Weight Weenies

I spent a number of years selling bikes for a living, and I found that, even though we know better now, people are still fixated on the weight of their bike. They spend hundreds and thousands of dollars to elide grams from their frames, their wheels, even their handlebars. The end result is pursuing one thing, lightness, at the expense of others, like comfort, rideability, durability, etc. As if those grams will mean something on the side of a steep hill when what you ate for lunch, not that day, but every day makes a bigger difference.

Also, what you ate for lunch doesn’t matter. I hope we all know by now that our weight shouldn’t be the driver of our fitness goals. Obviously, weight can play a role in our ability to move, but when we put it first, we set ourselves up for failure and miss the point of overall fitness.

Above, a classic photo of drillium, heavily drilled out components that aim to shed grams by brute force. This was the state of weight weenie art in the ’70s. Some of it is really beautiful. A lot of it broke.

In the cycling world, we call the people who are obsessed with the weight of every part of their bike, “weight weenies.” Their preoccupation can overshadow their interest in actually riding, and it certainly keeps them from riding a lot of objectively great bikes. There is an infinitesimally small percentage of riders on the planet that needs to think this way.

I recall having long conversations with riders who felt aggrieved that the bike they bought didn’t weigh what they thought it should. They all ended the same way, me saying, “Ride the bike. Just ride the bike.”

People talk about weight, I believe, because it looks like a simple number. Less is good. More is bad. We can say what it is, and that has some power over our thinking, even though there is a lot of context around weight that can make the number itself almost meaningless. Put another way, I know plenty of “skinny” people who are not fit, and I know plenty of “bigger” folks who would rip your legs off on a ride or a trail run.

I’d actually argue that obesity is less of an issue than immobility. If you can get people mobile, you don’t need to talk to them about their weight. Actually, just don’t talk to them about their weight. And our fixation on this simple number drags a lot of people into conversations about weight loss who don’t, strictly speaking need to lose weight. They need to move more.

Obviously, this is a freighted topic. People get emotional and defensive and opinionated. I am not trying to tell anyone they need to gain or lose weight, and I’m not trying to ignore the very serious health problems that can arise from carrying too much or too little weight. What I am saying, is that we need to think less in numbers and more in actions.

Obesity is a symptom of immobility. The weight of a bike, too heavy OR too light, can be a symptom of poor design or construction or fit. It’s not the weight, per se, that is the problem.

The ostensibly overweight people I’ve worked with on fitness, cycling-related or otherwise, have all struggled to lose weight in raw numbers. But all of them gained mobility and cardiovascular capacity. I never talked about their numbers with them. We only talked about how to move more and better. This translates perfectly to the bike, in my mind. Forget, mostly, what a bike weighs. Ride it. See how it feels, how it fits, how it handles. Weight is shorthand for something that can only be writ longhand, a code that, once cracked, doesn’t tell you much of anything at all.

Do me two favors. First, tell me what you think, in the comments, below. Be nice(ish). Second, share this with your cycling friends. We need more folks participating in our TCI community. And thanks.

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  1. Hautacam says

    I am a recovering weight weenie and my heaviest bike is the one i ride the most frequently and the furthest. And it is objectively heavy for a road bike in 2022, probably 25-27 pounds all kitted out. Haven’t actually weighed it, though. I think there is some cosmic justice in there somewhere.

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