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Recently I got into a small quibble with a commenter over one of our cartoons. The cartoon illustrated a mountain biker talking about how light his new ride was. The caveat though, was that it included thin tires and weak brakes. The reader said something like “any decent full-suspension mountain bike over 28-pounds belongs on a Wal-Mart shelf.”
“Oof,” I though. This person is highly misinformed about modern mountain bikes. I replied to his comment, letting him know that World Cup athletes would disagree. His response: something like, “Well duh, more weight means more gravity.” They missed the point, and I could have had a better argument, but my focus was already bouncing around emails and twenty different tabs, and arguing with people in comments sections is highly unproductive, generally speaking. Following this, I am inclined to believe that the quibble inspired this survey.
My initial reaction to their comment, because I had weighed my bike the other day was “well, my bike weighs 32lbs and it friggin’ rips. What’s he trying to say?” It’s almost like hearing someone in the halls on the way to biology class say something superficial about your girlfriend to someone else, and you get this urge to stick your neck out and defend her. In our world of mountain bikes, arguments about weight and geometry and such are pretty trivial, but it’s our world, and I love nuance, and that’s why I chose the word quibble in the beginning of this argument.
Moreso, I have heard similar statements from friends lately. “I’d buy that bike, but it’s too heavy.” “I don’t want anything over 30lbs.” In other words, “this could be an absolutely sick bike for me, but one pound over my self-imposed limit and it’s a hard no.”
The truth of the matter is, and after spending more time this year on a lot of different bikes, the last thing I usually notice, and that anyone would likely notice, is a bike’s weight. Okay, a lot of this isn’t going to apply to competitive XC racers. Yes, weight still matters for you. And yeah, bikepackers too. But, I imagine the reasoning behind caring about weight when shopping for a new bike though is that brands usually list the weight for builds in their specs online. For consumers, with search engine tabs of their own pulled up, each one with a different bike, weight becomes an easy way to eliminate one of the many choices out there.
I had a similar experience car shopping over this summer and the MPG of one vehicle over another is why I chose the model that I bought, although the V8 I drove was way more fun. Yes, weight can make a difference, but when it comes to efficiency of movement, there are several other factors that make an even bigger difference, just like in a car.
Within the past two years, geometry has changed across brands just as much as it changed the two years before that. Except that the general consensus of thinking, seems to be “steeper, longer, slacker” instead of “lower, longer, slacker.” Those seat tubes are on the up and up and so are our climbing positions. Weight is generally considered a negative attribute because it takes away from climbing capability, but I for one will probably never buy a trail bike with a seat tube angle slacker than 75°, because hanging off the back end of a bike and putting more weight and energy into the rear suspension is just an awful feeling. That is of course to say that XC bikes still have pretty slack STAs, because their HTAs are steeper than most trail bikes. But, remember, we’re not talking about XC bikes!
Suspension kinematics have continued to make incredible strides over the past few years as well. Horst links, DW-links, CBFs, single-pivots, and anything in between. The range of acceptable pedal bob has shrunken tremendously, wasting less and less energy in the rear shock, while maximizing the traction that could be sacrificed for efficiency. There’s a lot that buyers can do about weight after they’ve bought a bike. There’s less that they can do to make the suspension more efficient.
This brings us into the discussion of build kits and how they affect the weight of the bike. It’s not a secret that product managers often pick thin-walled tires with light casings to bring the production weight of a complete bike down. If you’re a lighter rider who isn’t tangling with rock gardens and casing square edges, this might not be an issue. But, it is an issue for a lot of riders who need something thicker to stand up to what their bike is capable of. Don’t ask Gerow about this, unless you’re ready for an earful, but it is relevant to the conversation.
A proper, dual-ply tire can easily weigh 200g more than a thinner version. For a set, that’s 400g, or 14oz, which is just shy of a pound. A pound can make a hell of a difference in saying yes or no to a bike if you’re just comparing them on paper, but for anyone who really enjoys pushing the limits of their bike, it’s a weight penalty they’ll gladly accept. Having to sweat a little more on the way to the top beats hunching over your bike on the side of the trail to put a tube in.
Ask a handful of Enduro World Series riders what their bikes weigh, and there’s a good chance that number will be in the mid-30s. Dual-ply tires, coil shocks, tire inserts, and frames made to withstand serious abuse add up. But, I’d say that enduro racing and the development that’s since come is why we have more efficient suspension and steeper seat tube angles.
On top of that, it’s normal to see EWS athletes running 34t chainrings because they have no problem pedaling 35lb bikes up massive grades all weekend long with gearing most of us wouldn’t entertain. Could they climb better with lighter tires, or by using air suspension over coil? Sure, but I’d also bet that none of them would say that their bikes are bad at climbing because they’re heavy. They spend enough time training to compensate for that, and they need to because there are still plenty of enduro courses with rogue ascents smack dab in the middle. The advances in suspension technology and geometry have greatly compensated for a bike’s weight these days.
We don’t all have time to train like an EWS athlete to overcome a heavy bike, but we don’t all have time to train like an XC athlete either, where a pound or two does make a difference, and since most of us aren’t pro-enduro-ers, we don’t all need coil shocks and 12-pound wheelsets and there are lighter, more durable components than ever.
By all means, if weight is still a sticking point for you, go with the ultra-thin rubbers, and lightest carbon wheels available. Those definitely aren’t sold at Wal-Mart — yet. But, everything has its tradeoffs and I’d prefer holding my riding partners back because I’m the slow one on the heavier bike over having them wait for me in the middle of an epic downhill because I needed to remedy a cracked component or punctured tire.