Weight Weenies

Darren and I have a challenge where we guess the weight of the bike. We can usually guess within a few hundred grammes, but the most recent challenge Darren won hands down by guessing exactly.

A long term project has been rebuilding a steel racing bike with modern components. I always incorporate learning opportunities in projects to gain the most value and expand our skills. This project had three learning points: 1. test methods for removing a stuck bottom bracket from a fragile frame 2. try out a new paint system 3. see how light we can make a classic steel racing bike in comparison to carbon fibre bikes.

When steel was the main material for bike building, British Reynolds tubing was used to build world beating bikes. Reynolds still produce some of the most advanced steel tubing available. 531 was most popular, but 753 was lightest and this exotic, delicate tubing was only available to approved frame makers who built world beating bikes for professional teams and cycling cognoscenti. When I found a Ribble 753 project on eBay I took a punt. Terry Dolan made some of these frames originally and I assumed he had retired, but I speculatively emailed Dolan Bicycles to ask if they could burn out the rusted in bottom bracket without damaging the frame. I was delighted when Terry himself called me and undertook the work successfully. For Point 2 I experimented with different paint removal methods and used the Spray.bike paint system in the jersey colours of Sherborne Cycling Club. For point 3 I scoured used component sources including bike jumbles and online adverts and assembled components over 12 months.

The finished weight of the project bike was bang on 8.5 kg. Earlier, when I compared weights of carbon, aluminium, and modern Reynolds 853 steel bikes on our blog; the carbon bike was 8.78kg. The “team” bike is lighter than the carbon example, so the project was a success showing a steel bike can be as light as a production carbon bike.

Where is most benefit achieved? Wheels, Frame, Rider?

An opinion I frequently hear is that many amateur riders could shed weight for no cost by dieting, but saving 100 grammes off a bike can cost getting on for £1 per gramme. Without breaking down exact costs, this is an example of Pareto’s principle or 80/20 rule, say I can shave 1kg off a bike, the first 800g costs 20% of our budget, but the last 200g costs the remaining 80%.

Manufacturers build bikes to meet a price point and there are two approaches. Decent brands like Merida start with a good frame and adjust the components to create different priced models, riders can upgrade parts as they wear out and the bike will be as good as a more expensive model. Other brands offer what appears to be a more attractive bike with higher specification components, but the frame is often inferior and based on a generic older design. The truth of the matter is you get what you pay for and the frame ultimately decides a bike’s capability. Bikes made with cheaper frames known as open mould have their place, but it helps to understand where your hard earned cash is targeted when making an expensive purchase and looking for a competitive edge.

 

So where did I save weight on the Ribble? First I found alloy Dura-ace wheels and shod them with lightweight Hutchinson tyres and tubes, then added a carbon seat post, handlebars and saddle, a carbon chainset, Time pedals and titanium skewers. The final choice was a SRAM Red groupset and Dura-ace titanium cassette, about the lightest transmission available. This may seem profligate, but all items were used and bought at bike jumbles or surplus from Pro riders who were upgrading and I reconditioned them. I also had a dry November and lost a couple of kg from my waistline.

A cyclist’s adage says to go faster “ride up grades, not ride upgrades”, meaning time spent climbing hills will achieve more benefit than spending money and time changing parts. Sherborne Cycling Club run two indoor cycling sessions a week for members and I can assure you instructor Andy puts us through our paces including simulated gradients. The most zealous weight savers are hill climb competitors, their bikes are stripped of every gramme possible, bar tape is discarded, seat posts and handle bars cut down, even saddle covering is removed.

Psychological Benefit or Facts and Physics?

It is accepted that the most bang for buck upgrade is new wheels, so another project to test the hype rife in the cycle industry was to build a set of carbon wheels. Darren and I had many discussions trying to justify a cost difference of around £500 to save 250g on a wheel set. Eventually I decided our wheel builder, Paul would learn how to work with the latest wheel technology and I would achieve real-world experience to serve and advise customers better. Paul carefully assembled a custom set of wheels at similar cost to a production set. Another learning point was ticked off by fitting tubeless tyres and when I rode the bike with the new wheels, it was transformed. There may be a tendency to justify this kind of expense with a sort of Emperor’s new clothes mindset, but I found real performance gains and greater comfort and even tested their durability riding cross country at night in the New Forest by accident. Before splashing out on wheels I recommend trying different tyres as this can make a big difference to the feel of a bike.

hand built carbon wheel
Last minute shopping

Weight saving is not always the most important factor for a bike and on a touring bike strength is essential, however even tourists succumb to weight weaning and cut down their tooth brush handles for example.

project finished just in time for Christmas