Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Toward an Understanding of Weight Weenie-ism



The other day a friend playfully referred to me as a "weight weenie," in response to my describing a bicycle as "exceptionally lightweight," in a perhaps over-enthusiastic tone. Now, in fairness, as someone who genuinely could not tell you any of her bicycles' exact weights, I think I am pretty safe from that diagnosis. Nevertheless, I do not like the term. Firstly, because - being the visual literalist that I am - I immediately picture a cocktail sausage (or similar) made of carbon fibre, which is not very nice imagery to pollute my mind with. But also, I think the term is becoming increasingly misapplied to the point that it's really just another way of policing each other's choices of gear. And that is a shame.

Wanting one's bicycle to be lightweight is not in itself weight weenie-ism. Nor is it a recent trend associated with the newfangled carbon-loving spandex-wearing racer-wannabe set. Indeed no. It is a reasonable preference that has existed since bicycles entered mainstream circulation. And you can see it in the earliest bicycle advertisements. Even at the turn of the 20th century, manufacturers boasted of their leaden machines being "lightweight" (compared to the competitor). This was not limited to the realm of racing bikes, either. Particularly memorable and funny is a vintage poster I once saw in the garage of a local bicycle collector. It was an ad for an early Tourist-style roadster (made by the likes of Triumph, or Royal Enfield, or Rudge - I forget which) - complete with 28" wheels, rod brakes, mudguards, chaincase, frame pump, carbide lamps, saddlebag, the works. And it was shown being happily pedaled uphill by a deliberately feeble-looking young gentleman. The caption suggested the bicycle was so light, it practically rode itself. I can only imagine!

By the 1920s and '30s however, bicycles began to live up to claims of light-weightness (hence, the Classic Lightweights). If you browse through British manufacturer catalogues from as early as the 1920s, you can usually see the weight figures listed - including for transport bikes and "ladies bikes" - and they are impressive even by today's standards. My 1930s Claud Butler mixte, for instance, weighs "inside 26lb," complete with mudguards and hub gearing. While several diamond frame racing bikes in the same catalogue are quoted as weighing just 18lb.

As author Jan Heine tirelessly documents, weight savings were also of concern to French constructeurs from this era. Sub-20lb randonneuring machines (complete with mudguards, fat tyres, racks, and dynamo lighting) were not uncommon in as early as the 1930s. Needless to say, there was no carbon fibre involved. But great care was taken with the design and production of each component to achieve this.

My point here is, that lighter bicycles have always been seen as desirable, both within racing culture and outside of it. If anything, the bicycle industry today is historically unique in that there exist factions of it which actually downplay weight, or even suggest that heavier is better - mocking competitors for being weight obsessed.

It is not difficult to trace the origins of this backlash. The competition for increasingly lightweight bikes is what eventually led to the introduction of new materials and building methods through the 1990s, culminating in the toothpaste-welded aluminum and the carbon fibre that dominates the current cycling landscape. Performance-wise, there is no arguing that some technological advances of the past decades have been beneficial. But in return, a lean, mean, efficient sort of soul-lessness has come to characterise contemporary mainstream bikes - which for many, is at odds with the spirit of cycling and with the essence of the bicycle itself.

And while in saying this I simplify the situation in the interest of time, I do not think it is out of line to suggest that, somewhere along the way, concern over a bicycle's weight has become confounded with this new plasticky, soul-less aspect of things.

Which is ironic, considering that on the whole bicycles and bicycle parts on the market today are not actually all that lightweight, in the historical scheme of things. And that - if you pay attention to component weights especially - you might be surprised to notice that the carbon fibre stuff is not always the lightest option. Of course, to pay attention to component weights (especially to the point of keeping a record in a spreadsheet or notebook!) to the extent that you would start to see patterns and notice that sort of thing, is the very essence of weight weenie-ism. It's funny. Or a Catch-22. Or whatever you want to call it. More than anything I just think it's interesting, in a social-psychological sort of way.

At the start I gently poked fun at my husband's Special Little Notebook, in which he meticulously scribbled down the weights of all components he considered, then eventually bought, for his vintage Italian build. But I soon came to realise just how interesting and informative his notes were.

For one thing, it really brought home what I already knew, but never quite saw such concrete evidence of: the fact that the weight, in a bicycle build, really does come from everywhere and not from any one area/ component. You save a few seemingly insignificant grams on each part, and when you add them all up the result is a significantly lighter bike. This is precisely why those whom we tease for being weight-weenies, pay attention to even small differences in weight when considering each component.

It was also interesting to notice that the components where weight tends to "hide" are often the ones overlooked by those with only a passing interest in weight savings, myself included. We tend to focus on the obvious suspects - the groupsets - neglecting to notice the weight of seatposts, handlebars, stems, and headsets. The weight differences between those parts, even within the same price range, might surprise you.

It is a thing often said of weight weenies, that they strive for weight savings at the cost of all else, sacrificing durability and sparing no expense. Interestingly though, the most lightweight parts are not always the costliest parts. And neither are they necessarily (judging by reviews and user feedback) the most fragile. We assume these things, because it makes sense to assume them, in a surface logic sort of way. But that does not make it true. It takes a weight weenie mentality to gather enough data to penetrate the assumptions and get to the crux of things.

If you have a good hour or two to spare and are prepared to be thoroughly fascinated, have a read through this post by a gentleman who built up a bicycle, complete with tiny lights and a saddle-wedge, under the UCI weight limit (so < 6.8kg/ 15lb) - without using any carbon parts. And cheaply!

Which brings me to another point about our culturally ingrained misinterpretation of weight weenie-ism. More often than not, those persons pre-occupied with this stuff don't do it because of some pathetic notion that the teeniest weight savings will make them perform like elite racers. No, my friends. They do it for the craic. They do it for the challenge. They do it for a hobby. They do it for to learn more about the history of the bicycle industry even, for it is certainly as good a starting point as any.

Am I a convert to the tribe? you might be starting to wonder, narrowing your eyes and brimming with suspicion. Oh, hardly. I lack the required rigour, the dilligence, the intense focus.

What I don't lack is, what in my view is a completely natural desire for my bicycles to be reasonably lightweight and not unnecessarily heavy - making them easier for my non-elite-racery 60kg self to propel along the road, to ascend hills upon, and to lift and carry should the situation call for it. And while that alone does not a weight weenie make, I also do appreciate those folks who are truly weight conscious. The ones who need to know the exact figures, who whip out their digital scales at the slightest provocation, who make spreadsheets and keep notebooks. For make no mistake: There are things we can learn from the fruits of their labours, information we can glean that may be more useful than we know.



40 comments:

  1. Interestingly, 1890s bikes actually were quite light. They used thinwall tubing and all that. It was only with the advent of the Tour de France in the early 1900s that racing bikes became quite heavy, and - at least in France - stayed that way until the early 1930s. By the late 1930s, many of the best bikes weren't much heavier than today's machines, and in the 1940s, you already saw René Vietto trying to revive his career by riding an aluminum bike in the Tour de France.

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    1. Interesting! I have not tried a huge number of bikes from that era. But maybe 4-5 over the years (this one here is the only one I have up on the blog). All have been fairly heavy. One in particular, belonging a friend in Vienna, I could only barely lift off the ground. The tubing was iron rather than steel, he explained with a grin.

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    2. I recently handled a pre World War One steel fork that weighed a lot less than the aluminum fork in the link above. Very long steerer too. It was a track fork.

      Early editions of the Tour de France were conducted on very rugged roads. By today's standards they were gravel grinders. Now think of a gravel grinder with 400 kilometer stages. And no support allowed. You would want a heavy bike. Can't win races if you can't finish them.

      Back to the early 1890s bicycles were the province of a wealthy elite. Bicycles were briefly the height of fashion. Massive levels of Edwardian craftsmanship went into every part of every bike. At the beginning of the 90s something as basic as a ball bearing was a custom order, made one by one. People who could spend like that could finance artisans. A small segment of that carriage trade always persisted. When bikes were manufactured by the million and the consumer was working class bikes got heavier.

      The main factor in making any part light is very tight quality control. One of my favorite parts ever was a 320 gram 700c clincher rim by Saavedra. Weighing 190# I ran that rim 10,000 miles and only retired it because of caution over brake track wear. It was a 32 hole rim that I built with 16 spokes. No problems ever, lots of stable 40mph sprints on that rim. I have read various authorities claiming that a clincher rim so light is impossible. The key factor was that QC at Saavedra was performed by Senor Saavedra. Now cut open any failed rim, any brand, and see if you can measure any two spots where wall thickness of the extrusion is the same.

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    3. "think of a gravel grinder with 400 kilometer stages"

      Who knows, possibly racing is heading in that direction once more.

      The 32 hole rim/ 16 spokes thing strikes again... Must be a sign from the universe that I need to do this to my 650B wheels. Although I understand this would require a complete rebuild, rather than just removing the "extra" spokes : )

      Ah where is that Edwardian craftsmanship when one needs it...

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  2. The way I see weight weenie-ism is that every serious bicycle enthusiast falls into one of these categories:

    1. No WW - you buy components for your bike that give you more function. If they are lighter than the old ones, that's great, but it's not a deciding factor. You don't care about your bike's weight.

    2. Normal WW - you buy components mainly because of their function but sometimes also purely for weight reduction. However, that happens only if the price is "reasonable", let's say the same what you pay for 2-4x your average lunch.

    3. Serious WW - you buy components with weight reduction in mind, even if they cost ton of money (way more than what average mortal would ever spend).

    4. Extreme WW - you go a step further and dedicate serious resources to heavily customize your bicycle (even using custom components) to further reduce weight.

    Most of us (99%?) fall into the first 2 categories. Simply put - if you ever bought something expensive for your bicycle mainly because you wanted to reduce weight, you are a WW. Just look at your bike and you will know how much of a weight weenie you are.

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    1. The categories pair escalating "weight watching" with escalating spending, which is an assumption many make. But one of my points here, is that this is not necessarily the case. You can spend a fortune on custom components for your bike and in the process make it heavier than ever. Or you can lighten it and actually save money in the process. If you look at the link to the no-carbon sub-UCI guy, you can see that he did his build on a shoestring budget. This is not to say that it's not possible to spend staggering sums of money in pursuit of lightweight; only that is not necessary.

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  3. From a practical standpoint weight matters when lifting, which generally speaks to a deficient infrastructure. Weight does not matter for cars, because we don't carry them upstairs; we have proper places to park them. The Dutch have a proper bicycle infrastructure so weight does not matter for them; they keep their heavy bikes outside regardless of the weather, and build them to stand up to it.

    Weight matters when flying (20 kg check in luggage). It matters in hill country when gravity pulls at every extra molecule on the way up. Weight matters when racing, but racers are a different breed, they do not read Lovelybike, methinks.

    Other than that, weight becomes a hobby, a passion, a puzzle with the perfect instrument. That's why bicycles are so attractive. They are a machine, but an honest one. Nothing is hidden behind covers and cowls. Every part not only has a clear purpose, but each part is comprehensible (except perhaps for the mysterious workings of an internal geared hub). There are just enough parts and components on a bike to be intricate, like a mechanical watch or camera, and enough variables to keep one's interest. They are timeless, they last. Good ones have a history, multiple owners, their own story, sometimes forgotten except for the machine itself with the mysterious "G" on the headbadge. Indeed the headbadge itself tells a story, sometimes heraldic, other times populist; sometimes serious, other times badge engineered like the zillion variations on Raleigh and the many wonderful brands they devoured and regurgitated as rebranded low-grade models over the years.

    As the world moves to ebikes, weight will no longer matter so much except when carrying up stairs. One day bikes may have computers and sensors and black boxes in which engineering is in bits, bytes and nanoseconds, including no doubt a smart phone app that reads the bluetooth sensor on the bike that tells you how much it weighs and how many calories you burned riding it - in real time, as if it mattered, for you to post on your social network apps so your virtual friends can be impressed with your new numbers that matter.

    But that is still in the future. For now, enjoy the golden age of mechanical technology in mobility and watch those grams.

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    1. I was really enjoying the flow of that narrative until "as the world moves to ebikes!"

      Caveat emptor, if drinking hot coffee near laptop.

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    2. Weight matters SO much in cars that absolutely no component is produced without weight being a critical element in the manufacturing compromise. A lighter car does EVERYTHING better than a heavier one as long as it's strong enough to meet the requirements. The fact that cars are so heavy today compared to a car targeted to the same potential customer 20 or 30 years ago is mostly due to striving to achieve greater levels of safety. A similarly sized vehicle built with 1980s technology that is as safe as today's vehicles would weigh significantly more than that new one. However, a modern car built to 1980s safety standards could be built so much lighter and more fuel efficient that it's hard to believe. You just wouldn't want to crack it up.

      Spindizzy

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    3. Eerie. I was just listening to a live audio version of this same response.

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  4. Needless to say, as for the common cyclist, within reason, the most efficient gains can be made in one's physique and physical capacity.

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    1. I am not so sure this is always so, especially when it comes to things like wheels. But in any case, happily the two are not mutually exclusive.

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  5. Your post really hit home with me, and I agree with you 100 percent. The notes in the photo above look like a handwritten version of those I keep in a digital file. I certainly don't consider myself a weight weenie, and don't race or belong to a bike club or anything like that. I just want a reasonably lightweight bike to help me keep up with my wife on the local bike trail. By noting the weights of various components, I can see which can be replaced for a reasonable price while realizing the greatest weight savings. As you mentioned, it's kind of a hobby, or at least part of an overall hobby of bike building/riding. My bike includes a heavy Brooks B17 saddle, but that is staying put, as my wife bought it for my 50th birthday, plus I really like it. I offset that weight in part with very lightweight Vuelta wheels that I got for a great price during an off-season sale at Nashbar. It's fun and challenging to build and maintain an attractive, lightweight bike on the cheap. Thank you for this entertaining post!

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    1. Saddles really are a weight wildcard, as you always have to go with comfort over other factors. I look forward to Brooks expanding their Cambium carbon design to include more reasonable widths.

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  6. Very nicely said/written.

    You said it perfectly, a few years back - "we're all doing it right." This not only applies to how we ride, but what in bicycle culture we focus on. If one wants to focus on weight and the optimization that reveals efficient engineering and design - that's not me, but that's OK.

    Bicycles gain their soul when gazed upon with appreciation and perhaps love. Each of us is allowed our valuations. Each of us is allowed our complexities, our contradictions, and even to change. Too harsh judgements and too rigid valuations imposed on others limits learning and growth. Who wants that?

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  7. I haven't even gotten past the opening yet, but the visual image of a carbon fiber cocktail sausage has "hilarious t-shirt graphic" written all over it. Thanks for the inspiration.

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  8. 'tires' ?? I thought your bloke was Irish.

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    1. They can spell it either way in Ireland. And same with ize/ise verb endings.

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    2. Just found this out recently – thought it was interesting...

      ‘tyre’ from Late Middle English:
      In the past, wheelwrights strengthened the outside of the wheels of carts with curved pieces of iron plate called the tire, probably a shortened form of ‘attire’ (an ME word originally meaning to put in order), because the tyre was the ‘clothing’ of the wheel. Originally the spellings tire and tyre were interchangeable, but in the 17th century tire became the settled spelling, which has remained the spelling in the USA. In Britain the development of the pneumatic tyre seemed to require some differentiation from the metal rim, and tyre was revived.
      (From the online Oxford English Dictionary)

      So ‘tire’ was actually the original English spelling.

      I think even in Norn Iron, mind you, it would invariably be spelled ‘tyre’ (sorry, not letting you away with it!). :) Here’s the proof... ;)

      http://www.olivertyreservices.co.uk/

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    3. Those are some very cool facts. And I wonder whether it also explains why people in Ireland and the UK seem to have trouble differentiating between ty(i)res and wheels. As in "flat wheel."

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  9. A thought provoking piece. In the English cycling world obsession with weight saving reached its peak in the 1970s with the 'drillium' craze and attempts by English time triallists to build up their bicycles with the lightest possible frames and equipment (short wheelbase frames with 'fag paper' clearances, Weinmann 500 side pull brakes, drilled brake levers and handlebars, 28 spoke wheels shod with silk tubulars, and so on). The redoubtable Alf Engers was the 'tester' (as time triallists were known then) par excellence and photographs of his bike and equipment were regularly present in the pages of Cycling magazine. It is perhaps worth noting that Eddy Merckx's tour winning 1969 bike, as it appears in Daniel Rebour's drawing of it, was extensively 'drilled', and that Merckx's world hour record track bike was reputed to have been filled with helium.

    Obsession with kit and kaboodle, and dress, has been part of cycling from its beginning. Have a look at 'Cycling in the 1890s', an article by the social historian David Rubinstein, that appeared in Victorian Studies some time ago (Vol 21, no 1, 1977). It can be accessed and read online for free via JSTOR.

    Regards, The Fossil

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  10. My personal take is that a lighter bike is more fun to ride, other things being equal. It's when those other things tilt out of balance that I begin to get retrogrouchy. A couple of examples:

    A couple years ago I was riding with a friend in rural western Massachusetts, and he broke a spoke. No problem, I thought: my FiberFix replacement spoke will let us finish the ride. But his Madone had a lightweight, low-spoke-count wheel whose hub was incompatible with the FiberFix. We didn't have cell coverage, so I had to leave him and ride a few miles until I could call for someone to pick him up. A 32h wheel with traditional spokes wouldn't weigh much more, and would allow for field repairs—not important if you're racing, but much more so when you're on self-supported rides in the middle of nowhere.

    More generally, I get irritated by weight weenie-ism when it's not about the bike but about the gear you bring. I know cyclists whose bag has a spare tube, a CO2 inflator with a couple of cartridges, a cell phone, and a couple $20 bills to pay for a cab ride home if they have any problem that one tube and two inflators can't handle. I have a minipump, two extra tubes, a patch kit, a tire boot, a small multitool, lightweight needlenose pliers (for extracting wires from tires), spare brake and shifter cables, the FiberFix spoke, a spare master link for my chain, and a tiny tube with half an ounce of chain lube. Some local riders think I'm crazy to carry that much "unnecessary" weight on my bike. I prefer an extra pound of tools and parts (including the minipump) to the long walk I'd have if I broke down in the middle of nowhere—and to be able to help other cyclists. And don't get me started about all the discarded CO2 cartridges I see along the side of the road after an organized ride....

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    1. Have to say that wheels make a huge difference to me. Maybe it is because I am a fairly lightweight and not very powerful rider, but the heavier, more spoke-generous wheels feel like there is a lag whenever I start from a stop or go to accelerate. They also take a toll on my stamina/energy levels over long rides. I recognise that riding modern, non-standard-spoked wheels can potentially make things complicated in the event that spokes break (though if it's just one, or even two, most are actually just fine to get you home on). But I can handle it, and would not dream of allowing another rider to roam the countryside looking for help on my behalf. That said, in the course of a ride anything can happen, even with bog standard equipment. I have cycled with a guy whose (standard) rim split in my presence, and with another whose (lugged, steel) frame came apart at the bottom bracket. Unless we take the kitchen sink of tools and spare parts with us on every ride, we'll never be prepared for every eventuality. Best to ride what we enjoy and not worry too much, is my view on it.

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    2. The problem with the Madone wheel was that there was no way to adjust tension so that the rim didn't rub on the rear brake, even open. We're not talking 28h vs. 32h or 36h; I think that wheel had 18 spokes total. I don't recall any of your bike photos displaying wheels like that! :)

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    3. Those wheels with a lag are probably mostly connected to heavier bikes. And loosely strung. With tight light wheels in a good bike there's not much to notice until you are going fast enough that aerodynamics seriously matter. In a big crosswind you would have an effect somewhat like a high speed aero effect. Just getting off the line what you notice is not the spoke count, it is the wheel weight.

      If you break a spoke on a low spoke wheel the rim goes way out of whack and the wheel is often unrideable. At minimum it only works if you have a vintage frame with lots of broken spoke clearance. Two broken spokes on a wheel of 24 spokes or less and you won't go anywhere.

      With every caution I can quickly think of covered it is still the case that wheels are currently built heavy and built for heavy riders. Some of the super high end wheels come with warning stickers they are not for riders above 80 or 90kg. As if you are a greyhound if you weigh under 90kg. The Ksyrium wheels you have are for big guys. Back in the Stone Age when yours truly started riding, riders under 150# were encouraged to use 15/17 gauge spokes. Spokes that skinny no longer exist. Not at any price. Light rims in my youth meant 200 grams and Harlan Myer was happy to sell you 150 gram rims. Which, surprisingly, were quite sturdy. I am 190# now but have a front wheel that came to me in all-original 1950s glory with 32 15/17 spokes and they have lasted me about 4000 miles now. The rear spokes broke immediately and were replaced with modern 14/16.

      There are many reasons modern wheels are heavy. They must withstand dual-pivot brakes. They must withstand dual-pivot brakes even when the wheel is off center or the frame is not tracked. They must be strong enough to withstand the huge left/right tension disparity that comes with 11 cogs. The standing assumption is that everyone's quality control is abysmal and that assumption is usually correct. Every possible failure mode must be allowed for, even when riders with minimum common sense would never abuse their bike that way. It is easier to throw more metal into a piece than to build it right. No one is willing to carry inventory for heavy riders and inventory for light riders. And so forth.

      A 60kg rider wanting road wheels has no reason to ride something heavier than 1500g a pair. With vintage parts 1000g is simple, afraid it is much harder if you want 11 cogs.

      No reason ever to not use butted spokes. Chicago Schwinn used butted on everything but juvenile and trucks. Although some trucks got butted anyway. You can spend a fortune for the spokes with promotion budgets. Spokes made to the same standard as the name spoke are $0.75 at full retail.

      Be a weenie. Weigh your wheels. Advertising claims are just that.

      You worry less when you know what you have and why it works. Even if it breaks, knowing how things work gets you home.

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    4. "A 60kg rider wanting road wheels has no reason to ride something heavier than 1500g a pair."

      Agreed. And unfortunately, that would disqualify all but the costliest options on the market today, if buying new. The newish Campagnolo Zondas that my husband's just procured for his 2nd vintage Italian build (for me, as promised) weigh a bit more than that.


      "With vintage parts 1000g is simple, afraid it is much harder if you want 11 cogs."

      Interesting. How vintage are we talking about? I suspect you don't mean 10-speed. But I am curious to know how you would go about achieving this weight limit. The 32 spoke Mavic Open Pros that we have at the house are 2100g/pair. Can reducing spoke number and weight really shave off 600g, or have you some very specific rims in mind as well?

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    5. I mean ten speed as in a five speed freewheel at the rear. Nisi rims or Scheeren rims. Hi-E rims would do it too but those may no longer be obtained except with great luck. Lace any of these rims into a modern wheel and the rim is broken or dead before you are done building. The only clincher I know that would produce a 1000 gram wheel set would be the Saavedra mentioned above and you won't find one of those either.

      Spokes are not as heavy as you seem to think. Revealing now I am not a true weight weenie as I can't give you tenths. A double butted stainless spoke in normal lengths weighs around four grams. Multiply by 72 and it is still not the big part of wheel weight. The only really light spoke I remember was Union Kadette, extremely short butts and 2.0/1.3. Those are long gone.

      Don't know how you could run up an Open Pro build to 2100. Presumably straight gauge spokes. Maybe some old heavy hubs. Mavic rims in particular are notorious for huge weight variation. Mavic remains the only maker to produce their own extrusions, they have long had the habit of using the extrusion dies until they are totally worn out, the rim keeps getting heavier as the dies get older. Rims that weigh a hundred or a hundred fifty above advertised are common. Rims that weigh 150% of claimed happen. Greg LeMond was obligated to use Mavic, he was notorious for carrying his scale and making his mechanics go through stacks of rims until ones that met specs were found. You could be like Greg or you could use other rims.

      I will assume you would build with some modern and reasonably light hub. Spoke weight is pretty fixed, most have short butts these days. Use 2.0/1.6 or 2.0/1.5, not the silly 2.0/1.8 that save little weight. For something totally non-trendy you could lace a V-O Raid at the front with half spoke count, either 18 radial or 16 one cross. At the rear a 40 or 48 hole Velocity Dyad again at half spoke count laced two cross. That build could be under 1500.
      A more normal build would be Pacenti SL 23 with 20 front, 24 rear. The Pacenti is reasonably low profile. You seem to be about the only rider who had any luck with the PL 23 rim, those would just not work with few spokes. An SL 23 build would be below 1500 grams with normal brass nipples and any but the heaviest hubs. Kinlin and H+Son have rims that would hit the mark easily too, I am just not that familiar with them.

      Pre built system wheels are plug and play, set and forget, take no chances products designed to never have any problems (although they do). Modern dual pivot brakes move inexorably to center, if one side of the rim is high the brake just starts grinding down that side and making the metal of the brake flat thin. Rims get a lot of extra metal to withstand that. Wheels for dual pivot must be accurately centered and they must stay that way. Easiest way for a mfr to achieve that is make it heavy. I just cannot overemphasize how important centering is. It sounds like a total no brainer that wheels should be centered. I have held six thousand dollar wheel sets that were more than a millimeter off. The replacement wheels were off too and the manufacturer recommended just adding spacers. Every Campagnolo wheel I've seen is spot on, I check every one anyway. Handbuilt wheels are going to settle in and need checking. A Seven frame and carbon fork are likely close to centered, check it anyway. Titanium can be coldset. For the fork you would be stuck with spacers or re-spacing the wheel, remembering which way to face it. Take care of all the details you get to go light. To be bulletproof mass market go heavy.

      Pacenti rims are about a hundred each, spokes are 0.75 including nipples, hubs vary a lot. How much could a wheelset cost?


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    6. If you're buying modern wheelsets, weigh more than you used to and aren't an Oral Surgeon, you find yourself in the eternal quandary of having to choose two from the 3 options; Light, Strong or Cheap(Cheap being relative).

      You can buy affordable strong ones but they have to be able to deal with the worst case scenario the manufacturer thinks likely so they are going to be HEAVY. Light and affordable means it's going to be more or less disposable. You can choose expensive, light and strong but those wheels tend to become obsolete and difficult to get parts for a year later when you do have a problem. There's a nice big pile in the back of my friends shop that just need an axle or a proprietary spoke or rim that you can't get anymore. I'm not against them, I just can pay for them.

      If you decide to build from the bazillion choices of hubs, spokes and rims you have to somehow sort through the infinite possible permutations(it helps to seek out the old fast people), but you can always achieve Light-Strong-Cheap. Hell, if you're patient you can achieve Light-Strong-Free. It's just not worthwhile unless you want or need to do it.

      The wheels that are on my Mercian right now are 18 years old with one of the lightest Mavic MA series rims(stickers are long gone so I'm not sure which ones anymore) on Campy 9speed hubs with 32 Wheelsmith 2.0/1.6 spokes cut down from longer ones so the butts are super short(not intentional, I just re-threaded from longer used spokes). I've had them on several bikes and they cost me whatever the rims were new plus I think $50 for the slightly used hubs. I've never replaced a spoke but they've been in the stand a few times and they are far from heavy. All my wheelsets for all my bikes are some variation of this recipe and I don't have wheel problems in spite of being a small giant.

      But I admit I sometimes gaze at the Superman wheels on friends bikes and think "If only..."

      Spindizzy

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    7. Those Zondas are very nice wheels. They are strong and reasonably light and only cost in the range of $300. Campy could easily produce the same wheel with a lighter rim and sell it at the same price. They would have to print extra large labels stating Not Bulletproof. It would have to be labeled For Elfin Riders Under 200 Pounds Only. Then if they made it just too light, say 100 grams less per rim, there would be pushback from makers of light wheels at nosebleed prices. The blogosphere would not be kind. I am very surprised Campy tries to do as much as they do. Asked a friend who works at the LBS and he said they would never touch Zonda, any customer who would want them could be sold a different wheel at two or three times the price.

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    8. Hi Spin
      Us old guys could talk wheels a long time. We have some Mavic MA-40 rims in this house that may be more venerable than yours. On my sweeties bike, for decades her only wheels on her one bike. She doesn't track miles but those wheels must have 50,000 miles and more likely they have twice that. She only weighs 101#. I would say those wheels are rather overbuilt for a light rider. Very little brake track wear. She finally broke a spoke in the rear wheel, I rode it about one mile and broke two more, then replaced all 32. The front wheel still has all original spokes and will likely never need respoking. They are Robergels. When did you last see Robergels spokes? In a way it is nice to have pieces that literally last a lifetime. It is not necessary. It does occur to me that her rims are like me pushing 800 gram rims. We have a partial solution, she rides sewups on antique rims now. There really are no light clinchers for light riders.

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  11. I love looking at crazy vintage drillium photos and wonder to what extent those Swiss cheese-like cranks, brake levers and even derailleur cages contributed to crashes.
    Some modern components -- hollow bottom bracket spindles and threadless headsets come to mind -- really do reduce weight without a perforance sacrifice.

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  12. I wonder how many of us could tell if a pound or so was hidden in our favorite bike without our knowledge. Slip some sand in a sock down the seat-tube or a big chunk of modelling clay into the bars and I suspect it would take some of us a while to figure out that anything was different. It sure wont make us late to work or less happy after a nice spin.

    I go to great pains to eliminate extra weight from my bikes and have worked a couple of steel framed 58cm bikes down to the 18/19 pound level and raced(sort of an abuse of that word in my case) them without them flying to pieces even though I had to do it on a budget and weighed 180#. I've reamed and cut off seatposts, reamed and drilled out the ends of handlebars, shortened the quills of stems, made alloy bolts, wedges and small parts and filed the corners off anything that I could clamp in a vise. It was fun, didn't make the bike any slower and gained me a reputation as a bike butcher that I sort of enjoy. I don't think it ever helped my performance enough to make it worth the trouble on a results basis. Better to know when to jump on and when to let the break go than to have shaved an ounce off the bike.

    Light bikes are great but I'm not convinced that REALLY light bikes are REALLY great. But if you want to take a couple hundred grams off whatever you're riding you're welcome to come over and we can have some fun seeing where we can scrape it off.

    Spindizzy

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  13. I'm a racer, a framebuilder, and a physicist, and my cycling is dominated by spreadsheets, experiments and data, I make carbon frames, and I have spreadsheets documenting various properties of every single layer of carbon in each tube. I weigh every frame part at different stages during a build. I guess that's a kind of weight weenie-ism. But I'm not that excited about making super light bikes and I'm not too bothered about the final bike weight. What's the point in having a super light weight wheelset if you ride mostly on the flat? An aero wheelset will be faster, a heavier wheelset will hold momentum and roll better. Doesn't always make sense to go light.
    It's not that uncommon to get a race bike below the UCI weight limit these days, and I find this a really exciting time as we can improve other aspects of the bike without worrying about adding a weight penalty - for example, power transfer, aerodynamics, comfort or durability. Many big brands now promote their bikes based on these factors rather than weight.
    There is talk that the UCI will remove the limit soon - and I wonder will that lead to a new race to make the lightest bikes again? Personally I would hope that bike science has moved on enough that the other factors will remain in the conversation. Or will we start to see some new graphene-drillium hybrid super light material – now that would be exciting! (PS – don't drill your carbon bits folks!)

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  14. A reformed (after a long recovery) weight weenie here.

    Bikes were built of every material used now--except carbon fiber--before the turn of the 20th Century. Wood was used more liberally, especially for parts like rims, and there were even frames made of bamboo that would make today's frames seem like boat anchors.

    Hey, I can even remember seeing a sub-5 kilo bike in the 1970s, when I first got serious about cycling. Granted, it was a track bike, but when you realize that the frame was steel (as nearly all were back then) and most of the components were made of aluminum alloys, today's weights don't seem so extraordinary.

    I stopped worrying about weight when I admitted to myself that I never was going to race again and that for any riding I would do henceforth, weight would only matter so much. Also, I must admit, I'm not skinny, as I was when I was in my racer and for much of my wannabe days. So, with a heavier personal frame, whatever grams or ounces find their way onto my bikes aren't going to slow me down as much the, ahem, extra tissue that found its way onto my bones and muscles!

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  15. I have never been a 'weight weenie' - my road bike is very light, my mountain bike a few kilos heavier, though I can still carry it if necessary, that suits me fine - I weigh 48 kilos and I find on a really windy day, particularly with cross winds, I feel more secure on the heavier mountain bike as I have had the experience of the wind actually pulling/pushing me to the side when on the road bike. Fortunately that type of weather is infrequent here.
    I can't see any advantage for me to try to strip more weight off either of my bikes but if others really get into it - as they say, 'whatever floats your boat', I'd rather be riding my bike than obsessing over its weight.

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    1. I too used to think I felt more secure on heavier bikes in crosswinds, until I realised it was all wheels. I am currently testing a roadbike that is lighter than any bike I own, but was deliberately fitted with round-spoked, shallow rimmed wheels. I have zero, and I mean, ZERO problems on that bike, and I've tested it in pretty bad wind conditions at this point. While I was aware that wheel design contributed to crosswind problems, I had not realised just how much until now. IMO there need to be more options for non-aero racing wheels.

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    2. Have you put different (aero) wheels on the same bike to gauge just how much the shallow wheels make a difference?

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  16. A friend of mine started biking a dozen or so miles to work a couple of days a week. After he'd been at it for a few months, other friends (not me) started pushing him to get a newer, lighter bike. He said that he rode for exercise and that he got more exercise with his older, heavier bike.

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  17. It's all very simple, really. It can be reduced to the following haiku:

    Let your heavy bike

    Take the weight off your body

    Then lighten the bike

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  18. Thanks for the new word, "craic". I hope to remember to use it someday!

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