I was an early adopter of 1×10 and 1×11 drivetrain for mountain bikes (and later, commuter bikes), but elliptical chainrings had left me skeptical. How could a shape that’s not uniform both help your performance and make your ride more comfortable? It seemed far-fetched.
Once Wolf Tooth Components released their own version of elliptical rings, called PowerTrac Elliptical, I decided that I should probably start paying attention. They claim that the ring is bigger in your “Power Zone” for optimizing the most powerful part of your pedal stroke, and smaller in your “Recovery Zone” to minimize the weak point in your pedal stroke, which together are supposed to give you a more efficient pedal stroke overall (you can check out their more in depth explanation on their website). I decided that my next chainring would be an elliptical one, and if I didn’t like it I could just cut my losses and go back to a round ring.
(Full disclosure: While I have used a number of their products over the last few years, Wolf Tooth Components did not offer or provide any incentive for this review, although they did grant me permission to use their images alongside my own.)
Chainring First Impressions
The chainring I purchased was a Sram Direct Mount (“SDM”) 40 tooth PowerTrac Elliptical chainring (Check for latest price at Amazon) that was to replace a standard SDM 40 tooth round chainring. Both of these rings have the Drop-Stop tooth profile that’s supposed to help prevent dropped chains when used with a clutch-equipped rear derailleur, although in my experience on the road or tame trails the tooth profile alone does a fine job of holding onto the chain even without a clutch derailleur.
The packaging was standard fare for Wolf Tooth Components, with the chainring inside retail packaging accompanied by stickers. Side-by-side with my old (and very dirty!) chainring they looked nearly identical. The machining on the chainring appeared to be high quality, and there were no blemishes on the anodizing, text, or logos.
Installation for this ring is identical to any non-elliptical chainring. For Sram Direct Mount chainrings you need to remove the drive-side crank arm, take out the three Torx bolts, and place the chainring directly onto the crank before securing with the same three bolts. Similarly for other types of cranks with a standard spider and bolt circle diameter (“BCD”), installing these rings only requires removing the four or five bolts holding on the existing chainring and swapping it out for this one. A new chain was installed at the same time to ensure a worn and stretched chain would not adversely affect the chainring’s performance. After the quick installation I was pleased to see that the asymmetric shape of the chainring, which is offset rather than a flat disc, helps line up the chain almost perfectly with the center cog of the cassette.
My first ride with the chainring was a dark Monday morning as I left for work, having installed it late the night before without a chance for a test ride. I made it about a quarter mile up the road before I started to think, “This was a huge mistake.” My pedal strokes felt awful, I felt like I was constantly mashing or spinning the gears with each rotation. But I had to make it to work, so I kept going, and I found over the 7 miles I had to make it there my legs actually adjusted to the feeling. Later that afternoon as I was pedaling home I almost forgot I was even riding an elliptical ring after about a mile or two.
After a few days on the ring I found that not only was I used to it, but I actually really liked the feeling that an elliptical ring gave. I can’t say that the ring made me faster in any way, but it certainly made my pedaling feel much smoother. This was especially noticeable when pedaling hard, whether I’m struggling up a big hill, fighting a strong head wind, or frankly just exhausted after a long day at work. I less often found my upper body bouncing up and down trying to compensate for tired legs, and my back felt a whole lot better for it.
The biggest worry I had going into this experiment with elliptical chainrings was how my other bikes would feel without elliptical chainrings. Thankfully, I’ve found that switching back and forth really isn’t a big deal. When I hop on my road bike on Saturday morning for a long ride with round chainrings I notice my pedal stroke feels a little off for a mile or two until I adjust and forget it’s even different. Likewise on Monday mornings hopping back on my commuter with the elliptical chainring the first mile or two feels a little weird but my legs quickly adjust. Muscle memory is a crazy thing.
Closing Thoughts on Wolf Tooth Chainring
At the time of this writing I’ve logged 700 miles with the chainring, and I must say the elliptical shape has impressed me to the point where I can confidently say I greatly prefer it to round chainrings. Do I feel the need to rush and replace the chainrings on my other bikes with Wolf Tooth’s elliptical ones? No, but when the time comes to replace chainrings (or maybe even just the chain) there’s a good chance a PowerTrac Elliptical chainring will be used. If you’re the type of person who loves to try new things, or just happen to have money burning a hole in your pocket, I highly recommend Wolf Tooth Components’ PowerTrac Elliptical chainrings. (Amazon has them here if you want to check for price and availability)
Rob is a New England native who has been living in Charlotte, North Carolina, since 2012. Upon learning how to ride at the age of five he quickly found that everything is better on a bicycle, and hasn’t stopped riding since.