So many of us swoon over the latest and lightest carbon frames and wheels, dream of having that top end groupo, and compare the weight of the various accessories. Now if you have the budget, and, of course, spousal approval, to flirt with let alone bring home the newest and lightest gear go for it! However, many of us can only fantasize about these cycling luxuries. There is good news for us “normal folks” and that while you might not get some heads to turn when riding down the Platte Trail, the sexiest and feather weight gear will probably not make you that much faster.
Recently I was looking through articles on velonews.com and came across an interesting write up about myth of bike weight and fast bikes. They tested bikes with about a 3 lbs difference and found out these 3 lbs will save you only a few precious watts and only a few seconds up that hill. What is important is that bike weight really only makes a (slight) difference when going uphill. So other than create some jealously and envy in the peloton it’s not really worth it to roll to the start line that fancy bike and $2000 wheels out in your next Cat IV or V crit (there is always the possibility of crashing too).
There is no doubt that less weight will make you go faster, but at some point most of us need to look at the return on invesntment. Many of us might not have thousands of dollars to throw at a new bike, groupo, or wheel that might drop 3-4 lbs on the bike, but most of us probably could lose that much weight or around our waistlines and we can do that without spending extra dollars! We just need to focus on good training and just as important if not more, good diet and watching our calories. It is really easy to go out on a 3-4 hour training ride and then come home and eat back all the calories you’ve burned thinking you can eat whatever you want. Don’t waste those hard 4 hours on the bike with 30 minutes of eating. Pay attention to the calories you are putting in as well as burning on your ride. Apps like MyFitnessPal are great for tracking calories. Also, remember to eat real food!
I credit my improvement last season just as much to changes in my diet and my perspective toward food as in my training plan. I switched to a mostly plant based diet (i.e. I tried to eat vegan or vegetarian most of the time) with the exception being fish. I cut dairy out of my diet (almost) completely and ate lean meats 2-3 times a week during the season and 1-2 times in the offseason. Now I did have to make sure I was getting enough protein and iron (two essential nutrients for cyclists) and I used supplements for that, but overall I had plenty of energy and recovered well. Importantly, I lost 25 pounds and I got a lot faster. A mostly vegan/vegetarian diet might not be for everyone, but I can’t stress enough to eat real food and not what Author Michael Pollan calls “edible foodlike substances” (see his book In Defense of Food). And don’t forget to control portion size.
Losing weight from your body and not your bike provides a benefit beyond increasing your power to weigh ratio. So as your weight decreases not only will the amount of power required to maintain a specific speed decrease, the actually amount of power you can generate should increase. The latter is due to the fact that oxygen uptake is related to body mass and improves as fat is lost. Science! Losing weight will make you faster and you don’t have to spend a cent (and maybe even save some money) to do so.