I’ve dropped a combined seven pounds off two road bikes over the last several years, a little at a time, and can offer a few tips on where to start and where to end – and on what will just end up as vanity watts.
First, the cheapest, most efficient way to go about this is to buy the best bike you can from the beginning. Hands down, that’s the least expensive route. I couldn’t do that, though. When I bought my Venge, way back at the end of 2013, the bike was the first generation of “aero” race bikes. In other words, CHING! All I could afford was the entry-level 105 “Comp” model. The bike weighed in at 18.8 pounds out of the box (pedals and cages excluded).
Okay, now on a “Comp” bike, or an entry-level into the upper echelon of race bikes, the best place they save money is by putting cheap wheels on your fantastic bike. You take that bike and put a decent set of wheels on it and you’ve got a formidable race bike. The original wheels were 1,990 grams or 4.36 pounds (tires and tubes not included). With a little effort, you can find a decent 1,500 or 1,600 gram set of wheels for as little as $300 (Shimano Ultegra 1,660 – Vuelta Speed One 1,520 $300 on the nose and the hubs are spectacular [I ride the old SLR hubs on my rain bike] and those are just two examples). So let’s take my original 18.8 pound bike and knock 470 grams, or more than a pound, off it. 17.7 pounds. The next place to go for me was the handlebar. I wanted the carbon fiber aero handlebar and I got a new stem. The bar saved me no weight whatsoever. It’s the same weight as my old alloy handlebar. The new stem saved a little more than 100 grams (it’s carbon wrapped aluminum which is lighter than straight carbon fiber for structural construction reasons). Not much in weight saved, but the bike sure looked good!
In other words, you’re looking at vanity watts for the handlebar but there’s some significant weight to be saved if you’re savvy about picking the right stem.
Next up was another big hitter when upgrading from an entry-level racer; the crankset. I went big for my upgrade, opting for the S-Works crank. I dropped a little better than three-quarters on the crank alone! Now I’m down into the 16 pound range. Next was a cassette and chain upgrade. There are quite a few grams to be saved there, but you sacrifice a little longevity when it comes to the chain – there is a price to be paid for using lightweight parts. I went with a SRAM 1091R Chain (hollow pins, plate cutouts) and a PG-1070 cassette (one step under Red and still in the realm of reason at $60-$80 – the Red cassettes run $300 (!) but they’re light).
I upgraded the brakes next. I got a deal on some FSA Energy brakes that match the bike like they were made for it. The perfect red on jet black. I saved 50 or 60 grams there.
The next big weight drop was in changing the drivetrain from Shimano 105 to Ultegra. 105 is a great line of components but they’re on the heavy side of the race components. I got lucky and had a friend who upgraded his 10sp. Ultegra to 11sp. Ultegra. I bought his components for a couple hundred bucks. There’s another couple/few hundred grams. That was a game changer, right there. At that point I was flirting with the upper edge of 15 pounds (15.95 give or take).
Finally, I dropped my new 1,420 gram (3.11 pounds) carbon fiber wheels on the bike and another 150 grams down the drain. I’m at 15.75 pounds:
It’s no 13 pound mountain goat but the aero beats weight all week long unless you’re in the mountains (and often even then).
So, going by weight, here’s your order of importance:
Wheels, Crank, Stem, Cassette/Chain, Brakes, Handlebar.
Incidentally, as the rain bike went… This is (almost) how I bought it (I upgraded the saddle almost immediately after I bought the bike – the original was too wide):
She’s a 22 pound triple 9sp. right there. Fast forward a great paint job and upgrading everything but the chainring bolts and brake calipers:
She’s 19.5 pounds in that photo. I put the 105 drivetrain that was on the Venge on the Trek, put the old Venge wheels on it… New headset, new bar, new stem, new carbon seat post (that was a big deal on that bike, compared against the old seat post), new bottom bracket… Throw on the Vuelta/Velocity wheels that were on the Venge and now it’s down to 18-1/2 pounds.
To answer that final question I posed in the title, how light is light, we need to look at things in context. Back in the day, meaning the 80’s and 90’s, a 21 pound bike was exceptionally light. That doesn’t hold true today, of course. Nowadays you’re looking at 12 to 15 pounds for the climbing bikes with the aero bikes reaching from 14 to 18-1/2 pounds (give or take on the high end). If you really want to drop some cheese you can get on a Trek Emonda at 13.7 pounds for $11,500 (disc brakes, SRAM eTap). Or how about a Madone SLR 9 at 16.9 pounds for $12,000 (disc brakes, Dura Ace Di2)? I’m guessing here, because Specialized isn’t as cool and unafraid as Trek, who give the weights on their bikes, but I’d bet the Tarmac Disc is pretty close to that 13.7 pound mark ($11,000) and the Venge ViAS is reportedly 17-1/2 pounds ($12,500).
So, in context, my aero bike is really quite light when compared to the newer aero models. It’s also a little heavy next to the mountain climbing bikes. However I slice it, cost to weight value, my Venge is the cat’s meow at $355 a pound. A new Venge ViAS rolls out the door for $714 a pound and a Madone goes for $710….