Put your weight on it

My recent post regarding shopping for bikes elicited quite a few comments which pleased me to no end – thanks everyone for your tips and advice. I still have a long way to go and many more bikes to try out before buying my next bike.

A topic that often comes up when talking about bikes is weight. To paraphrase from the good book of Sheldon Brown: A 20 pound bike is not 33% lighter than a 30 pound bike. A 20 pound bike + 150 pound cyclist is 5% lighter than a 30 pound bike + 150 pound cyclist. Or something like that. I couldn’t find the quote right away and I’m feeling google-lazy [this is a new term I'm trying to popularize - it means "I could probably find the answer to this question in 10 seconds by using google, but it could take up to 10 minutes and I'm too lazy to do that right now." An appropriate response to someone's google-laziness is to hit them with a link from lmgtfy.com.]  Let’s keep Sheldon’s wisdom in mind, as I relate today’s events.

It was a scorcher out there. Yesterday’s high was 94 and today wasn’t any better. However, I spent much of yesterday indoors, and I wanted to spend a little bit of time in the saddle today. Nothing too crazy, I just wanted to get out and ride a little to see how I could handle riding in the heat. We were a little low on some staple items that can best be purchased at Trader Joe’s. It’s about 11 miles away, so off I went with a shopping list and both panniers.

As I made my way through the hot-as-an-oven west side, I passed the White Electric Coffeeshop, where I noticed one of the bike mechanics from Small LBS #1*. I overheard him say to his companion, “man it’s too hot to ride a bike today.” That’s right, I’m more hardcore than a bike mechanic. DEAL WITH IT! He was right, but once I reached the Washington Secondary Bike Path it seemed almost 10 degrees cooler than the streets. I’ve complained about how the path is straight, flat and a little boring, with all potential views blocked by trees. Well, I wasn’t complaining about the tree cover today as I’m sure it was one of the main reasons for the cooler temperature. I’d given the bike a thorough cleaning yesterday (aside from firework-viewing, it was the only time I spent outside), so things were running very smoothly and I kept a decent pace despite the heat. With a little shade and a 15-18 mph breeze, 94 degrees didn’t seem so bad!

I reached TJ’s and loaded up on the usual goodies. Really loaded up. I even bought a big ol’ jug of maple syrup. I carefully arranged all of the goodies and headed back on the trail. I was much, much slower. I was working as hard as before, but I was in a lower gear than on the way there and my speedometer confirmed that I was significantly slower. I was still moving along and everything felt stable, but I was slow. It may not be fashionable to say it in some cycling circles, but I like to be fast.

Here’s everything I bought at TJ’s:

Trader Joe's Haul. Next thing you know, I'll be posting videos of stuff I buy just like a teenage girl.

Note the scale in the background – that’s right, I weighed everything. IN GRAMS.

Then I converted it to American – it was over 15 pounds! So, now I know – 15 pounds slows me down significantly. It wasn’t unpleasant to ride with 15 extra pounds (at least for 10 miles), but it was slower, and I can’t really imagine doing it on a 60 plus mile ride. As a side note, I really think I need to get a new rack. My panniers were starting to bend under the weight and they got dangerously close to my spokes on a few bumps. I tried to take a picture while I was rolling, but no luck, I only got this:

I guess I could have stopped and taken a picture, but then I would have lost my 12 mph breeze. I need to find a rack with a little more steel in the back to hold those panniers out.

So, now I know what 15 pounds of extra weight feels like. With that in mind, I headed to Big LBS #1 for a little bike shopping. I walked in and said that I wanted to talk about road bikes. The young man’s first question was, “How important to you is the ability to have a rack and fenders on your bike?” Me: “Pretty important, I also want to look at touring bikes.” So we talked about what I expect to do with the bike, etc. Unfortunately, there are very few road bikes these days that have eyelets for racks and/or fenders. In fact, in this large LBS that has (I’m guessing) well over 100 bikes on the floor, they only had 1 real “touring” bike, a Raleigh Sojourn. It was probably a size too large for me, but I took it for a short spin. It seems to be a pretty well-equipped bike with a decent level of components including disc brakes, Tiagra front, Deore rear, Dura-ace bar end shifters, a Brooks saddle. It even comes standard with fenders and a rack. But man, the thing was heavy. And too big for me (and I don’t really want the added expense and lack of serviceability of disc brakes). The guy and I talked about cyclocross bikes which often have fender and rack eyelets (go figure), but they didn’t have any in an appropriate size. We looked around some more and found a Fuji Newest 1.0 that was in my size. It has a higher level of components than my current ride and it has rack eyelets. I gave it a quick spin and the difference between the Fuji and the Raleigh was immediately noticeable. It was fast, and the geometry seemed about right for me (with a 54 cm frame). It has an adjustable stem, STI shifters, 105 rear deraileur, yadda yadda. What can I say, I kinda liked how it rode. Only a longer test ride will tell. So, for now it looks like it’s on the short list.

This brings me to my last point of the evening. It’s been a little less than a year since I sold my car and started thinking more seriously about bikes. In that time, I’ve noticed that there seem to be two main schools of thought on what is “good” in cycling. There’s what is popularly known as the “retro-grouch” school as personified by Grant Peterson of Rivendell Bicycle Works. It’s tenets: Bikes should be made from steel; they should have lugs; frames must always include braze-ons and eyelets for racks and fenders in order to make the bike as useful as possible; lightweight is not good; if you are concerned about weight you should train more so you don’t notice the weight of your bike; a steel bike will last for decades while the structure of an aluminum or carbon bike will deteriorate and possibly fail catastrophically; wear wool, don’t wear lycra; (and something that really suprised me) clipless pedals are useless. Take a little time to look through the articles on the Rivendell site for more details on retro-grouchiness.

Then there is the modern bike manufacturer school: make it lighter, make it faster, every cyclist wants to ride like a racer, eylets are unnecessary on a true road bike, wheels must have as few spokes as possible, aggressive geometry is best; always wear lycra; slap some flashy graphics on that frame and give it a bitchin’ name! Take a look at any cycling magazine or the ad copy of a major bicycle manufacturer for this particular school.

Is there nothing in between these two poles? Nothing for the cyclist who wants to enjoy a nice ride in the country and be neither weighed down by a heavy bike nor bent over like a speed demon? While the retro-grouch rails against a cycling industry promoting its new-fangled technology with ridiculous ad copy, isn’t he just doing the same thing, but from a reactionary viewpoint?

So, my head continues to spin. The only way to solve it is to keep testing more bikes. I still haven’t visited Large LBS #2. I’ll try to do that soon to see what they have on offer. Meanwhile – I’m glad I wasn’t headed southbound on I-95 today:

As they say down south on Aquidneck: Newport society is divided between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have yachts.’ Or in this case, ‘use-ta-have-yachts.’

* I’ve decided to start a policy of semi-anonymizing the Local Bike Shops that I frequent. Readers in Rhode Island will be able to recognize them by my descriptions, and for those outside of the area, the name of the LBS is not really important. I’m not sure why I’m doing this – to avoid showing up in their google searches? To keep my own anonymity? Maybe it would be better to be forthright in my discussion of my dealings with these local businesses. Anyone have thoughts on this issue?

They are: Small LBS #1; Small LBS #2; Large LBS #1; Large LBS #2. The numbers have nothing to do with anything other than the fact that I frequent the #1s more than I frequent the #2s. So to speak.

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4 responses to “Put your weight on it

  1. I’m 200 pounds, and I rarely go for rides just to ride, so I almost always have cargo with me.

    I have this rack which I love, and PB just sent me their new KOKO rack, which I reviewed here. I also like it, but prefer the (only slightly heavier) SunLite, really. What both of them have, though, is an additional rear support to keep my bags out of my spokes.

    I’m certainly no weight weenie, but I can attest to the fact that the weight of the bike makes a difference. The most extreme example of this was the 43-pound 8-speed Urbana bike I tested out for a month or so. It could haul serious cargo, though.

    • Noah, that KOKO looks nice on your bike. I have the same Axiom panniers as you, so I’ll definitely keep this one in mind as well as the Sunlite. I was hoping that an LBS would have an appropriate rack, but no one seemed to. It’s always nice to try before you buy, but seeing the pictures of your Axiom bags on the KOKO is convincing enough for me.

      I don’t think I want to sacrifice rack eyelets for weight, but some of the touring bikes just seem too heavy (or at least that Raleigh sure did). Some people might say that a lighter-weight (23-25 lbs) road/sport bike (like the Fuji Newest 1.0) is incapable of handling a fully-loaded touring rig – i.e. front & rear panniers, camping equipment, 70 lbs worth of stuff. But when I really think about it, the likelihood that I’ll actually go on a fully-loaded tour is pretty low. I probably haven’t camped in over 15 years. I can see myself doing a ‘credit-card’ tour for 3 or 4 days – but probably just once a year. Do I really want to get a bike that’s perfect for something that I only do once a year? That’s like buying a 7 passenger SUV to haul a boat once a year.

      The search continues – let’s see what the cyclocross category yields.

  2. I recommend a training regimen of carrying at least 15 Pound-Plus bars at any time.

    • Maybe I should just carry a disassembled Guru Photon around with me as a training regimen. I could carry it along with 3 TJ’s Pound Plus bars and still have less weight than I carried yesterday.

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