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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 (0.004%) 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.


  • 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

  • Good article !! I agree with Philip.. but at our age ( 59 + 1 !) I’m thrilled to be out getting mileage in . I ride both steel and a carbon fiber bike .. Both have their place , in my opinion …

    Tim Bauer on

  • Good article. I changed my wheels on my Felt alum F45R to a lighter set shaving over a pound of rotating weight. The response was immediately noticeable. Recently I purchased a new Bianchi carbon framed bike. It came with a heavier wheelset and I am replacing them. The carbon fiber bike is lighter but most importantly, it rides much better in that it dampens road imperfections.

    Daniel L Koch on

  • Bike weight really does matter ! Talking about fitness begs the question, because no matter what your fitness, you will expend less energy (burn less fuel) on a lighter bike than you will on a heavier one. And it doesn’t matter that you can’t “notice” it — the lighter weight (mass) is real. You will be able to ride a little bit faster and a little bit longer, no matter what your fitness. Whether it is worth paying for a lighter bike or components depends on your priorities. Some people find it worthwhile to make sacrifices in lower priority expenditures in order to accomplish more important objectives. My built up Cervello R3 Sl frame with Lew B+ carbon rims and other custom components weighs 12 pounds (without pedals).

    Henry Parsons on

  • Nicely put. Ride quality and fit should be the number one priority. Out of all the bikes I’ve owned over the last thirty years, my steel DeRosa Primato with EL OS tubes has the best road feel hands down….

    Gary on

  • Great article and I totally agree with all the viewpoints of the riders. I’ve been riding/racing since the late 70’s and have had many high end bikes during this time. Crits in the early 80’s in Southern CA were often referred to as the Rice Crispy Crits, as just about all of the high end Campy components were drilled out machined etc and that “Snap, Crackle,Pop” was heard in many races to the tune of “DNF”. I had my own version of this with an OLMO SLX that with all the light stuff weighed 17 lbs which was pretty light for the time but, it was twitchy, bounced around a lot and was downright scary coming down from Big Bear Lake! I remember Andy Hampsten when asked about the first Look carbon frame said: “The only thing that scares me more than climbing on a non carbon bike is descending on one”. True, carbon has gotten a lot better, but a really light bike takes some really good skills on a descent. I also had some really light Mavic hubs with 240 gram 28 hole rims that were really light for their time but found that though the accelerated really fast they decelerated just as fast so still the best weight upgrade there is some trade off. I recently purchased an Eddie M. Mourenx from the Pro’s Closet and made the choice when I listened to a Promo from Merckx with the Cannibal saying, “light bikes aren’t always the best…” after 39 years experience I couldn’t agree more!

    Tom Outwin on

  • Thank you so much for this brilliant and informative article. The bike industry is always trying to push the latest and greatest on to us because frankly that’s the way they make money, however to me, a 63 year old man who rides for both mental and physical fitness, I don’t have to ride what the pros ride in the Tour de France. My bikes are alloy with decent components and quality lighter wheels. And yes, wheels make a tremendous difference. I have been saying to a lot of my riding buddies who spend thousands and thousands of dollars on “the latest and greatest “ that it is not always about the bike but it is about THE RIDE!!!. Your article explains this very well. Again Thank You and well said. Enjoy your rides!!!

    Philip Lindgren on

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