When is weight not weight?

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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As a big guy (currently bigger even than your example of a big guy), I’ve got used to riding and ignoring weight limits. If in fact if I paid attention to weight limits, I’d be stuck on my couch getting even bigger, instead of riding 100+ miles a week.

I’ve also got used to the fact that most road bikes that are sold in bike shops are going to have wheels which will likely fall apart under me, especially if they have silly numbers of spokes like 20 or 24 in the back, so buying a bike I have to include an extra $ amount to replace the wheels.

That said local builders I have talked to have often looked at the number I give them for my weight, and told me I need 36/36 spoke wheels with massive heavy duty rims (like Velocity Chukkers), which often will end up with a hefty price tag and a >2kg wheel set. I’m not sure if I “ride light” or if these guys can’t see beyond the concept of a rider being in the 150lb range, and think that they need to build a tank to support someone like me. I guess part of it is also that they think that if I wanted to loose weight of my bike, maybe I should eat less cheeseburgers rather than have light wheels, aimright?

What I’ve found is this: 32 in the back works for me, even with machine built wheels. I’ve got some 28 spoke handbuilt wheels that are holding up fine (they’re Hunt Gravel wheels I picked up locally off Craigslist for $250 with tires and rotors!)

My lightest bike is the one equipped with 28/32 November wheels, which you guys built will full knowledge of my weight, and they’ve been rock solid for 10k+ miles. So in that case I’m good with the extra weight 32 spokes brings.


Adam – Exactly. Using your body’s suspension system.


Does “unweighting” the bike mean to stand and make your arms and legs loose in order to better absorb the rough road?


Going to pass this on to my External friends who are always breaking parts because they are too lazy/stupid to scan ahead the road surface


22g…that’s less than half a chocolate eclair, boys & girls. Just resist shoving one of those into your pie-hole before riding and go with those 4 extra spokes.

Hoogle Da Boogle

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