Back in mid 2012, when I was first looking at getting back on the bike after my lengthy illness I was quite interested in trying the Rotor Q-rings. I had been following the evolution of these for a number of years but had never had access to a set to try out before deciding to commit to purchasing some. In the past I have tested a rider using oval chainrings and there was a reduced heart rate for a set power output and I have been keen to try them ever since. As it so happened I lucked upon a set, albeit a large set (44/54) when I purchased my last SRM. They sat in my garage a while and then I lent them to a rider who, unfortunately never got to use them (injury). Once I got back on the bike I installed them to see how they felt. The following is my first impressions, after having ridden them for just over a week (back in Aug 2012) as well as my longer term review.
As expected the first ride felt a little different. I normally ride at a cadence of 90-95rpm and I felt that I needed to drop the cadence to 80-85rpm to keep the same feel. Spinning at a higher cadence felt like my hamstrings needed to contract faster to cope. Also, as a result of the 44T small ring I needed to adjust my gearing to cope with the changed load. The 44T peaks at something like a 48T on the downstroke so there was a good 3-4T adjustment required at the back to get the same feel and intenisty. Other than that the most obvious thing was that I noticed I engaged the downstroke a lot earlier than normal. Basically I felt the leg load up earlier in the stroke. If I was to describe it in a few words it made my pedal stroke feel longer on the downstroke. Power wise, I certainly noticed I was putting out more power and the legs certainly felt it. However my heart rate was also higher and in my current state of fitness it was too hard to determine exactly what the changes were. Conclusion – more ride time required
Setup Problems After a couple of rides on the trainer and one road session my new bike arrived and with it a whole new set of problems with the setup. The Q-rings are rather large, with the 54T big ring having a diameter akin to a 56T or 57T so I had to have my derailleur set as high as possible so that I could shift. Unfortunately the braze on mount on the new Kuota was a few mm lower than my Kestrel and this prevented me from installing the big chainring and instead I opted for a standard round ring, which would provide a nice opportunity to test the differences between the ring shapes.
Setup Solution After a bit of checking and playing around with the braze on mount I concluded the problem was with my derailleur. Unfortunately most front mechs only cater for 53T or 54T chainrings so it just wasn't designed to cope with the larger size ring. A quick web search threw up the SRAM front mech and by sheer luck that’s what’s on my TT bike so a quick change over and yippee, back in business with the big ring – albeit with a minor shifting problem due to the design of the back side of the SRAM mech (which I think may have been changed on the newer models).
Oval vs Round Around 95%+ of my riding was conducted using the 44T Q-ring (nice size for sticking to one chainring) so I was able to develop a good feel for it. After around 10 days I did a trainer session on rolling terrain and again stuck mostly to the Q-ring but when the slope allowed I flicked it up in to the big (round) ring and my word what a difference. My pedal stroke felt short and choppy and I had to adjust quite a bit to get more power down. Essentially I had to change away from a ‘long and strong’ pedal stroke to a rounder action which immediately felt less efficient. Power dropped a good 20-30 watts until I got the hang of it and then it came up again, but it certainly required more effort to retain the same power output.
Next Steps Well, based on my short trial run I decided the next step would be to spring for a set of Q-rings in the 39/53 combo. I must admit, sourcing a set of these at a decent price took quite some time and in the end they came in from Germany. Once here I plan on riding them for good month before doing a final evaluation, which will involve doing some long steady state tests on both rings (round and oval) to see which ones: feel better and are more efficient (i.e. power vs heart rate and cadence).
Final Thoughts My initial thoughts (before riding these) was that they would probably be more suited to time trials, however after riding them I certainly think they can be beneficial on the road as well. The one thing I certainly noticed is that they promote a stronger push and this is the one area of possible concern. If indeed they require greater force (due to the larger tooth setting in the push phase) then it’s possible that they could lead to muscular fatigue during a race. However, in training this would be a good thing as it would promote better muscular endurance and in turn this would positively impact the race day performance. It’s also worth considering that being off the bike for an extended period that I have lost quite a bit of strength and that in other circumstances I may not have noticed this. Either way, a month of riding on them should be enough to draw some better conclusions about their benefit.
Long Term Review
The Q-rings that I purchases were the stiffer aero model and the quality of these chainrings has been fantastic. Shifting (after I sorted out the front mech issues) has been close to flawless, especially since I changed to Di2.
The only thing I would recommend is that you install a front chain catcher as I found that despite my best efforts the chain would occassionally drop off the inside ring after shifting down from the big ring.
One of the advantages of the Q-ring over the O-symmetry rings is that they allow for an adjustment of the point at which you feel the loading (due to the ovalized shape). I expected to need to do this when using the rings on the TT bike but in reality I found no need to change - possibly as I had experienced a long adaption period before using them in a time trial.
In reality, I have found the design of the Q-rings to greatly enhance my cycling with particular improvements in my climbing. Despite my earlier thoughts, the longer pedal stroke actually allows the muscles to work more effectively and require less force to generate the same power output. The reason for this appears to be the length of the power arc. With the round cranks you need to apply more force over a smaller radius to generate the same power, whereas the q-rings promote a longer application of force. This also means power is being applied to the cranks for a much greater percentage of time and this appears to keep more 'momentum' in the system. This is great on the flats but way more noticable on the climbs, where I have found I can keep the gear rolling a lot more smoothly and my climb times are noticeably better - even considering my fitness is still a lot lower that it used to be.
The longer power phase from the Q-rings has also helped with my endurance and I found that my legs didn't fatigue anywhere as quickly as they used to - again even with my reduced fitness.
Overall I feel that the Q-rings have enhanced my pedalling biomechanics and efficiency and in turn this has lead to quicker improvements in my return to fitness.
Would I recommend them?
In a word, absolutely!
The Q-rings have forever changed how I perceive a pedal stroke should be and they facilitate this perfectly. I actually cannot envisage ever going back to round chainrings.
The only question that remains is whether I am actually generating more power than previously. This is generally the point that most 'doubters' and the researchers are interested in. Truth be told I don't know whether my power is better, worse or the same with the Q-rings. All I have to go off are my previous power numbers, my ride times and my perception. Based on this information my final thoughts are:
- The Q-rings promote a more efficient pedal stroke and this helps to increase endurance
- The longer pedal stroke reduces the required force to generate the same power and this reduces muscular fatigue - especially in high intenisty efforts.
- My climbing and TT times have been noticably quicker for the given power output even though I am still quite a bit heavier than I used to be. Not quite sure what to make of that but I doubt it's a coincidence, and
- While I havent had too many races yet, I am not experiencing anywhere near the same level of DOMS or fatigue as I used to. I assume this is from the lower force requirement and if that's true then the Q-rings then also have two other benefits: faster recovery between stages when racing tours, and faster recovery from hard training sessions which in turn allows a higher load or training frequency - both of which may provide additional fitness gains.
All up I would not hesitate to recommend Q-rings to anyone looking to improve their riding.