How much do you weigh?

Saturday, 13 March 2010


How much do you weigh? Many racing cyclists will know the answer here and sometimes to the nearest 100 grams. It’s been a cold winter and I’ve not ridden as much as usual so I still need to shift a couple of kilos. No rush though.

Riding a bike requires power but the sport isn’t about leg presses and your weight is crucial. Your power to weight ratio determines how fast you can go uphill, the arithmetic – like gravity – cannot be defied for long. On a mountain pass it will dictate a race. So weight matters.

You can toy with your bike. The UCI has a minimum weight limit – don’t ask why, that’s for another day – of 6.8kg and most pro bikes, especially in the smaller sizes, can reach this. Many pros are having to opt for deliberately heavy components to add weight, usually in the form of stiff bars and stems as well as deeper section rims which offer significant aerodynamic gains but can also add those precious grams. For amateurs, the weight limit doesn’t matter and you can get a race ready ride for under 6kg with help from websites like weightweenies, assuming you’ve got the cash to burn. There’s no doubt that a light yet stiff bike feels wonderful.

But compare a 6.8kg bike and a 70kg rider: the rider is over 10 times heavier than the bike. Therefore the rider is where the real weight savings can come from, although in today’s consumer-orientated world it can be easier to visit a website and buy some lighter gear instead of dieting. But if most riders can lose a kilo or two during the season, you’d struggle to lighten your bike by the same amount. Plus the weight saved from the body means fewer cells demanding precious oxygenated blood, you get a minor boost to your performance.

Several years ago I joined an amateur racing team that was managed by a former team mate of Bernard Hinault. The first thing he did was ask me to lift up my shirt. Confused, I asked him to repeat his request. “Show me your stomach” he said. No, this wasn’t some weird ritual, he just wanted to see if I had a flat stomach, to know if I was lean or not. It was simpler than pulling down my trousers and allow him to inspect my legs! For him, there was no point in racing if you weren’t already super lean. This was old-skool stuff, wins from last year or VO2 Max numbers did count for something but it wasn’t worth being on the team unless you were lean. “You wouldn’t start a race with panniers, so why unnecessary weight on you,” those words still ring in my head.

I’d was a student then, which meant lots of time for riding and little money for gourmet foods so I was lean but looking back it makes you wonder if this sort of attitude can give riders an eating disorder. Just as buying a new bike component to save you 14 grams can be irrational – you won’t notice the difference – so is crash dieting. So if you’re contemplating losing some weight, do it slowly.

Some tips
- aim to lose weight slowly over time
- eat well, look for fresh foods natural foods
- try to avoid “factory made” food, even breakfast cereals come with additives like salt
- enjoy your meals, why not enjoy cooking and learn new recipes, don’t see food as the enemy
- junk food is fine, just in small quantities. There’s no need for monastic denial here
- try to eat good food instead of dietary supplements, your diet shouldn’t be lacking the essentials

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{ 1 comment }

Cycology March 22, 2010 at 12:04 pm

One more (though your first tip helps with this) is to watch your power up short climbs and in sprints as you lose weight. Too dramatic a loss, and you won't be able to sprint out of a paper bag!

(obviously speaking from experience…)

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