Monday, April 30, 2007

Q Rings

Here's another product I like and suggest to the athletes I coach. Let me tell you why.

There are two times in every pedal stroke when moving the cranks in a circular pattern falters and pauses – at the top and bottom. At the top the foot and leg must transition from moving back and up to forward and down. Just the opposite is necessary at the bottom of the stroke. Because of this, tension on the chain goes through big swings and power output is jerky and uneven. So riders who are not very efficient at these two critical points - which is most riders - waste a lot of energy and are often referred to as “mashers.” They drive oversized gears pushing down hard from the 2 o’clock to 4 o’clock positions. On the other hand, “spinners” transition at the top and bottom of the stroke more smoothly and ride with a higher cadence and a more graceful pedal stroke. This makes for a much more economical use of energy.

Learning to smoothly pedal through the top and bottom transition areas can take months of focused training and drills. But I find using Q-Rings made by Rotor Cranks USA accomplishes much smoother top-bottom transitions almost immediately after installation. I recommend these for all of the athletes I coach who are mashers. I’ve seen great improvement in their efficiency right after making the switch.

Q-Rings are oval-shaped chain rings which replace the standard chain rings on your bike. Here’s how they work. When your pedal is at the top and bottom of the stroke the Q-Ring is in the smallest-radius position which means your foot can more easily make the transition. When in the power position at 3 o’clock the radius is at its greatest length which gives you more leverage and therefore more power. For example, a 53-tooth Q-Ring is the equivalent of pedaling a 51 tooth at the top and bottom (fast transitions) and a 56 tooth at 3 o’clock (high power output). If the picture above was rotated 90 degrees you'd get a better idea of what is going on. This would put the shortest radius in the vertical position and the longest in the horizontal position. They are also adjustable so you can change this short-long radius position slightly for time trialing, climbing or riding on flats.

Q-Rings retail for about $200 to $240.


At May 1, 2007 7:23 AM , Blogger linman said...

Joe, I've been using q-rings on my TT bike for some three weeks now on OCP 4. It feels great, but I've been wondering if I should try OCP 5 position. What position would you recommend for time-trialing? Have you seen anyone use OCP 5 and benefit from it as opposed to OCP 4?

At May 1, 2007 4:13 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Linman-None of my clients have tried that. The company recommends OCP4 for TT. If you do try it let me know what you think.

At May 3, 2007 5:43 AM , Blogger Bill Hardin said...

Joe, I'm a 62 year old cyclist who had a total knee replacement last November. Before Q-Rings I had developed a persistant pain just above my knee but below my quads. After installing Q-Rings the pain is mostly gone and I can train with more intensity evidenced by my 748 watt max and 400+ watt average sixty second effort during my last workout. I now have Q-Rings on my new P3C, two road bikes and a mountain bike!

At May 3, 2007 12:41 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Bill-One of my older friends reports a similar experience with knees less achy on rides using Q Rings. Makes sense as stress is reduced on the knee when the foot is in the 12 o'clock position. That's when the stress is maximal due to the flex with patella being pressed hard against the femur.

At May 3, 2007 2:16 PM , Anonymous Rob H said...

Interesting to see this concept again. I've got a ~20 year old road bike (Nishiki Sport) that I've held onto and it has Q rings. When I took it in to be serviced a couple years ago, the shop owner said Q-rings were tried for about a year but didn't catch on. Any thoughts as to why?

At May 4, 2007 1:26 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Rob--I expect you are referring to Shimano Biopace chain rings. You can read more about the differences here -

At May 5, 2007 7:41 PM , Blogger Blake Becker said...

Hi joe,

Do you recommend OCP4 for Ironman Distance? I know riders that are at both setting 3 and 4. Thots? Thanks!

At May 15, 2007 9:31 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Blake--I believe this would have to do with the way the bike is set up--aggressive vs comfortable. The more comfie it is, I believe, the more likely you are to be in OCP3. But I'm still learning about Q Rings too so can't be more specific on this.

At June 10, 2007 4:36 PM , Anonymous Eric Johnson said...

Hey Joe,

Do you think that Q rings teaches people to be lazy with their pedal stroke? My friend suggested this a while back and I didn't know how to respond.

I can see the initial advantage, but am wondering if it would negatively impact cycling performance long-term.

Kind of like putting a band-aid on a weakness?

At June 11, 2007 4:37 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Q-Rings teach you to be good at pedaling with Q-Rings. if you switch back to round rings you will be just as economical as before or less so. The idea is to train and race with them, not to use them as a device to help you pedal better with round rings.

At June 13, 2007 4:04 PM , Blogger Jim said...

Hi Joe, In response to the question about developing a "lazy" pedal stroke by using Q-Rings, I found that regular rides (recovery rides for me) on a fixed gear goes a long way toward preventing so called laziness. However, you are right to point out that if the Q-Rings are being used full time, then it really doesn't matter what bio-mechanical adaptations are being developed as a consequence of using them. Furthermore, a circular pedaling motion is unnatural anyway, so we all are naturally “lazy” to some degree. Q-Rings spares many of us the endless hours and countless years of targeted training that only professional cyclists can dedicate to developing a fluid circular pedaling stroke. (PS> I love the "Bible," by the way. It helped me shave over 4 minutes off my 40K TT time to just under 58 minutes).

At June 21, 2007 12:06 PM , Blogger triaitor said...

Dear Joe:
Rotor Crancks and Qrings are made and developed by Rotor in Spain (Europe) and them aren't made by Rotor USA.

Aitor Ruiz de Zárate
Rotor Crancks and Qrings used since 2002, Ironman Finisher and Tri Coach

At August 31, 2007 12:24 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Joe,
What do you think about using two chainrings in different settings? For example, the small ring in 3 and big ring in 4? Thanks a lot,

Vlad Luskin

At August 31, 2007 4:06 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Vlad--I suspect it wouldn't shift too well.

At September 8, 2007 4:39 AM , Blogger Steve Neal said...

I have used q rings for a few years with good success.

I do run mine on different settings especially mountain bike and it shifts just fine.

each chainring is off by 1 setting.


At September 13, 2007 11:37 PM , Blogger Burnie said...

I am a below knee amputee and wonder if the Q ring could offer some benefits.
My "short" leg does not like much force in the flexed position (=upper stroke position).
Even though I can ride a standard MTB (mainly bitumen, dirt road, occasional track) anything that increases endurance or reduces the pain would help.
I talked to a couple of bike dealers, they don't seem to like them ("Shimano had them but discontinued").
I am thankful for any comments


At September 14, 2007 9:08 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Burnie--I don't know that they would help much with this. They actually increase the load on the quads in the ~3 o'clock position while they facilitate a smoother transition through the ~12- and ~6 o'clock positions. Trying them out is the only way to find out, I'm afraid. Let me know what you find out.

At October 15, 2007 11:47 PM , Blogger Gantt said...

hey joe,

thanks for all the great info about q-rings and everything else. i have a question about the gearing. i currently ride a dura-ace compact 50/34 crankset (12-27 on the back) which i love and which is necessary for the mountainous terrain i live in. i like how i'm hearing that the q-rings are easy on the knees, but i notice they don't make a 34t inner ring that fits the shimano compact. do you think moving to a 36 q-ring will make any difference in terms of the stress put on my muscular system during climbs? or would it be comparable or superior to the traditionally round 34t? i bring this up for two reasons: 1. i'm not the strongest climber and have come to rely on my 34-27 climbing gear to keep pace and cadence at a competitive level, especially on steeper slopes; and 2. i have been experiencing a stubborn case of chrondomalacia over the last year that is finally subsiding. any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated. thanks.

At October 16, 2007 8:44 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Gantt--They do make compact rings for Shimano. I have a set of them. Have you gone to their website?

At November 25, 2007 2:57 AM , Blogger STL said...

I tend to roll a big gear 53x14,15 etc. in non-technical flat criterium courses & was toying with the idea of using Q-Rings. Any recommendation on the OCP position?

At November 25, 2007 12:52 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

stl--I would suggest that the neutral (3) position is probably best for that. But I'd be curious if anyone else would use something different and why.

At December 4, 2007 7:58 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe, great site very informative. Not sure about the q ring concept. Shimano (biopace) and Suntour (ovaltech) did this in the mid nineties and it caught on fast but then the concept was just as quickly disproven a year or two later. Are we not just being sold another marketing gimmic?

At January 28, 2008 9:23 PM , Blogger Jon said...

I have been using q rings for about 8 months and have really like them. However, recently, some people have told me to switch back to normal rings because I like to spin. I normally TT ~100 rpm and like to climb around 90 and above. What are your thoughts?

At January 30, 2008 7:08 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Do what you think works best for you, Jon.

At February 23, 2008 1:19 AM , Blogger Joe said...


I have double, non-compact crank. I am thinking of getting Q-rings for it.

Before I came across Q-Rings I was thinking about getting a compact crank (since I live in Boulder, CO).

Will the Q-rings give me that "almost compact" benefit or ill climbing still be better on a compact crank. If possible I'd like to save the money of also buying a compact crank...

PS- I have knee pain too...

At February 23, 2008 9:52 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Joe--Q Rings will not give you the same benefit as compact cranks. CC give you a lower low gear. QR improve pedaling economy.

At March 18, 2008 6:38 AM , Blogger benwaa said...

Is there a better setting for climbing then another? I currently ride in small the 3 setting, and big ring the 3. I know to use whats best for me, but i was just wondering what setting people were using. Thanks

At March 18, 2008 2:00 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Benwaa--I believe the company recommends 4 for TTing and 2 for climbing.

At May 14, 2008 11:30 PM , Blogger W said...

I have a year's experience trying a number of settings of Q rings as the middle 40t and the small 30T rings, with my original 53T FSA big ring.
My problem is patellar tendonitis. Extending the leg at the top of the stroke, especially on a steep climb, stresses the tendon. I found that LOWER settings were more comfortable, because they allow the stroke to get easy earlier, approaching the top of the stroke. I went from a 3/3 setting, to 3 for the middle and 2 for the small--which really means the two rings are the same angle, rather than offset by 5 degrees--and my knees liked that better. Then I went to 1/1--even better. Finally, I went recently to 1/0--In other words, I found the hole which would be 5 degrees below the 1 setting for the small ring. So far, my knees like it, though one does become aware of the biopacing with these very low settings. I'm going to try 2/0 next. I'd be interested in any others' experiences with very low settings, or with having the smaller ring two settings below the middle.

I don't buy the notion that the small ring should be set 5 degrees later than the middle or big ring,i.e. at the same number as the bigger ring, because I'm going to sit and spin at a relatively high cadence. Nonetheless, I love Q rings. They've saved my cycling.


At April 3, 2009 12:35 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I starting using a Rotor ring on my TT rig last season. My times were slightly better, but not statistically significantly better than the previous season, despite theoretically better fitness. On the other hand, it didn't decrease performance. And oh, what a pain to set up with regard to the front derailleur. I don't think there's much advantage for well-trained cyclists.

At April 20, 2009 3:24 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Anonymous, come on...Carlos Sastre, you don't consider him well-trained? And the DOZENS of other top pros using Q-rings? If Mr. Friel says it's good then IT IS.

At June 8, 2009 11:32 PM , Anonymous Kirk said...

I've been on Q-rings since 2007.
TT bike I run 4/3 (big/small), road bike I run 3/2, and mountain bike I've been running 2/2 (although I don't ride mountain bike all that often).

I believe they provide an even greater advantage for triathletes because of the run following the bike.

I believe that a certain degree of "mashing" can actually be good for triathletes because we can save the hip flexors, which get used in pedaling through the top of the pedal stroke, and also are responsible for lifting the knee while running. Pedaling in perfect circles on round rings requires heave use of hip flexors and hamstrings, which are crucial to running (esp. for races with longer runs).

After my initial switch to Q-rings, I tested 23 Watts higher for 30-minute all-out average (indoor trainer test), 6 weeks after riding them.
12/10/06: test on round rings = 285W for 30-minute all-out
12/11/06: install Q-rings on 4/3, big/small setting
1/25/07: test on Q-rings = 308 for 30-minute test.

avg. HR dropped 1 beat, from 164 to 163 as well.

Some of the increase may have been fitness, but I don't believe a near 10% increase can be attributed to fitness alone. I was in pretty good shape prior to the round-rings test as it were.

Additionally, I ran remarkably faster off the bike in 2007 than I had in previous years of racing triathlon. (1:17, 1:18, 1:18, 1:20 for 4 half ironmans in 2007 vs. 1:23, 1:27, 1:34 for 3 half ironmans in 2006)

I wouldn't call these findings scientific, however, they do indicate significant cycling and running improvements while training and racing with Q-rings.

At June 11, 2009 8:35 AM , Blogger Hamlin Grange said...

I am thinking of switching to Q Rings. There are so many options there. What would work best on my Fuji Pro3.0? with the following specs. (I would keep the same bottom bracket.)

• Crankset: FSA Omega MegaExo Triple, w/Integrated spindle, 30/39/50T Alloy outer & middle chainrings.
• Bottom bracket: FSA MegaExo Exterior Bearing System
• Front derailleur: NEW Shimano Tiagra F-Type
• Rear derailleur: Shimano 105
• Cassette: SRAM PG-950 12-26T, 9-speed
• Chain: KMC HG-73, 9-speed

Thanks Coach.

At June 11, 2009 8:47 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Hamlin--These are compatibility questions that are best answered by the company. For contact info go to

At July 22, 2009 7:00 PM , Blogger tj_turner2003 said...


Really interseting stuff here. Your endorsement of Q-Rings lends a lot of credibility to them. I tried a Q-ring on my single ring cross bike a few years back. I may have judged them too quickly, and I have to admit that I did not play with the settings in terms of delaying the gearing.

I found that for cross I felt disadvantaged with the Q-ring. I didn't have the same ability to jump and accelerate out of corners or after re-mounting. But, like I said, I may have been too hasty in my evaluation and I'm considering trying them out again.

Do you think they are better suited for longer more steady efforts or would you expect to see a good advantage from the Q-ring even in short intense efforts with a lot of accelerations?

If so, which setting would you consider a good starting point?


At July 23, 2009 5:34 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi TJ--Good question but I don't know the answer to that. I know they seem to work well for steady state riding such as TTs and triathlon for most riders. But I have no experience with them for CX racers. Let me know what you think if you give them a try again. Good luck!

At July 23, 2009 6:47 PM , Blogger tj_turner2003 said...

Thanks Joe,

I agree with you. I felt Q-Rings were ideal for real steady state high power efforts like Time Trials, or even long climbing. But maybe I'm just not built (or am too conditioned from years of training/racing round rings) to be able to effectively have good explosive power on the Q-ring. I may try again and give myself a few thousand miles before the season kicks in to be better acclimated to them.

As I get older I search for every trick I can to maximize my training and effeciency...I don't have the time I did when I was racing with the P/1/2 field.



At August 21, 2009 5:31 AM , Blogger Peter said...

Hi Joe, I consider trying the Q-rings on my road racer. Should I do all training with the Q-rings or can I mix in training with classical round rings without compromising pedaling efficiency with the Q-rings as well as with the round rings? I'd like to stick with round rings for longer rides on my "long distance road racer" and for my winter's season track riding. Thanks, Peter (love the "bible" btw)

At August 21, 2009 6:41 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Peter--It's best to use one or the other all of the time. Your pedaling economy will adapt to one or the other better than to both.

At December 23, 2009 7:46 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the year I choose to get serious about Triathlons. At 50 and working fulltime I am getting a Quark power meter for my bike to maximise workout efficiency. I have choosen the FSA compact crank with Compact 50/34 Q-rings. When training with power, is there anyting special about Q-rings to consider?

At December 23, 2009 1:29 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

anon--No, pretty much the same as standard cranks. Let me know what you think once you've got some miles in them. Good luck.

At December 26, 2009 4:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks !! very helpful post!


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