80s-era steel Cilo bicycle

Part Three: Tuff Enuff — Durability and Racing Components

Part Three: Is your bike — and its components — tough enough for racing?

[content_box type=”with-header” title=”StartConfident Summary” text_color=”dark” color=”default” animation=”fade-in”]
  • Fit. Smooth. Durable. That’s all that counts to get you goin’.
  • If you are fitted to your bike perfectly, you’re more than half way there
  • Every bearing must roll or turn smooth
  • Racing is hard on a bike. Durability is clutch.


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“Wow. That’s a heavy bike.”


This is the final chapter in our 3-part series entitled, “Is My Bike Good Enough to Race.” This installment deals with a bit of a cult issue.

The cult of the so-called “weight weenie,” and its powerful, industry-wide effect on cycling. This effect is so powerful, it’s trickled down all the way to the consumer level. And the effect is summarized in the statement, “A lighter bike is a better bike.” Some would even believe the nonsense that “a lighter bike is a faster bike.”

Hogwash. Balderdash. Crazy talk.

A lighter bike is, in most cases, a more fragile bike, and certainly, a more expensive bike. And while a lighter bike does have its clear advantages in specific situations, the reality is this: you want faster? Watch what you eat, put in your interval training, make sure your bike fits you perfectly, and insure every part that rolls or pivots is silky smooth.

But, I digress. The subject at hand is durability.


Racing pushes equipment — and athletes — to their limits

If you’ve never raced before, you may have a hard time appreciating just how hard your bike will be driven.

If you’ve read our post regarding lactate threshold and how to test to determine yours, you’ll see a protocol there. It comes down to a 20-minute time trial that you can do on the road, on a turbo trainer, or a stepped-resistance test at a lab.

[callout icon=”hb-moon-bike”]You want faster? Watch what you eat, put in your interval training, make sure your bike fits you perfectly, and insure every part that rolls or pivots is silky smooth.[/callout]


Ask any cycling coach or performance tester about what they’re biggest concern is during a cyclist’s performance testing and they’ll say this:

“You always wonder if they’re going hard enough. Everyone always goes harder during a real race rather than a test.”

And it’s true. Cyclists train hard. At least, the ones that want to be in the action do. They put in hard interval training, such as, 20 minutes suffering at their thresholds followed by 5 minutes of recovery, then another 20. But get out on a race course, beginner or experienced racers alike — and you’ll see these riders pouring everything they have into their pedals. So much pouring that the two 20-minute intervals they did previously pale in comparison to the way they’re wailing on their bikes during that race. Hands and shoulders straining on the bars during sprints, heaves and groans up hills, quads and rear ends burning during hard pushes into a headwind.

That’s just racing. Endorphins work that way.

And underneath all of this grinding, twisting torque — are hubs, headsets, shifters, brakes, and wheels. Shift after shift, lever pull after lever pull, endless wheel rotations, spinning and spinning.

If it ain’t durable, it won’t last.

Which brings us back to the whole “light is better” thing.


“Marginal gains”

Let’s just pretend for a minute, shall we?

You’re a professional racer. You ride your bike. A lot. And get paid for it. Unless you’re a superstar, you don’t get all that much, compared to a lot of cushy white collar types, anyway. But you don’t have to pay for your equipment. So that’s a plus.

You have people who monitor your weight. Your blood sugar. Your lactate. Your hematocrit (the the ratio of the volume of red cells to the volume of whole blood). Your training plan is very specific to your race schedule — which you also don’t have control over. You’re a lab right. You’re expected to perform.

And you’re not the only one. Every professional racer goes through some level of this.

With everyone training at such a high level, you look for whatever kind of gain you can get. Any edge is “a little more.”

Enter light and strong everything. Light, strong, and durable enough for this season’s racing.

If you’re like me, your equipment will need to do well this season, next season, and…probably at least one more. I mean, hey…the kids need shoes, right?

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Us working stiffs need beefy. And…light enough.

I say “beefy,” but by now I hope you understand that I’m talking about “stout.”

Here on StartConfident, I have images of an 80s-era steel bike made in Switzerland. It’s a Cilo. Columbus Aelle steel. I bought it in the early 90’s. It’s been repainted 3 times. It’s worn it’s original Shimano 600 components,  two sets of 90’s Ultegra components, 4 different training wheelsets, and now, a mishmash of Cane Creek, Ritchey, and Shimano 105. All of it hand-me-downs from other bikes as they’ve worked there way up the Ladder of Smoother and Efficienter.

80s-era Cilo bicycle headtube

Leather-wrapped alloy bar. Steel tubes and lugs. Solid as a rock.

I still have the original components, which have been ridden countless miles in every kind of weather, from Kansas to New York. It was my commuter bike in Michigan. With the exception of bearings and cables and a couple odd chains, everything is still perfect. Yes, it’s heavy as hell. But she rolls silent and smooth. She shifts exquisitely. She brakes with precision.

Would I race her? Hell, yes. If it wasn’t for 2 factors:

  1. I bought her before I knew the first danged thing about proper bike fit. She’s a 57cm, and ideally, I ride a 54. Saddle and pedal position is spot-on, but the reach to the bars and my weight distribution over it’s center of gravity is wanky.
  2. I’m way too emotionally attached to her. When my first kiddo was just a bun in the oven and money was scarce, she was purchased from a consignment shop with $20 down that was scavenged from an already overdue electrical bill. I’ll never get rid of her, and I’d hate to crash her.


Not that she’d actually sustain any damage. She’s a frickin’ tank. A slick, smooth, Swiss tank. I still use the original early 80s front derailleur and steel seat post because all the other ones I have are for big, fat, carbon or aluminum tubes. They still have polish and work to perfection. Could I say that my modern carbon whizbang light-as-fluff stuff will hold up as solidly in, say, 30 years? I honestly have my doubts.

If she was a 54, you better believe I’d put a set of race-worthy wheels on her and line ‘er up, assuming the course wasn’t all that hilly.


Have your existing bike evaluated by a race-savvy shop.

If your current rig isn’t the latest thing to roll off the floor at InterBike, but it fits you well, or can be made to fit you well with the right stem, bars, and seat post, have its components looked at by someone who knows what racing requires. You may need new cables. You may need new brake pads. You may need new pedals. You’ll likely need new bearings. But all else being well, you won’t need a new bike. And you’ll be ready to mash.

Personally, I think older, sturdier bikes like being pummeled. I think they appreciate the attention required to love ’em up to race worthiness. Like a horse being properly shod, curried, and saddled, there’s a nobility there that’s hard to describe.

Race it with pride. Unleash the beast.


[icon_box icon=”hb-moon-bike” icon_position=”left” align=”left”] Question: Tell us about your anti-hero race steed. What are you racing on?[/icon_box]
Sam Lowe

I've been a road cyclist with a penchant for speed ever since my first-ever paycheck holiday. I blew the whole wad on a turquoise Schwinn Tempo with then-new Shimano 105 indexed shifting way back in 1985. I've been a voracious consumer of racing-oriented information ever since. Training, nutrition, bike fit, racing techniques, and all manner of "kit." Between nearly 30 years of riding, racing, and reading about racing, I'm ready to help you get ready to race.

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