Now before I even get going, this is an opinion piece. The operative word in that sentence being “opinion”.
When I picked up my new bike, I was just a little more than nervous about the scale. I knew it was pretty light, definitely slimmer than my old Trek 5200 T and it weighs a lot less than my aluminum Cannondale SR400 – but what did it really weigh? The question, at least for me, was what weight is “cool enough” (read that “acceptable”) for a high-end road bike?
So I had my steed into the shop for a minor front derailleur index issue and the owner of the shop, who sold me the bike, asked what it weighed. Having never weighed it, I had no clue. Matt being the cool guy he is, pulled out his digital scale and we weighed it… With pedals and cages, she tipped the scales at 18-1/4 pounds.
I don’t really know why but I wasn’t happy with that. It just seemed too heavy for a bike that cost more than $3,500 – right or wrong, ignorant or not, I was bummed and I knew the wheels were the place to start. Fortunately enough, I was having some problems with the rear wheel (slop in the hub – completely fixable) so sinking some money on new wheels made sense. I settled on aluminum because I like to spend time biking in the mountains on vacation and the last thing I want to worry about is over cooking a set of rims on the way down one of the several passes that require heavy braking. I found a nice set at a decent price on Nashbar, bought them and had them installed… And dropped almost a full pound. It’s now 17.3, dripping wet, and I am happy.
Back to the question at hand though: What is a respectable weight for a road bike?
This depends greatly on the price you’re willing to pay. If you’re getting an entry-level aluminum bike 20 pounds is very respectable while 23 is close to the norm and 25 pounds isn’t out line. For a full carbon road bike, depending again on how much you spend, you can range from 21 pounds all the way down to 14. There are two key factors that drive weight on a carbon bike: Type of carbon fiber used on the frame (mine is Specialized’s FACT 10r, 11r is quite a bit more expensive [the frame alone costs as much as my bike] but is lighter and more rigid from what I’ve read) and the components. I have cheaper components on my bike, 105’s with a very heavy crank set (just under two pounds). Bikes are built this way to keep the overall price down. If I were to upgrade everything to SRAM Red or Dura Ace and opt for a carbon bar and stem, then buy a weight weenie set of wheels, I could conceivably get my bike down to 14-1/2 pounds (I’ve seen a post of one built this way on the scale). The trick is I’d be looking at a few thousand dollars more to do it and I’m not willing to go there until things start wearing out on the bike – and that’ll be way down the road.
Now, there are ways around the cost issue. You can buy component sets on eBay or online discount shops, the options are almost endless, but just know this – the cheaper you go, the more you’ll have to know what you’re doing – and maybe even install the stuff yourself.
Now, if you’re looking to shed weight, there’s an order to it. Start with the wheels. Anything more than 1,900 grams and you can easily knock a pound or more for $350-$700 for a decent set of light-weight aluminum wheels. From there, look at the handlebar and stem – switch from aluminum to carbon – $200 and you can drop maybe a quarter to a half of a pound. Look at your seat post and saddle next. Another $200-$300 and a quarter pound or more. So for roughly $800 you can shed 1-1/2 pounds (more if you have steel wheels and heavier components). The question you have to ask yourself is simply, is it worth it?
To answer that question, here’s how I handle the thinking: Is the bike frame aluminum? Yes: No upgrades – I won’t drop a lot of cash into a bike that feels like I’m riding a tank anyway. No: Do I love this bike? No: Enough said* Yes: Upgrade away. *The only reason that I would have blown money on upgrading my 5200 rather than purchasing a new bike is if my wife didn’t support the purchase of the new bike. In the case of the unsupportive spouse, pick away one part at a time as cash allows – however, take into account that as parts age, they must be replaced (including cranks, chain rings, derailleurs etc.) and replacing a component line and other weight upgrades generally end up costing more than buying a new bike.
Also remember the bike weight axiom: It’s easier to peel weight off of the cyclist than the cycle. If you’re at your target weight, then work on the bike. And generally speaking, if you’re knocking a pound off of your bike, you will notice it on a climb.
For new bikes, I’d say a decent general price to weight guide would look something like this:
Entry level road bike ($800-$1,750): 19-25 pounds
Mid-range road bike ($1,800-$2,500): 18-21 pounds
High-end road bike ($2,600-$4,000): 16-19 pounds
High-end race bike ($4,100-$15,000+): 13-15 pounds
There will obviously be exceptions, my guide is only general.
Agreed. I have seen fellow triathletes drop a decent amount of cash on ‘carbon this’ and ‘aero that’ then gain 4 pounds during training. If you have a decent bike that fits and you like to ride, work on both your weight and engine. The investment will pay off.
I have seen people try to “buy speed,” when what they really need to do is ride more and ride with faster people. A lighter bike is only as good as the person riding it 🙂 Great post!!
My Trek Domane weighs under 16 pounds and it was worth every penny! However, total weight is not the whole picture — shaving a few ounces off the rims is worth a lot more than a few ounces off the frame (rotational weight vs. non-rotational).
Right you are.