Tradition, legend and myth
permeate our sport like no other. When do you ever see
football or swimming magazines carry articles of events from
fifty years past?
We cyclists look as much over our
shoulder for inspiration as we look forward to times yet to
Well here's a blast from the recent past
that could just change your cycling future...
A Brief History
If ever a sport was tradition bound, then it's the glorious,
gladiatorial pastime that we live and breath at every opportunity.
Pierre Michaux invented the round pedal
and crank system as far back as 1861. In the 1980's, after 120
years of deliberating, the UCI relaxed the laws requiring chainrings to
be circumferentially round. Thereby allowing the introduction of
harmonic chainrings that were initially ridden by the Francaise de Jeux
team under the guise of Shimano's Biopace system.
Biopace worked on the principle of having
the "flattened" section of the chainring at twelve and six o'clock, when
the cranks were at three and nine. Effectively smoothing the pedal
stroke and lowering the overall pedalling load at certain points of the
This "theoretical built in micro-rest
period" allowed the rider to "take a run" at the power section of the
pedalling cycle which, in this instance, occurred when the pedals were
in the vertical plane.
At the time, clip-less pedals had just
been introduced and many riders were suffering knee problems.
Biopace was an attempt to alleviate knee issues, rather than gain speed,
efficiency and effectiveness. We didn't talk about power in them
Numerous scientific studies consistently
failed to prove the existence of the expected metabolic and
physiological advantages. Unfortunately the system never really
caught on and was quietly dropped from the shelves, as well as the
The baffling thing was, the advantages
were obvious to anyone of an engineering bent. Newton's
principles, and the known information of tangential forces placed on a
lever, clearly defined that there should be theoretical benefits to such
a system. How could something with such obvious theoretical merit
be so practically wrong?
As with everything in life, the devil is
in the detail. While everyone else got over the fad and moved on,
Pablo Carrasco in Spain, gave it a little more thought. Slowly but
surely he perfected the system to develop it in to what we see today,
the Rotor Q Ring. The same principle, but with a completely different
outcome. Here's how.
As road tested on a
Di2'd Kuota Kebel with wireless SRM
The Power Cycle
It doesn't take a genius to point out how you pedal your bike
and turn circular motion in to forward propulsion. So for now a
slacker will have to do.
When you try to impress your mates by
doing a track stand at the stop sign or red traffic light, your leading
leg is invariably in the one to two o'clock position. This is the
position of maximum torque or turning force. Those with their legs
in the twelve o'clock position are the one's toppling over as they can't
create any forward momentum against the push of the road camber.
The Q Ring, as you can see from the
thirty five locating holes above, mounts in the position that's best
suits you. The system enables you to push the most leverage, when
your leg dynamics are at their most powerful. Effectively it
automatically changes your gearing to suit the power cycle of your your
Assuming you have a 53 chainring and can
imagine a clock face; from 0 to 1 o'clock you get an effective 50.4
tooth "compact" chainring setting; from 1 to 4 it ramps up to a
"time-trial" 56 tooth and drops back to 51 when you get to the 6 o'clock
dead spot. And that's the clever bit!
As you go through the dead spot the gear
"disappears" and you get through the quiet zone with less effort than
you would with a constant geared circular chainring, earning yourself a
little rest on the way. Then you come back in to the power zone
again and the gear magically ramps up once more to make the best use of
the big muscles in your other leg! Job done.
The difference between now and thirty
years ago is that the "ellipse" has been moved around the pedal stroke
about 75 degrees and tests have proved demonstrable, repeatable and
measurably positive results. You can view them yourselves at the
bottom of the page.
The Road Test
As you'll see below, cleverer people than me have, in a
controlled environment, gone through the trouble of carrying out all the
laborious studies and efficacy lab tests for us.
The Rotors have not been found wanting by
the intelligentsia in white coats. So lets see what a fat scouser
with white legs and a low pain threshold can find out in the real
I'll be honest (would you expect anything
less?), when I first jumped on them, I was sceptical. It felt
really, really, really weird! It felt like it looked on the
chainring. It felt as though I was riding an egg. It felt,
vum, vum, vum. If you've ever done the one legged cadence drills
you'll know what I mean. It was that strange.
Then I got out in to the maelstrom that
is Jersey's traffic and other factors (white van man etc) grabbed my
attention. By the time I'd had the first row of the day and rode
the 7k to the Gunsite to meet up with the flamme
rouge gruppeto , I hardly noticed
Now I've been cycling for a long, long,
long time and consider myself to have a smooth and steady pedal stroke.
So I may of been a little hypersensitive to the change. But within
an hour the sensation had all but disappeared. Until, that is, we
came to the first official climb of the day and the challenge for the
unofficial, allcomers Grimpeur de Jersey
It really was the strangest sensation.
climbed some big hills in my days but at this time of year I revert to
type and take on the physique of a well honed track sprinter; so
anything that helps grimping is gratefully received.
This is no scientific study by any means,
it's just anecdotal. But these rings really seemed to make
climbing life just that little bit easier.
Not like I was banging out 50 more watts
or anything, or was dropping everyone in my wake with a 30 bpm reduced
It just felt, less...
My mantra on hills to all our new riders
is, "relax the shoulders, pedal in circles and heels down". The
Rotor's made the middle phrase superfluous. I just seemed to
naturally maintain a nice, steady, circular rhythm on an elliptical
chairing. How strange is that? Very, but in a good way!
Q-rings are not designed to give you bags of
free power, because the engineers and scientists out there know it's
impossible to get more energy for less input. Perpetual motion may
be a step closer with the discovery of the Neutrino, but the Q-rings are
not the Higgs Bosun we've all been hunting for. So how can they help?
Here's my take on where the Q-rings can
give you an advantage in the real world. Through dynamically
changing the gear ratio, muscle tension is obviously reduced in the
lower, pull stroke section (where the calves are brought in to play) and
maximised in the forward, push stroke section were your huge quads and
glutes (that have just had a rest) are providing the drive.
It's still the same muscle groups but
now, compared to a round chainring, they perform a separate function for
a differing portion of the pedal stroke. Thus effecting a saving
of something. It's the same power effort driving the bike forward,
but it's produced and used in a slightly different (more effective) way.
Analogy Alert! Think of eating
carbs and proteins to produce energy. Each has the same calorific
content but you wouldn't want to eat just carbs or just protein.
It's the mixture of the two, at the right time, that brings sporting
success. Well, it's the same with muscles and force production.
Using the two sets of muscles, in the
right order, at the right time (and that's the difference between now
and thirty years ago) to produce the same amount of energy gives clearly
demonstrable, measurable efficiency advantages.
One of the events I've tackled in the past, is the
Seven hours thirty minutes, 172 kilometres, over the Cols de Aspin,
Horquette D'Ancizan and the Tourmalet.
It was a long day up some big climbs with
an average cadence of 72 rpm, and believe it or not an average heart
rate of 170 bpm. Which equates to 32400 pedal revolutions and
76500 heart beats. Stick with me it'll make sense soon...
You'll see from the studies below that
the Q-rings allow you to produce the same levels of power at a lower
metabolic cost. Lactate is down and heart rate (a physiological
marker of effort ) is down around 2%. Not earth shatteringly life
changing is it?
Well, it just might be! On the flat
valley sections, when you're in high speed cruise mode, (but not
pushing, pushing, pushing) I don't see the Q-rings making a massive
difference. Although they may help you recover quicker.
Where I see them working is in time
trials (where you don't let up for a second), cyclo-cross and sustained
climbing events. Especially on multi-day climbing events.
Haute Route, Raid Alpine, Raid Pyrenean anyone? And what about an
The cumulative effect of a two percent
saving over 21,000 metres of Haute Route climbing shouldn't be
underestimated. In fact, it equates to 420 metres.
This doesn't mean you will be 420 metres
further ahead at the end of the event, (although you might be) but it
does mean your body will feel like it's climbed 420 metres less!
Taking that cumulative physiological advantage in to the last few days
of any multi-day event has to be worthwhile.
Even if you're climbing one mountain, or
a set of them in an ultra endurance event or the Etape, then this could
be the best investment you can make in your climbing prowess.
You can spend £2000 on a set of carbon
wheels, that will help your climbing but unless you're a demon descender,
or you're confident in your ability and it's not raining, you'll lose
more time going down the other side than you saved climbing up!
Or spend around £140/£150 on a set of
Rotor Q-rings and get a cumulative metabolic saving of 0.2 seconds with
every single pedal rev you take. I get this number from the
physical time spent in the Q-ring "quiet zone" during each climbing
pedal revolution compared to that of the constant push of a circular
Multiply that 0.2 second respite, by the
32400 pedal revs of a one day Grand Sportive, and you have a lot of
saved energy to do with what you will. Imagine the savings you'd
take in to the run section of an IronMan event or in a week's worth of
Fitting & Setup
As with all things in life, if you know the answer it's easy.
Fitting a set of chainrings isn't difficult but it can be a little
fiddly. Especially if you haven't got the little tool that holds
the captive nut captive until you get proper purchase. If you have
it's a doddle. If you haven't allow ten minutes more and a few
swear words. Or take it your local bike shop and get it done
Wouldn't be a proper racing product
without an acronym or two, and Rotor are no different. There are
(as you can see from all the mounting holes in the photo above) five
settings for the fine-tuning of the ellipse. This is the OCP ~
Optimal Chainring Position.
Optimal Chainring Position allows you to
personalize the rings to maximise their, and your, potential. Each
set comes with a comprehensive (but easily understandable) set of
instructions on how to get the best from your newly purchased product.
So, it's loosen and tighten five bolts, a
tweak of the front mech (it needs to be raised a tadge to clear the
ellipse), and you're away. Spin the cranks on your work stand and
watch the chain rise and fall in a rhythmic, hypnotic fashion.
It's very therapeutic.
Have a ride around the block, test the
front chain throw, do your club run, and a week later just check the
bolts to see if they need nipping up again. Normally they don't
but it's always better, and professional, to do a quick thirty second
Adaptation, according to the bods at
Rotor, takes around 500 kms, so if you're thinking of buying some, don't
wait until the week before the season start! Get them on now,
adapt over the winter, then ride long and prosper.
Obviously, I didn't go through the full adaptation process with the
Q Rings, as even I can't ride 500k in a weekend to bring you a full-on
analysis of these clever additions to your cycling armoury.
However, it takes a lot to get the pro's
to try something different as they have more to lose than us weekend
warriors. But the Cervelo Test Team, Garmin and others, have used
Rotor Q Rings to devastating effect over the last few years.
Rotor Q-rings have been used to win Grand
Tours, World Championships, Cross Championships and the monuments with
aplomb. Trust me, if they didn't work the pro's would take them
Keep the power in your body, don't put it
in to the road until you have to. Like the final sprint, or the
push for the last KOM point.
selection of scientific papers that support the
findings of the work of Pablo Carrasco and his team...
If you drop in to Big Maggy's in St
Helier, Becca here will look after you, and give you a free coffee while
Mike the Mechanic (good name for a band!) fits your Rotor Q-rings to
your own pride and joy.
Until next time.
What makes me think I'm qualified to write articles and critique
bikes? Click here and I'll try to explain.