Heavy Metal and the Myth of the Light Bike

by Kevin E

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This is my bike, the new Foundry Chilkoot. It’s many things: Smooth. Refined. Metal. Beautiful. Fast.

However, there’s one thing it isn’t: Light.

And I don’t care.

Weight Weenies Anonymous

At around 18.5lbs, it isn’t what many would call heavy either. But even with a carefully-curated build kit, its one of the heavier road bikes I’ve ever owned. But that doesn’t concern me. Not anymore anyway…

Rewind to 2008. The Scott Addict SL broke the 800g frame barrier in ’07, sparking an arms race that raged for the next few years, with the major brands shaving grams and posturing in magazine ads for the lightweight title. The gossamer prize seemed to be the only cause that mattered. I wanted a piece of the action.

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Got it down to ~17lbs.

I had finally saved up enough scratch to buy my dream bike: a Cervelo S2. It was carbon and sculpted in the wind tunnel, just like an F1 race car. I shaved all the grams I could by getting all the carbon parts I could afford. Carbon bars, carbon-railed saddle, carbon cranks, carbon bottle cages, etc.

Then Cannondale went nuclear in 2012 and dropped the sub-700g Supersix EVO. Of course, I had to have one.

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Out of the box, it was a 16lb wonder. Over the next three years of riding and racing it, I tweaked the build until it was 15.5lbs with all accessories. It ultimately culminated this past year with a stripped-down variation for the hilly Flanders Time Trial that weighed in at a scant 13.8lbs.

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My EVO on the scale in full hill-climb mode.

After that race, I realized that my gram-shaving could go no further. Shaving any more weight would require sacrifices I wasn’t willing to make.

Mythbusting the Light Bike

Being a weight-weenie is all about sacrifice. What are you willing to give up in order to make a lighter bike? Durability, comfort, braking performance, and more are among those sacrifices. Eventually the grams saved don’t equal the frustration added.

Chasing the light-bike unicorn taught me a few things:

1. When the wheels are down, nobody cares how light your bike is.

My riding partners would ooh and ahh when they picked up my 15lb bike in the parking lot. But when the wheels were turning, we never spoke of it. I guess we were too busy enjoying the wind in our faces while chasing each other to the next town line. “The Lightest Bike In The Universe” looks great in a magazine ad, but it doesn’t mean much for most of us in the real world. Bikes are meant to be ridden, not weighed.

2. Climbing is still hard.

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Climbing up Naughright Road. Photo credit: Sergio Garabito

My carbon wonder-bike should’ve given me gossamer wings to float effortlessly up the hills, right? Wrong. Even when my EVO was pared down under 14lbs for the Flanders TT, the climb up Naughright Road still hurt. A lot. As the old Greg LeMond adage goes, “It never gets easier, you just go faster.” And according to some science, lighter isn’t that much faster.

3. Light, Durable, Cheap; Pick Two.

I once spec’d the lightest custom wheel build I could get on modest budget. Feathery rims, spindly spokes, the works. The fabulous New Jersey roads chewed them up and spit those fancy triple-butted spokes back at me in pieces. The wheels I ride for training now, complete with 32 straight-gauge spokes, are overbuilt for me. But reliable equipment I can ride every day and forget about is more valuable to me than extra-light parts that require constant attention.

Full Metal Jacket

With these lessons in mind, I went about searching for a new steed. I decided to go back to the wonder material of the previous generation: Titanium.

Before carbon fiber took its crown, titanium was the featherweight king. In 2006, the Litespeed Ghisallo was the lightest production frame in the world at 770g.

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When titanium was king…

While carbon has since surpassed titanium in the lightweight arms race, it’s durability and silky-smooth ride quality have kept it in the conversation. However, titanium frames have become increasingly rare outside of full-custom builds.

Then Foundry announced the Chilkoot last Fall. Of course, I had to have one. I pre-ordered one sight-unseen.

Its everything I hoped it would be and more.

Is it better than my carbon bike? I don’t really think that’s a fair comparison.

A lot of carbon bikes seem to be all about the numbers. How much does it weigh? How much BB deflection occurs at X watts? How many grams of drag does it create at X mph and Y yaw angle? The list goes on…

The things I like about my Chilkoot can’t be plotted on a graph. I like that it filters out the harsh road buzz, but lets the good sensations through. I like that it seems to transform from comfy cruiser to razor sharp racer and back again at a turn of the pedals. I like that its quiet and creak-free (long live threaded bottom brackets!).

If hyper-light carbon bikes are fine dining, the Chilkoot is comfort food. Grandma’s lasagna. Dad’s beef stew. No fancy plating, but man is it tasty. The Chilkoot might not be the lightest or even the fastest on paper, but its a ton of fun. And for most of us, isn’t that what its all about?

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Mom’s Lo Mein, in my case.

Light Isn’t Always Right

Am I saying that weight doesn’t matter at all? Not exactly. Its just not always as important for most of us as the marketing might lead you to believe.

Am I saying you shouldn’t buy the lightest bike you can? Of course not. Light bikes are cool! But a scale doesn’t tell the whole story.

Go ahead and get that light bike. Just make sure its the right bike.

 

 

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