ASK RIDE…How much difference would a newer, lighter bike really make?

I ride a beloved 1990’s Repco Superlite steel frame 14 speed road bike, which weighs nearly 13kg.  I can hold my own in most bunch rides and in particular the climbs, but I get two very polarized opinions about the bike, namely: “you wouldn’t know yourself on a modern carbon fibre steed” vs. “it’s not about the bike, you really wouldn’t see much difference.”  Plus of course the frequent and unanswerable, “when are you going to get a real bike?”  With the recent press about the doctor in England who couldn’t see the difference between his steel and carbon fibre bikes when commuting weighing on my mind, which set of friends is correct, and for what reasons?


Hi Marc,

It’s one of the classic cycling conundrums and one that anyone who has ever been passed by someone on a cheaper/older/heavier bike has struggled with: why on earth do we bother upgrading?

Sure. I very much doubt anyone has ever purchased their way to glory. Maybe at the very apex of competition but not where 90 per cent of us are concerned. The top three positions in your local A-Grade criterium may well be decided by hundredths of a second but I guarantee you there will be someone in 57th position on a rig that cost twice as much as the three bikes on the podium put together. Having said that, I don’t measure my cycling with results (which is lucky as I’ve never had any), rather the pleasure derived from riding. I admire good design, I appreciate quality and I’ll pay a premium for workmanship but I don’t expect any of those considerations to make me any quicker around a River Loop. In the same way Mark Webber could lap Phillip Island four times in a Daewoo Matiz before I managed one in his Red Bull, a 13kg Repco is not going to prevent Cadel Evans from sealing me in a Zip-Lock bag of hurt; $13K uber bike notwithstanding.

The 13kg Repco probably would, however, prevent Cadel Evans from hanging with Shleck and Contador up Ventoux this July just as the change to a 6kg steed would have a marked effect on your weekend ride. Assuming you’re of an average build, shedding roughly half of the bike’s weight would improve your ‘system’ weight by around 5 to 7 per cent which is a huge difference. If you factor in a more contemporary gear spread than what your 7-speed cassette offers I would expect a big improvement in your riding and perhaps a gradual transition to a more efficient climbing technique – forgive the wild speculation here Marc, I’m taking a few artistic liberties…

Both sets of friends are right. As someone who subscribes to the pleasure:benefit ratio as the best litmus test for cycling purchases I usually say to hell with rationality: drop a recklessly large sum of money on something shiny. In fact I’ve recently done just that. But, if you’re keeping up or better on the Repco then it’s difficult to argue for an upgrade from a rational, cost:benefit perspective. Borrow a mate’s bike or visit your local bike shop see what as little as $3,500 worth of carbon-fibre will do for your riding and go from there. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Carbon frames can be lighter, stiffer and more comfortable than lugged steel. Wheels can be lighter, stiffer and more aerodynamic than a 36-spoke alloy set and components can be all of the aforementioned adjectives. I italicise “can” here because there are instances were companies have failed to improve on the traditional way of doing things. Shop around, gather information, read magazines like RIDE and take your time. Modern steel technology (no that’s not a contradiction in terms) is at the point where you could wander on down to a local builder like Baum and have a 7kg, geometrically and cosmetically identical replica of the Repco complete with down tube shifters that would shut everybody up.

Or just keep the Repco. – Rob Rixon

Rob Rixon works for Echelon Sports ( wholesalers of Zipp, BMC, Sram, 3T, Prologo, Swisstop and other lightweight goodies.  Before he worked in his current position Rob was Technical Editor of RIDE Cycling Review.

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