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PL Performance Examines - Light or Strong?

The question facing every rider is how to build up a bike that suits their needs. The most obvious factors that need to be weighed are price vs performance, but within the realm of high performance, there are products that are light and products that are strong.  

Image   When building the bike on paper, it seems that weight is the ultimate definition of "good" gear.

But it is important to remember that performance isn't just about how light your bike can get. For example, you could build a bike out of styrofoam and attain a weight under a pound. But we all know what would happen if you tried to ride this bike.

Most companies these days seem to be courting the edges of safety with unbelievably light bikes and it is true that there are phenomenal new materials and manufacturing methods that have been developed such as with metals such as 7046 series aluminum and scandium as well as advanced modern techniques for carbon construction that can be seen with our collaborations with 3M, but it is also true that scraping away too much material can easily end up with a compromise.

The two primary areas of compromise are in safety (obviously) and power transfer.
Our products are all designed first and foremost to the demands of our R&D Team. With nearly 30 years of professional racing under his belt, he understands that safety is usually a secondary consideration to speed for racers.  
YES, We are also keenly aware of something often overlooked with many racers.  
Over the course of a race, there are usualy three main situations for bike performance.
1.  Sprint or hard pedaling
2.  Spinning or riding in the saddle
3.  Corner Control
These are the same regardless of the type of race or type of bike. They apply for downhill just as much as for ironman or multi-day tour races.  
Bike rigidity and strength contribute very much to each of these three situations.  
Under what conditions is high lateral strength and rigidity needed?  
Do you like to go fast?  
    It's obvious that rigidity and strength are critical to corner control, both in ramped, high-speed track situations and in tight hairpins or slalom switchbacks, but what about cadence riding or out-of-the saddle hammering?

With spinning in the saddle, the primary type of rigidity is torsional. Force is directed from the drivetrain, passing first through the axle to the hub, then to the spokes, following through to the rim and tire.

Rigidity does not equal Strength

Don't be mistaken. A material can be very strong, but not very rigid. Likewise, a material can be very rigid, but not strong.

Two examples:
  • steel cable - very strong, not at all rigid
  • styrofoam - much more rigid than steel cable, but not at all strong

Manufacturers must balance these two characteristics, but their impact on safety and performance might surprise you.

Factors that can affect this include spoke pattern, spoke tension, spoke material, hub material, nipple material and rim specifics.

However, most of those are negligible influences. The biggest influences are spoke design and spoke tension.
Things change when entering a climb or a sprint. 
Suddenly, the demands on the bike and rider are much higher. It is quite common to see riders come out of the saddle and 'hammer' to gain momentum or to use different muscles.    

Good form dictates that the bike remains vertical at all times, but that's just not realistic.
As the bike comes off of vertical, some of your force is directed laterally into the wheels.

How much of that force can become forward momentum now also depends on the rigidity of the wheel to off-axis forces. If the wheel is too soft, it will flex like a wet noodle and waste your energy.    
Remember: The weakest link will flex first.
When your wheel flexes, you are putting your energy into bending your wheel back and forth like a spring.
You don't ride a full suspension bike in a road race for the same reason.
There's a reason why track races and sprint speed records are done primarily with super-stiff full carbon wheels. Yeah, our Padova is heavy, but it's the rigidity that has people looking specifically for it for their world record attempts. Speed isn't just about being light.    

And everybody knows that spokes are at an angle to give exactly this type of rigidity.

So that's good enough right? That depends on you and your riding style.    

If you are very light and ride with strict form, never coming out of the saddle, even on climbs and sprints, then perhaps this is so.    

However, even if you aren't spending all your time on a track, it may still be worthwhile to consider the role of strength in your riding and evaluate whether you would be better off with something lighter or something more rigid.

There's a reason that people tell us that our wheels "feel fast".    
TinyURL for this page: http://tinyurl.com/PL-PE-LightOrStrong    

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