Mass Obsession

Whilst I primarily see cycling as a mode of transport, there are many for whom it is more of a sporting or leisure pursuit. Plenty of cyclists use their bikes primarily for transportation purposes, typically commuting, where the bicycle offers them a time advantage over driving, walking or public transport during peak hours. As sport-cycling is currently the dominant image of cycling sold by bike shops in the UK, it is common to see people riding for a wide variety of purposes on a narrow selection of bikes, typically racing (or road) bikes, mountain bikes, or the horrific merging of the two; the hybrid.
Anyone who gets on a bike to get around is a part of the solution, regardless of the type of bike they choose. After all, even a jump bike with a single low gear and no provision for fitting a saddle is still a more suitable method of getting around town than a single person driving a car designed to carry five. However, at times I do find certain behaviours of other cyclists a bit baffling.
Obsessing over the mass of your bike, also referred to as being a “Weight weenie,” is particularly baffling when taken to extremes, especially on a bike ridden as a mode of transport. I can understand not wanting to carry a significant amount of extra weight unnecessarily, but I cannot fathom why anyone would choose not to have a rack on the bike they ride to work, just to save a tiny bit of weight. Often this means carrying a rucksack on your back instead of a pannier on your bike, the discomfort and inefficiency of carrying your luggage this way is a pretty poor trade-off compared to the tiny bit of extra weight a rear rack adds. Mudguards are another bicycle component which many choose to do without, the need for a change of clothes after even a shortest ride on a wet road, (even after the rain has stopped) to save the added mass of a pair of mudguards seems utterly baffling.
Another seldom-considered factor is what I’d like to call “Weight compensation.” Common cycle wisdom states that less weight gives the potential for a higher speeds, but it also allows the rider to achieve the same speed with a little bit less effort. Safety interventions such as seat-belts and ABS are supposed to make people safer, but often end up subconsciously encouraging people to take greater risks because of the increase in perceived safety. reducing the mass of your bike will probably just end up making you use less effort to travel at the same speed. The body is a dynamic thing, and it won’t take long for it to adapt to the reduced demands placed on it; take off that bike rack and eventually you become that tiny bit more feeble as you settle back to the pace you were travelling at before, losing the muscle strength you once had. I’ve seen this realisation on the faces of many a roadie when I’m out on the Yuba Mundo. The bike alone weighs in excess of three times as much as a good racing bike, but as they slowly overtake me they see I’m only travelling a few km/h slower than they are, on a huge bike which puts the rider in an upright position to boot.
The rider matters a lot more than the ride.

16 thoughts on “Mass Obsession

  1. After cycling across town with a brolly sticking out the front of my boris bike, I don't think the bag thing is all about weights – I think it's actually more about narrowness and filtering through the traffic!

  2. Mudguards, racks and panniers are seen as old-fashioned, and that means many people won't use them even if they are practical.Drop handlebars seem to suffer the same fate too, except on road bikes. Their narrowness and variable hand positions mean they are ideal on tourers/commuters too, but with many of today's cyclists having started on MTBs they won't countenance them.Another thing I've noticed is the number of absurd frame designs on ordinary bikes, especially cheaper ones. The need to be different and to avoid any suspicions of fuddy-duddyness is very important, and if that means a daft arrangement of frame tubes, then so be it.

  3. I have a rack, but I find a rucksack far more handy than a pannier when running around once I've locked the bike up. For a longer ride I might bungee the rucksack to the bike, but for a quick trip into town wearing a rucksack really isn't the hardship you seem to think it is. Horses for courses I guess.

  4. Racks are very handy but it's the mudguards thing that amazes me. After a 6 months or so of cycle commuting on a different bike without mudguards, my Brother in Law has finally conceded that he needs some & fast – even if it does have Suspension forks, it'll be wearing full mudguards asap, not for fashion but for common sense!A wet road is bad enough, but the number of people I see on our local canal towpath pedalling hell for leather & getting covered in mud…a towpath that is basically a dog toilet in places…ah well…as you say Tim…horses for courses ;>D

  5. Does wanting to lose 15kg before I finally commit to a CF road bike make me a weight weenie too? My own personal thoughts are it is possible to get too carried away with trimming grammes off the weight of a bike. The ££ difference between an 8.2kg and a 7.5kg CF road bike could easily be £1000.00+. And that doesn't always mean the components are any more effecient either. I think that kind of cost is fine if you have more money than sense or if you are a top end professional cyclist where fractions of a second count but for most weekend roadies with aspirations it's probably as much about the image as the performance.Anyway, i'm still worried how i'll look in lycra when I do commit but if i've gotta wear it i'm going to make it a statement 😉

  6. I couldn't care less about other people's opinions of my bike. It's got mudguards, a bike rack and flat bars – making it one of your hated hybrids – and, far more importantly, hub gears. Why anyone persists with derailleurs is beyond me, they are crap pieces of design. The bike rack is made by Top Peak, and the bag which sits on top of it slides off along a lipped plate making it very easy to remove and carry. This is a far better arrangement than panniers or the dreaded ruck sack. It's taken me 10 years of commuting to arrive at this ideal design and I believe it to be the ideal commuting machine. OK, it costs about £1100 to buy, but that doesn't seem excessive in this column. It isn't heavy, it goes like s**t leaving a shovel, doesn't need gear rebuilds every three or six months, is a dream to ride and given its restrained 'look' – there is a remarkable lack of cables and nasty, muck, oily bits hanging off it – it looks decidedly more Audi than Skoda. So, compromise if you must and buy a road bike, but I'm happy with what I've got. The Style Police can take a running jump off any cliff of your choosing. Who cares what they think? I've got my ideal ride, making me a very much happier rider.

  7. I just happen to like my hybrid very much! It has space on the bars for my bell, my cycle computer and my phone, and bar-ends give me different hand positions, too.I wouldn't dream of removing either my mud guards, or my rack as they make the bike so much more practical.I tend to agree with Anonymous, except I cannot justify spending the sort of money that would be needed to get me hub gears with the same sort of range that I get with my derailleurs, however much I may want hub gears!

  8. @grimnorth,Fair point, although plenty of bags exist which make the bike no wider than the handlebar@Tim,Panniers can be impractical once off the bike, unless you are lucky enough to have one of these, perhaps the most bizarrely uncommon and obvious pannier innovation ever. As for the TfGM survey results, they are entirely predictable. Fear of motor traffic is the main thing putting people off cycling. Lack of shower facilities is way down the list, as most people wouldn't want to ride a bike in a manner which meant they needed to shower afterwards.

  9. I ride a road bike, primarily for a short commute, and it has no mudguards or rack, and I carry a change of clothes in a rucksack. So I guess I must baffle you.The thing is though, I don't do this because I'm obsessed by the weight of my bicycle; I couldn't care less about the weight of my bicycle, or anything else about it.Quite the opposite – as it's primarily a means of transport my only concern is that it will get me to work in the morning, and home again at night. Sure, I also enjoy the process of cycling once I'm on it. But between journeys it's fair to say I don't think about my bike at all. (If you find this hard to imagine, just work out how much of your conscious thought you give to your toaster outside of your breakfast time, and that's how much thought I give to my bike.)So while my life might be slightly improved by panniers (though, in all honesty, I have no idea what the problem of riding with a rucksack is meant to be?), and my pants would definitely be drier if I had mudguards (though I'd still carry a change of clothes in any case as I don't like cycling in my work trousers (because they wear out in the groin much quicker with the pedaling I find)) making these improvements would require me to spend some time, money, and mental effort on making improvements to a bike that I'll probably have to replace soon anyway once it gets nicked (I've gone through four bikes in the last seven years, and this one is already three and a half years old, so surely will be pinched before too much longer). So it's not going to happen anytime soon.Which, with all due respect, leaves me wondering whether this mass obsession really is in my mind or yours? By the way, what are hub gears?

  10. @crapbournemouthcyclist,I remember reading about that a while ago. Very interesting result indeed.@Tim,Not giving a crap about the specifics of your bike is one of the hallmarks of a true cycling culture, although I cannot count myself amongst the few who feel this way about their bikes, which is an especially rare condition in the UK due to our rather lacking cycle culture. I do not think that your choices reflect an obsession with weight, rather that they reflect a lack of thought about the bicycle itself, which you see as a mere tool. This is a perfectly valid viewpoint, in a country with a cycling culture you probably would have ended up with a bike which came fitted with a rack, mudguards, kickstand etc by default, in the UK, you end up with a bike whose componentry choices were heavily influences by sport-cycling, which in the absence of any real cycling culture is the dominant force influencing cycle design.

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