08 July, 2011
Does a Lighter Bike Really Make a Difference?
The debate rages on. Does a lighter bike make a difference? This question has been and will continue to be the topic of conversation anywhere from Sunday club bicycle rides to all-out racing within the pro peloton. The fact is that there are pros and cons to having a lightweight bike, and you should be aware of not just them but of yourself as a cyclist. While a lighter bike can make a difference, the real question is: Do you want that difference in your bicycle?
Who You Are as a Cyclist
In “light” of a lighter bike and the difference it makes, you have to ask yourself what type of difference you're looking for in a bike. More often than not, those who want a lighter bike have some sort of competition on their minds. They may want to ride uphill faster or sprint harder. Or they may be interested in a bicycle that handles better. But keep in mind these attributes are usually mulled over by cyclists who seek no-holds-barred performance. So yes, a lighter bike may make a difference. But that difference is found mostly in competition and not in casual day-to-day cycling.
Lighter Bikes Will Invariably Cost More
In the cycling business, lightness equals money, sometimes very big money. Some bicycles that are based on their light weight can cost upwards of $10,000. With that price comes the lightest wheels, components, handlebars, stem, saddle, seat post and pedals. Bicycles like these are usually found in racing situations, such as the Tour de France. And in many cases, those $10,000 bicycles are sponsor-paid. For the average consumer, a $10,000 bike, or even a $2,000 to $5,000 bike based on lightness, could be a hard price to swallow.
Handling the Handling of a Lightweight Bike
A common term used to describe lightweight bikes is “twitchiness.” That’s when the bike feels insecure beneath you as you pedal. Depending upon who you speak with, this can be an attribute or a flaw of lighter bicycles. For the seasoned cyclist, twitchiness corresponds to a frame that has the ability to burst forward under heavy acceleration, climb faster and handle much more quickly. For the casual cyclist, these might come off as flaws where the bike feels unstable, giving a continual feeling that you might ultimately be thrown off the bike entirely, which isn’t good.
Durability Can Be an Issue
You should also take into account that a lighter bicycle may also be less durable than a heavier bicycle. Consider that professional cyclists who race on lightweight bicycles basically throw those $10,000 machines away at the end of a race season, simply because they're used up. The frames may no longer be rigid, or after sustaining a few crashes, the lightweight materials, which usually comprise carbon fiber, have been so damaged that the bike is no longer rideable. That leaves a team no option but to obtain another bicycle for that racer, at a cost of, you guessed it, another $10,000, maybe even more.
Modify What You Have
A great option is to simply modify the bike you already have. Buy your bike a new set of lighter wheels or some lighter components. This will cost substantially less than purchasing another bicycle, while leaving you with a bike you already know. Also check out sites like Bike Radar.com, which lists other ideas for making an existing bicycle lighter and faster. In the end, lighter weight parts, once installed on your bike, can actually transform it to the point where you might think it is brand new, lighter and much faster. In this way, you can have the best of both worlds: your old friend, but just a slimmed down, quicker version of your old friend.
- hammett79/iStock/Getty Images