The Benefits of Riding a Boat Anchor

Ye Olde Boat Anchor

I can accept the fact that some people just like the feel of a lightweight bike, and others might want a lightweight bike to help them keep up with their friends that are in better shape. Racers probably have the most valid argument for obsessing over bike weight since they’re already in excellent physical condition and have a specific need to go faster. But for us commuters, fitness riders, casual cyclists, and general lolly-gaggers, worrying about how much our bike weighs is akin to my Great Aunt obsessing about how much horsepower she’s getting from her ’76 Chevy Chevette.

So the heavy bike is slower, but it provides a 50% longer workout and consequently, 50% more health benefits. Add in the fact that lightweight bikes are expensive and fragile, and that old boat anchor out in the garage starts looking pretty good.

The irony is that many fitness riders pay big bucks for ultra-light bikes, yet heavy bikes actually give you a better workout (this isn’t strictly scientific, but work with me here). For example, let’s say you have a 10 mile commute, and on a 17 lb. racing bike in a full tuck you can make it to work in 30 minutes at a particular heart rate. On a 50 lb. bike with an upright cockpit and internally geared hub, I’m guessing it would take about 45-50 minutes to make the same route at the same heart rate. So the heavy bike is slower, but it provides a 50% longer workout and consequently, 50% more health benefits. Add in the fact that lightweight bikes are expensive and fragile, and that old boat anchor out in the garage starts looking pretty good. I mean, where else can you get 50% more at half the price?

Of course, some riders need to schlep their bikes up a flight of stairs or onto a bus rack; in that case, a boat anchor might cause a slipped disc or a split gut. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t mind shaving a few pounds off of my Brompton; at 27 lbs. it’s not exactly a tank, but it can be a bit of a handful to drag onto a crowded bus with one hand while carrying a breifcase and helmet in the other.

15 Responses to “The Benefits of Riding a Boat Anchor”

  • bikesplosion says:

    I ride a lightweight aluminum frame Pinarello for all of my roadie pursuits, and my steel frame Bianchi is the daily commuter and MUCH heavier. But she rides so much better. You can really feel the difference with a steel frame in terms of comfort on the road. I don’t feel every crack and bump like I do on the racer.

    One of my goals is to build up a touring bike. Something likely built round a Surly LHT frame. One thing I will say about heavy bikes though. Living in an upstairs apartment, I really have to make weight a consideration unless I want to hump boat anchors upstairs every time I want to take one out for a ride. Uuuuugh.

  • Perry says:

    This is something that I have given a lot of thought to and I have come to the following conclusion: the bike you enjoy is the bike you will ride the most and the bike that will keep you the most fit. Be it a boat anchor, a light carbon racer, a LWB ‘bent, at utility trike…whatever. Fact is: fun = mucho mileage = better fitness. For me, it’s that simple.

  • Colin says:

    I moved to a lighter bike a couple months ago and I gotta say I love it. The fact that I can more easily get some speed on while riding up hills actually encourages me to push myself more. Sure my commute ends up taking a shorter time, but I’ve also begun to venture more outside my normal commute route and take longer harder rides up more hills.

    I use my bike to commute all over town, far a wide — and regularly get shocked looks from my friends when they find out I biked there. Frankly, if my commuter was a boat anchor, I’d end up taking the bus or just staying home.

  • torrilin says:

    Breezer claims that a Villager weighs about 30 lbs. Sounds about right to me. It is a nice compromise between light weight and commuter goodies… a lot of the similarly decked out bikes were difficult for me to lift or even impossible for me to lift. Not a good idea since I have stairs. Yes, it’s got an aluminum frame… still has a very nice ride. I tried some nice and not so nice steel bikes, and it’s comparable to the nicest riding steel bike.

    The better workout argument isn’t one I care much for. The best bike for a workout is the one you ride and ride often. Even a pretty out of shape rider can benefit from a light bike… in an area with steep hills, it can make a real difference in their climbing ability. (course, at the same time, here I am riding a bike that probably hits 35lbs with basket and panniers… so obviously I’m not *too* worried about weight)

  • Alan says:

    And then there are my heroes, the Pink Lady and Freddie Hoffman (85# and 100# bikes, respectively). :-)

  • Alan says:


    You nailed it Perry..

  • Val says:

    Hooray for Freddie and the Pink Lady! I’ve been secretly in love with her for a while. My favorite bike usually weighs in at around 100 lbs, too, and I love it. It does more, and makes me feel more secure (especially in traffic) than any other bike I own. It does give me a better workout, too – 600 feet of climbing at the end of every day and stairs to haul it up at work definitely add muscle tone. It is true that I would not get the workout if I did not enjoy riding it, so the real point here is not that heavier bikes are automatically better for you, but that bikes that weigh more for good reasons can do you good.

  • Joel says:

    Preachin’ to the choir. My commuter is a ’72 Schwinn Speedster 3-speed that weighs almost as much as I do. I did a year of grad school hauling it up for flights of stairs (which led to my right shoulder being all muscley compared the the left) and I still love it. I have a significantly lighter touring bike (Surly LHT) that I love, but I can’t say that I’ve ever been one to focus on the bike weight. After all, whats the few pounds I could lose in bike-weight compared to the 50 or so of Me-weight that I should lose…

  • Fritz says:

    I have my boat anchors an enjoy riding them, but for pure fun I really like my lightweight carbon fiber road bike. If I’m going to spend four hours in the saddle for a fitness ride, I want the experience to be enjoyable. If the bike is so heavy you hate to ride it and hence never do so, there’s no fitness benefit to the heavier bike.

  • Alexander López says:

    This argument reminds me the one used for Listerine: if it hurts, then you’ll know ut’s working!

  • Alan says:

    No pain, no gain! (he says, with an ice pack on his knee… LOL).

  • Dave Brown says:

    Let’s do the math:
    Me @ 183# + 17# bike= 200#
    Me + 37# bike = 220#
    Only 10% more.

  • Perry says:

    @Dave Brown: Yes and no. I am one who believes that bike weight is not the same as rider weight–just like wheel weight is not the same as frame weight. That said, my recumbent is probably 40-50 lbs so I am not saying bike weight is the be-all and end-all either.

  • Alan says:

    This mini-rant, like many of my other rants, was offered up mostly as a conversation starter, and doesn’t necessarily express a very deeply held view. In reality, I’m closer to Perry’s position of bike-neutrality: “The bike you enjoy is the bike you will ride the most and the bike that will keep you the most fit.”

    What prompted this post was a chance conversation with an otherwise reasonable and logical fellow who was complaining that his commute is too short to give a good workout, while in the same breath bragging about the efficiency of his carbon bike. The irony was not lost on me, with the result being this post. So beware of a scrawny guy on a boat anchor bike that asks too many questions; if you divulge too much to this character, you just might end up the subject of an op-ed piece. ;-)

  • Jett says:

    I’ve got a steel-framed commuter and an aluminum road bike for long weekend rides. Riding the heavy bike all week makes the light bike so much more fun.

    It’s all good.

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