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Does the bike really make a difference?

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Does the bike really make a difference?

Old 02-28-24, 11:04 AM
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Does the bike really make a difference?

I am an amateur. I have only been cycling seriously for a couple years.

I've gotten pretty into it and have been pushing myself harder lately, with goals of being competitive this year. I have an older, steel-frame road bike that I bought for about $250. Since I've been training harder and riding with teams/group rides, I've found myself getting faster and stronger! Lately I've been able to hold 17-20 on longer rides and can even push above 20 for a bit. I'm proud of myself!

My friend has a really nice, newer model aluminum road bike. She only rides socially for fun. She said I need to borrow her bike for the next fast group ride I do because I'll go even faster. I feel like I've been getting stronger and faster on my bike, so this isn't necessary...but I was thinking, at what point does the bike start to hold me back? At what point is it time to upgrade to a nicer, lighter bike?
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Old 02-28-24, 11:16 AM
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Congrats on getting into the sport and finding yourself getting stronger and faster. It is a great feeling and will only get better. And you should feel proud of yourself since building strength takes commitment.

In my 30s, I moved from a heavy steal frame to a lightweight steel frame, and it helped with quick accelerations, getting going from complete stops, and make hill climbing easier. However when cruising at a constant speed, say 18-19 it really didn’t make much difference.

As I have aged, I have found aero wheels and low rolling resistance tires to be a help in maintaining the same speeds on the flats. If you are looking for new rims too, 45mms seems to be the sweet spot.

Keep up the good work!
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Old 02-28-24, 11:22 AM
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For me there are a few pieces to this.

The first is fit and geometry. A bike that fits well and responds well is generally more fun to ride, but maybe not a lot faster unless your current one is way off.

There is static weight. Lighter bikes tend to feel faster and less weight climbing is better. But static weight, non moving parts such as frame, handlebars, saddle, etc, have less impact especially on flat terrain. If you lose 5 lbs in weight you are moving less weight even on the same bike.

Rotational weight is a bit different. For me, I can tell a significantly heavier wheelset from a lighter one. More so in accelerating than at speed.

Finally gearing, including the number of speeds. While I think there is merit in developing power at different cadences, having better gapping tends to maximize your speed/performance.

At one point in my cycling life I was trying to reduce unnecessary bike weight and upgrade to better components. I can’t say if it helped that much, but on a tough climb it was motivation that it ain’t the bike.

John
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Old 02-28-24, 11:23 AM
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Originally Posted by BikeCycling
I am an amateur. I have only been cycling seriously for a couple years.

I've gotten pretty into it and have been pushing myself harder lately, ...
Welcome to Bike Forums, and congratulations on getting pretty into cycling. Most of us are amateurs; I doubt the professionals have time to post on Bike Forums.

Originally Posted by BikeCycling
... with goals of being competitive this year. I have an older, steel-frame road bike that I bought for about $250. Since I've been training harder and riding with teams/group rides, I've found myself getting faster and stronger! Lately I've been able to hold 17-20 on longer rides and can even push above 20 for a bit. I'm proud of myself!

My friend has a really nice, newer model aluminum road bike. She only rides socially for fun. She said I need to borrow her bike for the next fast group ride I do because I'll go even faster. I feel like I've been getting stronger and faster on my bike, so this isn't necessary...but I was thinking, at what point does the bike start to hold me back?
If you can hold the high teens (in miles per hour) solo on the flats, I can fairly confidently say that "an older, steel-frame road bike ... bought for about $250" is already holding you back.

Originally Posted by BikeCycling
At what point is it time to upgrade to a nicer, lighter bike?
Now, if your finances permit. The road bike market is no longer as crazy as it was during the pandemic.
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Old 02-28-24, 11:24 AM
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Lots of factors besides being lighter come into play. Nicer wheels and tires are likely a bigger deal than overall weight. Different gearing may be as well. If the fit and setup are poor for you the bike may be worse. Does her bike fit you? If so why not get the saddle and bars set to suit you and try it out? Better yet test ride some nicer new road bikes. Or don't if you want to hang on to your money.
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Old 02-28-24, 11:25 AM
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Buying new stuff is always fun - there's no wrong time to buy a new bike if (i) it doesn't put you in a financial bind, and (ii) it makes your cycling more efficient/fun/whatever. However, a new bike won't make you significantly faster, and if your friend's bike doesn't fit, you run the risk of injuring yourself, You know what will make you faster? more cycling - and if a new bike incentivizes you to put more miles in, then, in a way, the new bike will make you faster.
The group that I ride with regularly has the usual carbon/electronic/disc $$-bikes that middle-aged professionals and retirees are in a position to buy. A few years ago, a young guy showed with an old steel Nishiki with 8sp DT shifting, sneakers in toe-clips. No-one mocked him, and good job too, because he was a strong cyclist, with a beautiful smooth stroke and a comfortable low stance down over the bars. He had souplesse. Within a few months, he had moved up to faster groups - we still see him out on the road as he blasts around like a machine - I think he's moved up to 9sp STI and clipless
As What's-His-Face once said, "It's not about the bike".
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Old 02-28-24, 11:34 AM
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Some of the old steel frame bikes are as light as many of the aluminum and less expensive CF bikes that many ride. And old steel bikes can still give you the same position on the bike. So depending on what your old steel bike is will make a difference.

A 30 to 46 pound bike will still let you go fast. But not for as long. Especially if in rolling terrain or hillier. If you are going to do long group rides, you would do well to keep your bike light. 21 - 23 lbs is reasonable even for many of the lightweight steel bike of the past. Even 18 lbs for some. But many of those had rider weight limits and were said to be too flexy. 18 -19 lbs isn't unreasonable for a really good aluminum bike or a good CF bike. And you can get lighter still.

Just keep in mind that more weight takes more power to accelerate or to climb. And the effect is cumulative over the time of the ride. Power is energy. You only have so much to give to any particular ride.

Last edited by Iride01; 02-28-24 at 11:38 AM.
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Old 02-28-24, 11:46 AM
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I am quite sure that you will improve significantly when you walk up to that new bike every day and say "my bike is soooo friggggggin coooooool." It just works. Take your time and find one you really really like. What else are you saving it for?
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Old 02-28-24, 11:47 AM
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Paradoxically, the bike holding you back makes you stronger. I don't think you develop bad habits on an older or heavier bike, you just get fitter faster because you work harder.

If you do compete, then the equation changes.
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Old 02-28-24, 11:48 AM
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Unless the OP is banging out major alpine climes on a regular basis, I doubt a 2-3 lbs difference in weight alone would really change anything other than perception - but lighter weight isn't the only thing that a new bike could offer.

For me, the biggest upgrade possibility here would be increased tire clearance - giving the ability to run wider tubeless tires, and some component upgrades. Going from 8 or 9sp mechanical/rim to 12sp electronic/disc drivetrain is going to have a much bigger impact in the ride experience than shaving a few grams.
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Old 02-28-24, 11:53 AM
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Originally Posted by Iride01
Some of the old steel frame bikes are as light as many of the aluminum and less expensive CF bikes that many ride. And old steel bikes can still give you the same position on the bike. So depending on what your old steel bike is will make a difference.

A 30 to 46 pound bike will still let you go fast. But not for as long. Especially if in rolling terrain or hillier. If you are going to do long group rides, you would do well to keep your bike light. 21 - 23 lbs is reasonable even for many of the lightweight steel bike of the past. Even 18 lbs for some. But many of those had rider weight limits and were said to be too flexy. 18 -19 lbs isn't unreasonable for a really good aluminum bike or a good CF bike. And you can get lighter still.

Just keep in mind that more weight takes more power to accelerate or to climb. And the effect is cumulative over the time of the ride. Power is energy. You only have so much to give to any particular ride.
The odds that the OP's "older steel road bike" is 30 to 46lbs seems pretty low to me, but I suppose we've gotta cover all scenarios here.
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Old 02-28-24, 11:54 AM
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Here's the thing that many don't consider and that bike manufacturers would rather that you don't think about.
The bike is just one small part of the package. For example, I'm 180lb, my bike is 18lb, so I'm pulling 198lb up hills. If I blew $$$$ on a UNC-minimum 15lb uber-velo, I'd still be pulling 195lb up the hill - a 1.5% reduction in total weight. What would it take, in terms of training, or a little consideration of my dietary habits, to gain 1.5% in power, or lose 3lb in weight? Not much.
On the flat, aero is king, but the lion's share of drag is caused by the rider's body (I've heard 80%) - a flatter, more aero position that you can maintain (aka proper bike fit), with trump any amount of aero (and usually $$$) bike enhancements.
I'm not saying don't buy a new bike - new gear is fun - just be realistic about what it'll gain you in speed

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Old 02-28-24, 11:54 AM
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Originally Posted by ScottCommutes
Paradoxically, the bike holding you back makes you stronger. I don't think you develop bad habits on an older or heavier bike, you just get fitter faster because you work harder.
Nope. If that were true, we'd all be training on 50-pound bikes.

OP: A new bike that is lighter and more aero might make you only marginally faster...But, if you are getting more serious about cycling, you will likely find that a nice new bike is better in other ways -- especially if you get a proper bike fit when purchasing it. And you might also appreciate having two bikes -- the older one can be a backup bike, a rainy day bike, whatever.
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Old 02-28-24, 11:56 AM
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Yes, the bike makes a difference. The real question is will it make enough of a difference to impact the type of riding you want to do. For me, high-quality late-70s steel road bikes are just fine. But if I were riding competitively I would absolutely be looking at carbon fiber frames and integrated shifters. So again, yes, the bike really makes a difference. Determine your needs, and the bike will follow. (Do note my signature as well, quoting a wise forumite from some years ago.)
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Old 02-28-24, 11:57 AM
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Originally Posted by BikeCycling
I am an amateur. I have only been cycling seriously for a couple years.

I've gotten pretty into it and have been pushing myself harder lately, with goals of being competitive this year. I have an older, steel-frame road bike that I bought for about $250. Since I've been training harder and riding with teams/group rides, I've found myself getting faster and stronger! Lately I've been able to hold 17-20 on longer rides and can even push above 20 for a bit. I'm proud of myself!

My friend has a really nice, newer model aluminum road bike. She only rides socially for fun. She said I need to borrow her bike for the next fast group ride I do because I'll go even faster. I feel like I've been getting stronger and faster on my bike, so this isn't necessary...but I was thinking, at what point does the bike start to hold me back? At what point is it time to upgrade to a nicer, lighter bike?
...the answer depends on why you are riding in the first place. If your goal is to compete (like in racing), yes, you are at a disadvantage. If your goals run more toward fitness and exercise, and you're having a good time on your steel bike, maybe it's fine for you. What happens at speeds of 20MPH and up is that air resistance becomes more important as a factor. Some of the aero improvements in wheels would make you faster. But is faster your real goal here ?

This topic will doubtless go 14 pages, so I thought I'd get in relatively early and then just .
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Old 02-28-24, 11:58 AM
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Originally Posted by msu2001la
The odds that the OP's "older steel road bike" is 30 to 46lbs seems pretty low to me, but I suppose we've gotta cover all scenarios here.
Yep! Need to be sure. My old 25" 1979 Schwinn Varsity with steel wheels weighed in at 46 lbs. It's what I was using when I started getting more serious about cycling back in my 50's. Getting a 23 lbs 1978 Raleigh Competition GS made those 100 mile Century rides enjoyable instead of leaving me exhausted.

Though surprisingly I was only about a mph faster average for a 30 mile or less ride on the lighter bike. But I sure felt a lot better not having to lug all that weight up the hills for any length ride.

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Old 02-28-24, 12:04 PM
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I will say, I actually feel cooler rolling up to group rides with my mismatched wheels, outdated frame, and hand-me-down pedals...and somewhat being able to keep up. But a new modern bike is cool in different ways, too!
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Old 02-28-24, 12:09 PM
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Sounds like you are doing pretty good on the bike you have? how about a picture of your bike, or at least what brand/model? $250 could buy you everything from trash to treasure in an older steel bike? In today's used bike market $250 could buy a very nice steel bike with good components, it could also buy you a crummy aluminum bike with low end components, and pretty much everything in between. Frame material is less important than fit and overall build quality, Devil is in the details. @jamesdak has a great collection of nice bikes here is a thread of his that might be relevant The 19mph avg pace game if you are holding 17-20 mph not bad
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Old 02-28-24, 12:11 PM
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Originally Posted by BikeCycling
I will say, I actually feel cooler rolling up to group rides with my mismatched wheels, outdated frame, and hand-me-down pedals...and somewhat being able to keep up. But a new modern bike is cool in different ways, too!
You will be cool enough rolling up to group rides riding a new bike one handed while wearing all sorts of mismatched apparel and eating a banana held in your other hand.
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Old 02-28-24, 12:12 PM
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Originally Posted by BikeCycling
I will say, I actually feel cooler rolling up to group rides with my mismatched wheels, outdated frame, and hand-me-down pedals...and somewhat being able to keep up. But a new modern bike is cool in different ways, too!
Once upon a time, some new police officers joined the department. The chief threw a pile of badges down on his desk and let them pick. Many of the officers picked the shiniest, newest looking badges, but one officer didn't want to look like a noob, so he chose the most beat-up badge.
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Old 02-28-24, 12:18 PM
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"An older steel bike" could be anything from Schwinn Varsity from the 70s that weighs about 40 lbs to something like (sticking with Schwinn) a Circuit from the late 80s that weighs 21 lbs. The former would hold you back, the latter much less so. But weight isn't the only thing that could hold you back. If you live in a hilly area, you might find yourself avoiding climbs because the gearing on bikes that old is often quite limited. If the hubs and BB have not been serviced, you might be fighting more friction than you need to. If your position on the bike is less than optimal, you might find that unnecessary discomfort holds you back.

That other question I'd ask, though, is "hold you back" from what? If you just want a workout, any bike can do that for you. If you want to go farther and faster, a better bike will probably help. If you want to do group rides, I'd suggest that "an older steel bike" may have less than stellar braking, downtube shifters vs brifters, and, again, suboptimal gearing. I have, and love, and love to ride a couple older steel bikes with those very less than stellar brakes, downtube shifters, and suboptimal gearing. I'm happy to take any of them for a 60 mile Sunday ride, and I'll flog them as hard as my aging legs allow. But I would not attempt a fast group ride on any of them.
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Old 02-28-24, 12:19 PM
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Look at this as a matter of priorities. If you get everything dialed in , you will be at 100%. Ie, that bike will deliver you to that race finish or ride end as far up the standings or as comfortably as possible.

#1 - bike fit. This is about you. Does this bike put the seat and handlebars in the right place for you to produce power effectively and comfortably? (The exact fit will depend on what your goals are. The same body will want different fits for mountain bike riding, touring, fast club riding or racing and velodrome riding. The performance difference between a bike that fits and one that doesn't can be big. My race bike change to one very,very close to what I still ride 40 years later saved me perhaps 5 minutes, maybe more over my 45 training loop. New bike was 2 pound lighter, same seat, wheels and tires. Very different fit. I matched my best ride on the old bike deliberately riding slow!

#2 - fast wheels. The difference between the steel rims and ordinary 27-1/4 tires of my first 10-speed and nothing special aluminum rims and sewup tires of my next bike was radical. Swapping those wheels for very light race wheels and expensive silk tires was a real upgrade but not night and day. Now, decently light wheels with good tires will get you close. From there, small improvement will cost you a lot.

#3 - Having optimum gears. Like #1, its about the engine.

#4 - the rest of the bike. Like a race car chassis. Matters, yes, but if your first focus is on that "bike", you might be missing the big stuff. When you have #1-3 done, now bike weight and aero start looking important.

So, work on getting your bike to fit! (Now, for everyone, there are a lot of bikes that cannot be made to fit. If that is yours, steer that bike to someone else. And there are also bikes that can be made to fit but where the weight distribution over the wheels is poor and the handling suffers. If fast corners and descents are in your dreams, those bikes are not ideal.) But a good steel bike with nice wheels that fits like a dream - well it will be 5 pounds heavier and less aero than the $5000 bike in the shop. That $5000 is the final 2%. What you have is the first 98%. Sweet, fun and paid for!

Look at your bike with a critical eye. Can it be made to fit with a proper weight balance over the wheels? (I like to pull myself forward when I ride hard and also in nervous situations. On mountain descents, my bikes with long chainstays bounce the rear wheel around a lot in hard banked turns. Scary. My bikes with steep seat tubes and the rear tire almost touching it are fun, fun, fun in those same corners.) It doesn't take a lot of money to take "not there yet" older frame to a sweet fit if al that is needed is the right stem and seatpost. (Even paying a framebuilder for a $300 stem is far, far cheaper than that CF looker and the depreciation between the cash register and the other side of the shop door on that looker will cover the entire cost of that stem.)

Wheels - look at nice wheels but also consider what might come on a really good bike you get n the future. I am a fan of two sets of wheels, race/big ride/event and "training"; ie just about everything else. Interchangeable. (Not always possible. ) If that future bike has "race wheels" on it, go for wheels that are decent but a few hundred grams heavier for now. If it comes with sturdy every day wheels, you can justify spending more now. (Best if your current bike can handle biggish tires so you can spare those light wheels from road abuse. If the clearances are not there, you will need to ride higher pressures. Make sure the rim/tire combo allows this.)

Gears - the right ratios matter a lot. These will probably change over time as you get stronger; then (sadly) older. Doable on any bike. Just need the right derailleurs and perhaps crankset. Shifters need to be in good working order. Type matters little as long as you are comfortable with that system. On fast group rides/races brifters have the real advantage of allowing shifting while standing on climbs and safely in tight crowds but with skill, are not required. If you can do friction shifting safely, it has advantage of freeing up gear number, derailleurs and chain type choices a lot. (Especially if you have an older steel bike with 126 OLD (over locknut distance, ie hub/dropout width).
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Old 02-28-24, 12:21 PM
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Originally Posted by 3alarmer
...the answer depends on why you are riding in the first place. If your goal is to compete (like in racing), yes, you are at a disadvantage. If your goals run more toward fitness and exercise, and you're having a good time on your steel bike, maybe it's fine for you. What happens at speeds of 20MPH and up is that air resistance becomes more important as a factor. Some of the aero improvements in wheels would make you faster. But is faster your real goal here ?

This topic will doubtless go 14 pages, so I thought I'd get in relatively early and then just .
Including a discussion of how Big Disc and Big Tire are conspiring to get you to buy something awful the pros only ride because they have to, and several pages on whether Big Disc and Big Tire are a cartel under the Oxford English Dictionary's definition, and whether or not any particular poster is in any position to make that claim.
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Old 02-28-24, 12:27 PM
  #24  
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Originally Posted by BikeCycling
I will say, I actually feel cooler rolling up to group rides with my mismatched wheels, outdated frame, and hand-me-down pedals...and somewhat being able to keep up. But a new modern bike is cool in different ways, too!
A guy used to roll up to our Sunday fast pace road rides on a mountain bike with knobby tires - at first we all scoffed. During the ride, and subsequent rides, he put all of us to shame putting out unreal watts. I bet he was smirking to himself the whole time looking at the totally outfitted multi-dollar bikes. No one scoffed after that.

on point #2 above by 79pmooney, sew up tires were the hot ticket in the 70s and 80s, but now we are looking either a tubeless tires and rims, or fast clinchers with latex tubes. Two of the fastest, puncture resistant tires you can buy are the Continental GP 5000s TT TR (either tubeless or tubed) and Vittoria Corsa Speed. Either will make an amazing amount of difference over your current tires. https://www.bicyclerollingresistance...d-bike-reviews
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Last edited by rsbob; 02-28-24 at 12:39 PM.
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Old 02-28-24, 12:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Koyote
Nope. If that were true, we'd all be training on 50-pound bikes.
Perhaps, but lots of other sports training adds weight or resistance to improve results. A weighted volleyball to train setters comes to mind. Train hard, and the competition is easy.
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