Selecting the proper bike to fit your needs can be the difference between a good and bad ride. There are a lot of variables to consider when talking about the weight of your bike, and it has become a popular topic among enthusiasts to discuss what weight is optimal.
Can a road bike be too light? Does weight matter? Many bikes have been getting lighter and lighter for performance reasons plus the benefit of ease when transporting it. There are newer, more expensive components to be used that can cut pounds. But getting a bike that is too light for the conditions you’re biking in could result in less stability.
There are many questions you can ask yourself to help determine how light is too light and if that extra weight really matters to you. There have even been studies done in an attempt to calculate how much the weight of the bike effects your speed.
How Much of a Difference Does a Lighter Bike Make?
First and foremost, it is always good to know how much of a difference any type of modification will make. For some, the differences may not alter their opinion much, while for others, it could mean a 100% shift in how they view their bike’s weight.
Think about the type of rider you are and what is most important to you. If speed is at the top of your list, you have probably thought about finding ways to make your bike lighter. It’s basic science, right? Well…kind of.
How Speed is Affected by Weight
Jim Gourley is a triathlete who also has an aerospace engineering degree from the U.S. Airforce Academy. Thankfully, he has shared his research and findings for the rest of us on some of the impacts a lighter bike can make, and how. In his book, Faster: Demystifying the Science of Triathlon Speed, he covers the components that influence speed and how it may or may not affect your overall opinion on some of the stats for your bike.
Some of the light he sheds on this has to do with the type of bike itself. When you switch from a basic hybrid or road bike at an entry-level, up to a carbon-racing bike with newer components, you could save up to about three pounds.
That sounds great, right? Many times, modifications are only a matter of grams or ounces. In his book, Gourley says,
“A lot of equipment manufacturers will tell you that their handlebars are 20 grams lighter than their competitor’s, but you need to be measuring differences in pounds to make any kind of noticeable change. A difference of 20 grams matters to NASA getting to the moon, but it’s not going to make a lick of difference to you trying to make a breakaway.”
Gourley has done ample research on the subject and has basically uncovered that at most, shaving a few pounds from your bike could result in saving a few seconds.
Let’s also approach it by realizing that the weight of your bike isn’t all that needs to be considered. You have your body weight, clothes, water bottle, and maybe some supplements or energy bars if you’re on a long ride. So if you shave 2 pounds off your bike, you’re still looking at the same weight for these other aspects.
When you add the weight of all those items together and then take away those 2 pounds, it’s really not a big enough percentage off the total weight to make too much of a difference.
Other Ways to Increase Your Speed
While the bike itself becoming lighter may make some small differences for you, you should also look at other components. When you begin attacking it from different angles, all those smaller differences can add up to lead to a bigger one.
Clothing and Gear –Look at the gear and clothing you have as well. If you are going to look at expensive modifications or upgrades to your bike, it’s also wise to look at your clothing and gear to see if there is anything you can cut down on there as well.
Body Weight – If you are an avid bicyclist, you are typically going to be keeping a trimmer figure if you’re also eating correctly. If you are able to maintain a trim figure and a healthy lifestyle, this will help in the overall speed as well.
Losing weight will also help increase your VO2 max, which will increase the power you are able to put into a ride and help with speed. But keep in mind that this should only be done if you have extra pounds to shed. Going under a healthy weight for your body frame and height is not only unsafe, but it can also have a negative impact on your riding. If you become underweight and don’t have the same power and muscle tone you once had, it will only adversely affect you.
Wenzel Coaching actually posted a really helpful chart to approximate your ideal weight for cycling based on the type of bike you’re using.
Leg Strength –Building up your leg strength, especially in your quads, will help increase your power and the energy you put into a ride to propel yourself forward faster. Seems obvious, but we all know we’ve seen those muscular gym rats who skip leg day. Powerful legs will result in powerful speeds.
Aerodynamics –Biking is all about aerodynamics. If you present a wide frame with additional gear on your bike or body, you will, of course, go slower. So the right gear, finding things that are the right size for you, and purchasing frames and helmets with aerodynamic designs will reduce drag simply because you’re reducing area in the front.
At the end of the day, the number one performance factor is going to be you, the rider. A light bike at the hands of someone who is physically fit, wearing proper gear, and has good form and strength is going to be helpful and could increase performance. But a lighter bike to someone out of shape, wearing a big pack, and a clunky helmet probably won’t do a whole lot.
How to Know if Your Bike is too Light
Lighter bikes tend to lead to less stability and durability. So these are things you want to keep an eye on and be aware of when trying a new bike or considering a new purchase. The lighter you go, many times the more expensive you go because you need top-of-the-line materials to provide the lightness, while also the durability and performance.
There is a clear trade-off that always has to be considered – do you want it to be lightweight or more robust and stable?
Questions to Consider
What are you using your bike for?
If you are active in races and long-distance rides, you want to be sure your lighter bike is also stable and durable. While it doesn’t need the durability of a mountain bike, it is going to take a beating from your schedule.
What is the terrain you ride on?
Uphill and downhill speed with lighter bikes has been a main research topic. As you climb a hill, the weight of the bike will inevitably begin to feel heavier to you. So in some cases having a lighter bike can affect your ride mentally in a positive way and feeling like you can tackle those hills easier. If you are riding more on flat surfaces, the weight doesn’t have as much of an overall affect.
We can look at the research and numbers all day regarding your velocity, body frame, weight, and every other variable. But in the end, you will be the only one to know if your bike is too light. If you feel unsteady or you feel it lacks stability, this could mean it is too light for you.
But if you have a lighter bike that feels solid beneath you and you are not seeing adverse effects to your rides, then that’s great. Especially if you can shave off some time and increase your speed because of modifications.
The Cost of a Light Bike
This has become an obsession to some bike enthusiasts. Trimming a few ounces here, finding a way to cut down on drag there…it’s a science and an art form at the same time. But keep in mind that while you cut out weight, you are most likely also going to be chipping away at your bank account.
Specifically, bicyclists who race and want to give themselves every advantage they can; even trimming grams becomes important to them. Of course, the frame itself is a big topic of discussion and how it can become lighter. But when you break down everything that contributes to the overall weight, that is where it can get expensive and seem never-ending.
Here are some ways to consider making your road bike lighter:
- Lightweight Tires
For further research on what the best tire will be, while considering weight, Cycling Weekly just came out with a great list of the best road bike tires for 2019, with weights included.
- Switch to Veloplugs
Veloplugs are made of rubber, rather than the common plastic or cloth tape. Cloth tape is the one that can weigh you down a bit. The smaller and lighter Veloplugs can save up to about 15g.
- Carbon Everything
This is where major costs can come into play. Switching to carbon everything will most likely be the most expensive modification, but it will also make the biggest impact. Considering upgrading your handlebars, stem, saddle, and seat post as well.
- Lightweight Bar Tape
- Paint Free
This seems over the top to some, but for those who are seeking every last way to decrease weight, this is definitely on the list. If your bike shop offers a raw carbon version of the bike rather than the painted version, it can save you around 100g.
- Change your Cassette
Beware of going too light on your cassette over fears of poor shift quality. It tends to be an issue in some of the lighter models, but it is another way to shed pounds if that is most important to you.
- Latex Inner Tubes
You will get a huge bang for you buck here, as replacing your inner tubes with latex will not only decrease overall weight, but it will decrease rotational weight. So that means it will have more of an impact on your speed than removing weight from a non-rotating portion of your bike.
Standard Bike Weights
With mountain bikes and hybrid bikes weighing in at around 28 – 32 pounds, they are the heaviest models available. They also need to be sturdy and durable, so the weight makes sense for them.
While most road bikes are lighter – in the 17 – 23-pound rage, they don’t need the robust engineering that road bikes do. Keep in mind any road bike with a steel frame will end up being heavier. This will also apply to cross bikes.
When you start seeking the lighter bikes, you will be seeking full carbon. One of the lightest bikes is the Motobecane Le Champion 10. It weights in at just 14.1 pounds. It is primarily a race bike and has full carbon cranks and wheels.
Tips to Help Successfully Use a Light Bike
Much of the conversation around bikes that are too light will also go back to the user. Just like body weight can affect speed, your form, and how you ride can affect the weight of the bike that will perform its best.
While the bike itself will be a main factor, people tend to neglect some of the other user issues that can affect the quality of a ride.
Center of Gravity
If you are shorter, you are most likely going to want something lower to the ground with smaller wheels and a lower bottom bracket. Naturally, if your center of gravity is lower to the ground when you are standing, the same science applies when you are on a bike. You will have an easier time maintaining stability if you are able to stay closer to the ground.
The same will apply for someone taller who may be uncomfortable on a shorter bike because the center of gravity will be off and make for uneasiness. In a sport like biking where balance and understanding your core is so important, it makes sense that the center of gravity can have a big impact on all factors for your ride.
This can be especially important if you have an extremely light frame and overall light bike. As you go up a hill on a lighter bike, if your posture is off, it can end up meaning a front tire popping up off the ground or becoming unsteady.
This seems silly to say, as posture is a basic skill learned early in bicycling, but with a lighter frame, it becomes even more important. If you lean back with a more robust and heavier bike, it may not have the same consequences since it stays grounded easier. Same can be true for leaning too far into a ride going downhill on lighter bikes.
Just be aware and correct any improper posture to accommodate for a lighter bike.
Your weight distribution is all about how you sit on the bike and how you disperse weight, which translates into energy. While your posture has to do with where you lean into the bike, your weight distribution has to do with where your weight will take you. Making minor adjustments on your seat or how hard you are pressing into your handlebars can make a difference when you’re riding a lighter bike.
Any of these factors can cause a bumpy ride when dealing with lighter, carbon frames and bikes, so keep them in mind as you decide on what weight works best for you and as you test out any new bikes.
Deciding What Weight is Best for You
While weight may help in speed under some circumstances, it isn’t overly substantial. And depending on your bicycling form, style, and conditions, it may not be the best fit for you. But if you just enjoy the feeling of a lighter bike underneath you and want to do everything you can to shave a few seconds off, there are plenty of ways to achieve that.
The question of a bike being too light will be dependent on your tailored biking experience. Be sure you have something durable enough for your requirements and that it doesn’t cause an unsafe or bumpy ride for you. Do that, and you’ll be good to go.