The World's Lightest Bike
article & images by Nick Salazar
Sep 15, 2010
In 2008, a German named Gunter Mai stunned the cycling world by building the lightest road bike ever made. The initial build of his light bike tipped the scales at just under 3.2 kg, and he eventually tuned it down even more to roughly 2.8kg. And it was no mere show bike; Mai reportedly logged over 20,000km on the machine in its first couple years. But he shocked the cycling commumity again when, early this year, he suddenly parted out the entire bike and sold each piece individually, scattered to the four winds.
But some of the key parts made it into the hands of a Colorado rider who wanted to reincarnate the anorexic beast, and he sent off the custom Spin frame, THM fork, the stem/handlebars, and a few more parts to Jason Woznick of Fairwheel Bikes in Tuscon, Arizona. There, Woznick set to work sourcing the lightest parts available to finish off the build. Almost every part on the bike is completely custom, and cannot be purchased off the shelf anywhere, for any price.
Holding the machine is truly breathtaking. There's nothing to it. Even picking up another object of similar weight isn't quite illustrative, because, for example, a gallon of milk is very dense (and also two pounds heavier). Picking up a six-pound bike is different -- it simply feels like nothing is there.
An (expensive) exercise in (gram) frugality
As we were shooting the bike, a bystander walked by and asked how much such a machine would cost. The simple answer is that it's not an item that can be purchased. You can't just grab some parts from your local bike shop and hope to achieve a world record bike. This machine required the efforts of several industry leaders, including, for example, a one-off fork made by THM, who already make the lightest production fork. Woznick estimates that, with enough cash, you might be able to get the various component makers to recreate their efforts, but probably not for less than around $45,000. "I imagine that if you call up THM and ask them to make you a special fork, they're going to ask you for five or six thousand dollars," Woznick guesses. "Run that across the whole bike, and you're talking about a lot of money."
Some of the parts aren't really available even if you have the cash to swing around. "The carbon in those Ax rims, for example, isn't readily available. They got a very small amount of it from some Formula One guys, and it's a grade of carbon that you can't actually purchase anywhere."
What might be possible ...
The point of this bike is obviously not to produce a machine for the masses. But by pushing the limits, manufacturers up their game. They learn new techniques and new possibilities, and some of that technology eventually trickles down to a production level. For example, the prototype Dash hubs on the bike, both front and rear, are going into production in 2011. The rear hub, at an astounding 84 grams, will be beefed up very slightly, and should run at around 99 grams. The front hub, a 30 gram wonder, should remain the same.
And that's why we care about this machine here at TriRig. Of course this isn't a tri bike, and you're not likely to see anything resembling it at your local dealer. But the point is that it's pushing the limits in a way that's very good for our sector of the market. Aero parts are too often produced without regard to how much they're going to weigh. After all, aero trumps weight, right? But why should that mean that weight doesn't matter? Despite the aero arms race, we're glad to see other aspects of bike construction being examined.
Check the gallery below for pics of the world-record-breaking light bike, as well as another Fairwheel project, a very trick 3-speed fixed gear Parlee bike.
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