Bike Setup – Worth the Weight?

Words by Chris Southwood | Images by Flowtographer

As mountain bikers, we worry a lot about weight. Every gram on our bike or body (yep, sorry!) is mass we need to lug up hill, so it’s only natural that we want to avoid carrying more weight than is necessary. The lengths you can go in the quest to shed grams can take you down some dark paths….exotic carbon seat posts, alloy biddon bolts, even quitting beer. But before you bust out the digital scales and begin trawling forums for the lightest aluminium brake rotors, consider whether or not the changes you’re considering could have a negative effect on your mountain biking. In this age of constant diet fads – Dukan, Atkins, Paleo, Blood-Type – here are our recommendations for sensible weight loss.

 

Never, ever forego confidence for weight savings:

In mountain biking, confidence is absolutely everything. It gets you out of trouble, it makes you faster, it puts the joy in your ride. This is one part of mountain biking you don’t want to mess with.

The things that detract from confidence unfortunately often coincide with the same things that can save you weight. A quick release fork may come in at 100g lighter than an equivalent fork with a 15mm axle, and that 1300g wheelset looks great on the scales, but if the weight savings come at the price of confidence, forget about it!

Stiffness is something we talk about a lot here at Flow, and it’s all too often an area that’s compromised in the quest to save grams. Have you ever watched that amazing slow-motion footage they have at the tennis? You know, the one where you can see the tennis racquet flex and the strings warp when they hit the ball? Well imagine if they pointed one of those cameras at your bike. Here’s this machine with all kinds of forces being thrown at it – your body weight, rocks, holes, corners – it’s a big fight, with everything trying to yank the bike in a different direction. And there you are, doing everything you can to get the whole lot to go where you point it.

This is why stiffness is important – it’s the weapon you’ve got to win the fight, to make the bike go where you want. Detract from the bike’s stiffness and all it means is that you have to fight even harder, and suddenly you’re holding on for dear life, pinballing white knuckled down the trail.

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Forks like the Rockshox Pike and the FOX 34 are part of a new breed of large-legged, super stiff forks that weigh a little more but have huge advantages in terms of handling that will be appreciated but any trail rider.

Forks, frames, wheels, bars and stems all factor in here. We’ve been riding a lot of forks recently with 34mm and 35mm stanchions, and yes they come in a couple of hundred grams heavier. But the improvement they make to every ride is worth that weight penalty 10 times over.

 

 

Reliability wins over weight:

Having confidence is one thing, but a ruined ride or race is another all together. In terms of reliability there are two main areas that spring to mind; wheels and tubeless tyres – but we’ve seen plenty of other weight saving endeavours muck up a good day out on the bike.

The main culprits here are definitely tyres. The words ‘rotating weight’ seem to be a catchcry of the racing world, particularly amongst 29er riders who might be self-conscious of their extra wheel girth. Of course, the cheapest and easiest way to save rotating weight is to find the lightest non-tubeless, unreinforced tyre you can, put a handful of sealant in there and hope like hell it holds air….

Lightweight non-tubeless tyres are a risky option if you set them up tubeless. You might save one hundred grams, but what does that matter when you've got sealant everywhere mid lap?

Lightweight non-tubeless tyres are a risky option if you set them up tubeless. You might save one hundred grams, but what does that matter when you’ve got sealant everywhere mid lap?

This is a recipe for disaster. Suddenly you’re by the side of the trail putting tubes into your pinched and cut tyres, watching everyone ride away, pissed off about your $110 entry fee. It doesn’t matter if your Maxxis EXC tyre ‘works’ tubeless; it’s a very dumb idea. If you’re going tubeless, accept that it’s a measure that’s not designed to save weight – it’s designed to add control and traction. Get some tyres that have a modicum of sidewall protection at the very least, there are plenty of options, and the weight penalty is perhaps 100g per wheel.

A great article by our good friends at RIDE Cycling Review really reinforced this for us recently. We realise that road riding and mountain biking aren’t identical, but the principle holds true. In road racing the UCI sets a minimum bike weight limit of 6.8kg. Now given that many new high-end stock road bikes weigh less than that, you’d safely expect the pros to be on machines that were right on the 6.8kg mark. But when RIDE weighed all of the team bikes being ridden at the Tour Down Under this year they all, without exception, came in over that limit, some by a big margin. Why? Because the professionals know that to win a race, you’ve got to finish a race – sacrificing durability or robbing yourself of power transfer just isn’t worth the 50g your hollow pin chain might save you!

If you are a committed weight saver, look at yourself before you look at the bike.

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To push mass up a constant slope (that son-of-a-bitch climb in the Highland Fling for instance) at a constant speed, you need to generate a certain amount of power. Reduce the weight and you’ll need less power (effort) to maintain the same speed. Of course, if you can generate the same power but with less weight, your speed will increase. It’s pretty simple.

The brutal truth, unfortunately, is that most people can drop five kilos out of their body, but to take five kilos out of their bike will probably require the removal of both wheels, plus the fork and crankset. The bulk of the potential weight savings lie in your bulk. But don’t despair; dropping the belly is the only weight saving that will actually save you money AND give you a legitimate reason to ride more. Win.

So there are Flow’s three golden rules of sensible weight loss: 1) If it will detract from your confidence, don’t do it. 2) If it will make your bike less reliable, don’t do it. 3) Lose weight from your body first, then the bike.