chainring drivetrains coming from a lot of manufacturers. These drivetrains tout simplicity, but not all of us appreciate the related cassettes and their widened gaps between many of the cogs.

The traditional 2x double chainring drivetrains are still used and appreciated by a lot of riders, but their larger range wasn’t always necessary or ideal on gravel. absoluteBLACK has recognized this, mostly in the form new sub-compact chainrings suitable for Shimano cranks.

They debuted their gravel-centric 48/32 and 46/30 Shimano-compatible ovalized chainrings earlier this year, and I was keen to get my hands on a set for long-term review. Here’s how it went, including a thrashing of the 46/30 pair at the 2018 Dirty Kanza 200!

absoluteBLACK.cc


Video by Gravel Cyclist. Jayson O’Mahoney is the Gravel Cyclist: A website about the Gravel Cycling Experience.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Ordered a set. Didn’t like them. They refused to take them back even though they say they have a satisfaction guarantee on their website.

  2. > Ordered a set. Didn’t like them.
    > They refused to take them back
    > even though they say they have
    > a satisfaction guarantee on their website.

    —snip—
    What is your return policy.

    We accept returns on any products that are new and have not been installed on a bike within 30days from purchase date (e.g. if you install a chainring it cannot be returned.)

  3. All this company has done was to copy the rotor chainring and claimed “years of research” that nobody has ever seen. They also like to go around the net accusing other people to copy their stuff – which is already a copy. As far as durability goes, i have seen two people on the trail (on different occasions) pushing their bike because their dm chainring cracked. They both run AB chainrings.
    Other products they sell, the top cap is an absolute disgrace as it is impossible to give accurate torque. The chainguard/taco is made out of tortilla. The chain catcher is a copy of rotor as well….

    They got luck jumping on the DM chainring train at the right time, but at this point most people can frame them. Comparable companies with similar start, OneUp and WolfTooth, they were able to expand and come out with cool products. AB does’t seem to be able to go past making poor copies of the rotor ring.

    BTW for oval rings, being able to rotate the ring to suit your riding is key. All other “years of research for the most perfect ring” is just childish.

    • My experience with AB has been different: I’ve got 3 AB direct-mount rings, and I haven’t had any trouble with them (knock on wood). Been pushing them pretty hard too. I like them, well, simply because they do what they’re supposed to do, cost was similar to Wolftooth or whatever (when on sale)… and that CNC look is something that this 80’s mtb kid can’t get enough of.

      When I’m done with the AB rings, I’m gonna hang them on my Christmas tree as ornaments, they’re so beautiful…

      As for the top cap, I run one too… You gotta keep in mind it’s really just a cool little thing to add some bling to your bike AFTER you’ve already preloaded your headset with a proper bolt and cap. If you’re going to put that much torque into a little machined aluminum piece… you’re putting too much faith in Aluminum.

  4. Hi Pinko,
    Thanks for the comment. It’s usually very hard to respond on such mulit thread comment but I will do my best.
    1) Rotor is a great company, but we did not and do not copy any of their oval chainrings and solutions. Their rings have different timing, different ovality and most importantly different shape. Even though they look like perfect ellipse they are not. A quick look at their patent from some years back will make it clear.

    We have done extensive research over the years and keep doing it with one of the most prominent Universities specializing in human kinematics on the Globe. In fact we cooperate with many top 30 doctors and phd’s in the field of human kinematics to help us measure and improve our design. We also cooperate with Cycling Science company for few years now, who are creators of the most accurate 3D power meter that has been ever made (it is now offered to selected bike fitters I believe for over 20keur). Using this device combined with other equippment allow us to not only measure mechanical results but also measure the body on physiological level like amount of oxygen consumed, lactate and so on. We went so far with that and for so long now that we will soon be able to publish a lot of materials how oval chainrings actually affect our way of pedaling and physiology. No one ever has done it on such a deep and extensive level. All that was tried in the past is merely a measurement of sub maximal power in a 1km time trial with semi pro athletes or similar approach.

    2. Yes, we don’t use different timing for our chainrings. And there is a simple reason to it. After few years of research it was clear to us that it’s a lot better to do one setting that fits most riders than offer multiple settings. There is not enough space here to elaborate, but in short – more than 90% of riders given the opportunity to make changes to timing of the ring (like Rotor offers) are actually making their pedaling worse to what they had before. What they “feel” is rarely correlated what their mechanical efficiency and metabolical effectiveness actually is. The only group of riders on “normal” bike that needs a different timing to what we currently offer is Timetrial and Triathlon. Bike position is very different and requires different timing. And this is what we are about to release very soon as well. Our road or mtb chainrings have as good timing as they can ever have based on our research. And to be clear, we don’t only measure “athletes” like other researches did, as they typically have different pedal stroke to an “average” rider . We measure cyclists who actually use our products and are a good representation of the majority of riders out there. Great majority of them are not “pros” and this is where we specialize and deliver the product that offers best possible results for such riders. If you don’t ride more than 10h a week (every week), you most likely fall into this category.

    3. Regards cracked direct mount chainrings. This can only happen when the mounting bolts are loose for extended period of time. No chainring on the market will withstand that as it was never designed to have loose bolts. On the bright side this happens actually extremely rarely and I personally seen only handful of examples over few years.

    4. Chainguard/Taco. We use the strongest aluminium commercially available and a special polymer with carbon – glass fibers reinforcement. Not sure I would compare that to tortilla because it has a different taste and smell in my opinion.

    And lastly. We are actually the first company which produced direct mount oval chainrings and third I believe to make round. The only companies that made any DM ring for Sram before us were MRP and Home Brewed I believe (and Boon decades ago for xtr and middleburn cranks ). And at that time there was a big push back against this idea and only handful of riders used it. Companies like us, WT and few more actually popularized this solution and only then RF, Sram and now Shimano joined it.
    While some companies aspire to “be everything” we focus on what we do best and keep doing it better, this is why we are now considered a leader in oval chainrings and soon we will also release other devices that help you improve your pedaling further. This is where we specialize in and have already made new very interesting discoveries thanks to our ongoing research.

    I hope this put a bit more light on what we actually do.

    Martin

    • “Not sure I would compare that to tortilla because it has a different taste and smell in my opinion.”

      Even without this bit of cheek, this is a fanastic response.

      I’ve been running an AB oval M8000 ring on my 29+ bike and it feels quite good, no complaints from me!
      Went from a 32t x 20t single speed cog (also AB) to a 30t geared setup for a recent tour. I’ve been thinking seriously about some Ultegra rings, the 30t inner is appealing for my gravel riding.

  5. Can’t believe no one has brought up the fact that the title image has these rings mounted to an Easton EC90 SL. They are clearly not a special chainring as they have the curved edge near one of the mounting bolts, they are the Shimano subcompact rings being reviewed. Are the bolt pattern for shimano and Easton the same?

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