The incredible being of lightness – weight and cycling

Fat cyclistProfessional cyclists have long been obsessed with the weight of their bikes and bones. Whilst the pros have switched their attention to the modern day obsession with aerodynamics and see through jerseys, some amateurs are still obsessively counting the grams.

Serious weight weenies can recount every single component on their bike by the gram. Back in the day there were even comparison websites listing the weight of everything from seats to bolts. Bolts. I kid you not.

What is the lightest seat post? Can anyone recommend a light stem? What are the lightest tyres? Does anybody know a wheel-set that weighs less than a fart? Oh and by the way I’m 115 kg. Oh dear. For some a better quest would be reducing their own density rather than that of their bike.

Carbon bikes emphasise the weight obsession. Sure, look at the weight of the new bike you desire but choose one based on a more important attribute like, I don’t know, the colour. Or how much of a bad ass it will make you feel cruising up and down your local high street. That’s the deal breaker.

Creating the lightest bike in the world

Replacement carbon fibre bike hits the market

Replacement carbon fibre bike hits the market

Would you pay 500 big ones to reduce the weight of your bike by 23 g? No? Me neither but some do, particularly hill climbers or weekend road racers. A few grams here or there could be the difference on the track in an Olympic final but in reality you’d be better off having a really big poo to achieve similar weight savings. Coarse, yes, but an antidote to the many cycling forums heaving beneath the weight of the weenie’s quest for lighter bike parts.

The ridiculous history of saving weight on bikes

Aerodynamic for cross-winds

Drillium bike. Aerodynamic in cross-winds

Drills. A hole here, a hole there, many many more over there. Back when cyclists raced in black and white, the drill was considered as essential as a spare inner tube. The pros would drill almost everything to save weight. Brake levers, chainrings, seat posts, forks, dérailleurs, if the component was metal and not the core frame (unlike the image above!), then it would be drilled.

Drilling was the original marginal gains. The craze dates back to the early 1900s, long before wind tunnels and carbon fibre. The procedure was widespread enough to earn a name, drillium. Eddie Merckx was a drillium fan, incredible to think when you look back at some of the pictures of his perfectly roadworthy bike potted with more holes than a Team Sky see-through Lycra skin suit.

The pro’s have moved on of course, to perhaps even more silly marginal gains, as the above mentioned see-through jersey demonstrated when Chris Froome took it for a spin on a hot sunny day! Ouch. When it comes to the weight of their bike, the pro peloton currently adheres to a 14-year-old rule dictating that race bikes must weigh at least 6.8 kg, a rule surely due for review given the technological advances over the last decade.

Theoretically you or I could walk into any (well, a posh) bike shop and walk out with a lighter bike than the pros ride in the Tour de France. Good for those who want a bike as light as their wallet.

The cheapest way to lose weight on the bike

Stop eating. Seriously, work harder on the bike. Watch the calories of your next meal and not the grams of your next cycling purchase. Leave the bike lock at home perhaps. Or ditch that child you’re towing to school.

That’s right, there’s no rocket science or massive wads of cash required to lighten the load on the bike, for you yourself account for at least 80 percent of the weight you’re carrying. You are the marginal gain. Think about the lightest tyre around your middle and not the two on the bike. Don’t worry about the size of your saddle bag, focus on those three chins.

Puppy fat for winter hibernation

Spot the cyclist. Padded shorts and padded nappies, not much difference really.

Spot the cyclist. Padded shorts and padded nappies, not much difference really.

Many cyclists go through the cyclist weight cycle. Lean and mean when the grass is green followed by fat and blubbery when the leaves fall from the shrubbery (ah, sweet poetry). The fact that Christmas marks the high tide of weight gain here in the northern hemisphere is no coincidence. We’re less inclined to cycle when it’s cold, plus our body demands more fuel when we shiver in the dark harsh days of December. Skinny cyclists in particular are at risk, not only to the slightest breeze, but of feeling the cold without any blubber to insulate them.

Body fat aside, the cyclist certainly gains enough weight in winter clothing. Sometimes we leave the house wearing so many layers we look over our shoulder to see if we’re giving our evil twin a piggyback. Many ride a winter bike, which is approximately ten times heavier than their summer bike, or so it feels. Jumping back on the summer bike you feel free and fast, like a tourer removing the panniers and remembering what it is like to cycle without dragging the kitchen sink behind them.

“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”
Toni Morrison

What is my ideal cycling weight?

Don’t obsess. Be healthy. Feel good. Don’t starve yourself, after all you need energy to cycle. Find your ideal weight, or your ‘race weight’ as quicker cyclists than I might say. What is my ideal cycling weight you ask yourself? Only you and your physician can answer this. I don’t own any scales but soon know when I’m carrying a few extra pounds. Asides from being ignored (even more) by the ladies, I’m sluggish on the bike, hill climbing is a chore, and belt buckles, well, buckle (this literally happened to me last winter).

A month or so of effort soon puts you back into shape and every ride quickly feels as if you have a tailwind. You fly up hills and feel good. Passing mirrors you wink at yourself. You look good, or at least as good as a fit cyclist is ever going to look.

The weight gain of fresh air

Yoga lessons not included

Yoga lessons not included

There’s only so much to be er, gained, by losing weight. The rest will come through strength, power, endurance and aerodynamics. The later is of particular importance. Above the speed of 20 mph air resistance becomes an increasingly important part of the battle to increase your average speed.

Now, before you rush out and get yourself a fancy time trial bike with internal cable routing and brake calipers beneath the bottom bracket (or some such silliness), consider that you the rider account for 80 percent of the aero drag.

So slam that stem, begin work on your core strength, get your head down and tuck them arms in. Take the money you would have spent buying a NASA engineered seat post clamp that weighs less than air and spend it on some yoga lessons or one of them big bouncy exercise balls.

Off you go then! I’ll cover aerodynamics in another post, in the meantime I’m off to the fridge.


5 thoughts on “The incredible being of lightness – weight and cycling

  1. Pingback: Hill climbing – repetitions, training and technique | The Human Cyclist

  2. My bike is made of carbon, has titanium wheels, titanium chainrings, and I look slightly like a prison camp victim.

    However, because I ride in an urban environment, it’s a mountain bike. I’ve got some (carbon) suspension going on, and hydraulic disk brakes etc. With all the various features I need to be comfortable and keep pedalling, making sure everything is race-light has proven essential, it currently weighs about 9kg. That’s a fair amount, but it’s also really not a lot for what it is.

    Some things seem to weigh, and are targets for further lightening. (slick) Tires with inner tubes are quite heavy, cranks are quite heavy, brake disks are quite heavy. No drillium in anything apart from the brake disks, and that’s the manufacturer’s design.

    Aero is a big deal, with a powerful tail-wind very fast, with a powerful head-wind not so fast.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Hc, Ten years after the accident I had gained double my weight which I am embarrassed to say was a whopping 150 kilos, now weighing 100 so another 20 or so to go. No1 bike is about 9 kilos, its lost about 1.5, both got some work to do,i enjoy improving the functionality of my bike as well as trimming a bit of weight from it, but it is an expensive process. Greg.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Greg, sounds like you’re making great progress. Bike upgrades are expensive but can motivate us to ride more, especially if they make the bike feel super smooth out on the road. One of my favourite cheap ‘upgrades’ is simply cleaning the chainset. The first ride afterwards is like riding a new bike. Keep up the good work.


  4. Pingback: The art of resting – A cyclist’s guide | The Human Cyclist

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