One of the questions I often hear in the parking lot before a ride is, “how much does your bike weigh?” We don’t typically talk about personal weight, but bike weight is a hot topic within the mountain bike community.
The major mountain bike manufacturers do not publish weights for various reasons. The typical mountain bikes found at a local bike shop weigh between 28 and 32 pounds. Lighter is usually better, but each rider has to figure out the perfect weight for his/her style of riding.
What is the average weight of a mountain bike?
One of the things you hear about when you start riding is how much a bike weighs. That probably did not cross your mind when you bought your first bike, but as you start to upgrade components or the bike itself, weight is something to think about. The typical beginner bike will be in the 30-34 pound range.
Most beginners buy a used bike—mine was a $150 Trek from my neighbor. Weight was the last thing on my mind. However, the more I rode, the more I started hearing people talking about how much a bike weighs.
If you are buying your first bike or are still a beginner/intermediate rider, weight is probably not going to be at the top of your wish list. Once you have been riding awhile and start to make bike upgrades (because we bikers are ALWAYS upgrading), you might want to consider the weight of components.
Why does weight matter?
For the beginning rider, weight is not going to make a big difference. The durability and capability of the bike are far more important for someone starting out in the sport. A little weight might actually be better at the start to just create a sturdy support.
Weight matters for a few reasons.
- Lighter means faster. A lighter vehicle is faster.
- Lighter means easier to maneuver. A lighter bike is easier to get started, easier to stop (based on other factors as well), and easier to turn.
- Lighter means less stress on the bike. If the bike is easier to turn, start, etc., there is less wear and tear on the bike and its parts.
- Lighter means easier climbing. The biggest difference you will see (especially as a beginner) is that you will be able to climb those hills more easily. Who doesn’t need help on hills? That alone is reason enough to explore how to reduce some weight on your mountain bike.
How heavy/light depends on what you are doing on the bike. If, like me, you are going to your local trails during the week to get in a ride and are not concerned with great speed, weight might not be a big issue for you. However, if you are more into cross country and going faster, possibly building up to racing even, then a lighter bike is going to be more important for you. If you are a downhiller, you want a little weight.
In order to determine what role weight will play in your riding, you must analyze what type of rider you are.
What are the main contributors to the weight of a mountain bike?
The material of the frame and wheels are the two biggest factors of determining a bike’s overall weight. The frame comprises the most weight on the bike, but a carbon frame upgrade is costly. Wheels can be a nice upgrade to help with weight and performance. An interesting trend in local bike shops is to create hand lace wheels. When you build a wheel by hand, you have constant tension all around which creates a stronger wheel, thus you get lighter and stronger.
Components add slight weight. Some simple upgrades like lighter handlebars could be a first step in building a lighter bike. However, components are a relatively small part of the total weight of the bike. While you are going to lose a little bit of weight by getting carbon handlebars, I think you will notice much more than weight. Better handlebars improve the feel of the bike—better handling will be an immediate noticeable change for you.
While one pound might not seem like a big difference, it is hard to find places to drop major weight on a bike. When you are starting at around 32 pounds, and the lightest mountain bikes weigh in around 22 pounds, that is not much to work with.
What is the weight difference between a hardtail and full suspension bike?
If you are comparing similar models from the same brand, there is around a two-pound difference between the hardtail and full suspension bike. The full suspension bike weighs more because of the extra components. The lighter weight is appealing for beginners, but a hardtail might be a good choice because it is less expensive, there is less maintenance, and a hardtail helps you become a better rider. A hardtail makes you work a little harder—getting out of the saddle more and working harder teaches you essential mountain biking skills. The lighter weight is an added bonus.
Some advanced riders and racers ride hardtails exclusively—partly because of the lighter weight.
What is the ideal weight for a bike you intend to ride in a race?
If you are ready to enter the world of mountain bike racing, weight becomes a bigger issue. Lighter is better/faster; the ideal weight for racing is in the mid 20 pounds. You will have more power to pedal faster.
Studies show a lighter bike can help decrease race time on a long steep hill but doesn’t make a big difference on flat ground. Assess the race course to decide if you need to address the weight of your mountain bike. Are there big climbs? If so, maybe making changes to your bike will help your performance.
The not so fun part we have to address before racing is dropping our weight. Rider weight figures into speed. We could lighten the bike by a few pounds if we change out frame/wheels/components, but it is much easier to drop five pounds of our weight.
What is the weight difference between aluminum and carbon?
The weight difference between lightweight carbon and slightly heavier aluminum frames have minimal, if any, benefits to a new rider.
While the weight difference is small between carbon and aluminum frames, the biggest benefit comes from the material strength of each. Carbon is laterally stronger and stiffer than aluminum in every circumstance, so it will hold up better under stress.
Carbon has become a big marketing tool. Bike manufacturers and bike enthusiasts talk up carbon because of the lighter material, but carbon has other benefits that are more important than weight. You can make a stiffer frame that absorbs vibrations—this is a bigger impact to the rider than the weight, but it is easier to market a bike that is lighter. We all grasp the concept that lighter is faster; however, we don’t all grasp the physics of why carbon will make our ride better. You can’t blame manufacturers for marketing using weight—it’s something we understand.
Does rider weight matter as much/more than the bike weight?
The greater the mass, the greater the change in potential energy. Where does this energy come from? It comes from the rider. More mass means more work for the human in the saddle. It doesn’t matter if the mass is on the frame or the wheel; you still have to expend the energy to get the bike up that hill.
Rider weight goes up and down more than the bike and its components, thus rider weight is important to this discussion. I know, it is not my favorite discussion either, but we have to face the truth—it is easier to lose five pounds on our bodies than losing five pounds on a bike. Want to get up that hill faster? Skip that burrito at lunch.
As a female rider, is bike weight still an issue?
Probably not unless you get into the upper echelons of racing. While men often have a height advantage, women typically weigh less, and since rider weight plays as big a role as bike weight, women don’t need to worry as much about bike weight.
Should I worry too much about weight?
As a beginner, you probably should not worry about weight. When you are starting out, work on building your skills. If possible, start with a hardtail, which is lighter. Once you are confident in your skills and ability, and most importantly, have the budget, a nice carbon frame is a long-lasting piece of equipment that should last as long as you love it.
Most studies on how weight affects speed in biking show that weight does not have a dramatic effect on speed. There is an increase in speed when we are talking about climbing long steep hills, but is it a big enough difference to encourage you to buy a more expensive frame, wheel set, etc.
Novice riders should focus on honing skills, improving confidence, and building muscle memory involved with shift timing, weight distribution, and pedal cadence. Once you start replacing parts or buying a new bike, think about your riding style and what role weight might play in it. Start simple and see how a lighter bike affects your riding.