If you want to skip to the end, I’ll save you the trouble of scrolling down. The truth about bike weight is: big ‘effin deal. You’re still slow.
Well, I mean, to a point, anyway. And, maybe sometimes it does matter to the average person, but for what reason?
Anyone who knows a cyclist of the enthusiast variety, or increasingly, even a commuter, has heard it all before. Lighter is better. Lighter is faster. Lighter is basically free performance. Lighter will make me better. I can pick my bike up with my pinky, after all.
We need to set some context, here. I’m not talking about heavy vs. average. It will definitely make a significant difference if you are coming from a 16kg mountain bike and hop onto a 12kg commuter, or from a 10kg roadie onto an 8kg version, or, to be fair, a cheap and heavy MTB tyre vs. a good fast-rolling one. For the most part, people with even a little experience can more than likely tell the difference between a wheelset weighing 1900 grams and one weighing 1600 (with the accompanying better hubs and increased stiffness). I’m talking about a good quality 7.6kg roadie and a good quality 7.2kg roadie. A $650 wheelset weighing 1550 grams vs. a $2400 wheelset weighing 1450 grams. The already good vs. the slightly better. You know what I’m talking about.
Further context is as follows: If you are at the top of your game and are getting paid to make your bicycle go as fast as you can, then, sure, go lighter. Even then, however, it’s not always better. For example, we can compare a 7kg roadie and a 6kg roadie. Depending on how those bikes arrive at their weights, the super light bike may actually be less enjoyable to ride, or harder to handle in certain conditions, less efficient at delivering power, and almost certainly less resistant to wear and ultimately failing.
So, lets take both ends of the spectrum out of the equation and concentrate here on the middle ground. The already pretty nice and light bike vs the lighter version. Let’s also limit this to the person who represents a huge number of recreational cyclists: middle-aged (plus or minus), far from being in peak condition, and with disposable income.
It is here that it all starts to make sense. Cycling is quite fashionable. As in, some people care more about how they or their bike looks than actually riding it. Most care at least a significant amount. They like talking about how fast their bike is, how many watts their new piece of equipment saves them, how aero the frame or wheels are, how expensive or exclusive this or that is (exclusive is even faster than fast, and lighter than light), and, if they don’t have the this or that yet, how much better (faster) they would be if they did.
But hang on, what’s wrong with wanting better? What does it matter if you can’t make use of the extra performance if you enjoy it more, even as a placebo? Most of us cycle because we enjoy it. I like a good-looking bike. Style is important to most people. I like a high level of equipment just like the next person. It’s nice knowing that what you have will deliver a level of performance that you won’t soon (or more likely, ever) eclipse. I have equipment that I’m sure I can’t make the most of (bike equipment, sure, but even my stereo speakers are probably better than I have an ear for, for example).
So if I am going to do anything as brazen as give advice on this topic, I’m going to be as vague as possible and say: go for it, but be sensible. Get a light bike or spend your money on lighter equipment, but be aware that I and countless others will silently scoff at your decision process if it goes anything like this:
“I’m looking at buying a $2500-$3000 wheelset because I have reached my peak fitness potential and I need to go faster.” Ummmhmmm. You mean, that 10-15kg of spare weight you are carrying is you at your peak fitness potential? Are you sure you couldn’t just watch your calories and ride a bit more to make yourself a little bit faster? No? Oh, of course not, it’s your current set of wheels that are slowing you down (which are still better than what you need), and not the extra weight and lack of fitness. You’re racing A-grade, or maybe B-grade? No? Riding 300km a week? Oh. 60km on Sundays. Ok, well…
Get the wheels. What do I care? But don’t tell me about how you need them. To go faster.
This is, finally, getting to the nub of what rubs me the wrong way about this topic. Senseless and irrational chasing after lighter, lighter, lighter (or carbon for the sake of carbon), and vocalizing your rational to anyone who you think needs to know.
The thing is, you could just ask about and buy a set of wheels without offering your audience your flimsy rational. “Hi, I would like to buy a flash of wheels please.” Done. Whether you think you need them or not, nobody cares.
However, I think that, maybe, people need to vocalize their rational because they may on some level know it to be weak, or just crap. Maybe you have a partner that thinks you shouldn’t be spending the money on such frivolities, or maybe you aren’t even totally comfortable with the financial cost, which would be something worth considering, but whatever the reason, perhaps you give it the old song-and-dance because you are just trying to convince yourself that it’s worth it. Those last few grams and the extra bit of aero that will give you six seconds over 10km and will finally give you the win on that sprint to the speed limit sign on your weekly group ride will cost you thousands, so you need, need, to believe that it’s worth it (bloody Jim just retired and has been riding more than you, which totally isn’t fair). Ironically, the people who will actually be able to extract the real benefit from marginally better equipment as well as the people who are under no illusions as to their real reasons for making such purchases never feel the need to verbally justify their desire for upgrades.
That might not be entirely true, but what I do know is that you don’t need those slightly lighter wheels. You don’t need the carbon bars that will save 12 grams. You don’t need the ceramic bearings. You want them.
And that’s ok.
People need to be honest with themselves. Humans have always done this with all types of possessions: we want better, regardless of what the practical benefit will be. Better is better, after all. End of. If your pointless acquisition of better won’t hurt anyone, then go ahead and do it (debate on the pitfalls of unchecked consumerism is encouraged, but for another time and place), but keep your excuses to yourself, thank-you-very-much. Or, better yet, if you happen to feel a strong compulsion to accompany your purchase with a comment, a simple, “I think these wheels are super hot, and I’m pretty excited to get them in my bike, because they make me horny” will do.
Header image: source