Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How much does it weigh?...

Maybe the most asked question by customers in a bike shop, after “how much does it cost?” is “how much does it weigh?” It doesn’t matter if the bike in question is a $300 comfort bike or a $3000 road bike. “How much does it weigh?” Weight, within reason, is irrelevant. The more appropriate question should be “how does it ride?” I mean, that’s what makes riding bikes so great – the ride of the bike.

However, the question about weight is much easier to answer. It is a definitive, easy to arrive at, answer. Hang the bike on a scale, look at the readout, and that’s the answer. “How does it ride?” requires an answer that is subjective and must be arrived at by actually riding the bike in question and forming an opinion of its ride. This is where the challenge is. Every rider has a different need to be extracted out of the ride of a bike so their answers to “how does it ride?” will be different. I also have a very tough time with this question.

Some bikes should be very easy to formulate an appropriate response. And appropriate is a key word. For the person asking how that $300 comfort bike rides, the reply should be easy, based on the riding position, and the ease of propelling the bike forward. It would be difficult to extract tiny nuances out of how a $300 any bike rides. But for a $300, or $400, or $500 bike, the answer should something that explains how easy the bike is to ride and that translates into fun.

But for a “performance” type bike, the question is much more difficult to answer. It’s a question I have a very difficult time answering even about my own bikes. It’s not something I really think about when I ride. After all, all of my bikes that I currently put the most time on are pretty much custom. When I created bikes for my previous employer, the largest size I designed was basically a custom bike for me. Pretty sweet deal, eh? I’ve got my position on the bike pretty dialed so I am in my comfort zone. Maybe that’s where the answer lies. A bike that is “just right” doesn’t make you think about how it’s riding. The bike simply disappears underneath you. It’s so neutral in its ride that all you are left thinking about is how fun it is to ride.

I think when you don’t have anything negative to say about how a bike rides (handles, performs…) and it’s difficult to come up with a few positives, that’s when you know that a bike is a great riding bike. When it does just what you want without you having to think about much else except pedaling, that’s when a bike rides great. When you feel like you could pedal forever, that’s when you know a bike rides great. There is greatness in total and complete neutrality. I think my 29” wheel bikes exhibit this. The WTB Phoenix exhibits this. My Bridgestone RB-1 is a great example. My cross bikes, road bikes…

It is always interesting when I read a review of a bike and the reviewer goes into such detail about the ride of the bike. I kind of feel sorry for the journalists whose main task is writing reviews. These test editors have to be thinking about every detail when they ride a bike that they lose sight of the bike ride. So focused on how the suspension soaks up different size bumps that they miss the hawk circling off to their left. So in tune with how the bike takes the switchback at speed that they miss the vista off to the left of the turn. But, unlike me, they do know how to extract that information and put it into words. Guess someone has to do it.

It’s similar with food critics. They can write about subtle nuances in the flavor of food and drink. I’ve tried to put into words/thoughts what it is about a certain food or beer and why I like it. I can’t. It just comes down to, “well, it tastes good and I enjoyed it.”

And I have no idea how much any of my bikes weighs. If I ever weighed one of them at some time in the past, I’ve forgotten. Why? Because it’s not important. Each bike rides … well, fun.

How does your bike ride?

(What's playing: The Specials Concrete Jungle)


Guitar Ted said...

Mike, this is excellent. I enjoyed this post immensely, thanks!

Well, I have the dubious honor of being "that guy" that tests and reviews a bike from time to time. Yes, it is distracting, but the funny thing is, if I am distracted from my "fun", then I know that is something I need to pay attention to. A great bike is harder to review, for sure.

I definitely find much of what you say about your bikes to be truth in my experience. I've only ever ridden one bike that totally disappeared underneath me and it was a magical experience. I have not ever come close to it since, probably never will. The dratted thing was a proto-type too, so not for sale.

Again, great post.

blackmountaincycles said...

Thanks G-T. Yeah, you came to mind, among other, with regards to the testing ;-) I loved getting to try out all the new stuff. It's pretty dang fun seeing how new things work.

Doug said...

I'm having a custom bike built. My first custom fit bike. When the builder asked me what I like and didn't like about my current bicycles I had a difficult time coming up with clear answers. The things I didn't like were a lot easier to put into words. But trying to describe what it is about one of my bikes that feels just right was impossible for me to find the words for.

Great post.

blackmountaincycles said...

Thanks. Custom builders should be able to decipher the dislikes and turn them into likes. "I don't like that my pedals strike rocks when pedaling" the builder sees as needing less bottom bracket drop and so on.

Thanks for reading.

shark@cyberlink.ch said...

hmm...I hear ya mikeroni

same thing when you show a customer a full suspenison mtb..
"great! does it have a lockout?"

chocolate greetings shaaaky pete