Weight weenie? Here’s why it’s not your fault

Steve Williams is on a slippery slope to weight weeniness

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I’ve realised there’s something eldritch about road bikes that turns normal, rational people into gram-counting, cash-haemorrhaging obsessives who wear out digital scales faster than a drug dealer on Buy One Get One Free week.

They’re haunted. Yes, that’s it. They clearly contain evil spirits that possess us — the terrible irony of exercising when really we need an exorcist. The upside? The more obsessive (and expensive) your upgrading becomes, the less it’s your fault. YOU’RE the victim here. Sweet!

During my years of mountain biking I managed to avoid obsessive weight worship. Sure, mass counts off-road — 30lb-plus can feel pretty undynamic if it’s not pointing downhill — but there are too many competing aspects for weight to truly dominate beyond serious XC.

Stiffness, strength, traction and usability also have huge impacts on overall speed. Sticky tyres, wide bars and dropper posts add weight, even as they add performance.

Droppers can easily add 500g over a fixed post, but in the real world you’ll go faster
David Caudery / Immediate Media

I’m relatively new to the ‘joys’ of road cycling and, at first, weight wasn’t a huge issue there either. Even swapping from a very fancy carbon bike to an entry-level aluminium one didn’t matter — despite the replacement being a fully five pounds heavier.

I was making the same level of effort, just going a bit slower. When it came to measuring performance, I was very much the weak link, so I didn’t really mind. And I would have got away with it for good, if it wasn’t for those meddling Strava segments…

But now I’m doomed. Through a chain of uninteresting events that includes mudguards, illness, Strava and alien abduction, I’ve accidentally demonstrated to myself just how much difference a few hundred grams makes.

I don’t like blaming the bike for my deficiencies, but I decided to try it. For science. Growing increasingly worried about where my climbing strength had gone post-illness, I removed my recently-fitted and heartbreakingly sensible mudguards to see if ditching the extra 375g could account for any of it (they’re actually nearer 400g when dirty. And yes, I weighed them).

To my amazement, they did. I went 30 seconds faster on each of two eight-minute, 400ft climbs. Removing them boosted my times from ‘just awful’ to ‘merely disappointing,’ which was a real result.

Look, I lied about the aliens. I just didn’t want you to get bored.

Then again, who could possibly get bored weighing the dirt stuck to bike accessories?
Steve Williams

So now I’m all excited about ditching yet more weight, any weight, and that means I’ve got both clacky shoes on the slippery slope to weight weenie status. Are people beating me on these Strava climbs because their bikes are lighter? THE CHEATING SCUM.

Next thing I knew, I was removing the cranks and bottom bracket just so I could weigh them (483g driveside + 227g left arm + 297g BB = 1,007g — FSA Vero). And the next thing after that I was ordering a Shimano 105 chainset. With my own actual money. Yeah, I’m doomed.

In my brave new reality, doing this makes total sense. The bearings in my bottom bracket sound like a saucy phone call from Darth Vader, so replacing that is simple maintenance. A new one is around £15… but it’s a square-taper bottom bracket. Why spend £15 on another 300g lump of outmoded steel?

Inboard bearings are for old people and bike shop bores who think 2002 was the last year anything was good. No, it makes far more sense to spend £103 on a Hollowtech II BB and new cranks to fit inside it instead. Especially as that will save 179g (536g driveside + 204g left side + 90g BB = 830g). And lo, I shall be a climbing god! Or not!

(For the record, my wheels, tyres, brakes and seatpost are already upgraded. I know cranks are a bad place to drop weight, but this was an easy win and, erm, ‘totally necessary’).

Damn you, evil road bikes! I used to be quite relaxed about my hobby. But first you came for my flat pedals, and I clipped in and said nothing. OK, I whined a bit. Next you came for my loose clothing, and I Lycra-ed up and said nothing. Or not much. And now you’ve come for my money, because spending more is the only way to get less bike.

For instance, a quick peek at SPD pedals reveals I can drop 100g by going from Shimano R-540s to carbon Dura Ace R9100s for just £1 per (absent) gram. YOU THERE, FETCH ME MY CREDIT CARD.

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So now I know how road bikes work. They’re haunted. It’s not my fault. It’s not your fault. Like Stephen King’s possessed car Christine, they’re just built evil and demanding of obsession, which happily enough absolves me of all blame when the bank statement arrives. Spend some time on one and it’ll happen to you, too. It’s inevitable! Road bikes are haunted! Yes, that’s it.