back in june, I wrote a short piece on osymetric chainrings, and the increasing coverage they’ve been getting from various sites. I was definitely curious about them, which is why I posted it in the first place. shortly after this, thomas craven of osymetric usa got in contact with me, and after an in-depth phone conversation regarding the rings, he gave me an opportunity to try out a pair of rings for my own bike. I jumped at the opportunity, excited to ride (and eventually race) on chainrings I had only read about, and seen on the bike of bradley wiggins (sky). I wanted to write about them from my own point of view. I’m just an average, competitively-driven road cyclist, not paid to race, sponsored, or anything like that. and I’m hoping that I’ll shed some light on the chainrings for you all, maybe tell you something that’ll be different from a globally read news website, something more tangible, and that more people could relate to.
after we spoke, a package shipped from north carolina, where craven manufactures the chainrings (the same factory that honda develops their jet engines), and I followed the tracking info like a hawk, making sure not to miss the arrival date. but of course, I missed it (read ‘delivery fail’)…eventually, I was able to pick them up. I dropped them off at the shop, theoretically completing the new bike build, components wise. but let’s get down to the nitty gritty, cool stuff, shall we?
the concept behind osymetric chainrings is simple: maximizing a cyclist’s pedal stroke by increasing the amount of chainring teeth engaged at the power band (1-5 o’clock), and reducing it at the top and bottom “dead spots” (12 and 6 o’clock), where minimal power is being produced. the standard 130mm bolt crank diameter osymetric chainring kit utilizes a 42/52 chainring setup. the 42 tooth small chainring gives the sensation of a 42 through the power band, and a 39 at the dead spots (39 is the least amount of teeth available for 130bcd cranks). the 52 tooth big ring pulls with 54 through the power band, and the sensation of a 49 at the dead spots.
if you’ve ridden a lot, chances are you’ve heard of pedaling techniques like “kicking the door” and “scraping the mud”. to “kick the door”, you envision your foot at 11-12 o’clock kicking down a door, in order to push it through to the power band. “scraping the mud” is the opposite side of this, at 6-8 o’clock – you pretend as if you are scraping your foot on a surface, lifting it through the stroke. with a bit of mental practice, you’ll have a smoother, stronger pedal stroke with round rings. but really though, the natural sensation of pedaling is to push downwards.
the most power is made on the down stroke of your foot, from 1-5 o’clock. osymetric chainrings take this into account, and are designed to maximize your power when you’re making the most of it. but what’s the pedaling sensation feel like? after riding around on round chainrings since I learned how to ride a bike, the initially sensation was very odd. there noticeably more resistance through the power band (not much, just a few more gear inches), and then a drastic reduction in gear inches at dead spots, causing my foot to lurch past them with ease.
after a couple rides on the chainrings, my spin was much smoother. the first thing I noticed was that it was much easier to maintain a higher cadence and smoother spin in both chainrings. I was no longer fighting the dead spots, forcing my feet into invisible doors and out of puddles of mud. pedaling through the stroke became much easier, and more fluid. initially, I thought that it’d be near impossible to match the pedaling sensations between the small and big osymetric chainrings, but after a couple hundred miles, I can safely say that the sensation and spin between both chainrings is exactly the same.
as previously mentioned, the small ring is a 42. climbing does take a bit of getting used to, especially since all 130bcd chainrings are usually 39, minimum. and in short, yes, climbing is more difficult, initially (I’m currently using a 12-25t ultegra 6700 cassette on both my wheelsets). however, after a couple rides, climbing while seated became less and less of a chore. in the power band, you’re pushing a 42, so naturally, it’s harder. but then, all of a sudden, at the 6 and 12 o’clock spots, your foot is already through them, and you’re back to making power again. it’s the same sensation as spinning, except now you’re just going up a mountain side. I now find myself maintaining a higher cadence, with the same amount of effort as with round chainrings, but with a slightly higher gear ratio.
and while on the topic of climbing, what’s the sensation like when climbing out of the saddle? climbing out of the saddle utilizes your body weight, as well as a bunch of upper-body and core synchronization, and the bottom line is that I couldn’t honestly tell that the rings were oblong. the same goes for out of the saddle sprinting. the one thing that I did notice above all was the fact that my feet no longer fought through the pedal stroke. my cadence was smooth and natural. and the sensation was the same.
the first thing I noticed when I first held the chainrings in my hand was the fact that they weren’t ramped or pinned for crisper shifting. various cutouts on the backside of large chainrings, as well as metal pins mounted onto the ring itself, help lift and slide the chain onto the big ring as you shift up. but as you can see, the rings are perfectly smooth on both sides. there is a chain pin mounted onto the big ring though, but it only keeps the chain from slipping in between the crank arm and the chainring, in the event that you throw the chain off the edge.
in the competitive cyclist article, the cyclist mentions that fitting the rings onto a sram setup took a lot of effort, and a bit of grinding. I had my rings installed by freewheel hayes, here in san francisco, with much less hassle. there were no modifications done to my cranks, and no spacers needed for my braze-on front derailleur. that being said though, every bike is different, and the size of front derailleurs vary from manufacturer. but for the sake of this article, the rings were installed without much trouble at all. I’m running cannondale hollowgram si sl cranks with the standard 130mm bolt crank diameter, and shimano dura-ace 7900 shift components. the shop also installed a few washers on the end of the derailleur cage to space out the opening, aiding in less chain rub as I shifted through the cassette.
the front derailleur was mounted high on the braze-on tab, in order to clear the tallest point of the osymetric big ring. dustin (at freewheel hayes) had already installed a few osymetric setups prior to mine, and stated that the front derailleur adjustment was the most time consuming part of the whole process. and at the end of it all, the bike shifted pretty well. as you can see, the front derailleur needed no rearward spacing shims of any kind (osymetric chainrings come with a 5 and 10mm aluminum wedge for shimming). if I were to compare it to my previous cannondale chainrings, I’d say that the shifting was only a fraction more hesitant than the rings with ramps and pins. and on the same breath, it also comes down to rider finesse. a simple revolution with light pedal load does wonders for these chainrings, and there hasn’t been a point where I couldn’t upshift into the big ring. with a proper front derailleur adjustment and a bit of patience, I was surprised at how easy it was to shift through the rings. downshifting wasn’t really ever a problem, either. and I had no fear from dropping a chain:
the trusty k-edge chain catcher. I had a several close calls in races, dropping my chain in panicked situations, so a chain catcher was definitely on the new bike build list this time around. I feel it’s a valid, race-worthy investment. that being said, nathaniel ward of embrocation cycling journal runs his osymetric rings with no chain catcher at all, stating that he has “yet to drop the chain after a series of varied terrain rides and races”. it all comes down to a bit of patience and finesse.
because the chainrings drastically vary in size from traditional rings, chain rub is somewhat of an issue. but it’s only if you’re cross chaining your setup really horribly. if you’re in the small chainring zooming across to the 2 smallest cogs (12 and 13t, in my case) then the chain begins to rub the large chainring, slightly. if you’re in the 52 and crossing towards the 2 largest cogs (25 and 23t) there might be some inevitable front derailleur rubbing. cross chaining is bad for your drivetrain and can wear it down prematurely, but it’s worth noting for the sake of being thorough!
and it wouldn’t be a thorough review without talking about the aesthetics of the chainrings themselves. aesthetics don’t equate to much if the component doesn’t function as it should, but that being said, from a strictly aesthetics point of view, the chainrings don’t look half bad on dark cranks. they look a little out of place on newer generation shimano (6700, 7900, for example) because the cranks are designed to be used in conjunction with the stock shimano hollowtech chainrings, but they work just fine.
would I recommend osymetric chainrings? if you’re in the market for new chainrings, and have spent hours on your bike kicking down doors and scraping tons of mud, I’d strongly consider a pair of osymetric chainrings. that being said, not everyone’s pedal stroke is the same. some people’s technique and style may favor round rings over osymetric ones, the professional peloton is a perfect example of this. many cyclists have yet to adopt more biomechanically friendly chainring setups. a handful of pro cyclists are racing on osymetric chainrings though, including bradley wiggins, alex dowsett, bobby julich, david millar, and geraint thomas to name a few. so the question really is, “are osymetric chainrings right for me?”. I can’t answer that for you, but for myself, I am thoroughly impressed with the chainrings and would love to see more people trying out new things.
so now you might be wondering, who’s thomas craven and what does he do for osymetric usa? I had the opportunity to find out more!
– who are you? Thomas Craven, 46 [years old], and owner of Osymetric USA.
– why did you want to start cycling professionally? I started racing becuase there was a great race in front of my house when I was growing up. My parents had riders stay during the weekend and I really thought the guys that came were pretty cool. Danny Clark, Ian Jackson, Paul Pearson, Jeff Rutter…I was playing soccer but riding to practice and games. My parents rode bikes a bit, touring but they really helped me get into the racing side.
– what professional cycling teams have you raced for? I tried to get in with the National Team Program but I couldn’t really break into that scene. I was into racing fast and hard so I loved racing criteriums. I was always in the mix as an amateur but I was just never on the podium, in fact I was 4th 20 times in ’88. I was discovered by Mike Farrell who ran the Schwinn/Wheaties Team and he offered me a great deal to ride in 89. I did every major race on the road,track,stage races…anything. I had a breakthrough ride at the Tour of America and then followed it up with the prologue win at the Tour de Trump. Jim Ochowitz was on the same plane when I went to Worlds in Chambery, France and I spoke with him about moving up to his 7-eleven team. He said no way…full. Lemond won the worlds, I was dropped but was able to enjoy his victory with Bob Roll at a cafe eating raw hamburgers. Schwinn folded and I received a call from Tom Schuler…Tom offered me a deal with the 7-Eleven team. That year was huge for 7-eleven, Bauer, Hampsten, Dag Otto, lots of big guys and they were really concentrating on the TDF. I road well all spring and was given the nod to ride the Giro…fun! I was punished the entire time. Tough! That team too went under and then came back as a drastically reduced Motorola team. I soldiered on with a couple of deals that sort of fell through then ended up riding the remainder of the year for Robin Morton’s team Poland Springs. At that time she was into teams and I believe she does just event promotions now. She rescued me and I was able to piece together some results and I landed back on my feet with the Chevrolet/LA Sheriffs team. We pulled it together the second year I was on the team and won the Team prize at the DuPont race after finishing in last place the year prior. I won 14 races including Athens twilight so it was a great time. I raced one more year with them and was forced to retire as I was not awarded another contract for the Chevy guys… kind of upsetting at the time, but I got over it.
– what was your most memorable moment as a pro? winning the prologue at the Tour De Trump
– who are your heroes? Bike Heroes…Tom Schuler, Ian Jackson…those guys taught me a lot.
– where does Osymetric originate from? French guy Jean-Louis Talo started Osymetric..he is an inventor and designed a ring to help him ride faster with his friends. He found that they worked and he tried to get the European peloton to try them out. Bobby Julich, Vinocorov, Millar were some early adopters. Bobby won several big races with them.
– when did you start Osymetric USA? Bobby and I got together in December and said that we should bring them to the US…he loved them and was always dismayed that the US riders didn’t have them. I did a short market study and found that the people that wanted them couldn’t really figure out how to get them. Ordering from France was not easy and there was no real distributor in the US.
– bike technology has come a long way, what do you enjoy most about today’s equipment? Amazing how far the bikes have come since I stopped racing as a professional. I rode on the very first sets of “upstairs” shifters…carved from aluminum, they were like 3 pounds. My race bike was 24 lbs. The clothing is so amazing now too…the shorts are do freaking nice…I can ride forever, saddle sores were common place…in fact one year Ekimov almost died from one.
– there has been a lot of chainring technology in the past (and present), why do you think Osymetric will stick around? I think people are open to the technology, the bikes are light, they are aero…next we needed to work on the biomechanics…
– will there be future generations of Osymetric rings, possibly with ramps and pins? I’ve got a bunch of stuff in our wheelhouse that I am working on, pins, a crank, derailleurs…who knows? Different ring applications..custom logos. I am having a blast though, I was out of the racing scene for quite a while and it really makes me smile that I have gotten back in with so many of my former peers and friends.
thanks for the insight, thomas! be sure to visit osymetric usa, and thanks for reading my article.