Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Finding An Ounce of Sense in the Metric System

I grew up with mountain bikes with their 26" tires. I own a recumbent with a 16” front wheel and a 27” rear wheel. But now that I have a Bike Friday I am slowly infiltrating roadbike society. Like Diane Fossey with the gorillas.

In addition to drop style handlebars and those horrible things called Presta valves, roadbiking has exposed me to the metric system a lot more. I had to deal with that...system when I had to buy a pump for the Bike Friday's tool kit. So I went to Danny's Cycles in Stamford and found a white Blackburn Airstik SL pump.

But I noticed a costlier pump nearby that looked almost identical, and asked the clerk why the other pump cost $20 more. He said it was because the pricier pump had a carbon fiber shaft and weighed several – wait for it - grams less.

I bought the almost imperceptibly heavier pump, and later I couldn't shake the feeling that the only people who seem to care about grams were obsessed cyclists and drug dealers. In fact, when I began typing “how much does a gram weigh?” into Google, by the time I typed the word “gram” Google's algorithm started to finish the sentence, so the finished query would read: “how much does a gram of marijuana cost?”

Google does not seem to know me very well.

Eventually, I found my answer: a gram weighs 0.035 ounces. A post-1982 penny weighs about 2.5 grams. And like pennies, grams are too small to be of much use and all we do with either is convert them into larger units. I don't tell anyone I weigh 74,388 grams. I also don't visit a McDonald's to ask for a 114.4 gram with cheese (though I challenge any DIYBIKING.COM reader to do so).

Even though I wasn't going to use grams, I did find myself in the obsessed cyclist position of wanting to shed as much weight as possible. For instance, the 2012 Five Boro Bike Tour is coming up, and I have been using the recumbent for that every year since 2005. But after a 2011 season of faithful service the 30+ year old bicycle was out of shape. The rear wheel I had scrounged from the old Fuji was still working but it was slightly bent and the bike just felt like it was moving slower no matter how much I was cleaning the chain. Seven years in a row I've done that tour and seven years in a row I haven't had a flat tire, an accident or a mechanical defect of any kind, so you may see why I'm reluctant to break the Five Boro Bike Tour/Turner Hypercycle bond.

And so I decided that I needed to think like an obsessed cyclist and do some weight shedding. And part of that involved undoing some of my own modifications. So I put the bike up on my PCS-12 to get a proper look.

The first things to go were, sadly, my homemade tailight and homemade headlight. The former had cracked months ago when I was loading the bike into my car and was useless anyway. With the headlamp came four AA batteries and the housing. The taillight was removed – but I replaced it with a red reflector that came from the Top Banana bike.

With the frame about at eye level, I found a bracket for an accessory bag that had moved permanently to the Bike Friday six months ago. The bracket probably weighed a few...grams...and had no need to accompany me anywhere for any reason, so I removed it.

While I was under the fiberglass seat, I noticed one of the first fixes I did on the recumbent when I first bought it in 2004: I used a metal loop and a wire tie to keep the rear brake cable in place. Not only was I sure I could come up with something lighter, I realized I could saw off the excess bolt that was holding the seat to the frame.

I know that's not something that can be easily done on a normal bike, but stay with me, because this part applies to everyone: From time to time I empty my on-board tool bag and put everything back in. Well, not everything, because I often find things like $0.87 in loose change, Powerbar wrappers, random bits of paper, a hardened tube of rubber cement, and so forth. It adds up to a lot of unnecessary weight. Also, I'll have to check with the CO2 Institute, but I think that four cylinders of carbon dioxide is probably excessive. I'll make do with two.

When I took the seat off to clean underneath, I took a good look at the brackets that hold it to the frame. They're square, and I figured I could lose some more weight by cutting a few corners. That didn't sound good.

After cutting off a total of four corners I had seat brackets that were four or five grams lighter and would still do the job they've always done.

I also got rid of the front fender, realizing that with the position of the wheel being where it was it wasn't serving much of a purpose.

I know it's an easy thing to do to change the bike box into a bag or lose the whole setup entirely, but with my head so close to the spinning rear wheel, that is a place where the 'fender effect' of the bix box works. To satisfy my curiousity, I tried putting a Planet Bike fender on to see how it would look. Turned out it looked as silly as I thought (naked without the DIYBIKING.COM logo) so immediately after this photo was taken I put the bike box back on.

Finally, I hit a wall and piled everything I removed onto the kitchen scale. I had removed a grand total of nine ounces from the bike. I'm not sure if that'll make the bike work any better or go any faster, but it makes getting it ready for the Five Boro seem a little less daunting. And even though I'm not among the obsessed, I now understand why cyclists do things like spend a little extra on carbon fiber bottle cages and lightweight pumps: it adds up.

Also, since I know you're curious: 9oz. = 255 grams.

(Follow me on Twitter at @michaelknorris)

1 comment:

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