The fight for every gram.
In the master class on weight loss, the focus is not on conquering one’s weaker self but rather professional sports equipment. In the world of cycle racing, carbon wheel racers compete in quasi flyweight. They do so with ground-breaking success and exceptional beauty!
Probably in no other sport is weight as haggled as it is in cycling. Anyone who has made the agonizing trek through the mountain stage of the Tour de France immediately agrees that less is more. Above all, wheels pose a real challenge: they must be robust on one hand and capable of speed on the other. It is necessary to find the perfect combination of light weight, stability and aerodynamics.
Lightweight – the name says it all.
If you follow the cycling scene, pretty much everyone agrees that wheels from the „Lightweight“ manufacturer in Friedrichshafen all but reach the precipice of perfection. Superior stiffness plus minimal weight and extremely low wind resistance make products like „GIPFELSTURM,“ „MEILENSTEIN“ or „FERNWEG“ the absolute benchmark in cycling. These handcrafted pieces are not only highly functional, they also feature high-end design. Too bad they are usually whizzing by too quickly to catch a closer look…
Manual labour for footwork – a success story.
The success story began with Sulkys. What exactly is the fastest route from equestrian sport to cycling? Well, on carbon wheels, of course! However, in order to avoid bridling the horse or bike from behind, we must first trot hastily back to Munich in the 1980s: toolmakers Heinz Obermayer and his colleague at the time Rudolf Dierl – both CAD technicians with fibre-reinforced plastic knowhow – spent their spare time at home in a small but well-equipped garage producing a carbon spoiler for the Porsche 911, 190 Mercedes and carbon wheels for Sulky. Finally someone said, „C‚mon and make something for racing bikes.“ Thus Lightweight was born.
„Once you set off, you can’t help looking round to check if someone is pushing you.“
It took four years for the carbon fibre duo, insulating foam and Aramit (a type of plastic used to make bulletproof vests) to develop today’s spoke wheels. The first disc wheel rolled out of the workshop in 1990 and the first spoke wheel in 1996 while success was quick to follow: Johan Museeuw bought a momentum wheel and was promptly named Road World Champion. The winners of the Tour de France in 1996 and 1997, Bjarne Riis and Jan Ullrich, also relied on the lightweights. The catch phrase „one you set off, you can’t help looking round to check if someone is pushing you“ became ubiquitous.
How did the wheel sensation scene unfold in Upper Bavaria? Heinz Obermayer never experienced anything like it. „They were passed around in the professional scene and suddenly we were world market leaders. Without sales, without marketing partners, all under our own steam,“ explained the founder to a Spiegel Online reporter. Lance Armstrong, Jan Ulrich, Marco Pantani, Mario Cipollini, Bobby Julich, Jens Voigt, Joseba Beloki, Laurent Jalabert, Erik Zabel and many others suddenly dashed from one victory to another on Lightweights. Word of the outstanding quality and performance of these wheels got out and spread like wildfire.
In 2003, CarbonSports took over the wheel forge with a few partners under CEO Stefan Behrens which then moved to Lake Constance. Over the years, production processes, material selection and manufacturing techniques evolved dramatically though the philosophy did not change. Even today, the high quality pieces are still made by hand in Germany. A single model may require up to twenty hours of work. The product range also expanded: today there are many sets of wheels, handlebars, upscale accessories or the stunningly beautiful Lightweight „Urgestalt“ frame set as a technical continuation of wheels – a piece nearly better suited to the living room than the road. Perhaps this also explains something Lightweight does not hide – an astronomical price tag. Then again, a work of art does cost a bit more even if it weighs next to nothing…
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