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How big a difference does the bike make?(18 posts)

How big a difference does the bike make?Walter
May 24, 2003 2:43 PM
2 things I've noticed are behind this question: 1. In the Giro today (no spoilers here) Paul was talking about how the avg.speed might break the record which has held since 1983. Now I'm probably more familiar with state of the art from 83 than I am today. A TdF bike then weighed 20.5-21.5 pounds a good 4 pounds more than current.

#2 is the every now and then thread about someone showing up for a ride on an, let's say, "inappropriate" bike but still keeping up; apparently to the amazement of all.

Obviously the engine is of supreme importance and human beings haven't changed in 20 years so how big of an advantage is the bike? Noone doubts that a time-travelling Eddy Merckx could compete in today's peloton but could he do it on that Molteni Orange steel friction-shifted antique of his?
Addendum: If the bike DOES make a difference....Walter
May 24, 2003 2:46 PM
were riders better 20 years ago as they rode at speeds today's peloton are just now reaching on substantially lighter bikes with a much wider range of gearing?
re: How big a difference does the bike make?hammer_cycle
May 24, 2003 2:52 PM
Everything makes a difference to some extent. Every little advance makes a big difference for someone riding at the pro level. Aero wheels for example, almost always benefit everyone, but they offer more benefit for someone putting out more power and going faster (ie a pro). Same thing with a bike and its weight. At the pro level, that 1-2% difference means the difference of being first and coming in second. At an amateur level, its nice to think that the 16lb bike is really going to provide a noticeable advantage over the 17lb bike, but in reality its pretty small.

The engine has changed since the past 20 years. In that time frame, we are now seeing athletes in every sport who have undergone scientific training since they were at a relatively young age, which leads to a tremendous gain in overall fitness and strength. That, combined with equipment that ekes out that extra 1-2% here and there has led pretty much all sports to achieve a much higher performance level.
You're confusing two different thingsKerry
May 24, 2003 3:16 PM
The odds are good that the 1983 stage had a strong tailwind or was a series of constant attacks, both of which up the pace considerably from a normal stage. Also, it may be that this stage traditionally is taken "piano" by the riders because it is after a hard stage, before a hard stage, etc. So to say that riders/bikes are no faster now than they were 20 years ago based on this one data point is a very weak conclusion. About the only fair comparison is to look at time trial results over many years, where you will see the benefit of both improved training and improved gear. Also, that light weight bike is mostly of benefit on a climbing stage with minimal impact on the flats. That 4 lb. of bike weight translates to 0.03 mph (.05 km/hr) at 25 mph (40 km/hr) on the flats.
May 24, 2003 3:51 PM
You make good points but I need to clarify something from my thread starter. The avg time Sherwen was referring to was for the Giro not an individual stage so even with "piano" stages I do think there could be statistical validity here though I'll concede ITTs are probably a better measure.

Btw when I reread my starter I sounded to myself like I was retro-grouching; not my intention. My motivations are those I listed above.
Sunderland diarypeter1
May 24, 2003 4:24 PM
If you read Scott Sunderland's Giro diary on, he says that 10 years ago the peloton was faster overall. Doesn't say why, but it's a provocative remark, knowing that since then we've had "advances" in training, nutrition and equipment. Of course, that was largely before doping controls, and I assume that at least some riders were getting away with murder!

As for bikes making a difference in general, they certainly do, all things being does any factor. Take away any one thing, and performance will be altered. And while you can't control some things about your performance (for example, being born with short legs or "big bones,") you can control what you ride. That's why I told my wife I needed an expensive bike!
For Pro's, every little bit helps.MR_GRUMPY
May 24, 2003 3:17 PM
When someone is at the top of their game, two pounds taken off of the total bike-body weight, makes enough of a difference to win or loose a race. Throw in friction shifting, and the Pro will be really in trouble.
For us, don't make me laugh. Who here, couldn't loose 5 pounds, 10 pounds, or even 20 pounds. For 99% of the riders who ride, or race Cat 3 or below, their performance on a bike 17 pounds, isn't any better than on a 21 pound bike. If they are faster, the reason is because of their head. If you believe that you are faster, you will be.
It doesn't matter if you're a pro or notSpoiler
May 24, 2003 11:19 PM
Sorry, but your post makes no sense. If amateur performances are no better on a 17 lb bike than on a 21 lb bike, then would you say their performances are no better on a 35 lb bike than on a 15 lb bike? How about on a 50 lb bike vs. a 15 lb bike?
The laws of physics don't differentiate between your riding level. A lighter bike is a lighter bike. Less weight is less weight. 200 watts of force used to propel a 15 lb bike uphill will result in more speed than the same 200 watts used to propel a 16 lb bike uphill.
A 130 lb pro will climb faster if the bike weighs less. A 240 fat slob will climb faster if the bike weighs less.
It makes enough sense.djg
May 27, 2003 10:18 AM
I think the point is that very slight differences in frame weight or response might matter to a pro b/c (a) very slight differences in performance might matter substantially financially/career-wise or (b) it's not entirely clear what might make a threshold difference climbing the Tourmalet against the best riders in the world, pushing themselves to the outer limits of their abilities, but it's clear that you don't want to be on the wrong side of finding out, so you take no chances. They might not matter to an amateur not because there's no theoretical gain to be had in a lighter bike, but because taking a pound off the bike probably won't enable you to ride with a faster group or move up a category or have a subjectively different experience of riding.

If you must be literal, think of this as a level of grain problem: the difference between a 17 lb bike and a 19 lb bike doesn't matter performance-wise for most of us, not because there's no way to aggregate 2 lb units of weight gain that could make a difference, but because adding a single 2 lb unit of weight gain does not make a measureable difference on most of the performance vectors we care about. For example, there's a climb of just about a mile on my ride home from work. If fiddling with the equipment were to save me 1.03 seconds on the climb, at a given rate of energy consumption (but turned out actually to take only .4 seconds off my average time) I'd have not just a theoretical but a measureable difference in performance. A the same time, it just wouldn't make any real difference to my experience of cycling, who I could hang with, etc.
re: How big a difference does the bike make?Bonked
May 24, 2003 3:28 PM
Unfortunately, I am in the "it doesn't make a difference" camp. After putting up with an old steel Trek with downtube shifters for 15 years, I have finally gotten a new ride...a new C40 with Record. Now, if the bike does make a difference, certainly I should notice between a 22lb old steel ride with old components and a new 18lb bike, right? Interestingly enough though, even though it feels like I am going faster on the C40, I haven't noticed any decrease in my ride time to work, which is a 35 mile trip. I personally believe that any bike will do that a) fits and b) has reasonably well conditioned hubs, chain, pedals and shoes.
in additionrufus
May 24, 2003 3:33 PM
they haven't even done all the climbing stages yet, which are bound to slow the average speed down.

also, back then the group was more likely to ride piano on any given stage; whenever the leaders of the peloton dictated. today, with everybody racing hard to get their sponsor's name in the spotlight, whether a stage win or overall, there are very few stages that everyone takes off.
moser v saronnihinaults dog
May 24, 2003 4:13 PM
neither could climb for toffee race
and course designed to suit- if memory
serves one year the 2nd place rider went
round quicker but saronni won on time bonus
What I wonder about is how far has training really come?Sprint-Nick
May 25, 2003 2:28 AM
Now I'm barely 20 years old and have been riding seriously for about 4 years now so please bear in my mind I don't have a lot of historical facts to back up what I say.

So with that said, when you look at Chris Boardman going against the world hour record on a classic bike and only beating it by less than 50 m what does that tell you about how far training has come?

In sports like running where the 100 m record is constantly being hammered down it appears training has definitely improved. Then on the track its the same thing especially in the team pursuit and kilo. However, in road cycling when average speeds are always being talked about it seems a contradiction. Perhaps its like comparing my average ride is as fast as yours when I was on flat terrain and you were in the mountains. Of course not quite that dramatic but with weather and the pace/general nature of the pack its hard to say. Perhaps 20 years ago with no heart rate monitors people went harder because they didn't have to worry about being above their lactic threshhold?

The point is....Walter
May 25, 2003 4:41 AM
and Nick does address this is that times are not coming down. They're definitely not coming down the way they have been in Track and Field these last 20 years.

I'd like to see some speculation on the last question: 30 year old Eddy Merckx just pops out of the time machine with his 21# Colnago braised Columbus SL tubed Molteni colored bike and gets a "sponsor's exemption" (hey it's a story) to ride the TdF in July 2003. How does he do? If Lance waxes him is it b/c of the 4lb or so difference in their bikes (or the extra 8 gears)?
Does strategy have something to do with it?orange_julius
May 25, 2003 1:34 PM
I had a short conversation with John Allis regarding the
use of (two-way) radios in bike races these days and he
commented that back when he was competing (60s and 70s)
the riders have to be able to "read" the field. At least
as far as his/her eyes could see. The use of radios allow
DS's to know the entire stage/race situation at unprecedented
levels, and control the riders' actions more directly.
So based on this argument I don't think it's just the bikes
or the atheletes, it's also the strategy.

Moreover, I disagree with comments like, "If the bike had
2 less ounces, then the rider will have finished 13 seconds
earlier and will have placed 3rd instead." A bike race is
not just one rider against the elements, it's every rider
against everybody else (well, maybe except for your
teammates ;-). The sight (or maybe absence of) of your
competition just 30 feet in front of you may well give you
the extra energy you need to overcome the burning sensation
in your legs.

Finally, if Merckx were to materialize into the 2003
scene with his old bike (popular hypothetical question
these days), he might do better than you expect
since it seems that he's a good strategic rider!
I think that it could be ...Mycroft
May 25, 2003 3:30 PM
... you will find that some of the largest determinants of speed have not changed drastically (except maybe in TTs). That is friction (road/tire interface) and wind resistance.

These eaters of energy increase with in a squared function with speed and therefore, it is generally found that the faster that you go, the less an improvement that a unit change makes on a bike - until a state of equilibrium occurs. Hence incremental gains (in a linear fashion) will meet with diminishing returns. And sometimes these returns may even be negated.


Also, a bike should never be taken by itself (without the attached "motiveforce"). The rider-bike should be taken as a unit hence a 16lb bike with a 200lb rider vs a 20lb bike with the same rider is 20% reduction in bike weight, but in reality, is only about 2% taking the whole package. Its probably cheaper to lose 4lbs in body weight than on a bike.
Apples to Applesfiltersweep
May 25, 2003 6:04 PM
Is the route identical each year? What about the weather conditions? Road surface conditions? This is such a HUGE ride that there are way too many variables. It isn't like running the 100m... even marathons become unruly (what is the altitude, the temperature, etc...).
exactly! who's to say the race didnt play itself out differentlystik__boy
May 26, 2003 5:08 AM
in any given year???? MAYBE there was a tailwind. maybe the leaders controled the peloton on a particularly hot day and rode it out at a slower pace? maybe there were huge attacks?? how could you ever compare an over all time from any year?? im a pretty big Lance fan.... and even i think its stretching it to comment on his Mt Ventoux climb being the fastest ever. way-way-way too many variables.