Does Bike Weight and Becoming A Weight Wienie Actually Matter? Does A Light Bike Help or Hurt A Cyclist? A Look at a Misleading Article on Bike Weight
First, I’m going to be straight up; bike weight matters. So does my once fat ass, and yours (fat or not). What’s the use in having an aero bike when one’s figure is anything but? Yes, pushing oneself away from the table is most important and the easiest, cheapest way to dial the weight factor down on the cyclist/cycle combination. This is all true.
The object of my weight wienie-ness…
I ran into an article on the Pros Closet that delves into the question of bike weight and whether it’s worth the cost. On reading the article, the author makes a fair case that being a weight wienie is expensive. It is. However, she gets into a little deception when bringing up the cost vs weight savings. She uses a 77 gram, $11 aluminum bottle cage as an example against a Specialized S-Works Zee Cage, $70. Now, she gives the proper cost of a carbon zee cage, but the photo she uses shows a $20 plastic zee cage being weighed. So you’re getting what looks to be a 36 gram difference for an additional cost of $59. It’s really a $9 difference in cost for that 36 grams (worth it). It gets better, though. A carbon zee cage weighs just 28 grams, a difference of 49 grams next to the alloy cage. Add two bottle cages together and you’ve got a little less than a quarter of a pound (but more than two tenths of a pound)… on just two bottle cages. Sure, you’re spending $140 for a couple of bottle cages, but two-tenths of a pound just on bottle cages?! I’d do it. Hell, I did it! Twice. I bought the Chinese cages for $18 each, though… so for an additional $7 a cage, I saved more than two-tenths of a pound. Without question, worth it.
Now, I only know all of this because I’m ridiculous and a little bit meticulous about trimming weight off my Specialized Venge. I’ve got an ultra-light stem (110 grams), an ultra-light S-Works crank, carbon pedals, the aforementioned carbon cages, carbon wheels, carbon handlebar, Ultegra drivetrain… Ultegra cassette, SRAM ultra-light chain… when I pulled that Venge out of the box, it weighed 18.8 pounds, not including pedals. It’s down to 15.8 (15.5 if I use the 110 gram carbon saddle I’ve got, but it’s just too uncomfortable). Now, can one feel the difference between three pounds? Abso-freakin-lutely. I can feel a pound, but only because I have so many miles on each of my bikes. That’s not the question, though. The question is, do those three pounds matter in terms of how fast I can get my bike down the road.
Because most of my fastest rides were on this:
An 18-1/2 pound, fully restored and updated 1999 Trek 5200. Not ironically, it has Blackburn carbon cages and those were expensive ($55 each).
It only worked that way, that most of my fastest rides are on the Trek, by chance, of course. It was due to weather. The Specialized is much faster – noticeably, tangibly faster. But the three pound difference, well, two-and-change now, doesn’t make much of a difference. I just have to work a little harder (and yes, I do and can feel the difference).
Let’s go one better, though. How about almost a five pound difference?
Now we’re looking at my Trek vs my gravel bike, a 23 pound Specialized Diverge. Now we’re talking some weight. Now, supposing I put some real road tires on that Diverge… can the “me” on the Diverge keep up with “me” on the Trek? No chance, no how, no way.
On my Trek, average estimated wattage for a 28-mile, 24-mph average ride is a whopping 273 watts. On the Diverge that adjusts to 399 watts… For an hour and ten minutes? Sign me up for the Tour de France. No chance I can hold that, no matter how big the draft. That’s a difference greater than most people can even pedal a bicycle (136 watts).
So my two cents on the subject is this; to an extent, the bike’s weight does matter, especially when you start getting into the really heavy bikes. It just doesn’t matter as much as some think (or maybe hope).
Now, one thing I did appreciate about the Pros Closet article is that the author looked at how light is too light – at which point does a lightweight bike mean a decrease in performance. I don’t have to worry about this problem because I’m not going to bother trying to get the Venge much lighter. It’s good enough for government work. However, at some point you’ll sacrifice stiffness to weight reduction and end up with a spaghetti bike. I can tell you this, that weight is below 15 pounds.
Besides, I think they were more talking about mountain bikes and durability in the article anyway (except one of the merchandizing office guys she quoted).
So there you have it. Of course a light bike will be slightly faster and a heavy bike will be considerably slower. The trick is your definition of light and heavy combined with how you’ll be riding said bike… and the depth of your bank account. In my case, every upgrad I made was worth it. Every pound I dropped, worth it. I just don’t have to delve any deeper.