March 25, 2012

An appraisal of Rotor Q-rings

I’ve been running Rotor Q-rings since July 2011, and in that time I’ve covered over 3,500km on them.

Before owning them I was skeptical of the benefits, I remember when Shimano brought out their Biopace rings and their subsequent disappearance from the market. They obviously failed for a reason - were, are, manufacturers trying to address something that isn’t really a problem?

In case you’re not aware of Q-rings, Osymetrics or their forebears here’s the lowdown. Ovalized chaninrings are designed to reduce the ‘dead spots’ on a pedal stroke - typically at the bottom and top of the stroke. Maximum power is usually produced by your legs when the crank is at the three o’clock position. Making chainrings oval changes the size of the ‘lever’, helping your legs get through the dead spots faster and with less effort. Rotor have a bunch of studies on their website.

I never considered that my pedal stroke was in dire need of some assistance - I didn’t feel like I was a ‘masher’, so when the opportunity to try the Q-rings came along I did so with skepticism but an open mind.

On the first outing I actually felt like they helped when pedalling hard - for the power meter junkies reading this, when I was working at a wattage pretty much in between my FTP and VO2max the effort felt easier to maintain. A great start.

After a few weeks my pedal stroke started to feel lumpy - there was a noticeable problem with the stroke, so I read the fine manual that came with the Q-rings. A small note on this actually - Rotor make a big deal about starting out on position 3 and giving your legs time to adjust - don’t give up on them too soon. They have a quite comprehensive table of issues, and what position to change the rings to in order to cater for these problems. I would like to stress that they’re not saying this for effect - you really should do precisely what they suggest. My problem turned out to be one listed which had an easy resolution, change to position 4.

As soon as I rotated the rings around to position 4 my stroke felt smooth again. I carried on riding like this throughout last autumn, through the winter and into the early part of this year. Throughout this time I’ve had an ongoing knee problem, which has been diagnosed as tightness in a couple of parts of my body. I should roller my ITB and stretch every day, but I do tend to get a bit lazy with that! Anyway, the problem started to get worse earlier this year, and despite seeing a physio and doing exercises things were not getting any better.

This made me wonder if the Q-rings were to blame, so with a heavy week’s training in Majorca approaching I decided to give round rings a whirl again.

To say the first test ride was astonishing would be an understatement. I realise this is subjective, but immediately I noticed how incredibly lumpy my pedal stroke felt! I could clearly feel the dead spots of the stroke, and the smoothness I had become used to was gone. I decided to remain open minded though, as the test ride was performed with the remains of a hangover - I figured a lot of the sensations in my legs could be down to this.

So the bike was packed, and off to Majorca I went.

The lumpy stroke sensation was not down to the hangover - I noticed it immediately when riding. And what’s more, after a decent 100km ride the inner part of my quads were screaming! Evidently the Qrings used muscles differently to round rings.

As the week progressed and I managed to get some good climbs in I decided to look over the collected data, to see if I could actually quantify the sensations I was having.

A small warning: what follows is far from scientific data!

Before heading out to the training camp I had done a pyramid test on rollers at home, with the Q-rings still on the bike. Using the wattages and corresponding heart rates from this test I tried to compare similar efforts performed whilst on the road in Majorca. Here’s the first glaringly obvious difference - inside on rollers versus outside on the road. But, over a few days, on various climbs and during differing efforts one thing became very clear - for a given wattage my heart rate was always higher on the round rings.

The knee problem hasn’t really changed - although I must admit that with the load performed on the training camp I would ordinarily expect more discomfort in my knee, so maybe that inner quad pain generated whilst using the round rings has started to strengthen the muscle I should be working on with exercises set by my physio. There is a possibility that the Q-rings aren’t helping me in this area - but I feel that the difference in knee pain is so minimal that it’s not enough to make me want to remain on round rings.

To properly quantify the power/heart rate difference I should perform an identical test on rollers at home - and maybe later this week I will. But my initial feeling is that Q-rings have benefits that I don’t want to give up - a smoother pedal stroke and lower heart rate for a given power output.

I don’t doubt that they won’t suit everybody. But I know this for sure - I am going straight back to riding Q-rings.

Addition: Since writing this I’ve discovered this great write up from Flamme Rouge. It’s worth a read.