26 October, 2017

Does Weight Matter?

By Scott

With the arrival of the second round of Polyvalent prototypes, one thing we did was weigh each frame as well as the matching fork with it. It's one of those times where you have the frame without anything on it other then the bottle cage bolts that it comes with. It got me thinking about weight and a cyclist's relationship with weight. We are, as the MTB crowd would say, a gravity sport. The effect of gravity is directly related to riding. Ride up a hill and you'd swear that you were in a high gravity zone. Go down a hill and you'd wish that you'd filled up your water bottle to help speed you down the hill.

So does weight matter? And further to that, is it frame weight/wheel weight or the total package (the bike and the rider) that makes the difference?

A sharper fork, that's for sure

Now, I'm not going to insult all of you left reading this with a technical discussion of me going up hills attached to various meters/monitors and displays. I've given up on the cycle computer, and the last statistics course I took was in the 80's, so I'm not going to stifle the situation with numbers that can prove anything they want and often (shockingly) do. What I'm speaking of is more of a feeling/perception.

no more Paris-Brest's for Scott :(

I bring this up as over the past 6 months, I've lost 21 lbs. A change of diet and more exercise has led to this loss. In rides over the past month with my wife, who has also lost a significant amount of weight, we both found that going up the rolling hills of MD has gotten easier. Now losing this sort of weight means that my overall weight going up the hill is much less. The bikes we ride have not changed at all in terms of weight - same tires/wheels etc on them - but they feel easier to go up the hill.

So this all leads to my feeling that the frame and fork alone is only a small part of the overall perception of weight/speed/feel. If I weigh 181 lbs and my bike weighs 31 lbs, my frame is only 14% of the total weight of 212 lbs (I promise this is the only math in this blog post). If I drop 6 lbs off the bike, quite a big feat I'd say, the frame percentage only moves to being 12% of the total weight of 206 lbs. Dropping 21 lbs off my body results in a much larger % change in total weight and thus the greater difference I feel on the bike. Perhaps once my weight is between 165-170 lbs, frame weight will make the bigger difference.

Would you ask how much the frame weighs when talking to a custom builder?

How much emphasis does frame weight make to you? Is it a starting point when looking at a frame or is it just something you note along with the chain stay length and the BB drop when looking at a frame or bike on line?


Anonymous said...

Lose 5 lbs body weight off the 212lb total = 2.4% weight reduction

Buy a bike that weighs 5 lbs less (an expensive proposition) gives the same 2.4% reduction. Hardly noticeable on all but the longest, steepest climbs.

Anonymous said...

I always tell weight weenies that they should go to the bathroom, shave, get a haircut, and maybe blow their noses before their ride. A few good sneezes would give you you the same weight difference as found between an Ultegra and Dura-Ace rear derailleur.

Anonymous said...

Is it really a function of rider weight loss per se or is the improved performance more of function rider conditioning, given all else the same? Sure, running a 50 lb Dutch bike with a load up an extended climb in the Rockies is hell, but once your are down in the 20+x lb range, it seems to me that fatigue and performance is more of a matter of rider fitness and how well adjusted and configured the bike is to the specific activity. I'm not racing and that is in part why I am a VO customer. Who is really counting ounces and are they the fun type of people to ride with?

Unknown said...

Does it matter, sure. Does it matter a lot, nope.

billyhacker said...

The older I've gotten the less I care. Those that care the most (including me in my early 20s) always encouraged me to heft the bike. "Wow, that's light" they'd say, and I would glow. That was worth $1k.

It's taken me forever to realize my pannier with lunch, some water, a bike lock, a work computer, cell phone, minimal tools, etc, weighs about 80% of my fully built up Pass Hunter. All that worry about frame+fork weight is now hilarious to me. The difference between a steel and carbon fiber fork is less than the CONTAINER my wife put my lunch in today.

Noobs still ask me "how light is it?" Now I just answer, "let's go for a ride..."

Predictable Middle-age Retrogrouch said...

Grant Peterson has raised this issue, as does anyone who deals in chromoly as a frame material. Many associate frame weight with ride characteristics, which was probably only really relevant years ago with fewer materials, all of lower quality than today's options, to choose from. As a 210-lb rider of a 30-lb bike, I ride with confidence and comfort, but I ride a mass-produced touring frame that I assume is overbuilt by the standards of people who talk about triple-butted tubing (but, hey, mine is double-butted!). So as I continue to develop as a rider and learn more about riding, I get curious about the "responsiveness" of a given frame as described by a high-performance rider. Surely a strong rider gets more response from her or his bike than I do from mine! And how do you separate the responsiveness of planing from the absorption by the frame of surface chatter? Horizontal stiffness I get, but I imagine vertical compliance requires a sweet spot that factors in a rider's weight. To my mind, the most important characteristics of a frame are fit and geometry and frame material, and in today's golden age of options, tire clearance. Beyond that, high-performance riders will seek as much customization as possible, and of course, something that is custom-built or even semi-custom will perform better.

Bikes are unique in being an athletic activity one can enjoy while performing poorly, noodling along at a snail's pace on crap equipment. The joy is still there. At the same time, learning the relationship between cadence and endurance is one of many milestones that can be perceptual paradigm shifts. Weight loss is another. Bikes are magical, and a very light, high quality bike probably magnifies its magic. But so does a bike that fits, or a saddle finally set up correctly, or gearing that matches one's strength and environment and riding style. The euphoric power a bike offers can be obtained by many means, including the ability to take stuff with you. For all but the most elite athletes among us, assuming the bike matches one's needs and the wheels stay true, there are few bike issues that cannot be addressed by a new chainring or cassette with the right gearing or the right tire or a saddle that suits the rider or a cockpit that balances reach and comfort. Every choice is a compromise between competing concerns and self-correction is an ongoing process. It is a beautiful thing. The incessant macho-bro marketing claptrap one inevitably finds when following this lovely pastime online can obscure this very simple and inclusive principle.

All that being said, as a practical matter, it is tremendously useful to be able to lift one's unloaded bike over one's head. It needn't be an easy task; merely an option when you need to do so. Having a bike that allows this is nice to have, but not essential.

Tom said...

Yes, I ride a steel-framed bike with a big canvas saddle bag, fenders, dyno-hub, double-walled rims, sprung saddle and flat-resistant touring tires. But wow, it's much lighter than my Dutch Bike. It's all relative I guess.

Being able to ride in the dark/rain and carry stuff is more important to me than bike weight. I've been given a hard time about my heavy bike by a cyclist on a carbon bike with two full water bottles and a beer belly, though.

Kilroy said...

Does weight really matter? It depends on the situation, of course. If I'm commuting to work with a change of clothes, panniers, rear rack, lunch, maybe a jacket, gloves, and thinking about the day ahead....no hurry, weight is insignificant. No rush, no worries.
But if it's my day off, and I'm in "relaxation, take it easy mode", and I'm happy, I like to expend less energy on a lighter bike. Let's take it a little faster, but at an easier pace.
Of course, that's just me.

S. Molnar said...

Um, filling up your water bottle will not help you speed down a hill. This was demonstrated (not with a bicycle) by Galileo.

John Frey said...

I'm with the retro-grouch (great essay) and Daniel D (perfect summary). I have learned to be a little more careful around gram-geeks (and I was one, MANY years ago). Some are so heavily invested, both in terms of money and emotions, that any disagreement with their opinion makes your opinion about anything worthless to them. So much for the joy of bicycling, eh? Glad there are still people like the V.O. crowd who can enjoy their toy, instead of using it solely as an engine of torture.

anniebikes said...

Weight matters if I schlep a bike on and off a rack or up and down stairs, which I seldom do. Otherwise, if I have ample gears I'm happy. I'm happy to haul pies, goodies, work clothes, etc. to my workplace. Or my coffeeneuring kitchen across town. or touring gear for a muliday journey. The ability to transport stuff far outweighs the actual weight of the bike as long as my knees are happy.

Still, I wish my Clementine were a little lighter...

Mike the Bike PT said...

The only bikes I have ever ridden have been steel, with one aluminum bike in the mix. As much as I tried to put it out of my mind, I had to be curious about what a carbon fiber bike would be like. Better? Faster? More comfortable?
I finally had a chance to ride a CF race bike earlier this year on a vacation. Yes, it was n=1 situation but I was less comfortable and no faster on average compared to my All City Space Horse after 50 total miles of riding over 2 days. The one positive was the CF did accelerate notably faster. Would I ride a century on it? Ugh, no, that sounds like misery.

Winston said...

As a lightweight rider (5'8" & 150 pounds) I do look at frame weight. It's at least a good comparison & can tell you something about construction- the same tubeset made by a master will result in a somewhat lighter frame; though saving a few hundred grams isn't why I might shell out for a custom frame someday.

My favorite bike right now is a converted trek 950 with a low trail fork- that's a heavy frame but it's mostly in the careless factory lugs. I also do a lot of loaded ridding on very bad roads, so I need a fairly stiff touring bike.

Anonymous said...

I'm 66 years old. Can't stop the ravages of age, but I'm damned sure trying to slow them down.
Larger frames weigh more, and at 6' 2" I'm happy with a seat tube of around 60-64 centimeter.

I'd probably do better dropping a few pounds from myself than I would trying to shave grams. If I gave a flying crap about riding faster. Which I don't. The way I look at it:

1-I'm in the woods.
2-I'm on my bike.
3-The faster I ride, the sooner I'll be OUT of the woods and OFF my bike. And it already comes much too soon.

clark said...

Even though frame weight matters less than fit or handling, it does matter to me. It matters most for my mixed surface exploring in the mountains, like this ride: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/18544986?privacy_code=W7koDraf2ytS5BL4 If I can choose between equally capable steel frames (I dont know the weight of the Piolet) I take the lightest one that is strong enough. My bike was 41 lbs loaded on that route, 26.5 of which was the bike and bottles (steel frame and fork). A couple of pounds lighter still would have been a fine thing!

Anonymous said...

So if I weighed 20 pounds more than you, and we had the EXACT same bikes and fitness, etc., would you add 20 pounds of lead weight on the bike to make it an even race?

An extreme example, yes, but bike weight matters, some physicist can probably tell us why.
Body weight and bike weight just don't add up equally.

Kendra said...

I’m surprised to find myself saying this, since all of my bikes have been steel (except one aluminum hybrid that is no longer in the stable), but weight does matter to me. Not a lot, but it does matter. I regularly lift my bike up onto a bike rack on the bus, or onto the rack on the back of my car, or up a few steps to get it into my office building. I used to ride a Dutch bike, and that simply wasn’t doable. Now my commuter is a steel cross bike that probably weighs in the mid-20s before I load it up, and I have no trouble. I don’t need a super-light bike, but I do need to be able to pick it up.

RoadieRyan said...

For me it's simply

1 are you riding a bike?
2 does it make you smile?

nuff said

Anonymous said...

Weight? Yeah, It matters, but it's only part of the equation; Heavy bikes are a drag and quite often slow; not because they are heavy, but because they are overbuilt. A light weight frame might signal a frame that's not very sturdy, but more then likely will indicate a responsive/ lively frame.
As a person whose lost 20+ lbs. After returning to commuting Approx. 18 months ago. I can certainly attest to the fact that I feel the weight difference almost entirely when going uphill!, But a heavy plug of a frame will likely feel dead and a drag to push uphill and it always will no matter how much you weigh. - masmojo

EddyWouldRide said...

I never look for a light bike but lord knows I know when I've found a heavy bike. They arent as fun to ride to me.

Pugsleymike said...

Its a very personal experience with bike weights and everyone is at their own level or in between levels of what weight matters most. Working at a shop, I get to test ride a lot of different bikes and I get to understand what that bike weights does for someones feeling of that bike. The road bikes burst up hills with little effort and you feel super-human. The solid commuter is teliably comfortable with friendly, stable feeling. The too-light bikes feel very scary at speed and the heavy bikes will drag when faced with too many climbs or riding with a spirited group. I solve it with having all kinds of bikes and then ala carte to match how I feel!