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On test: Ultimate Alpine Scale by Feedback Sports, April 11, 2005

Weighty matters

What's your bike weigh? James Huang takes a look at digital scale that makes it very easy to find out.

Ultimate Alpine Scale by Feedback Sports
Photo ©: James Huang
Click for larger image

Cyclists, as a group, are obsessed with the weight of our bikes and equipment. New products are almost invariably lighter than the previous iteration, and rarely is a component even listed in a catalog without its weight. There are even entire companies and web sites dedicated solely to the pursuit of reduced mass. Yet for as often as the question, "how much does it weigh?" is asked, it's surprising how difficult it can be to actually produce a reasonably accurate answer. True, there are your standard digital postal scales for weighing individual components and whatnot, but they are typically difficult or even impossible to use for heavier or more awkwardly shaped items.

No bicycles to see here…
Photo ©: James Huang
Click for larger image

Those trying to get a complete bicycle weight are often relegated to an improvised hanging grocery store scale that is better suited for weighing your apples, or the old 'get on the bathroom scale with your bike' trick. More importantly, those little postal scales can't easily answer the real question of how much weight was actually lost from your bike with the addition of that newest carbon fiber wonderbit. Never fear, though, as Ultimate Support comes to the rescue with the the surprisingly handy bicycle-specific Alpine Digital Scale by Feedback Sports.

A collaboration between workstand and bike storage make Ultimate and Colorado outdoor company Feedback Sports, the Alpine Scale consists of a durable rubber-coated main body with the obligatory loop up top and a hook at the bottom from which to hang stuff. The best feature, however, is the short tube protruding from the bottom of the body that allows you to clamp the scale in just about any workstand , thus creating an instant platform to work from that is automatically at the correct height.

A workstand clamp
Photo ©: James Huang
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To be honest, I'm amazed that no one else has come up with this idea before now, but given Ultimate's workstand roots, it's not that surprising. Use of the scale is brutally simple: clamp or hang the unit, turn it on and wait for the unit to zero out, and then hang stuff from the hook. Readings are convertible from metric to English units with the touch of a button, and the maximum weight limit of 22.7kg (55 lbs) should even make this scale appealing to the gravity crowd. Ultimate's scale is also fairly sensitive with a 10g resolution but does need a 50g minimum weight to display a reading. As such, true weight weenies will likely want to stick with their postal scale for really little bits, but that's not what this unit was meant for, anyway. Power is supplied by four AA batteries, which are included.

Step one: mount scale.
Photo ©: James Huang
Click for larger image

All in all, the Ultimate scale proved to be a remarkably clever solution for a common problem. Sixty-five bucks might seem like a lot of money to find out what your bike weighs (you can get digital scales intended for fishing for quite a bit less, but good luck mounting them in a workstand), but if you really need this information it's not a big spend. If, for example, you're a pro mechanic struggling to persuade a very small track bike not to blow the UCI's 6.8kg weight minimum, then the Alpine Scale could save you quite a bit of to-ing and fro-ing with race officials. We wouldn't be surprised to see these scales in bike shops, to pander to the weight-weenie tendency of more than a few riders, and we keep thinking up other uses too.

For example, there's a mountain bike event called the Polaris Challenge that's popular in the UK and Australia. Pairs of riders compete by racing between checkpoints, orienteering-style, while carrying with them enough gear to survive for a weekend in the wilds. When next year's event rolls round, the Cyclingnews Australian office is expecting lots of loan requests from our friends that do Polaris, wanting to either even up the load distribution or deliberately make it uneven if one rider is stronger than the other. We may have to organise a weigh-off!

Update, May 24, 2005: Editor's note - After this review was posted on Cyclingnews, a reader called Rob wrote in to ask if we'd checked the accuracy of the scale against any known weights. Since James is a materials scientist by training, he slapped himself on the forehead for not doing such an obvious test and subsequently writes:

I finally got around to checking the accuracy this afternoon using a few of the calibrated weights we have here in the creep lab and I'm pleased (and relieved) to report that the Ultimate scale reading is nearly dead-on. For example, on a mass that was previously calibrated at 9104g, the Ultimate scale registered 9110g. This is not only well within the claimed resolution range, but also within one-tenth of a percent of the true value. Not bad for $65USD.

Price: US$64.99
Pros: Ease of use, mounting option flexibility, accurate digital readout.
Cons: Pricy compared to spring-balance scales and non-bike-specific digital scales.
More information: www.feedbacksports.com or www.ultimatesupport.com
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