(Cyclingnews) – In the past, a road bike being lightweight was a racer’s primary concern. Such was the obsession that in cult book The Rider, Tim Krabbé recounts being told by another cyclist that, “Anquetil always moved his water bottle to his back pocket during climbs, so his bike would be lighter.”
But the contemporary fashion for ‘aero is everything’ might, at first glance, make lightweight bikes seem like a bit of an anachronism, but there are actually still a number of sound reasons why you should consider one as your next bike.
On the limit
With the UCI weight limit seemingly stuck at 6.8kg, ‘lightweight’ has been largely defined at that point, and brands have been able to focus their attention on improving other areas of the bike, instead of simply chasing grams in a race to the bottom (although, naturally, that is still a thing).
Where aero bikes often have to make compromises on things like handling, ride quality, fit and user-friendliness in pursuit of all-out speed, lightweight road bikes have tended to become the all-rounders of road cycling, with development focused more on these important, but often undervalued, characteristics.
Such are the improvements in these areas that many WorldTour pros still choose to ride lightweight bikes over their sponsors’ aero-bike offerings, despite the apparent penalty in aerodynamic efficiency.
Where it counts
The data tells us that aerodynamic bikes are faster on flat and rolling courses, but let’s be honest – the hills are still where it really counts. The important Strava segments are, generally, not boring sections of flat or rolling road, they’re hills, and, on the proper hills, lower weight still beats aerodynamics.
One relatively recent development is the appearance of disc brakes on lightweight climbing bikes. Rim brakes have long been favoured because of the difference in weight, but the gap has narrowed considerably, and it’s worth considering that what goes up must also come down.
You might appreciate the improved power, consistency and modulation of hydraulic disc brakes when you’re coming back down that 20 per cent hill, with your heart rate pushing off the scale after a full-gas KOM attempt.
Perhaps more crucially, lightweight bikes still retain the power to impress your friends or family members, because weight is tangible. Show them an incredibly expensive aero bike and the first thing they’ll do is pick it up and complain that, “It’s quite heavy… How much did you say this cost?”
By the time you’ve started explaining that “over a typical 40km rolling course, performance modelling shows that this bike is 45 seconds faster at 50kph than an equivalent lightweight bike…” they’ll likely have lost interest and wandered off, thinking that you got royally ripped off.
A lightweight bike provides an obvious tangible difference, and, sometimes, that provides a greater psychological benefit than the few intangible seconds offered by manufacturers.
Unsurprisingly, carbon fibre dominates the scene for lightweight road bikes. Its unique, tunable characteristics make it the perfect material for making light and stiff bikes that excel when pointed uphill. The downside is that these lightweight frames and components tend to come at an exorbitant cost.
As the great Keith Bontrager once said: “Strong, light, cheap. Pick two.” That said, If the UCI limit is what you’re looking at, you don’t necessarily need to buy the top-of-the-range model these days, which will often actually be lighter than the UCI’s minimum weight limit. Some brands are even able to offer builds with Shimano Ultegra that can still hit the 6.8kg benchmark; just don’t expect them to be particularly cheap.
Read on for Cyclingnews’ round up of the best lightweight road race bikes available to buy this year.
BMC Teammachine SLR01 Disc
Tour de France winning bike design that seems to have inspired almost every other brand in 2019
Price: £12,500 | Weight: 7.06kg | Brake: Disc | Frame: Carbon | Sizes: XXS-XXLStiffnessHandlingComfortGrand Tour winning pedigreePriceLack of aero consideration
Dropping the seat stays for improved comfort and aerodynamics has been a 2019 bike-design must-have, but the BMC commitment to progressive bicycle design is such that they debuted this feature back in 2010 on the Teammachine.
The combination of massive pedalling stiffness from the oversized down tube and bottom bracket area, combined with the comfort gained from thin, dropped seat stays, made this design a winner from the start. Cadel Evans promptly rode to victory in the Tour de France only a year later, in 2011, and it continues to be the bike of choice for most riders at Dimension Data, thanks to its blend of efficiency, comfort and perfectly balanced handling.
With the addition of hydraulic disc brakes, a semi-integrated cockpit system (that still retains adjustability for both fit and maintenance) and updated cable management, the 2019 Teammachine is more evolution than revolution, but this just shows how advanced the original design was at the time. There’s little about this bike that looks out of date.
We’d perhaps like to see a nod towards more aerodynamic tube shapes on future models, but the only real downside is that you’ll need extremely deep pockets to get hold of one.