When is weight not weight?

We've recently had a spate of emails lately about weight limits, and a customer asked a while ago whether it was valid that some riders "ride lighter" than others. My answer to that is yes, absolutely.

As an example, I'll go back about 10 years to when I was project managing one of these ubiquitous 5 story mixed retail/residential buildings. The developers were always concerned about noise, and wanted to be sure that your upstairs neighbor walking around wouldn't unduly impact your peaceful home serenity. We mocked up a few insulation types and had people walk around above them to gauge sound transmission. One guy, who goes about 250, was positively dainty and you couldn't hear him at all. Another guy, about 80 pounds less, sounded like a herd of elephants on stampede. This phenomenon absolutely applies to bikes.

Some people are "internally" heavy about their riding. My go-to exemplar of this is reigning Everesting World Champ (for today, at least) Alberto Contador. The guy is a thrasher: tons of standing, lots of rocking the bike, and lots of high torque accelerations. The reason why I say "internally" heavy is that the way he and riders like him impart stress to the wheels is from the hubs out. 

Then there are "externally" heavy riders. These people aren't too concerned about hitting stuff and running it over, don't unweight when they go over rough patches, and generally just ride in a fairly tractor-like manner. That's not a value judgment, it just is what it is. You can watch people and know the type I'm talking about. The reason I call these people "externally" heavy is that their wheels are more at risk from things that are "outside" the wheel - potholes, crap road surface, etc. Some riders who are quite light "internally" are quite heavy "externally," and vice versa. It's also very possible for people to be light or heavy both ways. 

This phenomenon is a huge confounder in trying to establish weight limits. If a 240 pounder can ride daintily, and a 140 pound rider can ride super heavily, then what good does weight do as an indicator of any of this? Not a whole ton, admittedly. That's a huge part of our relative conservative-ness about this. People often unrealistically claim that your wheels should be spec'd only by someone who's very aware of your riding style. That leaves each of us in this world with between 3 and 12 people who are eligible to build our wheels. We see it as it's our role to make you aware that there are variances, and to tease out of you some info that you might not think to give us on your own. I'll also go back to our relative conservative-ness - then penalty for 4 more spokes is 22g, the penalty for an under built wheel can be much higher. We're not trying to belt-and-suspenders everyone to death, but it does address our lack of enthusiasm over the whole concept of "how few spokes can I get away with."

GCN also did a thing about the contribution of rotating weight versus other weight, and it's worth a look

Have a lovely Monday. 


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  • Todd on

    I totally believe what you’re saying. In any given season, I ride between 260 in the spring and 230 by end of summer. Arguably, I’m a bigger rider, but I ride with a lot of other riders my size who don’t have nearly the number of equipment issues (or repair expenses) I experience on the same group sets. After reading this article, I’m convinced I ride ‘heavy’. Alloy nipples on any wheel set. Forget it. I’m popping spokes every third ride. ( mountain). Alloy hubs, ride the cassettes halfway over the splines and they are a pain to remove. Hub bearings, broken crank teeth, broken chains, cassettes and chains that seem to wear way too fast. My mechanic likes to say I bring him the most interesting bike gore… This article explains some things I experience. Like dr-lha, I have adjusted what I buy to accommodate. Brass nipples, steel cassettes, going to try Onyx hubs starting next week so I can see if the stainless over alloy will prevent rolling over the splines. Thanks for the article!

  • Dave on

    Aaron, you’re certainly entitled to feel however you do, but this is the #1 topic on “bike internet” this week, with vigorous threads debating it on every forum I monitor, probably also the many more I don’t, and I’m sure on the GCN sites as well. One guy with a physics degree calls me an idiot for saying that the weight of alloy nipples is probably worth a few seconds up a big hill (Appalachian Gap, to be exact), and you have your perspective. Hashing the whole thing out here isn’t welcome, but there is plenty of debate out there around it. We’ve heard about this video and its topic a ton from customers, and will continue to do so for a while. It’s news.

  • Aaron on

    Dave – Thanks for responding.

    That video was pure marketing propaganda consisting of misinformation. I feel that presenting false videos without “endorsement or critique” as worth a look actually amounts to an endorsement. Many people will watch that video and aren’t able to sort through the lies because they don’t have degrees in physics. I feel that you genuinely do a great job of cutting through nonsense countless other times. Not calling out this trash in this instance feels complicit to the lies.

  • Dave on

    Aaron – Presented without endorsement or critique, purely as a heads up to a perspective that’s being presented. I couldn’t even guess what marketing you would think we’re doing with it.

  • Aaron on

    I love this blog. I’ve learned so much. I must say that the gcn video about rotating weight is a a propaganda piece based on flawed physics. If his logic was true, we’d all be riding around on 3kg 50mm deep al (or steel?) rims.

    I absolutely buy many of the other arguments about weight not being the most important thing. However, the gcn video you reference is the type of marketing I don’t expect from you.



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