Weight is the killer of all things fun on a mountain bike. Like a sumo wrestler chasing a kitten, a heavy bike can’t go, turn, or stop well enough to get the job done. But saving weight can be expensive, and losing weight in some areas can have a profoundly different impact than losing the same amount of weight elsewhere.
Weight savings are also not just for the leg-shaving XC crowd, either. Dropping a few pounds from your all-mountain rig means that your epic rides can last longer before you wear out. Shedding extra baggage from your dirt jumper will help you accelerate better in tight sets, and make your bike easier to throw around once you’re airborne. With that in mind, the following guide lists, in order of effectiveness, some suggestions for the five best places to save weight on your bike, regardless of what type of riding you do.
1. Lose the love handles
No, I’m not calling you fat. But before you go and drop hundreds of dollars to save two pounds off of your bike, realize that losing the same two pounds off your body is free. And what better way to get closer to your fighting weight than by heading out for a few extra rides, or adding an extra few miles onto your regular loop. Not only could you drop a few extra pounds, but at the same time you’ll be building both your riding skills and strength, for an extra boost in your power-to-weight ratio. Trimming some weight from yourself, then, (assuming you have some weight to lose) is the most effective, and the most fun, way to lighten up your ride.
The good news is that most bikes can save a few hundred grams from simply switching to a quality, lighter weight set of tires. The even better news is that even high-end tires are pretty cheap, topping out at around $50-60 each (and often less). Some personal favourites include Specialized’s Eskar 2.3″ for trail bikes, and Kenda’s Nevegal 2.1″ or 2.3″ for either XC or AM setups. Swapping to either one of these will typically shed 100-300 grams (per pair) of rotating mass, which will have a profound impact on how your bike accelerates and handles. For the hardcore weight weenies, at an incredible 295 grams the Schwalbe Furious Fred is about as light as mountain bike tires come, but at a cost of significantly reduced cornering grip and puncture resistance. As great as the siren song of sub-300 gram tires might be, these are best saved for race day only.
Having just extolled the benefits of reducing rotating weight, it’s no surprise that the next most effective place to shave some weight off of your bike is the wheels. Much like tires, even a small reduction in the weight of your wheels translates into a big change in how heavy your bike feels. There are two downsides, though: first, wheels can get very expensive, very fast, and second, wheels that are built too light for your riding style can fail when pushed too hard.
With that disclaimer in mind, there are some wheels that manage to balance the strength/weight equation brilliantly. For most all-around trail riders, Mavic’s Crossmax ST Disc wheelset is stiff and burly enough for aggressive trails, but still light enough to help you sprint up the next climb ahead of your buddies. Another great alternative for a bit less coin is American Classic’s MTB 26 Disc, which has impressive stiffness for such a light wheelset.
The cassette tends to be one of the most overlooked mountain bike components, and bike manufacturers know it. All too often, bikes with top-end derailleurs and trick carbon goodies will have a cheap, heavy, low-end cassette stuck on as a way to keep costs down. Check yours – chances are that it’s several product levels below the rest of your drivetrain hardware. Higher quality cassettes not only employ more exotic materials and construction methods to save weight, but they also have more aggressive ramping and profiling to improve shifting. Swapping from a Deore-level to an XT-level cassette can easily knock a quarter pound off your drivetrain. Also, consider swapping to a cassette with an 11-32t range, instead of the 11-34t which your bike likely has. If you spend almost no time spinning your easiest cog, an 11-32t cassette will shave a bit of extra weight, but more importantly will reduce the gap between gear ratios, making it easier to fine-tune your cadence (how fast your legs are spinning).
Also, remember that when you change to a new cassette, you will likely need to purchase a new chain as well. While you’re at it, then, consider upgrading to a lighter option. KMC’s K9-SL chain uses hollow rivets to shed a surprising amount of weight over conventional chains, with no reduction in strength.
Many mid-range bikes come equipped with surprisingly porky pedals, such as the ubiquitous Shimano M520. These pedals tend to be not only heavy, but often have a closed design that quickly packs up with dirt and mud. Upgrading to a lighter alternative, such as crankbrothers’ Eggbeaters, is a great way to drop some weight while improving your confidence in the mud. A word of caution, though: pedals are a great example of diminishing returns in terms of dollars spent per gram saved. Mid-range alternatives such as the Eggbeater SL are light and reasonably priced, but moving upwards into the realm of titanium axles and titanium springs skyrockets the price, with only a tiny reduction in weight. For all but the most die-hard weight weenies, the $120-$150 range seems to be the sweet spot for a good set of pedals.