Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Weight Training

Berthoud "Photo Bag"
Over the past week I’ve been doing a site photography project that required me to travel with most of my camera equipment. The distance was a bit further than I typically cycle with that much weight, but I enjoyed the challenge. The first couple of times I rode an upright bike with my gear in the front basket and pannier, since that was the only way to fit it all. It had been a particularly windy week, and the combination of the headwind, the couple of daunting inclines along the way, the extra weight, and the upright position left me pretty tired after these 20 mile trips. So on my last day of shooting, which called for fewer pieces of equipment than required at the start, I decided to make things easier on myself and take “Alice” - my DIY roadbike.

This 650B bike with fat tires, fenders and a front rack is equipped with a handlebar bag that, albeit small, is surprisingly roomy. On a recent mini-tour, for instance, I was able to pack everything I needed for an overnight stay into this bag. Now I stuffed it with a DSLR camera body, 3 lenses, a flash unit and a bunch of spare batteries. In total, it was close to 8lb of weight in the front.

Of course, on a beefy utility bike that kind of weight hardly registers. But on a roadbike with super lightweight tubing and fork blades? I was basically carrying a third of the entire machine’s weight in its front bag. Lifting the loaded bike to get it down the small set of steps out my front door, I became aware of how ludicrously front-heavy it was.

Luckily, this little devil of a bicycle carries a front load exceptionally well. The weight neither dulls its responsiveness, nor pulls at the steering; it is simply not noticeable once the bike is in motion and, as far as I can tell, has no effect on handling at all. Its effect on speed, however, has been more difficult to gauge - as I don't exactly try to set speed records when I ride with camera equipment. But at a cruising pace I am not really aware of the extra weight.  And on this occasion, I was still a great deal quicker to arrive than I would have been on an upright bike, with the added bonus that the trip did not feel as tiring.

I did my work and, still full of energy, started to head back home - when I heard someone shout my name from across the road. A friend of mine, in full lycra, was out for an evening spin. And hey, did I want to join him? I explained that I was heading home from a job and my bike was full of camera equipment; I would only slow him down. Nonsense, said he, having already crossed the road to join me and now tracing lines in the air to suggest a route. And so instead of heading home, I found myself on a bonus little road ride - of the "putting the power down" variety.

Admittedly, putting the power down with an extra 8lb over my front wheel required extra effort! Never before had I attempted to do an all-out road ride with my handlebar bag loaded, and this unexpected detour proved exhausting. Still, I tried my best to keep up and to maintain a good pace up inclines, and when we arrived at the crossroads where we’d head our separate ways, my friend gave me a hardy pat on the back. “Hey, you weren't too bad!” To satisfy his curiosity, he then reached out and tried to lift my bike’s front end by the stem - in the process nearly loosing his balance from the unexpected heft of it. The expression on his face was priceless.

Later at home, it occurred to me that I’d had my computer on and could now check my speed. Just how much slower was I going than usual? I had a look and saw that my average was just under 15mph. At my very best effort, I've been able to eek out a 17mph average along this route - albeit on my other, faster roadbike. On Alice, with an empty handlebar bag, I can do 16mph. All things considered, I thought the difference in speed was very acceptable.

Among those of us who go on spirited road rides, there is a tendency to strip down our bicycles to the bare minimum, for fear of bits of extra weight slowing us down. Saddlebags are replaced with the teensiest of saddle wedges, fenders are removed, pumps are swapped for CO2 cartridges. It's a ritual, and, as such, I actually rather enjoy it sometimes. If nothing else, it puts me in the mood to go fast. But psychological effects aside, in practice it's hard to gauge to what extent those shaved grams really matter - particularly when the weight is placed in such a way that it does not effect handling.

While I don't plan to make a habit of doing go-fast rides while carting around camera equipment, it's nice to know that I can. We can all use a bit of weight training now and again, after all!

36 comments:

  1. During my recent 2-day trip to York, ME I had about 13lbs loaded on my road bike (not including water) and the only time I could feel that extra weight was when I had to carry it. http://bostonbybike.blogspot.com/2015/08/to-york-and-back-three-states-mini-tour.html

    It's likely not the weight that matters but how it's distributed on the bike. A 13lbs handlebar bag would be less fun to ride with than 8lbs on the rear rack, 1lb on frame and 4lbs on bars.

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    1. Mmmm Maine! I really miss it.

      To clarify, I have ridden both this bike and my lighter, non-load-optimised Seven, with much more than 8lb. Just never during like a roadie type ride where you really push the pace and try to go all out. It was interesting to feel how a bike with a bit of weight on it felt in that specific context.

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  2. Just curious, what is the lens that is set toward the back please?
    Toma

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    1. That's a Samyang 14mm. Very nice lens to use for vast landscapes.

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  3. What's is your gear bag looking like today? For our Denmark/Germany tour in Sept/Oct I'm torn between my APS-C DSLR + 35mm + 70mm or only taking my compact. I'll also be taking a super light, foldable tripod capable of supporting both styles of camera.

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    1. Well. I got a Fuji X-Pro1 system about a year ago, and since then I only carry DSLR gear when I have a job or project that specifically requires it. Otherwise, when I'm just riding my bike and want to have a camera with me (which is pretty much always), it's the XPro 1. When I want to go super-light, I fit it with a 45mm-equivalent pancake lens; and the whole thing is truly tiny. The 24mm lens would come next if there's room, then the ultra wide. All of this would fit inside a small Berthoud or any of the VO bags no problem.

      Surprised you would take a 70mm on a bike tour. Is it for distant views or for portraits?

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    2. Mainly for portraits and portraits of bikes with a nice, blurry background. Pentax prime glass is super compact and sharp. The 70mm limited is roughly the size of a fist, so it doesn't take up much room at all.

      I'll probably just go with my Pentax MX-1 for the versatility and ease of photos from the saddle. In addition, asking strangers for a photo is so easy, even if there is a language barrier. Just make the stereotypical camera hand gesture and give them the camera.

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    3. Funny, because regardless of whether I put the thing on full auto, or manually do the settings, no stranger to whom I've ever handed a camera during a cycling trip has taken a photo of me that was neither blurry nor had half my head (or my bike!) cut off. I think this is the most successful one to date.

      Forgot to say earlier re tripod. The crazy windy conditions here have taught me not to bother with anything other than a full-sized, heavy, super-stable 'pod. So when I can't carry one of those (which is most of the time), I just put the camera on a ledge, rock or tree stump.

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  4. Very interesting. Do you actually use CO2 cartridges? If so, do you find that one will suffice for a 700x25C tire?

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    1. Heh no, personally I don't. I have a small pump strapped to my bottle cage and it stays on no matter what kind of riding I'm doing.

      Though I'm pretty sure CO2 cartridges are meant for 23mm tires max, I know people who use them on 25mm tires and find it's enough to get them home. Overall though, I think a pump is a better solution, especially now that there are some truly tiny and lightweight ones on the market.

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    2. There are different size cartridges, but I've found a 16g cartridge plenty for up to 32c cyclocross tires. They also make 20g cartridges for bigger tires.

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    3. Ah there. Thanks, good to know. Not a cartridge expert myself!

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    4. Can't really say I'm an "expert" but I do use them on group rides. I hate having to make people wait for me while I pump away. However, I always carry a mini-pump as a back-up or when riding solo.

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  5. It's been repeated over and over by guys like Petersen. A few pounds added to the bike/rider combo has little or no effect on average speed unless you're climbing a lot of hills and even then it's not a big deal.

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    1. FWIW I did my first paceline ride on a 30lb Rivendell. Didn't even bother removing stuff from the saddlebag, because I didn't know any better.

      I find the hills ok. It's the bursts of acceleration where I really feel the difference.

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    2. I cant EVER remember wanting a burst of acceleration on a ride.

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    3. Sometimes it's a question of need, not want. Last time I needed a burst of acceleration was last night, when navigating the nasty uphill roundabout that is part of my daily return commute. I had the right of way, was already proceeding up the roundabout (situated on a 14% incline), and was about to turn off, when a car approached and looked like it was considering competing with me for the exit. It was either stop in the middle of the roundabout, on an incline, in the midst of moving traffic, or accelerate toward my turn. I made the decision that the latter would be safer. And boy was I glad that my 45lb upright bike with pannier full of groceries "planed" so well! Heavy, but not "heavy-going."

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  6. We've had something of this sort of debate in our household. Personally, I find that extra weight on a bicycle does little to my speed. I can ride an 18lb bike or a 38lb bike and register the same speeds. However, there is definitely a difference in the energy expended on such rides. I think the weight difference saps me quickly on a meatier bicycle, whereas I could ride much longer on the lighter version. I find it more challenging to maintain higher speeds on a heavier bike, but, it can be done.

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    1. My roadie SO encourages me to strip my roadbike to its utmost minimum when we go on "fast rides" and thinks I am nuts when I insist it doesn't make much of a difference to me (within reason). Initially to humour him, I removed the little handlebar bag that had at some point become a permanent fixture on my Seven and agreed to make it my dedicated go-fast bike. Though I doubt the little bag in itself had much effect on my speed, it's true that my attitude is different without the bag. Because I can't stop and take photos, I focus more on the cycling itself and put in more of an effort. It's been interesting alternating these types of rides with my usual photographic meanderings. On my end, I scored a bit of a victory in that he now has the same bottlecage-mounted pump as I do, and carries a pump on his bike even when he goes on club rides. Little LED lights too!

      As for weight difference in the bikes themselves... There are bikes that are heavy, and there are bikes that "feel heavy," regardless of their actual weight. It's the latter category that I dislike.

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    2. Whenever the word 'feel' comes into play I'm a skeptic. Some days I feel fast and other days I don't. Though not an expert, like you, my bones tell me that, for the majority of my riding, the bike (within reason) doesn't matter much at all. The commute I use is twenty six miles each way over a variety of terrain and road surfaces. Some days I feel fresh and some days not. Some days the bike feels wonderful, some days not. I've actually done this ride on three different bikes over the last five years and the times vary very little. When I started it was in jeans and boots and panniers, then I purchased proper cycling gear and on the same bike found little difference. Then I changed bikes, twice, and still found little difference -- except for comfort. To me, that's the key. A good fit goes a long way. All of these rides are to work and so I carry stuff and don't dilly dally, but on a few occasions I'll empty the load and my son will join me on the route (because it really is quite nice once we leave the city) he on his speedy bike and me on my bike, sans panniers, and we still find ourselves within the same time range. I think fitness is a big factor as well.

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    3. a heavy bike will only require more energy output on hills and during acceleration and 10 lbs on a total weight rider/bike = 150+28= 178 is 10/178= 5.6%. not a lot considering only a small portion of the ride is uphill.

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    4. To Anon 5:39 - not an expert by any means (and the more I know about bicycles, the less I think anyone could really be an "expert" in this field when it comes to anyone other than themselves or people very like them, as it is highly individual). But for whatever reason, I am sensitive to differences between bikes. Every single one I ride feels different. And for me, the experience of cycling the same route day to day varies more with the bike I am on than with my own strength/fitness/energy. That said, it is not necessarily a matter of one bike being better/worse than another, just different - sometimes in subtle yet mind boggling ways. It is one thing that keeps me fascinated about the world of these strange 2-wheeled machines.

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    5. Certainly agree that all bikes feel different but, strangely for me, times are very similar. Well, within an acceptable range and I don't compute average speed simply because I don't care so much ;)

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    6. V, I would agree that bicycles can feel very different and that a bike can feel far heavier than it is in some instances. I've had dedicated, lightweight road bikes that have felt very difficult to pedal, and physically heavier, more touring type bikes that were much easier to get and keep moving. I suppose my statement should have been more that all things being equal in regard to setup, personal likes, and such, the weight of a bike itself doesn't seem to matter as much in regard to getting to speed.

      I also agree with you in regard to your note about the more knowledge or information acquired regarding bicycles, the less it seems possible to ever be called an expert. If anything, the more information received, the more I question what I truly know. I suppose if anyone were completely all-knowing though, it wouldn't be much fun to have debates and discussions about various bike topics. :)

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  7. So are you advocating training with resistance?

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    1. Only if it involves camera equipment.

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  8. I agree that the bike makes a difference in how fast I feel. My custom Hampsten really is faster than my heavy Velo Orange. But the weight of the Velo Orange with a heavy front bag doesn't necessarily slow me down much. I have set "PR"s on Strava uphill sections riding the heavy bike, so in that regard, it's how the engine is feeling that day that seems to make a bigger difference. :)

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  9. My experience matches yours: On rolling terrain, the difference between my "fast" bike (Seven Elium) and my "utility" bike with similar tires is about 1 mph. But the utility bike is often equipped with sturdier tires that have more rolling resistance, which costs another 1 mph or even 2 mph for a tire with more aggressive tread. Putting a bit of extra weight on the utility bike doesn't matter too much unless the route has a lot of lights or stop signs and even then it's probably more about "feel" than significant time loss.

    What's caused me to become a little bit obsessive about weight are my weekend rides that involve significant climbing: 3000 to 5000 feet of vertical is pretty typical for a Saturday or Sunday ride here on Colorado's front range. When the climb takes an hour or more, I really start to feel that extra weight in my legs. Still, I'm not dissuaded from packing at least a rain jacket on any ride over an hour. Going up: plenty warm in short sleeves. Coming down in a rainstorm without some form of protection: incipient hypothermia.

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  10. The question is how do you get so much speed from such wide tires,I didn't think they would go so fast.Most people I seen on road bikes usually have the narrowest tires possible.

    I ride a hybrid/commuter,and people think I carry a lot of weight on the back,and technically there is,about 14Lbs,but the total weight of me and all my stuff is only about 170Lbs,and I figure the average rider weighs about 170,175,so the weight of my stuff is kind of irrelevant

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  11. I wrote this piece about an Audax ride I did this year, a heavy weight ride that went quite well.

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/wm9cri6ox1epitw/2015-07-08-0001.pdf?dl=0

    I’ve found that I’m not much slower on a fully loaded A Homer Hilsen than I am on a lightly loaded Roadeo, go figure. The difference is actually quite disappointing.

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  12. "Every single one I ride feels different." This is the way I feel about bikes. Each one has a unique flavor and experience to savor, both looking at them and riding them.

    As far as weight goes, your roadie would be chagrined to ride with me as my ti fast road has a handlebar and seat bag, a large frame pump and carbon bottle-cage mini pump, CO2 cartridges, lights, tools SON hub, fenders, ti rack, big 28mm tires on wide rims, etc. Still, it's faster than my naked racing crit fast road. Thanks! Jim Duncan

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  13. Shaving weight by the gram? For me, the best way to increase speed seems to be an empty stomach, haha. A couple months ago I rode 15 miles in search for a particular new place to eat after getting off work one day, averaging 16 mph on my 45-pound Raleigh Superbe (fully outfitted as a town bike) flying up and down hills. I was hungry and wanted a special burger. This bike has 46/20 gears and a Sturmey-Archer X-RD5 hub. I spend 97% of the time in gears 2-4, which are the classic AW gear ratios.

    Somehow, my old Raleigh lady's Sports (AW hub, 48/21 cogs) feels a lot faster and more effortless to ride. It has a 21" frame vs 23" so I'm not sure if this is similar to the issue you noticed while testing out the slightly-big Pilen. Whether or not the Sports is faster, I don't have numerical proof but both of the bikes weigh the same amount.

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  14. I just looked up the Raleigh Superbe - nice looking bike I think, but I do happen to like Raleigh bikes, my present bike is a Raleigh mountain bike which, despite its solid appearance is very free moving, certainly fast enough for me and so zippy in town and off-road, I can load up the rear rack with a back pack full of groceries or other items and the extra weight is only really noticeable on 'take-off', though I don't go hill climbing when carrying such weight.

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    1. Yes!! I love old english 3-speeds. My superbe is heavily modified, but not in the weight-reduction sense. You can see pics and description here: http://stuffjaydoesforfun.blogspot.com/search/label/1979%20Raleigh%20Superbe
      And your description of load capability matches my old Raleighs too since they were made to do that kind of thing - hard to take off because two wheels, but once I get moving, I can't really feel the load.

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  15. Hi Velouria, I was wondering about the padded insert seen in the photo, is it something commercially available or is it a one off, custom deal? Have you taken this set up on rough/gravel roads? I do lots of photography projects by bike and have yet to find the optimal solution for padding and convenient access. Thanks, Owen

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    1. It *was* a commercially available product, from a Korean bicycle bag company called Zimbale that came and went a few years back. Zimbale made a Carradice-like saddlebag, and this insert was available for it as an extra option. The really nice thing about it though, is that it has proven adaptable to pretty much any full-sized saddlebag or handlebar bag I've owned. You might still find some of them around on eBay. Or you can ask Emily of Dill Pickle Gear to make you a custom one.

      I do ride with this setup on rough unpaved roads, and I've never had a problem. I make sure to close the bag securely of course, but other than that it is a very safe and un-fussy system.

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