Review: Race Face’s New Cinch Oval Ring

Jul 2, 2018 at 21:57
by Richard Cunningham  
Race Face Cinch Crankset


Oval-chainring-curious riders who still harbor doubts about the concept should give Race Face's new Cinch Oval chainring a try. It's effective and it requires little or no adaptation time. The caveat is that you'll need a Race Face crankset to make that happen.

You can order a Cinch Oval Ring in 28, 30, 32 or 34-tooth options, and flipping the direct-mount sprocket will center its chain line for Boost or "Super Boost Plus" hub spacing (standard DH-width hubs). Race Face Cinch Oval direct-mount chainrings are crafted from 7075-alloy aluminum, retail for $81.99 CAD or $64.99 USD, and are compatible with all current Race Face Cinch cranksets.
Cinch Oval Ring Details:
• Fits all Race Face direct-mount cranks
• 10% ovality
• 112.5-degree timing
• Black anodized, 7075-alloy aluminum
• Compatible with 10, 11 and 12-speed
• Narrow-wide tooth profile
• Sizes: 28, 30, 32, 34-tooth
• Reversible to fit 148mm Boost or 157mm Super Boost chain lines
• Weight: 72g (32t)
• MSRP: $64.99 USD
• Contact: Race Face

bigquotesThe rings feature an “Ovality” of 10 percent. This means the ring diameter varies from 95 to 105 percent of the equivalent round ring.Race Face PR

Race Face Cinch Crankset
The Cinch crankarm self-extracts with an 8mm Allen key. A Race Face bottom bracket tool unscrews the lock ring that retains the direct-mount chainring.


Installation

Installing the Cinch oval chainring is simple: Use an 8-millimeter Allen wrench to remove the self-extracting drive-side crank arm; Use a Race Face bottom-bracket-cup spline tool to unscrew the retaining nut at the base of the existing chainring; Switch the existing sprocket with your new oval chainring (make sure to line up the "Crankarm" sign) and then screw the parts back together. The entire job takes ten minutes, tops.

Race Face direct-mount chainrings can be indexed at any one of sixteen spline locations, which might encourage riders to experiment with different clocking points. I'd be careful to try the stock setting first before you start messing around. Each position will advance or retard the timing by 22.5 degrees, and that represents an extreme change. I can feel the difference between 10 and 12 percent.

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Features and Performance

Race Face took their time to figure out how much "ovality" was too much and then diligently worked with different clocking angles to ascertain where the major axis of the chainring should be located to maximize its effect. Cinch Oval Rings have a ten percent difference between their major and minor axes, and are "clocked" at 112.5 degrees. What this means to the rider is that there is just enough ovality in the chainring to provide more consistent torque around the entire crank circle without creating abrupt speed changes at the pedal. It does this by increasing the leverage moment where the legs are ineffective (more torque with less effort) and reversing that equation as the crank arms rotate into their power zone.

Chainring timing: The clocking angle is an average figure that takes into consideration the geometry created by the rider's leg, the frame's seat tube angle, and where the "dead spot" occurs in the crank circle. When you get that right, power delivery feels more natural from the rider's perspective, and torque output to the rear wheel is smoother and more constant. The improvement is most noticeable during high power/lower RPM events, like steep climbs.

Smoother power stroke: Whether you agree or not, the reality of round chainrings is that pedaling action creates irregular power pulses at the rear wheel which encourages wheel-spin. A good oval chainring minimizes that pulsing and delivers power in a more controllable way that maximizes grip - especially when traction is iffy. If you do break traction while climbing, an oval ring makes it easier to pedal through the wheel-spin, instead of stalling.
Race Face Cinch Crankset
Cinch sprockets are "dished," so they can be reversed to fit Boost or Super Boost chain lines.


Riding impressions: I have been using a 30-tooth Cinch Oval Ring on a Pivot Mach 5.5, driving a Shimano 11 x 46, 11-speed cassette. That's a bit of a stump puller gear for some riders, but the hills I have been using the bike for are steep and technical. The terrain was familiar, which gave me the chance to compare round rings and other oval types in an apples-to-apples review.

I was surprised by how seamless the transition from round to oval was. I jump back and forth between the two, because test bikes always come with round rings. and that is what occupies most of my riding time. I expect that switching to an oval chainring of the same number of teeth will lower my maximum cadence slightly and require me to shift more often, but that was not the case this time. My cadence remained steady and I literally forgot that I was riding an oval ring until I was reminded that something had changed after I cleared a particularly difficult, very lumpy rock garden climb with relative ease.

There is less of a "peak torque" sensation - the five or ten degrees of pain-spike you get from round chainrings when your legs are feeling spent. The Race Face chainring made it easier and less painful to keep the pedals circling during those moments.

Race Face Cinch Crankset
Race Face's narrow-wide tooth profile shows little wear, in spite of some grimy wet conditions.

Technical Points

Race Face machines the tooth profiles of its Cinch Oval Rings in the neo-classic, narrow-wide configuration that virtually guarantees that the chain will stay put as long as you pair it with a clutch-type rear derailleur. If you do want to use a top guide or similar, they say that most guides will work fine with a ten-percent oval. I have found that to be true, but I did not use a guide and have yet to lose a chain.

Other concerns with oval rings are noise due to the chain meshing with the sprocket teeth at constantly varying angles - and that some oval chainrings create unwanted movement of the rear derailleur's chain take-up arm. My test chainring was a bit noisy for about a week. Not bothersome, but considering how quiet SRAM Eagle is, it was noticeable. The Cinch chainring has broken in now and, without showing much wear, is running quietly enough that I never notice it.

Theoretically, the same number of teeth are engaged at any point in the rotation of an oval sprocket, so there should be no change in chain length as it spins. In reality, there is always some machining or mathematical error on an oval sprocket that causes the rear derailleur to move slightly. Race Face's design is the best so far, with so little movement that it does not even come close to engaging the derailleur's clutch, which is the only real concern.


Pinkbike's Take:
bigquotesRace Face's Cinch Oval Ring is one of the better options available. I think its modest, ten-percent ovality is perfect for mainstream riders and modern riding styles. It is not so aggressive that it will require you to adapt your pedaling style, yet the benefits are tangible in all respects. I'd recommend one to any oval-curious rider who owns a Race Face crankset.RC






Must Read This Week

97 Comments

  • + 44
 No need! My RaceFace BB92 is already running oval
  • + 1
 Omg....I already went through a few on my yetis....death to press fit!!!
  • + 1
 @Jhou: The same happened to me on my SB5+. I replaced that last one with a Wheels Manufacturing thread-fit and it's been happy sailing since.
  • + 8
 I've wondered about the der. clutch wearing with these rings, but am curious what fellow keyboard experts think. I've got the wolftooth oval ring, you can definitely see the cage pulse back and forth while pedaling. Am I just going to have a dead clutch sooner? Maybe the amount the cage moves just with the suspension travel makes it a marginal difference in wear?
  • + 1
 My XTR rear mech is still fine after 2 years of that. But I will not buy another oval ring. Haven’t experienced any difference in riding that is worth writing home about. Especially in places where they claim it to have benefits, that is standing pedaling on techy climbs. Not a jot.
  • + 2
 I'm not sure if it's truley better but I am all for this cool aid, I enjoyed it before, can't wait to get it again!
  • + 5
 I have been using Garbaruk oval for 3 years on XTR derailleur on a Race Face Next SL with no problem. Not sure what makes the reviewer claim that the Race Face "is the best so far" (as if he had actually tested all ovals on the market!) but the Garbaruk is a very good product and costs a bit less.
  • + 0
 A well designed oval ring should have nearly no pulse ( like my wolf tooth). Maybe try another brand?
  • + 1
 @hamncheez: I've got a Wolftooth / XO setup on my bike. Just setup a Wolftooth / XT on a buddies, and previously a Absolute Blank / XT setup on another bike. They're all basically the same for cage movement. Perhaps my definition of cage pulsing is different - but it seems like it's enough to engage the clutch (although that's different feeling from SRAM to Shimano). Makes me wonder how many watts I'm spending moving the clutch around - not that I've ever noticed a difference.
  • + 0
 Does it look like a chainring- check,,,,, does it smell like a chainring- check,,,,, is it really $65 hahahha did they machine it with their balls or is this a simple thrown it in and hit start like every other machine job.
  • + 1
 @fecalmaster: what’s your job?
  • + 0
 @WAKIdesigns: I'm a Certified Breast Inspector who happens to have grown up close to the machine shop district in brooklyn.
  • + 2
 @fecalmaster: *Certifiable
  • - 1
 @fullfacemike: It's a hard job but someone's got to do it!
  • + 2
 @hamncheez: how so? an oval ring will pulse. the more ovality the more pulse. no matter how "well designed", the chain is always on about 270 degrees of the chainring, so there is a point where the chain is on both of the high points of the ring and another point where it is on both of the low points of the ring. oval rings just work this way
  • + 1
 @xeren: Yes, but when its on both of the low points, its on one of the high points as well. In theory, if you have half of a perfectly balanced oval ring engaged with a chain, there would be 0 chain growth. Look at the video above- theres next to no bob whatsoever. Here is another example showing no observable bob:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRPK5nevhX4
  • + 2
 @hamncheez: there absolutely is bob/pulse in the derailleur in that video you posted. look again at your own video, especially the 2nd time the camera pans over

all oval rings do it
  • + 2
 Dou not think the derailleur movement caused by the constantly varying chainstay length on a full suspension frame far outweighs the tiny movement you see from the oval ring as you say?

I mean many frames get 20-30mm of chain growth at full travel, is a few mm from a ring worth worrying about?
  • + 1
 @justanotherusername: depends on the linkage design- some frames have less chain growth than others.

my FS frame+oval killed a clutch in about a year. hardtail+oval is going on about 2 years and still doing fine. but this is all anecdotal
  • + 1
 @xeren: so you are pretty much confirming what I am saying then - that suspension renders the movement seen from an oval ring irrelevant, thanks.
  • + 1
 @justanotherusername: no, i'm saying that it adds on to it. i had no problem with my clutches on FS bikes with round rings. chain growth + oval ring = double whammy of clutch wear

note, i'm not saying don't use a clutch or an oval ring. i love my oval rings enough that it's worth having to replace the clutch more often
  • + 1
 @xeren: I'm not seeing any movement in that youtube video, and barely any movement in the video in this article. The whole bike wobbles slightly up and down as the crank is turned by someones hand, but the derailleur is almost stationary.
  • + 2
 @hamncheez: keep looking. the frame is definitely moving, as is the derailleur cage. it's literally impossible to have an oval ring that doesn't pull on the derailleur.

let's go back to the beginning. what about a "well designed" oval ring is different than a poorly designed one that would cause a derailleur cage to move less?
  • + 1
 @xeren: If the ovality is not symmetrical, or perfectly concentric, then you will get a variation in the percentage of the elipse or circle that is engaged with the chain. If the chain comes off the oval ring with the top and bottom perfectly in parallel, then at any given rotational position 50% of the perimeter of the elipse (or 50% of the teeth) is engaged with the chain. That percentage will not vary with a perfectly symmetrical, perfectly concentric oval.

In the real word, with a derailleur changing the angle of the top and bottom chainline, there will be some bob, but its very minimal.

If it was an issue we wouldn't see pro road bikers riding with oval rings. They are so obsessed with efficiency that some even have a small oil reservoir that keeps their chain lubed during races, while they are riding.
  • + 1
 @WAKIdesigns: Oval rings are good for riders that favor cadence Instead of sprinting
  • + 1
 @hamncheez: which oval rings don't pass that basic test, though? it would have to be a pretty crappy ring to not be symmetrical
  • - 3
 Your butthole is oval,,, hopefully ,,, so what is the problem with going back to 1987 technology.
  • + 2
 @fecalmaster: for the millionth time, biopace is not the same thing. it's rotated 90 degrees with the opposite philosophy in mind
  • - 2
 Keep telling yourself that if it helps.
  • + 2
 @fecalmaster: aka "i'm too embarrassed to admit i was wrong about biopace so i'll double down"
  • + 2
 One thing this conversation's missing is the fact that it's pretty much impossible to manufacture a perfect circle...go spin your cranks and look, there probably is some derailleur cage movement due to imperfections in your "round" chainring(s) and cassette sprockets.

My cage moved back and forth while pedalling with a round chainring, and it still moves back and forth with my Oneup oval ring...only difference is, it's way easier to climb with the oval ring.
  • + 1
 @xeren: It's all good and comedy, never take me seriously, but watch a few episodes of Monk and understand how crazy I get with my own setup, hear ratio calculators, iPhone angle app, kitchen scale for parts and my onboard porn system,,,, wait I went to far this time.
  • + 8
 If considering a front derailleur, is one "bi-curious"?
  • + 2
 Front and rear for me, all the time
  • + 1
 One could be considered "nonconforming."
  • + 5
 If they make it in steel, I'll give it a try. Love their round, steel cinch ring. Half the price and last 3X longer than aluminum.
  • + 6
 Steel rings FTW!
  • + 3
 Go One-Up! The ex-RF engineers at One-Up beat their ex-company to this by years. They make the perfect Switch system. I have an oval and a round chainring that mounts to a cinch carrier, and it's awesome. Ride oval, switch it out quick, ride round, and see which works better for you. I like oval. And I like OneUp oval switch chainrings, so I can Swtich easily.
  • + 1
 My only gripe about the switch system is that I wont need to switch at all. I'm keeping the oval ring. I guess when that one wears out it will be easier to replace though.
  • + 3
 I preferred the direct mount as the new switch system has a bunch of bolts that creak after about a 2 weeks of riding and require grease to make it stop! I love the oval ring though and totally agree with the tech climbing benefits of the consistent power band.
  • + 1
 The switch system has probably lost them more custom than they gained - its just not a consideration to the average rider who just wants to fit a new ring when the old one is worn out, they are more expensive and it defeats the object of going spiderless really. It does benefit them in terms of manufacturing and the dealers in terms of inventory though so a fair business decision.
  • + 1
 Yeah, I’m an oval convert. I think one thing is finding the right tooth count that plays well with your suspension. I feel a bit more “pulse” with a 28 than I do with a 30t. In fact the 30t feels perfect. Part of the oval benefit is the micro rest each stroke has. It does benefit over the long haul. I like the Switch as well. Never had a creak issue.
  • + 4
 Get this I just use 2 different size chain rings up front. Works awesome for long step climbs!!
  • + 1
 I run round rings on all my nice bikes, but my commuter has old BioPace chainrings that I've never bothered to replace. BioPace actually seems to have a very smooth power delivery when cruising or hammering, and it makes me wonder how modern oval rings actually help with this. Picture this - for an ideal constant wheel speed, a round ring would have a constant rotational speed, a biopace ring would be rotating faster in the "power zone" and slower in the "dead zone", and a modern oval ring rotates slower in the "power zone" and faster in the "dead zone". With most riders' tendencies to smash through the power zone and linger in the dead spot, wouldn't modern oval rings just accentuate that pulsating feeling? Please someone educate me!
  • + 1
 This has been covered to death by Absolute Black (More than just a marketing explanation, they have graphical data) - Your legs are not linear motors, you drive the chainring round it doesn't spin freely so there is no 'faster' rotation taking place. You may mash through the 'power zone' but its in a non-linear fashion, by decreasing the amount of work required in the 'dead zone' the idea is to try and balance the pedal stroke.

It is pretty much agreed that Biopace was just plain wrong with some even seeing knee trouble in use.
  • + 1
 @justanotherusername: Thanks? Maybe I wasn't clear, I'm not defending biopace, they're trash for trying to climb any significant grade. I get that modern oval rings make it easier to get through the dead spot, and therefore probably make it easier to climb, I'm just confused about how they might smooth out power delivery as people often claim. I've been to the absolute black site, didn't see anything that has any credible explanation for this.
You're getting more mechanical advantage at the point where you already produce the most power - this should cause more of a power spike and therefore accentuate the pulsating feeling. The only way to get rid of that pulsating feeling with a modern oval ring would be to move your feet slower through the power stroke, but I don't think most people pedal like that. Or maybe they do, or maybe an oval ring forces you to... I don't know. But I was hoping someone with a solid understanding of mechanical advantage prinicples could help me out.
  • + 2
 Can anyone notice a difference between oval and round? I ride both and can't see it.
And what about the affect on rear suspension, and the rech mech moving back and forwards?
  • - 1
 I don’t. Have two ovalsfrom Absolute Black, won’t buy another one. Round ring for me please.
  • + 10
 For a not-so-in-shape rider like me, I definitely felt a difference on punchy tech climbs were a smoother but constant pedaling motion is more efficient and you want the suspension action to stay smooth. Pedaling on flat or sprinting I'd prefer a round ring, but for ups and downs on a FS bike an oval has been an improvement.
  • + 5
 I bumped up from a 34 to a 36t. I felt a whole lot less leg fatigue on long days....don't ask me why but they are pretty cool!
  • + 2
 @matadorCE:

For me it's so subtle. I wouldn't discourage anyone from trying an oval if they're interested, but for me the benefits aren't very noticeable. Would be interesting to try oval vs standard back to back on some slow techy climbs tho. My first oval did feel like it gave me slightly better traction on loose steep climbs... which is a minority of my riding. My current one (abs black), i can't really say it makes me fresher, reduces knee stress, or makes a noticeable difference on 99% of climbs. I probably just need an f'n motor on my bike.

If you're very picky, love climbing, and notice micro changes to your setup then I think it makes sense to try one when your current ring wears out. I think most riders won't really be able to tell a difference though. It may be worth it to some just for the placebo effect. Nothing wrong with trying it out.
  • + 2
 For a pedal mashing guy that hates cadence and spinning circles it's nice. It's a good bandaid for poor technique.
  • + 6
 I found it night and day. I'll never go back to a round ring on my mtn bike. Two seasons and using a 30t with 11-42. Rear d clutch is still fine.

Oh, and to add, it really does (for me anyway) even out the stroke/traction on technical climbs.
  • + 3
 @rexluthor: I completely agree on wet slippy climbs definitely feels like power is more consistent and theres less wheel spin. Even if the difference is psychological that youre pedaling smoother, i think is worth it. Would never go back to round as even if the performance gain is minimal the rings cost the same as round, no brainer.
  • + 3
 I ve been on an Absolute black oval chainring throughout this season so far: noticeable difference on techy-extended-climbs: smoother power delivery to the ground with less spin-outs and I feel less tired after full days of riding. But I also went from a round chainring to oval on my new bike right away, which sports 5 cm longer wheelbase than my previous bike and it climbs/ descends way better in general anyhow.
  • - 2
 @jewpowered: why would maxing out the power output of glute/ quad combo (muscle that we evolved to use for pushing against the ground while running, this most powerful and most efficient ones) be a bad technique? Because a dozen of articles with no scientific basis at all (meaning application of road mechanics to MTB) say you should spin 90-110RPM using hamstrings? And the authors often have a fkng nerve to call it as being against status quo? You’re fine, just fine.
  • + 1
 I run Wolf Tooth Powertrac rings on my XC bike and my cross bike (which sees a lot of road miles). When I switched I got rings with the same number of teeth my round rings had and it definitely felt like I had geared up at first, especially on climbs. After a couple rides I got used to the feeling since I wasn't actually geared up, although the feeling that I was on the gas all the time remained. That's what I was shooting for and they work really well for that. Since my gear ratios are the same, my top and bottom speeds didn't change much but acceleration and traction both definitely improved. My times also improved and I'd highly recommend at least trying ovals (and give them a solid try of a few weeks minimum). Would not recommend for 2x systems though as they can make shifting unreliable.
  • + 0
 @fullfacemike: trying ovals is definitely recommended to calm down curiosity but I also tried riding without them after I tried them and haven't felt any big difference. I would not be able to tell the difference in a blind test in real terrain. I haven't had any issue getting used to AB oval and I never miss it when I am on a round one on any of my other bikes. But that's just me.
  • + 2
 Yup, definitely on slick roots and punchy climbing. On straight pedalling you cant feel a difference at all which is good.
  • - 2
 @map-guy: I have only slick roots, rocks and punchy climbs. No difference experienced.
  • + 2
 It helps my knee pain and I feel like I can spin faster comfortably
  • + 1
 @WAKIdesigns: That's definitely the part I forgot to mention: they're not for everyone and there seems to be no rhyme or reason to that. Sounds like we're both fortunate enough to have tried them and found which works for us.
  • + 0
 @fullfacemike: it's good that they are priced like any other chainring so if someone needs a new one, can just try that with no detrimental effect to anything in their riding. Also, somehow this kind of product hasn't been hyped out as hell, unlike many much more blatant things in the industry.
  • + 1
 I agree. I use absolute black ones and now ride a chain ring bigger than before and less fatigue in the legs
  • + 0
 When my crank rotates into it's power zone girls tend to start squirming.
  • + 1
 I wish I had two identical bikes, one with oval, one without... test them in/on the exact same situation to see if I can tell the difference. I have been using oval Absolute Black products and I'm pretty sure I can at least climb better. I don't notice anything else different though.
  • + 1
 Has RF improved the durability of their rings? Burned one out in half a season. Have triple the hours on a Wolftooth and it's still working well.

Also, Wolftooth also has 10% ovality-so this is not a new thing.
  • + 3
 $65!! Works components £27 no brainer
  • + 1
 On another note-looks like RC tested with SPD's. Power delivery on flats is a little different than clipped in-would an oval ring be more/less beneficial on flats or clips?
  • + 1
 Should one change their chainring size with an oval ring? I'm curious about using one but wondering if it would let me gear up or if you should keep it the same.
  • + 5
 Most recommend that you stay the same from my reading. Basically you are going up a size in the power zone, and then tapering back in the weaker zones of your pedal stroke. Although if you have the legs, a size up oval would basically be 2 round sizes up in the power zone and your old round size in the weaker zones.
  • + 2
 Keep the same ring if you like your current size. Unless you are a total hack the difference is not so major as to warrant a different tooth count.
  • + 2
 I was advised to go up from 30 to 32. So far so good and seem to climb in the same gears.
  • + 1
 I really like the etching and design of their current cinch rings. It's a bummer that the graphics and finish of this oval seems like an afterthought.
  • + 4
 Hi Jaylynx - this is a pre-production test ring. If you check out the website and RF Press Release you can see the production graphics!
  • + 1
 @raceface: Thanks!
  • + 1
 I tried oval rings not a fan never felt any benefits and all I have is steep tech Desert climbs
  • - 1
 Some people choose to wear the minimum amount of flair and skip leg day; there by needing a $65 10% increase in easiness....others choose to wear more flair, and not skip leg day.
  • + 0
 I miss the BioPace. I could run bigger rings easier with those not-quite-ovals.
  • + 3
 I'm running BioPace on my commuter. It's actually the opposite of modern oval rings, the smaller diameter is timed at the power stroke, designed to force your cadence to slow down in the dead spots which was thought to be better for your knees or something..
  • + 1
 @arden0: It makes no actual sense.....your leverage is highest at the dead spot and lowest at the power stroke. Bigger rings would be harder, not easier....
  • + 1
 @shortcuttomoncton: on flat cruisey rides it might make sense, hammering through the power zone on a 40t round ring would feel the same as hammering through the power zone on a 42t biopace, and as long as you have enough momentum to carry you to the next power zone without having to put any power in at the dead spot you'll be okay. But when you're climbing something so steep there is no coasting action, and you need to put power through every degree of rotation in the cranks to keep moving, biopace is a total flop.
  • + 1
 A bit late for RF to jump into the oval ring market.
  • + 1
 Is there going to be one for non-boost?
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