When I built my bike, I had to do tons of research to find parts that were not only light weight, but also strong and durable enough to get me by for years to come. However, pretty much any bike can be made lighter for relatively little money, and sometimes without spending a dime.
If you wonder what the point is in going light, there are actually a few reasons. For one, the lower your bike’s weight, the more efficient it becomes. Less effort has to be put out by the rider to accomplish the same amount of work; that also means you can accomplish more putting out the same amount of work. As weight lowers and your output remains the same, you’ll ride faster and your bike will be easier to maneuver. And easier to maneuver also means that it will be easier to put into your car, or onto a bike rack, or up the stairs of your apartment complex.
First on the agenda: chop it up!
You won’t make huge weight savings by removing unneeded material. But a gram is a gram (and 114 grams is a quarter pound!), so if you don’t needed it, cut it off. If you’re a smaller guy or an average size female, you probably don’t need the entire width of your handlebar. Experiment with different hand placement and see if bringing your hands closer together feels more comfortable. If a narrow bar seems to fit you better, simply remove your grips (actually, that’s not always simple, but you can manage), use tape to mark off where you want to cut, and use a hacksaw with a metal-cutting blade to get rid of as much bar as you want. I recently cut 3/4" off each end of my wife’s bar to fit her better, and lost 25 grams of weight. Since the bar was already chopped down from it’s original size a few years back, total weight loss could have been over 50 grams. It doesn’t sound like much, but everything adds up.
Grips are usually made wide enough to fit the larger hands out there, but that doesn’t mean you have to leave them that size. If your hands are narrow, the reach from your normal hand position to the shifter or brake lever can be awkward. After pulling the grips off, use sharp scissors to get rid of how ever much width you’d like. You may lose 10 grams or so, and having a closer reach to the brakes and shifter will also improve your ride. If you put some real thought into it, you could cut down your grips when you take them off to cut the bar down.
Your bike probably comes with a 350mm +/- seatpost. Chances are, you don’t need all of that post down inside your bike frame. Once you’ve ridden the bike awhile and have found your perfect seat height, mark the post with some tape where it exits the frame. Then remove it from the bike and chop off all but 6-8" below the tape. Considering posts are made of pretty thick, strong material, the weight savings could be substantial. To keep the frame from being under too much stress, though, don’t remove too much. Only leave what you need.
At this point, the chopping is almost over, but there’s still on more place you could save weight. If you look between the stem and the head tube, you may find the bike manufacturer placed an inch or more worth of spacers to raise the bar. This makes for a more comfortable parking lot test before you buy the bike, but you may not need to sit up that straight when you ride. Before you make a cut, experiment with different heights of the bar buy removing the stem and a spacer or two, then replacing the stem and putting the spacers back on above it. Tighten everything properly and go for a ride. It may take a few rides before you find the ideal height, and you may not want to lower the bar from its original height at all. However, if you’re more comfortable with a lower bar, simply toss out the unwanted spacers, remove the fork from the bike (consult a shop on how to do this properly), press the star nut down an equal amount to what you’re going to chop off, and then get out your hacksaw. You may end up getting rid of another 50 grams or more when it’s all said and done.
A well built bike will have properly sized cables and cable housings, but far too many have their cables and housings cut way too long. Paying a shop to re-do your cables may cost a lot, but some shops handle all labor on your bike for free. You can also spend $10 and buy a simple cable cutter (NOT a wire cutter!) at a hardware store and do it yourself. Like most things, you’ll want to learn how to cable a bike before you embark on it, but it’s really not as complicated as you may think.
Last but not least, chop the chain! Usually, bike makers use enough chain that you can be in the largest front gear and the largest rear cog without putting stress on your rear derailleur. Well, for one thing, that puts your chain in enough of a lateral bind that it can cause premature link or pin failure, and also wears down your gears’ teeth sooner due to all the additional rubbing. It’ll definitely take experimenting, but you can safely get rid of enough extra chain that it’s impossible to be in the large chainring and the largest cog. My bike can’t actually go beyond about the 7th cog when in the large chainring; it’s been like this for years and I only had to replace the rear derailleur when a pulley began wearing out after 7 years and SRAM (the bastards!) no longer sold a pulley that fit. Depending on how much chain you remove, you could save a lot of rotating weight. It’ll also leave you with spare links should you ever break your chain someday.
Next up: swap OEM parts.
When you buy your bike, it may come with a really tall and wide (and heavy) riser bar. It’s trendy for some reason right now. Ask the salesman if the shop would be willing to trade you for a flat bar before you buy. Sometimes they’ll trade you evenly and it won’t cost you a cent. Other times, they may sell you a new part at a huge price reduction, install it on the bike for you, and then keep the original part to resell later. Depending on how heavy the original bar was–and how light the new one is–you could shave as much as a quarter pound off your bike before you even buy it. Other parts to swap before you buy are the seat, stem, bar-ends and seatpost. Just be sure the part you’re trading for is lighter and fits you better than the original.
A couple other good swaps are the quick-release seat collar and wheel skewers. If, for convenience sake, you like the quick-releases, then just ignore this. Otherwise, it’s a quick and easy way to toss a few grams, especially since you should already be taking a multi-tool with you on rides anyway.
Step three: rollie things.
When it comes to maximizing your weight savings for a given price, you can’t beat going to lighter tires and innertubes. The original tires on my wife’s bike weighed around 700 grams, and the innertubes were over 200 grams each. I swapped them for some Kenda Kozmik Lite tires that I had bought on discount a few months prior and some ultra-lightweight innertubes. The new tires weigh about 790 grams together, and the tubes are another 174 grams for the pair. In all, I got rid of over 1.85 pounds of rotating weight. The cost of the tires and tubes was about $60, and has a huge affect on overall performance (for every gram of rotating weight removed, it will have the same affect as 3-4 times the amount of stationary weight elsewhere).
Spokes! My Rolf Dolomite’s were already pretty light for the price, but after a few years, I wanted them lighter. I spent about $50 on lighter externally butted DT Swiss spokes, and another $40 for the shop to re-lace my wheels with them and I lost 109 grams of rotating weight in the process. Considering the Rolf wheels use very few spokes to begin with, the weight savings on wheels with more spokes would be even greater.
Remember, if it rotates, its weight loss effects will be seen far more than a stationary part’s. This means going to lighter tires and tubes, ditching chain links, and someday–when parts begin to wear as they always do–going to lighter cranks, chainrings and cog.
Do you ride at night? If so, for safety reasons, leave your reflectors in place. But if you pretty much only ride during the day, ditch all of them. You’ll probably save over a quarter pound of stationary and rotating weight between all four of them. Also, feel free to remove that silly chain guard on your rear wheel–you know, the clear-ish plastic thing that sits between your cogs and your spokes. It doesn’t really do much if your derailleurs are properly adjusted because your chain will never fall off in that direction anyway. I’ve never had one on my wheels and I’ve never needed it. All it’ll ever do is turn yellow and look tacky. Take the wheel to your shop and ask them to remove the cog, then pop it off and they’ll put the cog back on.
When I bought my frame, it had a really tacky red-fading-into-yellow paint job. I hated it and decided from day one that I had to get rid of it. Since I work somewhere that I have access to a bead blaster, I just took it to work with me and, on off-hours, blasted all the paint off it. I think it took about 5 minutes. It was weighed on precision calibrated scales before and after, and I lost a quarter-pound once the paint was gone. I wouldn’t suggest this unless you have an aluminum frame, but for the price (free) and weight savings, it was worth it. Since it also involves completely disassembling your bike, I’d suggest waiting until the winter months to do it. Don’t, however, use paint strippers, as they can have a chemical reaction to the material and actually weaken it. Also, make sure you use plastic media and not sand when you blast the paint off. You most likely know someone with an air compressor, and sandblast kits can be had for under $30, so this project can be very cheap if not totally free. Another solution is to do the same thing to your fork, but it involves more disassembly and a lot of care. Remember, the larger the frame, the more paint and primer is on it, and the greater the weight savings will be.
Like I said before, a light bike doesn’t really have to cost a fortune. You’re most likely towing around with you far more material than you need. If it can be deleted, then do so. Each modification may only lose a few grams at a time, but when you’re all done, your bike could be a few pounds lighter and just as dependable as the day you bought it. Don’t forget, money can also be saved by reselling your OEM parts. In my own recent experience, I shaved nearly 3lbs. off my wife’s Gary Fisher Advance for just over $100. I could remove even more, but she says she likes her paint job…
Oh… and you don’t need your silly valve caps, either.