Can A Mountain Bike Be Too Light? We believe so…

by Robb Sutton
23 comments

I was browsing through my Facebook timeline yesterday when an article on BikeRumor.com caught my eye.

14.37lb Scott Scale SL – With Pedals, Bottle Cage & Bar Ends!

When I clicked on the link…I was greeted with this…

Scott Scale SL

His Scott Scale SL race bike registers at just 6.52kg (14.37lbs) complete with pedals, bottle cage, bar ends and Acros’ hydraulic shifting system.

Don’t get me wrong…I am an obsessed cyclist to the max. Hell…I even started a website just so I could dive into the craziness in my head even more. But, there comes a time when obsession is counter productive to actually riding.

Yes, a mountain bike can be too light.

In this case, the bike is actually so light that it doesn’t accomplish the main goal…being ride-able. I have ridden a lot of mountain bikes. At one point in time, I actually even had an 18 pound custom steel hard tail…and I hated every second of it.

Unlike with road bikes, when you lighten up a mountain bike to the extreme, you actually decrease the ride quality of the bike to such an extreme that the decreased ride characteristics actually overtake the benefits you get from the weight savings. In simplier terms…the bike rides like such crap on the trail (unless it is so groomed you could ride a road bike on it) that you end up fighting for traction more. In turn, you lose the efficiency that you thought you gained by going crazy light to begin with.

This doesn’t even take into consideration the amount of money it takes to get to this weight or the replacement cost of simple components. You also get to multiply out that you have basically made the bike fragile further increasing the need to only taking it out on super groomed trails…like forest service roads (which even the gravel can be extremely dangerous to those wheels).

So I ask…what is the point other than having a bike to show off in forums? I don’t see any. This bike is ridiculous and not in a good way. This is just another case of online weight weenie contests that have no real practical application. If you are interested in the specs…they are below. You will notice he even when with the insanely expensive hydraulic shifting

For this rider, this bike is everything that mountain biking is supposed to not be.

Frame: SCOTT SCALE SL
Headset: TUNE BUBU custom made
Stem: AX LIGHTNESS custom air brush painted 100mm
Fork: DT Swiss XRC Twin shoot custom brushed
Handlebar: Schmolke SL 600mm custom brushed
Barends: SLB CUSstom 90g
Grips: Extralite
Crank : THM Clavicula 42/32
Chainring: Carbon Ti
Cassette: SRAM XX 11-36
Chain: YBN TITAN
Seat:Parts od Passion
Seatpost: Schmolke TLO 400mm custom
Brake: Magura MT 8
Brakerotor: HOPE Race Edition
Derailleurs: Acros A GE
Bottle Cage: Tune
ALL Bolts and screws are made: Titan /ALU /bottecage carbon
Rims: AX Lightweight tubular brushed
Hubs: TUNE Princess SKYLINE
Hub: Tune Dezibel custom
Spokes: Sapin Superspoke carbon laminated

23 comments

23 comments

Bikethrasher January 11, 2012 - 1:24 am

Ok first of all I’m a trailrider not a racer. I think what Rob is getting at here is that when you lighten a bike to this extent you greatly change the feel of a bike. A heavier bike is more stable and has a solid feel which instills confidence in the rider. Every pound below the weight of a burly Dh Rig you take off a bike a little bit of that feeling goes away. How much you are willing to sacrifice in the name of weight loss is up to the rider. As a trail rider I like to stay below 30 and above 24. Any lighter and the benifit of weight loss doesn’t seem to be worth it to me. Flex becomes very aparent at this point. Anybody can feel the difference in stiffness between a 150 gr stem and a 105 gram stem. I can feel the difference between a XTR Crank and a XX crank. So taking this into consideration. You get a Flexy stem, bar, cranks, seatpost, wheels with skinnier and balder tires than your used to. Then you have the chattery ride of a Scott frame. This isn’t something most of us are used to. At least not all at the same time. Most of us ride a trail bike that weighs over 25 pounds. If we hoped on this 14 lb bike and tried to ride the way we do on our trailbikes a feeling of Terror would come over most of us, and we would probably ride it as if it were a road bike. But I know guys that would love this thing and would rip on it. That being said the biggest weight weenie I know admits a bike this light would take an amazing amount of skill to ride fast on anything but the smoothest of trails. So no I don’t think it’s unridable. I also respect what he’s done because I’ve gone the ultra light route. A bike like this just takes some time to get used to. I personally just don’t think It would be fun to ride. Cool to see yes, It’s just not a bike most people would enjoy riding.

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Doug Johnson January 11, 2012 - 9:34 am

Bikethrasher, I think that is very fair. Given today’s technology and available products, there is certainly going to be a point at which compromises have to be made to meet a certain weight point. We also have manufacturers who are lightening components by using new materials and technologies and getting items that are stiffer, lighter, and stronger. This is particularly true of ultralight carbon items vs. ultralight aluminum items. It also may be true of off-road tubular wheels, such as those above by AX Lightweight/Tune/Sapim or ENVE, and certainly other components.

Your point about weight on the trail is the interesting question in my opinion. If you have a 20 pound XC hardtail, a 17 pound XC hardtail, and this 15 pound ultralight version, how would they ride on the trail? If you were able to make them reasonably similar and make the weight change, how would they ride? What would lap times be? What would the rider’s experience be? What would it be like if 3 of us took turns riding these bikes on our local trails? Would the weight of this sub-15 bike make it unrideable?

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Leon van der Westhuizen January 11, 2012 - 12:32 am

I have a 4 year old Morewood Shova (5.5″ indestructible build).
It weighs 35lbs, but apart from tyres, I haven’t broken it. Yet. And not from lack of trying 🙂
I would be too scared to even sit on that Scott…
But still, from a purely intellectual point of view, it pretty awesome that an off-road capable (?) bike can be built that light.

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Ed January 10, 2012 - 4:04 pm

You haven’t ridden this bike yet you make claims about how it rides etc. perhaps all opinions from your site should be viewed in this context.

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198 January 10, 2012 - 4:06 pm

That is a little too broad sweeping. Everything on this site that is labeled as a review is brought in specifically for those purposes and tested. This was opinion based on past experience. If you don’t agree with it…that is fine. We all have different opinions and the world would be pretty boring if we all thought the same thing.

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neil b January 10, 2012 - 12:18 pm

My wheels/tyres and fork probably add up to 14 lb. But still, I love riding my bike down big hills. Each to his own, but it certainly should not be all about weight. Maybe the owner likes how this rides.

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Joey G January 10, 2012 - 12:12 pm

These bikes are not built to be used in World Championship bike races. They are built to see how far one can go with making a functional bike. Just like guys building 10 second race cars in their garage, they will most certainly not be driving them to work daily. I agree with Doug Johnson’s post about what are the specifics that would make this ride so bad ? It is an impressive build, I think functionality was considered a SS option would have dropped the weight even more. To criticize a bike that has never been ridden by the author is comical.

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198 January 10, 2012 - 12:17 pm

Tire choice, wheel build are the biggest component choices that effect ride quality outside of the frame and suspension. Spending over $2,300 on just shifting alone is a little over the top…but that doesn’t effect ride quality.

The sacrifices you have to make to get the weight down that far on those components is where the sacrifice is made. Having ridden products in that category, I can make that assumption for anyone that weighs more than 160 pounds.

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Doug Johnson January 10, 2012 - 3:59 pm

Just because you have ridden products in this “category” doesn’t mean you can comment on each of the components. Shouldn’t you be commenting on the durability or quality of INDIVIDUAL parts, if that’s the issue?

You’ve brought up many points as to why you think this bike would be unride-able:
– It’s a problem with the weight itself: “There is not enough weight to accurately generate traction with the bike.”
– It’s a problem with the components: “The compromises you have to make in component durability and weight makes the bike bounce around like crazy. There is no deadening in the wheels, frame and other components to smooth the trail. It actually has less to do with frame material as it does with the components and their combination.”
– It’s overall sacrifices: “The sacrifices you have to make to get the weight down that far on those components is where the sacrifice is made. Having ridden products in that category, I can make that assumption for anyone that weighs more than 160 pounds.”

So what is it? Is it tubular tires that would be bad? Is it lightweight rims? Is it the DT Swiss fork? Is it high-mod carbon in the frame? What would make it rideable- swapping aluminum rims for carbon to increase stiffness? Have you had problems with components from AX Lightness, Tune, or Extralite? What are the components that would affect the ride to this degree? The “ride” would most seem to be a result of frame, fork, wheels, and tires and I’d like to know where you see the faults.

Is it the components of the bike that you have an issue with or is it the weight itself? THAT’S the question that I find interesting because I don’t think that lightweight components all contribute to a bad ride. But today we are seeing bikes that are lighter than ever before. I’m really curious if there is a weight where things start to not work- not because of components, but because of the weight itself.

But until you ride the bike, I’m not sure you can call it unride-able. Ridiculous, maybe- based on price perhaps? But the ride quality can’t be surmised based on the components. Unless the Scott frame, DT Swiss fork, Tufo Tubuless tires, etc. are bad enough to ruin the ride of ANY bike they are a part of.

We all ride bikes that are stupidly expensive in the eyes of someone else- this bike is definitely exorbitantly expensive but that is beside the point of the ride.

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198 January 10, 2012 - 4:10 pm

Doug. I will agree that expensive to one may not be to another. Most of the bikes we ride are considered very expensive by people outside of riding (I would think they think anything over a grand is extreme when we think it just gets you into the game in some cases).

Both the components and the weight itself as the goal was to get the weight of this bike down by using ultra light components. I look at a bike as a system. It is obvious in this case that the goal of the system was to get it as light as humanly possible and use the most expensive parts money can by to do so. Judging by the spec and past experience, the use of many of these components does not ruin how a bike rides in and of themselves (maybe tires depending on the trail), but when you make that many sacrifices purely based on weight over the course of an entire build…that is where you run into problems.

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Doug Johnson January 11, 2012 - 12:24 am

“In this case, the bike is actually so light that it doesn’t accomplish the main goal…being ride-able.”

You’ve not made this case at all. You still have failed to present a single component that you’ve experienced that would contribute negatively to the ride in any way. You say, “when you make that many sacrifices purely based on weight…” but you have not pointed to any specific compromise that would be problematic.

I can see no basis to your negative judgement of this bike or any of its components. You also have made a very incomplete argument against weight itself being the issue, despite this claim: “Yes, a mountain bike can be too light.” Instead you point to the “system” but have chosen to not explain why this system or any of the components of the system are problematic.

You are correct that opinions can be stated in journalism. Opinions without basis, especially when shared on a site that people look to for factual information and reviews based on actual experience, are problematic. I’d say irresponsible.

Doug Johnson January 11, 2012 - 1:52 am

And to be clear, the reason why I think this is irresponsible journalism is that you are clearly saying that this bike is not ride-able based on sacrifices of the components which build the system. Without pointing to any specific issue, logic would follow that some combination of components produced by AX Lightness, Tune, Scott, DT Swiss, Extralite, Schmolke, Sapim, SRAM, Margula, Hope, Scott, or Tufo have compromises that create an unrideable bike.

People read your reviews and trust your opinion. I’m one of them. I’m also an editor with Backpacking Light Magazine. I think that for you to state opinions that are negative toward these brands or their technologies is unfair and without basis.

Now, if you’d ridden the bike and found that the wheels were overly flexible, that the frame was harsh, or that the seatpost broke, that would be an entirely different situation. Instead, you have published a report that a bike this light is unrideable because of the compromises of the system created by the parts selection. But no where do you show that you have any personal experience with any of the parts, only citing your 18 pound steel bike and “based on past experience,” without ever citing any of these experiences.

Krista Park January 10, 2012 - 12:06 pm

I love my sub-18lb Cannondale Flash hardtail, I am riding rough and rocky Arizona trails and the comments from the full-suspension riders are always the same. Everyone is amazed at how smooth and fast my little hardtail is over everything. The rear triangle design makes all the difference, compared to other lightweight carbon frames. Day after day of big rough rides convinces me that light bikes are the way (for me) to go. I also ride a full-suspension Scalpel (sub 20lbs). Both bikes built with very reliable parts, SRM power meters, Cannondale Sl cranks, full SRAM XX, NoTubes wheels, Kenda Karma tires, Time pedals, and bar ends.

14.xx? I don’t know. Every component of my bike is designed for someone much heavier than myself. If some parts were redesigned in a light-rider version I could see riding a lighter bike with the same comfort…

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198 January 10, 2012 - 12:20 pm

Krista…I actually agree with you on your bikes. I don’t think you would get the same enjoyment out of sub 15 as the compromises on wheels and tires would probably not hold up well in rocky Arizona (if everything Ken said was true!). They definitely wouldn’t hold up to World Cup race conditions.

But…that said…given your fitness level, bike handling skills and body type…lighter weight mountain bikes are well within your reach. This was more geared towards recreational/hobby riders that build bikes on spreadsheets instead of how they want the ride to be.

Looking forward to your 2012 season!!!

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Doug Johnson January 10, 2012 - 3:40 pm

I think you’re on shaky ground here because you are assuming that all components that fit into this category are equivalent. They likely are not. I’ve ridden aluminum wheels that were too light and flexible for my riding (and having ridden both Phoenix and Sedona, definitely not good wheels there). That said, I’ve not ridden the new carbon wheelsets such as ENVE. Based on my experiences with carbon wheels on the road and what I’ve read, I could certainly imagine these ultralight wheels holding up just fine in these conditions.

I’m not saying the wheels on the bike above are stiff or durable- I only question whether ALL products that would go on a bike such as these would inherently have these faults. Seems like it could be an over generalization…

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198 January 10, 2012 - 4:12 pm

I agree with you on this one actually. ENVE produces carbon wheelsets that have been proven to be durable over the long haul…especially with their AM set. However, those aren’t considered weight weenie wheels either and as you mentioned…many aluminum based, lightweight rims can’t withstand abuse.

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boogie January 10, 2012 - 11:33 am

I also find that people (including me) take the weight of tires too far. You want to shave 100 grams off your tire, don’t you? Its so easy to lighten your bike through lighter tires.

But tires are so crucial to grip, I think you’ll ride faster on a confidence inspiring tire that is 650 grams, compared to a wash out in the corners 500 gram tire. Not to mention, aren’t we riding to have fun? Grip it and rip it, so to say.

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Jay January 10, 2012 - 10:13 am

I have a scott scale 10, built by me, probably in the 18lb range, and I love it. 14 might be too light, but there are people willing to pay for lightness with loss in comfort…

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Doug Johnson January 10, 2012 - 10:00 am

You bring up that the bike is “ridiculous” and “unride-able” and compare it to your custom steel bike. But you never state why the weight inherently makes the bike this way. You don’t bring up any specific parts as being the weak link (and I know that many of these parts are from reputable companies and have a good track record). So is it the 14.5 pound weight specifically? I’m not sure that it’s reasonable to compare your steel bike and this carbon bike, which you have not ridden- of course they would have different ride characteristics. And the expense is not related to ride quality.

So what is it about a lightweight bike that makes it ridiculous and unride-able? You hated your 18 pound bike. Is that because of the 18 pound weight? What were the characteristics of the bike that were specific to weight that made it such a poor mountain bike? And if 18 pounds is not a worthy mountain bike and thus a 14 pound bike would follow suit, what do you feel is the minimum weight for a mountain bike to be ride-able?

My mountain bikes are nowhere near these weights and I have no experience with a sub-20 pound mountain bike. But my road bike is in this range and I can’t see anything that is a negative in this weight range- at least in that application and with a 175 pound rider aboard.

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198 January 10, 2012 - 10:05 am

It is a weight deal. There is not enough weight to accurately generate traction with the bike. I have ridden other carbon sub 18 pound bikes in the past and the conclusion was the same. The compromises you have to make in component durability and weight makes the bike bounce around like crazy. There is no deadening in the wheels, frame and other components to smooth the trail. It actually has less to do with frame material as it does with the components and their combination.

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jrp January 10, 2012 - 12:51 pm

I think that tire choice and tire pressure make most of the difference. There’s nothing wrong with quality carbon parts, if the rider is within their stated weight limit.

+1 on SS here, though. Super light bike is kind of asking for it..

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mikeydtan January 10, 2012 - 12:48 pm

weight matters if you ride in the rough, hilly terrains, i guess … “Unlike with road bikes, when you lighten up a mountain bike to the extreme, you actually decrease the ride quality of the bike to such an extreme that the decreased ride characteristics actually overtake the benefits you get from the weight savings. In simplier terms…the bike rides like such crap on the trail (unless it is so groomed you could ride a road bike on it) that you end up fighting for traction more. In turn, you lose the efficiency that you thought you gained by going crazy light to begin with” for a non-bike analogy, imagine the recoil of a magnum gun weighing like a pea shooter? 🙂 can be done but you gotta be real fit.

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Michael Long January 10, 2012 - 9:23 am

When I was shopping for a race bike for next season I found myself longing at bikes that I could get into the sub-20 range. Then I kept remembering riding a few of those bikes and how much they threw me around the trail. Sure I could climb better, but the bike was so bad at going downhill and through the rough stuff that I negated my advantage in that area. I have two thoughts on this bike:

1. The owner of this bike is probably the same type of guy that gets mad when he gets dropped by someone with a heavier bike. He then automatically thinks that he need to make it lighter, because it’s got to be the bikes fault. It could never be him.

2. If he really wanted to make the bike lighter he would have built a rigid SS.

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