On Being a Cycling Weight Weenie and Climbing; Bike Weight isn’t the MOST Important Thing – it’s within Reach, really… But a Close Third
If I had a dollar for every pound I dropped off my Venge through upgrades, I’d have three Dollars. That’s not bad when you consider I started with an 18 pound bike.
Sadly, I’d only need another $1,897 to break even…
S-Works crank, FSA carbon-wrapped stem, wheels, and pedals – those were the big hitters that dropped the most weight. Brakes, handlebar, bottle cages, cassette, chain… those were smaller improvements.
All of that money and my 1999 Trek, that weighs three pounds more, is a better climbing bike. With the good wheels off of the Venge, of course.
Here’s the kicker; yes, a lighter bike is easier to get up a hill and with enough miles in the saddle you’ll be able to easily feel the difference in just one pound – but gearing is more important. Don’t take my word on it, look to the Velominati for the historical perspective (and this should be something the “Rule” haters should even be okay with): “Riding light bikes is fun, but they won’t make you go any faster. Pushing harder on the pedals does.”
I’ve lugged both bikes up that hill, and believe me, it’s decently steep. 18% and it goes up for a minute. By the time I get to the top I’m absolutely out of breath. My Trek, with a 9sp. triple, was easier to get up the hill and I think I could have done the climb with a gear left, too. On the Venge, it was the last gear or bust.
That’s really the trick, gearing. With a 52/36 crank on the Venge and an 11/27 cassette, the easiest gear I get is 36/27. The Trek, by contrast, has a 52/42/30 triple crank and an 11/25 cassette. 30/25 being the easiest. I’m sure it doesn’t take much to figure out that 30/25 is going to be a lot easier to turn over when things get steep. It’s enough that the gearing more than makes up for the weight difference in the two bikes. I am much faster up the hill on the Trek. So, I think for the average roadie, gearing would be most important. The right chainrings and cassette will mitigate a few pounds in bike weight. Now, you take my gravel bike against the Venge (or the Trek for that matter) and forget about it. The gravel bike is a beastly 23 pounds. There isn’t any amount of gearing going to fix a seven or four pound difference.
Now, you might be thinking, “wait a minute, a three pound difference in the Trek to the Venge is okay, but the four pound difference from the Trek to the Diverge is too much?” I’m already pushing a gear that matches up with the Diverge on the Trek – there’s no beneficial “easier but slightly faster” gear on the Diverge, so I’d be pushing gear for gear and four pounds more on the gravel bike. Advantage Trek, every time.
Next, without a doubt, is wheels. A good set of wheels will roll better than cheap, heavy wheels and will therefore help one get to the crest of a hill. Notice, at the beginning of the post, I mentioned that the good wheels have to go on the Trek? The cheaper wheels that currently reside on the Trek are for training. I use the wheels on the Venge when I want to go fast. The wheels matter.
So that would bring overall bike weight to third in the list behind gearing and wheels. So before you drop another Two Grand on making your road bike a couple of pounds lighter, maybe think about putting compact chainrings on there and upgrade the wheels instead.
***My friends, this was obviously an opinion piece. There is plenty of room for different opinions. I’m just going by my experience.