The bike industry is genius. It can take a simple machine, change the geometry a few millimeters here and there, and come up with an “improved” design that makes all others obsolete. Or that’s the goal it seems. But one change that could easily doom all improvement is added weight.
How many of us hoist a buddy’s new bike to get a feel of its weight? We determine how awesome a bike is based its weight proximity to zero. And why’s that? You may have heard the saying “Light, strong, cheap – Pick two”. Lighter bike components tend to be more expensive than their heavier counter-parts. So how much does this matter (the weight thing)?
I decided to take this question to the trail with my modest steel MTB. I’ve ridden this particular single track many times with my bike in stock form (~12250g /27lbs). I know the hills I struggle with and a couple I have to walk the bike up. My attempt at weight weenie got this bike down to ~11112 grams (24.5lbs). This included changing the cockpit for carbon parts but the majority of the weight loss was from a new wheel/tire combo.
Out on the trail the first dozen pedal strokes quickly brought a grin. The bike felt snappy and so much more comfortable. The carbon seatpost and handlebars combined with the tubeless tires absorbed much of usual chatter. The bike felt light and I was certain I’d be slaying the hills today. I was feeling quite pleased with the old steed.
As the hills approached I started to prepare mentally. My energy was high, confidence level in over-drive, and decked with new components that cost more than my entire stock build, I knew I was ready! Or so I thought. I took a bad line and hit a protruding rock, halting all momentum – crucial when singlespeeding. Time to walk but this one is on me. I’ll make it up the next.
A short time later a hill I rarely clear awaits. There’s not much to this hill, it’s just a steep climb. I begin to mash the cranks as I make ground on the incline. I stand-mash-grunt-lean-pull. My toes curl in my shoes thinking they can somehow wrap around the pedals to help out. As serious as I am in the moment, I’m sure my facial expressions would bring comic relief as an Internet meme. I’m all in on this one but I’m quickly losing hope. This hill feels exactly like it always did. Time to walk. Again.
I didn’t make it up hill any more than usual. It was just regular old me riding my regular old bike with over-priced components. Not the outcome I had in mind. I continued the ride and started finding flaws with my new setup. The seatpost didn’t stay in position, the ultra-light wheels flexed like Urkel, and the grip tore exactly where my pinky wraps around. Annoying.
I finished my ride and the answer was clear…
Does weight matter? Yes, absolutely!
The bike’s weight? Not so much.