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Nova2Ride OSPW Product Review

Installed oversized pulley wheel system (OSPW) from Nova Ride on a Factor O2 VAM bicycle

An Update as of December 1st, 2021

I’ve now been running this setup for about 6 months, so if you want to jump straight to my thoughts on it at this point, go see for yourself.

With that, on to the original article!

What is OSPW?

So “OSPW” stands for “oversized pulley wheel system.” On a bike’s derailleur where the rear gears are changed, there are two pulley wheels that the chain winds around through. These pulley wheels are as much a part of your bike’s drivetrain as the cogs themselves or the chainrings. But in my experience so far, they tend to be overlooked a bit.

Normal pulley wheels for most Shimano and Shimano competitors typically have about 12 teeth on both the upper and the lower pulley wheel. On some of the newer systems, you can fit a staggered 12/14 teeth combo with the lower pulley wheel having 14 teeth, usually without having to change anything else out to get it to fit.

So why would you buy one?

So keep in mind that a lot of what is sold to us as customers, especially when it comes to “marginal gains” like oversized pulley wheels is, let’s just say, snake oil.

Animated gif of snake oil salesman selling out the side of a cart

That being said, there is a reason for utilizing larger pulley wheels within your drivetrain compared to what you typically get when you buy a Shimano group set. The chain on your bike, as it makes its way around your gears, has to bend less drastically to get around. This translates into less power being used to push your chain through the cogs and chainrings.

Separate from the size difference in pulley wheels, the Shimano pulley wheels barely spin on their own, while aftermarket ceramic bearing varieties spin considerably longer with less resistance.

The differences here are small, and may not really be measurable while you’re out there on your bike in real world conditions, but it is measurable.

Some more detail

So there’s a generalized concept of “torque” in the mechanical world. It’s a pretty common thing to know about if you’re into cars or remember much from high school physics, but it’s basically a measure of how much effort it takes to push something. It’s measured in “pound/foot”, but when it comes to bikes, the better way to showcase this is in units of power, which are actually “watts”. Imagine watts as a measurement of this torque over some interval, usually in RPM’s (rounds per minute) in a car or in cadence on a bicycle.

Animated gif explaining torque with a wrench

So wattage that you put out on a bike is a more complex unit of measurement, since putting X amount of watts can actually translate into different forward momentum depending on which gear you are currently in. Confusing? Perhaps. But I imagine a lot of you instinctually “feel” some of this when you’re out there on the road.

Look at your bike as a system

Imagine your bike’s mechanics being a system with a set of inputs and a respective set of outputs. If you put in 100 watts to the system, you’d like to see as much of that 100 watts on the other end that translates into your forward momentum. This is sometimes referred to as “mechanical efficiency.” Believe it or not, internal combustion engines on cars have traditionally been wildly inefficient in this way, maybe only attaining 30-35% “efficiency” when measured. Newer ones are significantly more efficient, and electronic vehicles are even more so.

Diagram explaining mechanical efficiency

More information on this topic (don’t worry, it’s quick and easy to digest) can be found here.

Suffice it to say, if you’re pursuing a hot-rod racing bike machine, you’re going to want to make sure that all the drivetrain components are as efficient as possible. This is why we do things like put chain lube on, so that as the rollers within each chain link fit over a tooth on your chainrings or cogs, they slide on smoothly, roll off smoothly, and avoid unnecessary wear and tear when two metal pieces come in contact with each other time.

There’s a lot more to it than this

Besides just your mechanical “drag”, i.e., the measure of these parts of your system that inherently slow you down, there are many other places in your “system” that make you slower. Things like tire rolling resistance, what kind of road you’re riding on, and the big one, aerodynamic factors like wind that push you back. The human riding the bike is actually the least aerodynamic part of the whole thing!

Diagram showing drag of a human on a bicycle

Efficiency has a (Dollar) Cost

Bike companies know all this technical mumbo-jumbo, but also have to balance out costs against what consumers will actually pay for these things. So instead of larger pulley wheels, we get smaller ones that are cheaper to produce. Instead of extremely low friction ceramic ball bearings, we get steel ones or possibly just bushings.

This does, however, leave a market open at the top end for others more interested in these kinds of “marginal gains” as the industry likes to call them.

Other things that are more mechanically efficient are larger chainrings, believe it or not. A larger chainring may be difficult to push around when going up a steep hill, but theoretically the energy put in is more efficiently transferred out compared to a smaller one. You’ll notice this more in industrial applications where torque and wattage values are significantly higher.

Even what kind of materials you make small ball bearings out of can theoretically roll more smoothly on a small (microscopic?) scale around an enclosed “race” (circular track) to prevent any additional drag in your overall system.

An exploded view of a ball bearing within an inner and outer race

The Gorilla in the Room

For a while now, the dominating force in this arena for bikes has been the Danish company CeramicSpeed. They provide both ceramic bearings and oversized pulley wheel systems, most often seen on the bougie weekend warrior’s bike or in the pro peloton. They market themselves as providing lower mechanical loss in the “system” mentioned earlier, providing you with higher gains in your forward momentum per pedal stroke.

Only problem is that these systems are quite expensive! The usually set you back at least $500 USD to get into their OSPW system. You can get it “coated” for an additional $100 USD, meaning that they will provide some proprietary material inside the bearing races (i.e., the donut shaped track that the ball bearings roll around in) to make it harder to avoid wear and tear. They even have an $1700 USD 3D printed titanium model!

Homer Simpson gif showing glasses breaking when seeing an expensive bill

All of this to, get this, “save starting from 2.4 watts from the standard Shimano system.”

I mean, it’s more nuanced than that, but that’s quite a steep price tag for a very little marginal gain. Hence my snake oil comment earlier. Doesn’t matter, though, they just look so cool!

Nova Ride, a French Newcomer

Enter Nova Ride. They’re a French company I’ve only recently discovered, most likely via some cleverly targeted Instagram posts. Or maybe it was my constant Googling around for new and interesting things, who knows. They appear to be a small operation still, and specialize in some carbon fiber parts, which at this point means mainly wheels and OSPW systems.

There isn’t a ton out there yet providing reviews for their main product, an OSPW system. There are some YouTube videos talking about it, though, mostly from someone named Charles Ouimet who may have some association with the company. Their price point is significantly less than the competition, however, given that the product seems largely comparable, usually at about $229 USD. And their color options are pretty sweet, too!

So in short, the highlights of their system are:

  • Their OSPW system includes a stiff carbon fiber cage
  • It works for both short and long cage derailleurs (up to 32 teeth cassettes)
  • Pulley wheels are made of lightweight aluminum
  • Both the ball bearings and their races are made of ceramic material
  • The bearings themselves are sealed from the elements
  • Manufacturer warranty of 4 years!

What I purchased

First of all, at the time I made this decision, I did so not only because the price was so good, but also that there was a discount code via that YouTube video that happened to work for me. Shipping was even reasonable, and I was able to make the purchase directly into Euros via PayPal.

Nova Ride box for their oversized pulley wheel system (OSPW) with French colors.

I particularly liked the French flag colors on the box. Nice touch.

I opted to get the black on black.

A Nova Ride oversized pulley wheel system (OSPW) in black and black, sitting in the box

I would have liked to get a red color for the wheels themselves, but one, they don’t currently make them in red, but two because the road grime tend to make cleaning parts like this quite difficult. I previously purchased some 12/14 teeth pulley wheels from BBInfinite, another awesome company that makes ceramic bearing pulley wheels, that were red and they have been a pain to keep clean. They look great, and spin extremely well, but given that they are made of Delrin, a plastic-like material, they tend to get dirty quickly and seem to stain over time.

Red BBInfinite pulley wheels previously installed into a Shimano Dura Ace derailleur

Not that I’m reviewing their product, but BBInfinite makes great stuff, and it’s also quite reasonably priced. I also really like their videos on YouTube explaining their engineering and manufacturing process, as it’s funny and easy to approach and digest.

Installation Notes

Despite me not being the most technically savvy person around when it comes to physical parts on my bike, I managed to install this one myself. Some pointers from my perspective on this:

  • Watch and rewatch Nova Ride’s YouTube installation video a few times with subtitles on (they don’t make this obvious)
  • Don’t force anything and be aware of which direction the spring is loaded
  • Pay attention to how things come apart so as to know how to put it back together
  • There is a part that unscrews from the Shimano derailleur cage that you will not need with the Nova Ride OSPW, as it is integrated into the carbon fiber
  • Take note of which spring hole to use for the spring, as well as how the spring comes out of the derailleur (it doesn’t initially fit back in except at a particular angle)
  • Use a new chain and clean the rest of your drivetrain first for the best experience (lube / wax discussion for another day)
  • For a compact chainring set up (i.e., 34t/50t), take out at least 4 full chain links on a new chain (116 links from a fresh chain down to 112)
Four chainlinks with chainbreaker tool to remove them

Finally, My Thoughts

To be completely honest here, this is something I’ve been looking for a reason to justify purchasing for some time now. It just hasn’t really felt “worth it” to me to spend $500 USD on something that I think, while nice for mechanical efficiency, would be mainly for the “bling” factor. So when I saw that there was a fully ceramic option for a price at less than half of the competition that also had a nice color scheme, I jumped on it.

The concerns people typically have for these systems generally are:

  • Aluminum pulley wheels can be loud and “clacky” because they’re metal on metal
  • Shifting performance, because it’s no longer a standard part and isn’t as stiff as the Shimano cage, is sloppy
  • On a technical note, spinning the pulley wheels on their own without load is not an accurate representation of their real life performance
  • Expensive
  • Not worth it

So to each these points, I say:

  • The aluminum wheels are not loud at all to me. I think my chain is going to be louder on its own.
  • Shifting performance in nearly all cases is the same, except for maybe a few gears. To be fair, I think that may be because I need to take out another link on my chain to tighten the tension there.
  • I think this is splitting hairs. There may be math to prove it, but you wouldn’t buy a set of wheels that spin as poorly as Shimano pulley wheels do simply because “they don’t have load on them”.
  • With the price discount, it’s not as unaffordable, but definitely spend your money elsewhere first.
  • I think it’s worth it if you have any interest in this kind of product.

Overall, I’m a fan. My drivetrain on this bike has never been smoother. It’s rather amazing to note, actually.

I remember noticing subtle differences when I first put on the BBInfinite pulley wheels, as I could sense that when turning the pedals around through the “dead zones” of the pedal stroke, the “dead zone” seemed less noticeable. This effect is even more so with the Nova Ride OSPW. I honestly am regularly happy when I go riding now and notice how smooth this thing feels through gears that traditionally were more difficult to turn than before.

Peewee Herman riding his bike without a care in the world

Is some of this in my head? Maybe. I mean, who am I kidding, it probably is. At least as far as how to actually measure it. I’m sure a new chain definitely helps aid this effect. But everything feels a lot smoother and nicer. And I really love the look of it. The carbon look definitely fits with the rest of the scheme of my bike, and I look forward to seeing how well it works over the next few years that I have it!

Now with that, anyone else up for frozen yogurt?

Nova Ride oversized pulley wheel system (OSPW) with a cup of Yumi Yogurt in Belmont, CA

Update as of December 1st, 2021

Now that I’ve been running this device for the past 6 months, I can honestly say that I still like it.

My highlights on the system:

  • It still rides very smoothly.
  • The black color on the pulley wheels do not need nearly the level of maintenance my red ones did.
  • It’s kind of a “sleeper” in the sense that it’s not immediately eye catching, but bike connoisseurs will take note (getting one of the other colors will definitely change this point).
  • Still looks good despite it being dirty. Case in point:
Close up of Nova Ride Oversized Pulley System (OSPW) after 6 months of use

If there’s only one drawback that I’ve found so far is that there are a few gears that are a bit stubborn to get in and out of. It’s not terribly consistent, and I can usually shift an extra gear down and up (or vice versa) and I can call it a day.

The main mechanic at my local shop who looked at it more closely after I installed it voiced a concern around this point, noting that “most of these systems aren’t stiff enough” to compare with the Shimano stock cage. But again, I want to emphasize that it hasn’t bothered me at all in the past six months. I think there’s a slight bit of play left to right of center at certain points, but if I am to be honest, I haven’t really tried reindexing my gears yet to take care of it.

So yeah, I (still) definitely recommend one if you’re looking for an extra bit of bling for your bike!

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