By Kevin Kolodziejski
There’s no shame in admitting it. If one day you ascend that local legendary climb in personal-record time, you’ll be as euphoric as when you were four and found that most wished-for gift under the tree on Christmas morn.
When I was four, I wished for and got Blaze, a huge, hard-plastic rocking horse (nearly the size of the one in front of Food Lane!). He whinnied and said, “I’m Blaze, the Wonder Horse” when you pulled his cord. Years later, I learned my parents had skimped and saved for months to afford him.
I also learned my dad nearly took his belt to my behind because of what I did before Christmas dinner. While rocking my body to match Blaze’s motion, I got out of sync when I reached for his cord. I whacked my forehead against his neck so hard that it swelled immediately and turned black and blue eventually. To show Blaze who’s boss, I found a pair of scissors and made him, in politically correct terms, severely speech-impaired. I also refused to ride him again. My parents wound up giving him away.
My parents didn’t get their money’s worth, and I’m still a bit guilt-ridden because of that today. I’ll atone for my preschool miscue with this buyer-beware alert. If you skimp and save to buy a lighter bike or lighter components to ascend that local legendary climb in personal-record time, what happened to my parents will happen to you. Even if your son never bangs his head on your bicycle.
That’s because a savings of a few grams makes you no faster. Even a savings of 1,362 of them makes you only negligibly so. Consider this hypothetical story inspired by information found in FASTER: Demystifying the Science of Triathlon Speed (Velo Press, 2013) by Jim Gourely and featuring your imaginary wife from Hell.
You give into temptation, buy that 15-pound, five-figure bike you’ve been longing for. When you tell your less-than-better half, she tells you to start working overtime — and sleeping on the living room sofa. You wake the next morning with an ache in your back, a crick in your neck, and a plan in your head. You ride your old 18-pound bike up a one-mile climb that’s pitched at seven percent while holding a constant 200 watts. You then do the same with your new purchase. The idea here is to tell your PO’d partner how much faster the new bike is as a way to justify the expense.
Except you can’t. Justify the expense, that is.
The 15-pounder is merely 7.5 seconds faster. You keep that to yourself because sleeping on the sofa is far better than beside Bruiser in the doghouse.
Save Hundreds of Grams, Spend Thousands of Dollars
Gourely cites the approximate weight difference between an entry-level aluminum bike and a “top-of-the-line” carbon fiber one as “just shy of 3.25 pounds.” The disparity using Trek bikes, though, is even greater. According to Trek’s website, the carbon fiber Émonda SLR 9 Disc eTap weighs 6.74 kilograms (14.85 pounds). The aluminum Émonda ALR 5 Disc is 9.04 kg (19.92 lb). Purchasing the former instead of the latter saves 2.3 kg ( 5.07 lb), but costs $10,400 more.
The cost of this weight-saving upgrade is $4.52 per gram ($128.21 per oz).
But what if you decide not to buy a new bike, but strip off the original Shimano 105-R7000 parts on the entry-level ride you bought three years ago and replace them with a Dura-Ace-9100 full group set? The new shift/brake levers, rear derailleur, front derailleur, 11-speed cassette, 11-speed chain, brake calipers, and bottom bracket from Colorado Cyclist.com cost $1955.88 and weigh a combined 2023 grams. According to a Cycling Weekly article, your old components cost $765.771 and weigh 2180 grams, so you save 157 g (5.54 oz).
But this swap costs you $7.58 per g ($214.43 per oz).
Tell your Princess of Darkness about that purchase, and she gets out the rolling pin — but not to flatten pastry dough. Focus on making single-piece upgrades, and she brings out her best China plates —but not for fine dining.
A pair of run-of-the-mill bottle cages at Competitive Cyclist, the Lezyne Flow SL (in white and on sale), weighs 96 g and costs $18.98. The super-light option there, two Zipp VUKA BTA Carbon Bottle Cages, only weighs 56 g, but costs $150. The weight savings here comes with a $3.28 per g ($92.92 per oz) price tag. Though most cyclists are more concerned with comfort in a bike saddle, most companies manufacture a few they claim to be both comfortable and super-light. You can get the Selle Italia SLR Kit Carbonio Boost Saddle that weighs 122 g, for instance, at Competitive Cyclist for $449.99. An entry-level and relatively light-weight saddle also offered there, the WTB SL8 Cromoly Saddle, goes for $79.95 and weighs 266 g. The price of saving weight by swapping these saddles is $2.57 per g ($72.84 per oz).
|Standard Item||Lighter Item||Savings of Weight and its Cost|
|Emonda ALR 5 Disc 9.04 kg / 19.92 lb $2,099.99||Émonda SLR 9 Disc eTap 6.74 kg / 14.85 lb $12,499.99||2.3 kg / 5.07 lb $4.52 per g / $128.21 per oz|
|Shimano 105-R7000 groupset 2180 g / 4.81 lb $765.77||Dura-Ace-9100 groupset 2033 g / 4.46 lb $1955.88||157 g / 5.54 oz $7.58 per g / $214.43 per oz|
|2 Lezyne Flow SL bottle cages 96 g / 3.39 oz $18.98||2 Zipp Vuka BTA bottle cages 56 g / 1.98 oz $150.00||40 g / 1.41 oz $3.28 per g / $92.92 per oz|
|WTB SL8 Cromoly saddle 266 g / 9.38 oz $79.95||Selle Italia SLR Kit Carbonio Boost saddle 122 g / 4.30 oz $449.99||144 g / 5.08 oz $2.57 per g / $72.84 per oz|
|Fulcrum Racing 6 Wheelset 1690 g / 3.72 lb $261.44||Easton EA 90 SL Wheelset 1490 grams / 3.28 lb $854.99||200 g / 7.06 oz $2.97 per g / $86.28 per oz|
|Fulcrum Racing 6 Wheelset 1690 g / 3.72 lb $261.44||Zipp 303 Firecrest Tubeless Wheelset 1530 g / 3.37 lb $2,200||160 g / 5.65 oz $12.11 per g / 356.35 per oz|
Weights and prices are current as of April 8, 2021 at the websites referenced in the article.
Weight-Saving Wheels Are Worth It
While purchasing lighter wheels would certainly incite your Satanic spouse, it’s Bruce Lin’s belief that this upgrade justifies the expense. In fact, in “Does Bike Weight Really Matter?”, the Tech writer for The Pro’s Closet calls buying lighter wheels “the number one improvement you can make.” Wheels and tires are rotating weight, he explains. “Additional weight increases inertia and wheel inertia matters a lot in cycling because the rider has to overcome it to accelerate. . . Many riders, even novices, can actually feel the difference when riding lighter wheels.”
If you decide to shed weight this way, you may as well go whole hog and pick up wheels that are aerodynamic also, a combination that Lin calls “the ultimate win-win.” The weight savings here, however, produces worse cost-per-weight numbers than any other aforementioned change. Replace the Fulcrum Racing 6 Wheelset often found on entry-level bikes and sold separately at Tweeks Cycles for $261.44 with a Zipp 303 Firecrest Tubeless Wheelset from Bike Tires Direct.com for $2,200, and the savings is 160 g (5.64 oz) at a cost of $12.11 per g ($343.11 per oz). If you go light but not aero and buy an Easton EA 90 SL Wheelset from Colorado Cyclist at $854.99, the cost-per-weight rate compared to the Fulcrum wheelset drops to $2.97 per g ($83.95 per oz).
How to Subtract Bike Weight for Free
Speaking of “going light,” you can save a surprising amount of weight if you limit the liquids your carry on your ride. Take along one 25-ounce bottle instead of two, and you can reduce your bike’s weight by more than 1.5 pounds. That’s what the staff at AeroGeeks.com reported in a 2013 article where they weighed four bottles they had on hand. The heaviest, a 25-ounce insulated Camelback bottle weighed 848 grams (1.87 lb) filled. While it doesn’t makes sense to ride dehydrated, it doesn’t make sense to carry two bottles when one would do, either. And if the early part of your ride has you attacking a series of climbs all-out, you may want to leave both bottles at home and buy a sports drink at a convenience store midway through the ride.
When was the last time you looked through your bike bag? Are you carrying around items that you’ve never once used? Do you really need two CO2 cartridges, two tubes and a heavy mini tool that does everything? If you tend to carry too much stuff, you could easily drop half a pound or more by leaving the excess stuff you don’t really use at home, which costs nothing.
Judicious Dieting: A More Effective (and Cheaper) Way
In the days that follow, there’s no real reason to remember your hypothetical honey (though she may appear in a few nightmares). But there is real benefit in recalling your unsuccessful plan to get back into the bedroom and her good graces. While saving 7.5 seconds per mile on a one-mile climb at 7 percent at a constant 200 watts is a bad deal if it costs five figures, saving double the time without coughing up any cash is a bona fide bargain.
Weight is weight, my friend. While shedding six pounds from your bike to produce that 15-second time savings is borderline impossible and ultra-expensive, losing that amount from your body in many cases is neither — and usually good for your health.
To learn how to effectively do so, check out the next column.
1 Price created by applying the current exchange rate for the British pound and the US dollar to the price listed in the Cycling Weekly article.
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he’s written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as “MuscleMag,” “Ironman,” “Vegetarian Times,” and “Bicycle Guide.” He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
A competitive cyclist for more than 30 years, Kevin won two Pennsylvania State Time Trial championships in his 30’s, the aptly named Pain Mountain Time Trial 4 out of 5 times in his 40s, two more state TT’s in his 50’s, and the season-long Pennsylvania 40+ BAR championship at 43.