Have you ever heard of a new model introduction where the maker touts the fact that the bike is heavier than last year’s model? Neither have we. The holy grail of mountain biking is making bikes and components that are lighter and stronger than the items they are replacing. And it is hard to imagine a rider who, from time to time, doesn’t look at his bike and wonder where a little weight could be shaved. But shaving weight is not for every rider. There are many instances where saving weight reduces performance. Judging if a weight-reduction plan is right for you (or has gone too far) is simple; look at the type of rider you are and the type of riding you do.
FOOL ME ONCE
We will all break a component in our lifetime. Many riders view a broken part as a sign of achievement. “I hit that landing so hard that I bent my bar.” If you break the same part twice, you need to replace it with a stronger (heavier) component and work on your riding skills. Take it off your weight-reduction list right now.
These are the riders who train like racers but have no interest in racing. They’re usually in great shape and log tons of hours. Their bikes are nearly identical to a typical cross-country racer, but they may have several more comfortable or durable components on them. This is the group that manufacturers have been producing the new lightweight full-suspension bikes for. These bikes may weigh a pound or two more than the lightest hardtails, but they more than make up for the weight in added performance.
If you are a trail rager, you should look for light yet reliable parts. The new complete wheelsets from Mavic, A-Class, Crankbrothers and American Classic are all easy ways to save pounds of valuable rotational weight. If you’re going to buy wheels, make sure to consider tubeless sets. The wheels are light, and get rid of the tube to save even more weight without any penalty in ride quality.
Don’t be tempted to run flat handlebars for the sake of saving weight. Riser bars are definitely worth a couple of extra grams. They put your hands in a more comfortable and more aggressive position. Carbon fiber handlebars are not automatically guaranteed to be lighter than alloy bars, but in most cases they are. One rule of thumb: the lighter the carbon bar, the less it will dampen vibration. That is the price you pay for light, yet durable, carbon fiber.
Steer clear of ridiculously light parts. They are intended for cross-country racers and made to race on, not train on. What’s a ridiculously light part? Parts that are often seen by racers as write-offs are seatposts, stems, aftermarket alloy bolt kits and ultra-lightweight tubes and tires. They will work fine for two-hour races, but not for a year of trail riding.
These bikes have to be light enough to pedal uphill yet stand up to harder riding than average trail riders dish out. Rim manufacturers are making some great new rims for these guys. They’re stronger than conventional cross-country rims and lighter than most downhill hoops. Just about every company has at least one model.
If you keep destroying your big chainring, replace it with a bash ring. You can still use your front derailleur and two smaller chainrings. If you’re destroying the outer ring, chances are you wouldn’t use it much anyway.
Components like bars, stems, seatposts and cranks are all well identified by their makers for all-mountain use. Trying to skimp in any of these areas to save weight is definitely going to negatively affect your riding experience.
The all-mountain rider cannot look at individual components when making weight saving decisions. It is important to look at components as an ensemble. You may have a great fork with a 20-millimeter thru-axle and bulletproof hub and rims, but add a lightweight stem to this group and you loose the fork’s and wheel’s performance edge. The light stem will be the weak link of sure-footed front-end control.
Although many people think that weight doesn’t matter in downhill, they couldn’t be more wrong. Racing isn’t just coasting downhill. There are plenty of tight corners to accelerate out of, flat sections to pedal and even short uphill sections. There’s a huge difference between trying to push a 38-pound bike and a 50-pound bike around a course.
It’s a good idea to use the “if you break it, the part is too light” rule for downhill. Stay with downhill-specific stuff. Use your own good judgment to determine where you want to save weight. Watch parts for flexing and cracks in the welds. Be conscious of your riding style. If you know that you case your rear wheel on jumps a lot, run a stronger rim in the back and think about running stronger cranks.
More and more people are riding mountain bikes like they are BMX bikes. Twenty-six-inch wheels have been turning up with more frequency at the local jumps and skate parks. In fact, many top riders hide in the skateparks for skills training. If you find yourself constantly looking for huge doubles, drops and street gaps, durability should be the primary concern when building your bike. You can pretty much throw away any notion of keeping your bicycle light. When you break a part on your bike, and you will, replace it with a stronger part.
This type of riding is brutal on cranks. Check out the three-piece chromoly ones from Azonic. Anybody who has seen bottom-bracket or crank arm failure knows how bad these can be. When bottom-bracket spindles break, they usually aim right for your exposed calf. It’s ugly.
It won’t be long before you’re looking for a stronger wheelset or, at least, a set of rims. Look at bigger downhill-style rims available from nearly every rim manufacturer. Consider thicker downhill tubes, even if you’re running a small tire. They are more flat-resistant than standard tubes and gives the tire a solid, supported feel. To keep the whole wheel strong, use straight-gauge spokes in a 3- or 4-cross pattern with a high-flange hub. Remember, the shorter the spoke and the more spokes in contact with each other, the stronger the wheel will be.
These are the riders who tend to obsess the most about weight. In fact, it seems like a bizarre compulsion with many of them. If anyone is justified in worrying about weight, though, it would be these guys. Getting rid of a quarter-pound in their wheelsets could mean the difference between bonking and finishing well in a race.
If you’re a serious cross-country racer, the first thing to do is make sure you have a really light wheelset. This includes the tires and the wheel itself. Tubes? If you are not running tubeless, what are you waiting for? And we hate to break this to you, but you will need two sets of wheels. One will be more of a trail rider’s wheelset for training, and then you need light ones for race day. This will also make your bike feel lighter and faster when you’re actually racing.
Check your seatpost, handlebar grips, pedals and saddle; weight can be hiding in all those components.
DON’T FENCE ME IN
We understand that riders can’t be pigeonholed into these simple categories. Most riders cross over to a couple of these groups. The basic message is, don’t let your riding revolve around the lightness of your bike. Feel free to lighten it up a bit, but keep it reasonable. Be careful, because when a part fails, it can be expensive and lead to time off the trail. If you can afford it, you may want to consider using different bikes for different types of riding. Maybe you should consider having different parts for certain rides. For example, have a strong but heavier wheelset for extended backcountry exploration, and an exotic lightweight set of wheels for cross-country racing.