Sometimes I think high level, light and fast oriented athletes live in an imaginary world. In this world, all that’s important is how fast a route can get done, or who came in first at a race. Towards this end, elite athletes have historically spent much time and effort shaving grams – not pounds or ounces, but grams – from their gear. Road biking, backcountry skiing, mountain biking, dirt biking, sprint racing, rando racing, ultra running, triathalon’ing, snowmobiling, paragliding, rock climbing – all sorts of sports find enthusiasts practicing the theory of ‘lighter stuff is better.’
Buying the lightest gear that they can afford, they then do modifications from there to remove even more weight. These athletes are down to shaving grams because, often, they’ve already cut out all the pounds that can conceivably be removed from their equipment.
Shaving, trimming, removing, modifying, filing, grinding – it’s all done in the name of trimming overall, total weight. Since carrying weight is a handicap in most sports (sumo wrestling being an obvious exception), this weight-obsessive approach makes some sense if being efficient or setting a record is what you care about.
I’m guilty. I definitely make my ski gear lighter by employing whatever tricks keep it intact and functional, or even improve upon the stock design, as I did with TLT 5 ski boots.
However, one of the main reasons I find this gear weight obsessiveness to be preposterous is the associated absurdity. Many of these ‘madly consumed’ trimmers focus on one area of life while completely ignoring another. Even people who aren’t gram trimmers fall into this mentality – it’s to the point that even outdoor clothing weights have to be listed in the product descriptions. Coat, wind resistant, 14.8 ounces, available in green and black.
Meanwhile, these same consumers hop into completely stock automobiles when their sport is over, and motor home in a vehicle that is far from as efficient as it could be. Season after season, they focus stringently on gear weight, while never once considering the weight of the vehicle that carts them, their friends, and their gear back and forth to the sport zone. This strikes me as nonsensical. Why apply such prodigious engineering talent only to one area of one’s life?
It would be easy to simply point fingers at the drivers of huge trucks out there, but every single automobile on the road, even a small car, could be made more efficient by utilizing the same attention to detail that is required to trim grams from gear.
While I’m happy that much of my recreation is human powered, I, along with most everyone, drive to the trailheads and parking lots that represent the starting points of our respective sports. I’m only human powered once I get there. I’m pretty sure most of the rest of you are in the same boat; during six years in Utah, I’ve only seen one person, once – a woman, riding her bike up the Little Cottonwood Canyon road with skis on her pack (in late Spring on a dry road).
As rad as I thought that was, this isn’t a call to start riding bikes up the canyons in winter, on snowy roads, with skis on your pack. That would be inefficient and stupid. Getting hit by an out-of-control car whilst on a bike doesn’t look good on anyone at 9 in the morning. A different solution presents itself.
What would be the outcome if the same brains and talent that drive this ‘obsessive’ (and common) gear weight trimming were applied to making motorized vehicles more efficient? My experience after trimming nearly 200 pounds off my VW GTI was pretty obvious: faster acceleration, reduced gas consumption, and faster stopping.
That’s the inevitability of the system: reduce weight while keeping horsepower and braking power the same, and those three things will be the byproduct. Theoretically, the suspension is under less load per bump, so the ride should be slightly more comfortable as well. I personally didn’t notice the difference. Also, handling – as in, the propensity of the vehicle to tip over while going around a freeway exit ramp, for example – is improved.
So that’s my call to action for you today. Look for some balance in your life. As is demonstrated by the vast number of gear weight trimming folks out there, it doesn’t take an engineering degree to improve upon commercially designed products. Can you think of a way to cut weight out of your vehicle today? Better yet, will you go out there and actually do it?