From the first time you put shoe to pedal, the quest for a lighter ride has been a part of your life. In the early days of your love affair with cycling, the need to drop weight was manifested as a simple desire to make things easier. As time went on and attention could be shifted from your exploding heart rate to keeping your buddies in sight, thoughts of lighter wheels and carbon cranksets began to take form. While outfitting your rolling freedom machine with expensive carbon components is what we all want to do, but few can afford, there are cheaper ways to drop weight off of your bike.
Here we present several options for cutting grams and saving money doing it. Some of these methods are well-known, while some are often overlooked. All will help get you up the hill faster without costing much more than a round of drinks at the post-ride recovery station.
Jettison the Ballast—Ask any backpacker and they’ll tell you, water is the heaviest thing they carry. Unless hiking across the desert—or anywhere in California this year—backpackers carry one or two bottles at a time and take advantage of rivers and streams by carrying a lightweight water filter. While there is no reason to carry a water filter on a ride and stop every time a road side water source presents itself, packing less water is the cheapest and easiest way to drop weight from your bike. You can always take advantage of gas stations and quickie marts to top off your bottles.
Simply switching from 24-ounce to 21-ounce water bottles will save you ten grams in bottle weight, along with 90 grams in water weight per bottle. By switching to two smaller bottles you’ll drop 200 grams without spending more than a few bucks. It likely goes without saying that you shouldn’t drink any less than you normally would, just that you shouldn’t carry more than you need.
Go Old School—Swap out your CO2 cartridges and chuck for a hand pump. Be advised, you will be trading an inestimable amount of convenience in order to save several night crawlers worth of weight. However, you will save money over the long haul, generate less trash, and burn some extra calories at the same time. Here is the weight breakdown:
- Two 16 gram cartridges plus chuck = 139 grams; number of available inflations = two
- One 25 gram cartridge plus chuck = 100 grams; number of available inflations = one 29″ tire, 1.5 26″ tires
- Lezyne Road Drive ABS Alloy M pump = 108 grams (optional mount adds 13 grams); number of available inflations = infinite
- Blackburn Airstik SL pump = 60 grams (optional mount adds 14 grams); number of available inflations = infinite
- Lezyne Alloy Drive ABS S pump = 112 grams (optional mount adds 13 grams); number of available inflations = infinite
…and the cost breakdown:
- Innovations Air Chuck Elite with 16g Refill with extra 16 gram cartridge = $21; yearly costs = $72 at two flats per month; total = $93
- Air Chuck with 25 gram cartridge = $23.50; yearly costs = $22 at 0.33 flats per month (you’re a mountain biker, you run tubeless!) = $45
- Lezyne Road Drive Alloy M pump = $45; yearly costs = $0 at up to a billion flats per month; total = $45
- Lezyne Alloy Drive ABS S pump = $45; yearly costs = $0 at up to a billion flats per month; total = $45
If you are a roadie, you’ll begin to realize a monetary advantage after four months, Ride fat tires? It will take a year to come out even cost-wise, but after that you’ll have extra cash in your pocket for more weight-saving items.
Get Minimalized—Grips and handle bar tape present excellent weight-saving opportunities for the discerning cyclist, with riser bar-users standing to gain, or lose, the most, but for the true pavement-riding weight weenie, cutting back on the bulk is still worth the effort. Fortunately, our lightest bar tape, the classic Cinelli Cork Handlebar Tape, offers equal servings of weight savings and comfort at a mere 56 grams for two full rolls. With added weight comes more cushioning, so it’s up to you if the extra 44 grams of plush packed into the Cannondale Pro Grip 3.5mm Handlebar Tape (94 grams for two rolls) is worth it.
Mountain biking gramophobes should absolutely take advantage of the weight savings offered by the Lizard Skins 30.3mm DSP Grips, which weigh in at a mere 27 grams per pair including plugs and lock tape. That’s half as much as the already light ESI Racer’s Edge Silicone Grips (50 grams per pair), and an astonishing 96 grams less than the perennial favorite Rouge Lock-On Grips from ODI (123 grams per pair).
To Tube or Not to Tube—Much has been made of tubeless technology and the benefits granted in the form of increased traction, decreased flats, and less rolling weight. How much weight will you really save, though, and is tubeless the way to go all the time? Tubeless road set-ups are not going to save much, if any weight compared to a traditional tire/tube assemblage, and in some cases add weight. However, the benefits of increased traction and better flat protection are worth it to many riders. Sealed tubeless rims will also add a bit of weight. For example Shimano Dura Ace 9000 C24 wheels see about a 100 gram difference between the tubeless and non-tubeless versions. If using a “tubeless ready” wheelset—such as a HED Ardennes+ model—which use tape to seal spoke holes rather than an aluminum strip, weight differences are negligible.
- Schwalbe One Tubeless tire 700 x 23c (288 grams) + One ounce of tubeless tire sealant (25 grams) = 313 grams
- Schwalbe One Clincher non-tubeless 700 x 23c (217 grams) +ultra light Michelin road tube (75 grams) = 292 grams
- With a standard road tube, the total weight jumps to 325 grams, creating a weight advantage in favor of tubeless with greater flat protection.
Mountain bikers see more of an advantage, mostly because the technology has been around longer and thus, solutions to weight and compatibility issues have been sorted out. Tubeless Ready tires are ubiquitous, and are often compatible with standard rims. Many riders run non-tubeless rims and tires without tubes all the time. Don’t forget to add sealant, though.
The one exception to tubeless tire dominance in mountain biking is seen on downhill bikes, where slipping a bead either on a rim strike or cranked turn is common. When a tire bead temporarily loses contact with the rim, a tubeless tire loses air and sees a greater amount of deformation, while an inner tube will maintain the tire’s desired shape and won’t lose air at all.
Since most MTB tires are offered as Tubeless Ready—pure XC race tires being the exception— the weight savings comes from using sealant instead of tubes. At least 100 grams of rotational weight are savable by going tubeless, along with the aforementioned advantages of better traction and flat protection.
- 29 x 2.4 tube: ultra light = 164 grams; standard = 216 grams
- Two ounces of tubeless tire sealant (50 grams) + WTB Alloy Tubeless Valve Stems (3.5 grams per wheel) = 53.5 grams
Going tubeless on your mountain bike is a no-brainer!
Subtract the Little Stuff—Simply paying attention to your bike build can yield significant weight savings. This is one instance where you need to sweat the details!
- Trim excess seatpost length
- Keep cable housing length to it’s functional minimum
- Use a light star-fangled nut in your steerer tube
- Stick light bar end plugs in your handlebar or lose them altogether, although this is a potential safety issue
- Use the smallest saddle bag you can, making it impossible to carry too much gear
- For the ultimate in weight-weeniedom, swap out all your heavy steel bolts with alloy or titanium fasteners
- Use a lightweight chain stay protector; ultra light tube or use-specific adhesive sheet