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Does Bike Weight Really Matter?

By Bruce Lin
Photos By Caroline Tan

Is your overweight bike making you depressed? You’re not alone. Many cyclists dream of having the lightest bike possible. It’s the primary motivation of "weight weenies," people who count grams obsessively.

When it comes to improving a bike’s performance, weight is tangible. We feel it every time we pick up a bike. We can put a bike on a scale, get a number, and determine that a smaller number is “better.” We can spend money on new components that save more weight. As consumers, we have an ability to control and modify bike weight in ways we can’t with other aspects of bike performance like stiffness, aerodynamics, or geometry.
The importance of bike weight

But does bike weight really matter? Weight weenies would say yes. But the real answer is far more nuanced. In reality, weight is only one factor of many that affect bike performance. It may surprise you to learn that it's also rarely the most important factor. Let’s take a deep dive into the subject of bike weight and look at the costs, value, and what real riders think about saving weight on their own bikes.

The high cost of lightness

Rocket scientists are perhaps the world’s ultimate weight weenies. When sending objects into space, they deal with a problem known as the “tyranny of the rocket equation.” As the amount of weight they want to move increases, the rocket fuel required to do so increases exponentially. For example, increasing the payload of a rocket by only 5% may require a massive 130% more fuel to move it. Because of this problem, minimizing rocket weight is paramount. Aerospace materials are made to be as strong and light as possible to balance out the equation, and they’re hugely expensive because of it.

Of course, bikes aren’t rockets, but plenty of riders treat them like they are. Trimming off excess weight can become an obsession. Some riders might begin to believe that a matter of a few grams will be the difference between a great bike and a mediocre bike. Or on the road, they might think it is the difference between winning and losing. An inconsequential component might go under the microscope and hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars could be spent to save less than a pound.
Weight weenie carbon vs metal bottle cage
Take the water bottle cage for example. A metal bottle cage might weigh only 30 grams more than a carbon one. But the carbon cage will cost significantly more. You might spend $70 for a carbon cage versus $10 for a metal cage. Say you have a fairly light, 17-pound road bike. If you choose the carbon bottle cage, you’re spending seven times more money to shave off a negligible amount (0.4%) of your bike’s total weight. The math is similarly bad for most of the other components that can be upgraded.

It's bad for complete bikes too. For example, a top-of-the-line Specialized S-Works Tarmac retails for over twice as much as a similar Tarmac Expert. This higher price gets you a lighter frame and lighter components. But the S-Works model is not twice as light. The weight difference is only one or two pounds. You’re paying over 130% more, to save about 5% of the total weight.

This could be seen as the "tyranny of the bike equation." As bike weight decreases, the cost of increases exponentially. Being a hardcore weight weenie not only requires a lot of dedication but also a lot of money.

The value of a light bike

But is spending money to make your bike lighter worth it? It’s hard to say exactly when reducing a bike's weight actually becomes noticeable. You could probably tell if your bike suddenly became 10 pounds lighter, but would you notice if your bike became only one pound lighter?

The water in a small 20oz bottle weighs a little over a pound. Do you ever notice if you’re riding with a full versus an empty bottle? If not, then you probably won’t be able to tell that a pair of carbon handlebars are 100g less a pair alloy ones. It will take a lot of component upgrades throughout a bike and a lot of money for all those saved grams to add up to a meaningful reduction in overall weight.

But even if small reductions can’t be felt, the fact is that a lighter bike requires objectively less power to move. Especially on climbs, the power-to-weight ratio of bike and rider plays a huge part in overall performance. Even if it’s a small difference of only a few watts, it could matter in a race situation. Take two riders with the exact same fitness and body weight. The rider with the lighter bike will hypothetically make it to the top of a climb first, or they’ll have to expend slightly less power to reach the top at the same time.

There are limits to this, however. Rider weight is far more important in the bigger picture because riders far outweigh their bikes. A 180-pound rider on a 20-pound bike results in an overall weight of 200 pounds. The rider is 90 percent of that weight. This is why really good climbers are generally skinnier or smaller than average riders. 

Decreasing bike weight can only go so far. Bigger gains are likely to be found when addressing aerodynamics, but that is a whole different topic. 

The best lightweight bike upgrade

If you are going to spend money on a single weight-saving upgrade for your bike, wheels are the number one improvement you can make. They’re generally considered the best place on the bike to shed grams because wheels and tires are rotating weight. Additional weight increases inertia and wheel inertia matters a lot in cycling because the rider has to overcome it to accelerate. Heavier wheels require more energy to overcome this inertia. Many riders, even novices, can actually feel the difference when riding lighter wheels. They make a bike feel noticeably snappier and easier to get up to speed.

Carbon wheels are one of the most popular aftermarket upgrade options for both road and mountain bikes. Carbon fiber is exceptionally light, stiff, and strong. Because of carbon’s strength to weight advantage, road bike rims can be made deeper, wider, and more aerodynamic, without a massive weight penalty. Independent testing over recent years has shown the aerodynamics of a wheel to be of equal, and sometimes greater importance when riding on the road.

Upgrading to a wheelset that is both lighter and more aerodynamic is the ultimate win-win.

Do you need a lighter bike?

So who actually “needs” a lighter bike?

Riders who are already exceptionally small, light, and fit will enjoy the most benefits. If you are near peak fitness, then losing additional weight off your body could be detrimental to your power output or even dangerous to your health. The only option for improving power-to-weight is to reduce the weight of the bike. The lighter you are, the more small reductions in bike weight will benefit performance.

But for normal riders with average bodies, it’s always much more effective and affordable to reduce body weight and increase fitness. The number-one factor in performance is always the rider.

Weight weenie climbing advantageI had a lighter bike and still got dropped.

If you simply like the idea of having the lightest bike possible, and you can afford to buy an ultra-light, high-end bike or a slew of lightweight upgrades, then go crazy. Light bikes are cool, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Just knowing you have a lighter bike could also help you mentally. Aerodynamics and fitness are important, but the mind also plays a huge role in performance. The belief that your bike’s weight is an advantage can give you a bigger advantage than the weight actually does on its own.

Durability and reliability are also important factors to consider. Lighter weight often coincides with reduced durability. The average weight for the bikes used by enduro mountain bike pros is over 30 pounds. This is significantly heavier than your average XC mountain bike. These types of bikes have to survive rough riding conditions. Running a lighter, more delicate frame or components will increase the risk of race-ending damage. In all forms of riding, adding weight to a bike is the trade-off you must make for increased robustness and reliability.

Even if you’re not racing, durability should be considered, especially when you aren’t a professional rider with access to a supply of replacement parts and skilled mechanics who can service and repair your bike. An ultra-light bike is cool, but it’s no fun having to make emergency repairs on the side of the road or end a ride prematurely due to equipment failure. This is especially true of tires. Lightweight, less puncture-resistant tires are better saved for race day when it really matters.

The takeaway here is don't worry so much about how much your bike weighs. If you have a light bike, that's good. If you don't, that's also fine. Make sure your bike fits your budget and is reliable to ride. Invest in your fitness, and if you can spend some money, get nice wheels. 

What Riders in the Shop Think

Our shop is full of riders who obsess over their bikes and have access to a huge selection of high-end pre-owned products. Everyone’s been tinkering with their own set-up for years and they each approach bike weight in different ways. Here’s what they have to say.

Weight Weenie Bike Discussion
Axel V., Purchasing Associate - “I train on my race bike, and when it’s set up for training it weighs 22 pounds. It’s heavy compared to most high-end road bikes, but I’ve never wished it was lighter. I prioritize durability, and the heft means it’s sturdy and it’ll keep going no matter the riding conditions. I don’t like to break things. Flat protection is key so I’m running heavier puncture-resistant tires and tubes. If you flat, you’re not riding! I’ll put carbon race wheels on for race days only. They make the biggest difference and on my bike, it’ll shed three pounds where it really matters. But only for those special occasions.”

Asher R., Bike Technician - “My mountain bike is 33.5 pounds. I think a bike should weigh as much as it needs to be durable. When you try to save too much weight you start compromising on durability, and you start spending lots of money when parts fail. The way I ride, I do notice the weight on climbs, but once I point my bike downhill I can go as hard as I want and it’s all worth it. Saving weight is a good thing, but save your money too. If you ride hard things will break. Durable, light, or cheap — you can only pick two.

Pete K, Bike Technician - “Racing at the pro level, weight is something you definitely think about. Where I’m at now, it’s easier to take the weight off my bike than my body. If an XC bike is over 24 pounds it feels pretty ridiculous, like it can’t go uphill fast. It’s like wearing a backpack. But I wouldn’t say I’m even the craziest one out there. I do care about durability and performance a bit more than weight. I did run a dropper post all season. The bike rides so much better with it. You have to be selective.”

Richard S., Merchandising Associate - “I’ve definitely gone down the weight weenie rabbit hole. I’m a climber so I think about it a lot. I’ve bought certain components when they were the lightest, even if they weren’t the best. I built up a bike that was around 14 pounds already but then I added Lightweight wheels and got it down to about 13 pounds. Once the bike got that light I could definitely feel the benefit uphill, but it lost so much stiffness and responsiveness. Then I had a bad crash and destroyed a lot of parts. It was a super expensive crash. My current bike is heavier, but I’m actually going faster now than I was before because the new bike is so much stiffer and more aero.  

Steve G, Shipping Manager - “For me, it’s all about reliability and durability. When you ride deep into the backcountry, you need to know that your bike is going to make it back out. My mountain bike is 37 pounds. It’s the heaviest bike in the shop, but the geometry actually puts me in a good climbing position and that makes a difference. I keep up with everyone just fine. I haven’t had a flat or mechanical all season. There’s a time and place for light parts, XC racing probably. But when you’re riding long distances far from home you shouldn’t skimp.


31 comments


  • @Tom Lewis—I, too, have a custom Alberto Masi-built 3V made for me in 1989. Not my lightest bike by far, but it fits perfectly. A $500 bike that fits right is better than a $5000 bike that doesn’t. That’s Rule #1.

    Having spent 15 years designing and building bikes for Paketa in Boulder, the US’ only manufacturer of magnesium bicycle frames, I think I understand the weight/performance/price trade-off pretty well. #1 recommendation is, start out with a solid, light-weight frame (that fits—see above) if you think you’re possibly going to want to buy lower-weight components. #2, concentrate on the wheels (as others mention), as that’s likely to be the most noticeable improvement. #3, think of it in terms of $/gram saved. That’s a useful metric for many upgrades. I used to go with $1/g saved; now maybe $2/g saved, but go with your budget. A lot of carbon parts (e.g.) don’t actually save much weight but cost a fortune. A good example is handlebars and stems. Carbon bars and stems are hugely expensive (in many cases) but hardly any lighter than comparable high-quality aluminum parts. You really need to look at each item and compare them carefully. One thing I’ve stopped “comparing” is saddles: If I’m not comfortable, then no weight savings is worth it.

    And on the point of buying used-vs-new, I agree. My latest #1 ride is a 10-year-old Crumpton carbon frame with a SRAM Red 10-speed rebuild and Zipp 202 tubular wheels at 12.9 lbs. Total investment: under $5k.

    David Walker on

  • Really good article on weight. I agree with every word. That said there is a third option that os rarely talked about. Why not have the lightest bike without spending a ton of money. I ended up buying a quality carbon frame from the pros closet and purchased all other carbon components on ebay. For about 3k total cost I was able to build up my scott foil frame with new ultegra r8000 and all carbon finishing kit with 50mm deep section carbon wheels. A comparable setup from a bike shop would have cost 8-10k. Recently I bought a wheelset direct from china that weighed 1288g. The risk of buying poorly made carbon components from china is vastly overstated by bike shops to protect their margins. After all a large percentage of branded carbon comes from these same factories. Many of the items sold on ebay will have stated weights. The finishing kits of many of these mass produced road bikes have heavy aluminum finishing kits.. bar/stem/seatpost/seat/waterbottle cage/crank.
    Replacing these can save you a pound. To give you a rough idea of how much these could cost on ebay.
    Carbon handlebar. 50.00
    Carbon seatpost. 40.00
    Carbon waterbottle cage. 15.00
    Carbon stem. 30.00
    Carbon deep section wheels 1600g 300.00
    Aluminun climbing wheels 1260g. 250.00

    Brian H on

  • Thanks for this informative article. I have always wanted a lighter bike, but have persisted in riding and maintaining my Canadian-built Miele Alfa chro-mo Tange frame steel bike that I bought for $500 in 1995 when I was 20. It weighs 28lbs, which makes for good uphill workouts. I have never ridden an aluminum or carbon fiber bike, and really don’t know what it would feel like, to say nothing of what it would feel to ride something 10lbs lighter.

    But at this point, my beloved steed has many thousands of miles, and after so many years, it would just feel wrong to sell it!

    Tony S. on

  • As I have said on more than one occasion to a good friend who is a compulsive weight weenie: “I can skip a couple of happy meals and shed more grams than those crazy expensive parts you are running save you – and I save a few bucks at the same time.”
    For the lean and fit, it may make sense but most of those I ride with have plenty of grams they should shed first before spending big $$$ on lite parts.

    Russell Hughes on

  • By the way, in addition to my original comment I should add that you either made an egregious mistake with the Specialized Zee cage weight analysis comparing a carbon cage weight against an alloy cage. The alloy cage weight is right, but you didn’t weigh a carbon zee cage. You gave the price of a Specialized carbon zee cage but you gave the weight of a plastic cage. The weight difference between your aluminum cage and a real carbon zee cage is 49 grams. Two cages, that’s 98 grams – almost a quarter of a pound on a couple of bottle cages. First, you need to correct your post. Second, almost a quarter-pound is worth $140. Will it help me “go faster”? Of course not, but who cares?!

    Jim Lanave on

  • I’ve got a heavy gravel bike (23# Spec. Diverge), an average weight rain bike (18.5# Trek 5200) and a lightweight aero race bike (15.5# Spec. Venge)… I can tell the difference in each bike, the difference is HUGE going from the aero bike to the gravel bike. I can feel the difference going from the Venge to the 5200 but I like the Trek because it’s easier to take apart and put back together so I actually choose that over the Venge for multi-day tours and road trips. I’d give you that a few pounds either way don’t make too much of a difference, but an 8 pound difference is immense (and worth EVERY penny). That’s my $4,000 on the subject.

    Jim Lanave on

  • I’m 66 years old and been riding bikes since 15 years old.I posses 2 road bikes and each weighs 22 and 23 lbs.They are both fully alloy and the difference between the 2 is the position of the handlebars and the 1 lb.One bike is more upright for long comfortable rides and the other has a lower handle position when riding with my buddies.The weight is really not significant to me because I weigh 150lbs, so when riding with my buddies who have bikes at 16lbs and they weigh much more than me, I’m still lighter and have no problem staying in the group.My point is that total weight(bike and body weight,and conditioning) are much more important factors than just bike weight.

    Bruno Gattuso on

  • Body weight is my only choice:
    I’m a 64 year old male and have been riding now 40 plus years. I have several high quality road bikes that have top components and are very light and my top summer fit riding body weight is 180 lbs, but my winter weight increases to 200 lbs during the cold months and I stay fairly aerobic fit but I increase my weight lifting and gain muscle weight easier than most because I was a former bodybuilder and have always continued to somewhat weight train; on the same 3 mile hill climb in the summer I’m 5 minutes faster than my winter weight, so in saying that I have a decent bike that I really can’t shave much more weight off and I keep a good aerobic fitness level, body weight is pretty much the only upgrade I can make, so if your story is like mine you won’t find the answer on a Weight Weenie component list, you’ll only find it on a weight scale! Lucky for me weight has always been easy to lose. I also feel the winter increased weight training has a great benefit at my age so I’m not going to stop the up and down in muscle gains, but next winter I may try to keep my weight down to 190 and see if I can be as strong.
    Ride on brothers and sisters!

    Joe Vanhoose on

  • Thanks for the math correction, Paul!

    Bruce Lin on

  • “If you choose the carbon bottle cage, you’re spending seven times more money to shave off a negligible amount (0.004%) of your bike’s total weight.” – You’re out by a factor of 100 there – it’s 0.4 % (30/7711).

    Paul Davison on

  • Been riding a little over 45 years- Only Road- have two bikes- my bucket bike a new old stock 2009 Colnago EPS- 2012 NEW OLD STOCK Campy Super Record with TI BB- with xpedo ti pedals- 2 carbon cages- bike computer w/cadence- Bike 14# 2oz- I still ride tubulars- tried clinches about 17 years ago not as much fun- Wheelset is new model 2018 Campy Bora Ultra 50mm- Tufo Elite 23mm. under 225 grams. tires- Have 25mm elites on another second set of carbon tubular Wheels saprim cx-ray spokes also do not like 25mm tires as well on personal bike.
    I weight 265# have not broke a spoke in over a decade.
    Other bike is a Trek 2002 tandem also Campy 10 sp. equipped-Reynold carbon tandem fork- carbon stem and bars-fsa carbon crankset- 2 sets of custom wheels Both Chris King Hubs- Saprim cx-ray spokes- 50 mm carbon tubular 1500 grams w/25mm tufo elites- and 60 mm carbon clincher 1700 grams w/Conti GP4000S tires- over 400# tandem team not broke spokes in past 8 years. Don’t agree that best equipment is more likely to break – not with care and good bike shop for maintain.. Not my experience at all. Have owned 7 personal bikes and 4 tandems. Weight was not driving force – quality was- weight was by-product of quality.
    Lower quality components were a LOT MORE DOWN TIME.

    Frank Davis on

  • Light bikes are undoubtedly great, especially for climbing. On the flats, however, a lot depends on a riding style. Experienced cyclists tend to maintain a steady pace unless there is a real reason to go full gas. Hence a kilo weight difference doesn’t matter much. Newbies usually accelerate to the point when they cannot take it anymore and then recover for a few minutes only to push it again. It results in a ride pattern consisting of acceleration intervals interleaved with 0-watt coasting. Obviously, a heavier bike makes it much harder than a light one :)

    Irakly Shanidze on

  • Always makes me laugh when local, non-elite XC types say they don’t want a stopper post because they are worried about the added weight.

    JT on

  • Just as Joel P stated above, I am also a member of the super clydesdale class at 5’11" 265 lbs. I live in the Texas hill country, and have had to make “friends” with the inevitable climbing that goes along with living in this area. But like many of the bigger riders, I am really best as a “flat-lander”… which was really great when I lived in the Houston area a couple of years back. In this area bombing downhills, at big speeds, helps keep me stay in the mix with the climbers on our local group rides. I bought my BH G6 from The Pros Closet…it spec-ed out at 15.5# with a Reynolds Attack carbon wheelset. As we all know, our bike fit is a very personal one, but the bike from Pro C was literally so close to what I would have self-built, the only changes I made were carbon bars, carbon stem … and a WHEELSET. The Reynolds are great wheels, but I just felt like I needed to have piece of mind riding on a “bullet proof” set of wheels. So I put a set of Mavic Cosmics with Yksion 25c tubeless mount. I run 75#-80# for a “Cadillac ride.” And the overall weight of the bike only went from 15.5# to just south of 17#. I put the Reynolds on my wife’s bike, and she loves them. My fitness is good, but my focus is not necessarily on my bike, it is on me as a rider. Get your bike to fit right, then work on what matters the most…the “motor!!”
    Scott Michael on

  • I am a member of the super clydesdale class at 5’11" 265 lbs. i am a former football player and track cyclist. as you might guess, i am not a world (or town!!) class climber, but i can downhill at freakish speed, much to the dismay of the good climbers!! i have buit my bike with components that i know can handle my heft and still i’ve been able to keep it a touch over 17 lbs, which for me is the most reasonable light weight possible. so, it can be done if you use your head, do the proper research and make sure your components and frame set are up to the task!

    joel pontbriand on

  • This is one of the most sensible prospectus on weight I’ve seen. I’m obviously not a weight weenie but I like how you folks have put logic into the Discussion. Quickest way to take pounds off the bike comes from the riders gut, not the bike. ☺️

    Barruch on

  • Great article. My mind is at ease.
    As a backpacking weight weenie I know ounces matter but as a casual mountain biker who wants to be riding my bike not repairing it, the answer is simple…GET IN SHAPE!

    Kurt Feeter on

  • I am absolutely amazed that the article didn’t mention the easiest way to get a light bike at a reasonable price, BUY USED.

    Since my racing days in the ‘70s, I’ve always ridden light bikes, but I’ve also done so without breaking the bank. It’s not difficult, if you’re willing to spend a bit of time and be strategic about it. Look for end-of-season sales and/or new bikes and components that are 1-3 model years old. Buy lightly used bikes, framesets and components on Craigslist, Ebay and…oh…yeah…The Pros Closet. Keep your bikes until there is a REAL reason to replace them, not just that something new and shiny is being dangled in front of your nose. For example, I’m still riding 10 speed on the road, because 11 speed didn’t offer any substantial advantage and I’m waiting for my stuff to wear out and the price of 12 speed gear to come down before I make a jump to it. When I built my fat bike in 2015, I decked it out with high-end 2×10 parts that were available cheaper than mid-range 11 speed and were lighter.

    Another place you can save a LOT of money is wheels. I’m riding, sub-1300 gram wheels with alloy rims that I built for under $250, with Kinlin Rims and lightweight hubs from Bikehubstore.com. They’re not aero or carbon, but they’re light, reliable and they cost 1/6 to 1/10 of the cost of typical carbon wheels. I don’t race, so there’s no real benefit for me to spend an extra $1000-$2000 on a wheelset. However, I’ll take all the help I can get on climbs, so a light alloy wheelset is just the ticket.

    Shop smart, save money and ride nice bikes.

    Brian Nystrom on

  • Great article, I am a 73 year old cyclist and I have owned around 40 bikes over the years. In the late 1970’s myself and the local bike shop owner sent our physical measurements to Alberto Masi and we had custom steel bikes made. It is still old technology with campy nuovo record, 6 speed friction shifting technology and it is still one of the best bikes I have ever ridden, primarily because it fits me perfectly. I can ride it all day without any aches or pains at the end of the ride. I currently have 7 bikes in my collection and alternate them on a regular basis depending on the day. I believe fit is the most important criteria for me and not unlike like skis, golf clubs and bikes you have to like what you are looking at. I have purchased high tech bikes in the past and sold them shortly after because I didn’t like the way they looked as I rode them. As we age fast is all relative, as long as I can get out on a regular basis and enjoy the freedom 2 wheels affords you I am are having a great day. As we speak I am combining new technology with a vintage frame to try and capture the best of both worlds. Congrats on repurposing bikes for others to enjoy. Stay safe in all you do. Cheers
    Tom L

    Tom Lewis on

  • I definitely went down the weight weenie rabbit hole. It was more a mental thing for me. I want my road bike light, around 15-16 pounds for my 170lb. (body) frame. On my mountain bike however,… I find that a super light climber will bite you in the hind on the downhill. On rough fast downs the bike gets skittish.

    Paul Fleshman on

  • For a mountain bike I would say a carbon frame and carbon bars make a pretty big difference over alloy in terms of ride comfort, along with weight savings. I also have a We Are One carbon wheelset (29×30mm with 2.5F, 2.4R tires). They seem smoother than the alloy wheelset that I previously had.

    Rick on

  • Just loose some weight. You can’y imagine what loosing 5lbs will do.

    Steve Nameth on

  • Great article & comments. Next time I contemplate a lighter component, I’ll calculate its percentage of total bike weight & total bike + rider weight.
    Thanks for the perspective !

    Stu on

  • I ride three bikes regularly, a Focus Team SL Sram Red 22, 6.8kg, a Teschner SL9 Sram Force 10, 6.8kg A Bianchi Pinella Sram Force 10 speed, 7.9kg. The Bianchi is around 5 kph slower than the Techner which in turn is about 2kph slower than the Focus. I put the additional speed of the Focus down to stiffness. It just feels faster and more responsive.

    Paul McNamara on

  • Your articles are informative and a great read. I guess I can be considered a weight weenie to some degree. I’m a 68 year old rider that weighs 190 lbs. My Rocky Mountain Instinct is on the heavy side but has a nice stable ride. My 2011 5.9 Madone is a light bike. I want to update soon and probably want to stay with a lighter road bike with nice wheels. Lots of nice bikes out there. I’m not sure if I want disc brakes. A bike with

    Dan Delk on


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