We've seen various brands delivering smaller chainrings on their gravel groupsets and now absoluteBlack has brought non-round options to the marketplace with its Premium Sub-Compact Oval 110/4 chainrings in 46/30 and 48/32-tooth combinations. They are top notch when it comes to build quality and also for the performance of the shifting from small to large and back again.
As the gravel/adventure bike scene has increased in popularity, one of the most hotly contested topics is what gearing ratios are most suitable. A compact road chainset (50/34T) is considered too big by some, and with few other options available until now, many brands and riders have gone down the single chainring route.
I prefer a double chainset, and a close-ratio cassette paired to it, so I'm glad to see many brands, including Shimano, offering much smaller chainring pairings. Taking things even further, though, absoluteBlack's new 46/30 and 48/32-tooth rings (we have the latter on test) also bring the benefits of being oval.
I've used oval chainrings many times over the years, most noticeably when I was time-trialling. If you haven't come across them before, the theory is that the rings are smaller in diameter at the point where your legs are going through the 'dead spot', the in-between bit where you go from pushing to pulling on the pedals. In the part of the rotation where you are putting the most power into the pedals, the chainring behaves like one of a bigger diameter, one with more teeth if you like. This means that you can get the power down where you are most efficient and have a slightly easier time of it through the zones where you aren't – TDC (top dead centre), for instance, as you pass through the highest/lowest point of the pedalling circle.
To get this ovality in the best position, absoluteBlack has positioned the point that you'll be using the larger part of the ring at 108 degrees (32T) and 110.5 degrees (48T) after TDC.
I found the whole motion very smooth and natural, especially when climbing, and particularly on long, draggy climbs on gravel tracks. They'll work well for days in the mountains or loaded audax riding too.
This setup I used is for the latest Ultegra chainset. I swapped the rings out for the standard ones that had only covered about 500 miles, so brand new really. After a little tweak of the front mech height everything was ready to go.
I was really impressed to find that the shifting between the absoluteBlack rings was barely indistinguishable from Shimano's offerings, no matter where in the pedalling rotation I was.
The only slight negative is that because of the way these rings fit to the crank, you can't add any cosmetic bolt covers like you can with many aftermarket rings. This means the overall look of the chainset and rings isn't as aesthetically pleasing as with the standard Ultegra rings.
I covered about 400 miles on these rings during the test period, so it is still very early days, but durability looks good. The anodising has barely a mark on it, so I don't see the 7075 series aluminium wearing out any quicker than on other chainrings.
The CNC (computer numerical controlled) machining detailing on both the front and rear of the large chainring not only looks cool, it also reduces a bit of weight. The 48T ring comes in at 110g, while the 32T is 30g, plus another 7.3g for the specific bolts.
Compatibility-wise, this is the only combination you can use – 46/30 or 48/32 – so although you purchase them separately you are looking at £175.98 for the pair including bolts.
Not cheap, but comparable to the Specialites TA Ovalution 4 Arm chainrings Liam recently tested at £173.96. That does include the bolt covers, though, and a braze-on mech adaptor that was needed.
Aesthetics aside, I really like the absoluteBlack chainrings – the shifting is really good, and the benefits of the lower gearing and smooth pedalling style they produce works really well on gravel. It's an investment, but one that is worthwhile.
A welcome addition to lower gearing ratios for road and gravel for those who are fans of oval chainrings
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Absolute Black Premium Sub-Compact Oval 110/4 chainrings
Size tested: 48-tooth, 32-tooth
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
absoluteBLACK says, "absoluteBLACK Premium Road / Gravel 110/4 oval chainrings in Sub-compact (super compact) sizes to improve your climbing and cadence. Increased Cadence is key to reducing perceived effort . With 48/32T and 46/30T crankset chainrings you can ride anywhere and climb anything. Alpine climbs will never be that difficult anymore. These special super compact chainrings are designed for Shimano 110/4bcd cranks making absoluteBLACK the only company on the market offering such sizes. 30 and 32T chainrings allow you to climb on your own terms with improved cadence and efficiency. It is the most Premium oval chainring on the market with scientifically proven performance gains.'
They are top quality replacement chainrings which deliver quality shifting and better low-end ratios for gravel and road riding.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
30T/46T or 32T/48T
Black, Grey, Champagne (inner ring in black only)
Shimano Dura-Ace 9100, R9120, R9150 & R9170 Di2, Ultegra 8000, R8020, R8050 & 8070 Di2., 105 R7000, R7020, R7070, Dura-Ace 9000 & Di2, Ultegra 6800 & Di2, Shimano 105 5800 , Tiagra 4700* (*requires modification -contact us); 10 / 11 / 12spd compatible.
Special bolts are included with 30T (2xM5 TI / 2xM7 AL)
Special bolts are included with 32T (4xM7 AL)
Material & Finish
cnc machined 7075 Txxx Aluminum. Long-lasting construction. Type II anodizing
Optimized to each size separately. 30T- 9% ; 32T - 8% ; 46/48T - 10-11.2% ; Timing of 108 -110.5° after TDC (top dead center) - Ideal for climbing. Patent Pending
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Gear shifting is just as good as the Ultegra rings they replaced, and the lower ratios help when climbing.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Quality gear shifts.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
They don't offer the same smooth looks of an Ultegra crankset and rings.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
For two rings they are very similar in price to the TA options we recently tested, mentioned in the review. If it's just smaller ring sizes that you are after, it might be cheaper to upgrade the whole chainset to something like the Praxis Alba though.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
Really good quality and hardwearing chainrings that deliver on shifting performance and give a good spread of ratios.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: B'Twin Ultra CF draped in the latest bling test components
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed,
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!