Monday, April 16, 2007

The Weight Weenie

[“Don’t look now m’dear, but we’re about to be passed by a Weight Weenie.”]

A Weight Weenie is a person who is obsessive about the weight of their bicycle; it is a trait, to this day I do not fully understand.

Shaving a few grams of weight from your bike will also slim down your bank account by copious amounts of cash, as you replace components with lighter, more expensive, and sometimes less reliable ones.

The question I always want to ask is, “Do you want to ride it, or weigh it?” Of course, a road bike or racing bicycle needs to be lightweight, but to what limit. What is the point of removing a few grams from your bike if your body is 10, 20 or more pounds overweight?

Even the serious racing cyclist who is a super fit athlete will want to consider whether, for example, is it worth it to buy a super light component and have it break and cost him the race. In bicycle racing it is always the rider not his equipment that wins races.

If you are trying to fly, become airborne, weight is a big factor. However, rolling on a flat surface weight has little effect, and you could argue that added weight would give you momentum.

Consider this scenario. A standard size water bottle filled with water weighs a pound and a half. If you are riding with a friend and you hand him your water bottle, you have instantly lost 1 ½ lbs. and he has gained the same amount.

If weight were such a large factor, you would expect that you would suddenly shoot forward and your friend would drop back. The fact is neither of you feel the slightest difference, even if you are climbing a hill.

It is on the hills, the Weight Weenie will argue that weight, or lack of it is an advantage. I sometimes wonder if this is entirely true. I used to build a criterium frame in Columbus SP tubing that was heavier that my road frame built in SL.

Owners of this particular model always remark how well the bike climbs. The reason is the stiffness of the frame, transfers the rider’s energy to the rear wheel more efficiently. Whether this criterium bike is actually faster or just feels faster is something that would be difficult to prove.

I will say this, if I am riding up hill on my 20 plus pound steel road bike with another rider of equal fitness level on a 14 lb. carbon fiber bike. I claim we would both arrive at the top at the same time.

Weight Weenieism is not a disease, there is no 12 step cure; it is a more like a religious or political belief. It is relatively harmless, although it can cause financial hardship, leading to marital stress.

What I write here will convert no one, and that is not my intention. This is just my observation.


Da' Square Wheelman, said...

I just spent the weekend at the Chicago Bike Show volunteering for the Chicagoland Bike Federation. Along with Weight Weenieism folks were suffering from Lycra Lesions, Composite Materialism, and Triathlon Tourettes Syndrome.

Nor was there anything for utility bikers or commuters %(

bmike said...

Nice post Dave.
I built my bike as light as practical, then routinely throw 10 pounds of stuff on it to carry around on brevets. Add my own body weight to it and the bike is a small small percentage of what I need my modest engine to move about.

Now if it were as easy as making things light as it was to increase the horsepower...

phil varner said...

Jan Heine's written a lot in Bicycle Quarterly about how bike weight is one of the least important things in bike performance. In BQ Vol 5 No 1, he does an extrapolation of performance and concludes that even an elite 250 Watt rider on a 2km climb with a 5% grade would only save 4 seconds with a bike that was 14kg instead of 15kg and 18 seconds on a bike that was 10kg instead of 15kg. In that article, he found the largest increase in speed of bike weight reduction, aero wheels, aero riding position, or tire choice was to have a low rolling resistance tire, with a time difference of about 10% between the Rivendell Nifty-Swifty and and the Deda Giro d'Italia. There's also been a lot of discussion about whether a stiff frame is actually better, since an appropriate amount of flex may allow the bike to "plane" (that's another discussion entirely).

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dave for being opioniated and outspokin'!

Great comments again! Hey da'square can you add some more to my knowledge of bike diseases?

I've met some unfriendly bikers with Crankamania but your names are priceless!


VintageSpin said...

All studies I have seen on weight are not representative of actually riding up a hill. There are way too many variables not considered and impossible to track, thus manufacturers take advantage of such inaccurate conclusions in their advertising claims.
Same with frame flex; reviews in magazines measure flex, and readers can compare numbers. But what do they mean? What constitutes a flexible frame? Does it climb better or sprint better.
Hell, Alexi Grewal won mountain stages and out-sprinted Bauer on his “flexible” SL-tubed Pinarello.
And wider tyres absorb road shock that wears on the rider-does that save him energy he can use later? Do they really have more resistance, and how much does that matter?
A rider can’t blame his bike for not climbing better. But having a ritual before tackling climbing stages helps his mental preparation. If that includes switching to lighter wheels, then that is just as necessary as climbing incessantly in training. But it isn’t the only reason for success, or failure.

Bujiatang said...

when I added a rack to the back of my old peugeot I noticed the frame stiffened up a little.

I rode the bike for 6 years before I added the rack and it felt and sounded like a different machine.