Q-Rings convert and Saddleback content editor Tom Ballard on why he's left round rings behind
Given the fact that almost every bike sold comes with round rings, it's perhaps only natural that there's scepticism from some riders when they first see Q-Rings. Having ridden Q-Rings for the last few years, I can sympathise with that first reaction: they do look like they might create a choppy and disruptive up and down action. But looks can deceive and the eyes can't experience the utterly smooth pedal stroke that Q-Rings bring to your legs.
It's simple: Q-Rings just feel rounder than round rings. It's an odd statement but one that those who've dared to think outside the circle will understand. Users of the round rings will recognise the staccato jaggedness of spinning at high cadences, the uneven grind when really powering hard or the irksome jarring jolt of the hill climb. Install Q-Rings and these power dropouts, these symptoms of inefficiency, just disappear.
Often regarded as a techie product for gear ratio aficionados, Q-Rings don't require a load of diagrams to understand. By being oval, dead spots are minimised because you're pushing the narrower part – smaller gear – faster through these segments. On the downstoke, it's like you're pushing a bigger gear, making the most of your powerful muscles. Simples.
The difference is subtler than you might think: if you spin very slowly and carefully in an easy gear while using round rings, it's not too hard to keep a steady, smooth stroke. Q-Rings do all that for you, and crucially, do it at cadences that are actually useful when riding.
Another stumbling block for some is the positioning of the rings themselves, but far from being scary, it's perhaps the biggest strength of Q-Rings, allowing you to tailor the point at which the 'ovality' has its effect within each pedal cycle. Rotor calls this Optimum Chainring Position (OCP). Most riders will probably want position three while time trialists and triathletes would be more likely to go for position four. Experimenting with different positions is just a case of undoing the bolts, rotating and re-tightening.
In years of using Q-Rings, the only shifting problems I've ever experienced – and they've been very few and far between – have been down to derailleur set-up. They're certainly no less reliable than any 50/34 round rings I've ever used and a chain catcher is always a sensible addition when dropping a long way between outer and inner rings. While Di2 and eTap virtually guarantee perfect shifting, those with mechanical shifting certainly shouldn't suffer any performance issues provided indexing is spot on. Rotor's attention to quality control is spectacular and the CNC machined rings are ramped to keep shifts smooth.
On the road, Q-Rings feel better than round from the first ride – that ebb in power that's so obvious when the gradient kicks up becoming less pronounced – but it can take a little while for muscles to completely adapt. Once they have, you'll be using your powerful, driving muscles for more of the stroke and minimising the work of weaker muscles. Roadies can switch off for a moment, but that's great news for triathletes and my experience of using Q-Rings across Olympic, 70.3 and Ironman distance events has been one of fresher running legs compared to round rings.
During sportives or iron-distance triathlon, I've found that legs feel stronger and more comfortable for longer. 80 miles into a ride, when you can't face another gel and positives are hard to find, there's a real mental boost from knowing your pedal stroke is as efficient as possible.
Q-Rings have been used to win a trio of Grand Tour victories, a host of world championships and dozens of Ironman victories. These palmares can tell you that Q-Rings' design and reliability have been proven at cycling's highest levels, but for me, the feeling of using them outweighs even the grand endorsement of a Tour de France victory.
All in all, I love Q-Rings. I love that smooth pedalling feeling on the flats, the way they even out power when climbing and the fact they're a little bit different. Whether during triathlon or road riding, Q-Rings are just something special.
If you've wondered about Q-Rings for a while, or are discovering them for the first time, Rotor's 30-day money back guarantee means you can take the time to adapt to them before making a final decision. Check out the full Q-Rings range.