Sunday, September 12, 2010


Contrary to appearances, bicycles are complex devices. They consist of many parts; each of these parts is made of different materials; each of those materials has different properties; each of those properties may make those parts suited a specific purpose; each of these parts may be made in different shapes. I could continue in this fashion, but you get the drift: it would take a rocket scientist, staring at a wall choked full of scribbled equations, to make sense of all of these variables.

Thankfully, we choose the bike we like without a thought to the rest. It’s only after riding the excellent machine for a while that it dawns on us that the ride could be smoother, the handling crisper, the frame lighter, the saddle a bit narrower in a certain place, the wheels less bouncy, the handlebar higher, a long ride a little more comfortable or far too comfortable for the suffering that is supposed to go along with racing. It takes some experience to recognize that the pain we thought was spread throughout the body actually resided in the head.
We, the riders, are the biggest variable of all. We are never satisfied with what we have, but we take great pleasure in our dissatisfaction.
The pursuit of a light road bicycle, for example, including our endless experimentation with the bike we have to make it lighter, is one of those never-ending quests that are part of bicycling lore. Bike discussion groups are full of talk about light bikes or light bike parts. There is usually a separate discussion thread entitled grammomania, or something like it, that is entirely devoted to such thought.
Why should anybody with a grain of salt be interested in making a bike lighter than it is? The answer is simple: a light bike, especially a light high performance bicycle, is a more efficient machine than a heavy one. It requires less effort, handles better, or gives a better feedback during fast descents. Yet, the solution to transform our bike into a lighter machine is, as with anything related to cycling, anything but simple.
This is a subject that is of great interest to me—I am far from immune from the maniacal pursuit of the elusive light bike. How should we go about making our own bike lighter?
First, a disclaimer: I know perfectly well that some builders out there have assembled extremely light bikes. These are fascinating projects: after seeking the most esoteric components and prototypes, or even designing and manufacturing their own, they have reduced the weight of fully viable bicycles to less than 8 lbs. Some have gone even further, breaking the 5-lbs. barrier. I am sure that with the learning accumulated through these valiant efforts, such records will become commonplace in a few years.
For most of us, however, going to such lengths is out of the question. We lack the endurance, the engineering background, or the resources to talk bicycle manufacturers into providing us with one-off components. Such prototypes are just that, something that is well conceived but still untested. Would it survive the use and abuse we subject our bikes on a daily basis? Does it make sense to invest so much money and effort to shave a couple of grams off something that is already feather light? Would we be able to notice the difference?
My interest is more mundane: during the next few weeks, I would like to find out how we can put together a very light bike, within reason, with what is available at the BikeNüt store.

No comments:

Post a Comment