Top five upgrades for your road bike
When it comes to bike upgrades, there is little doubt that the best thing to do to become a fitter, faster rider is to invest in your training. There is also something nice about outfitting your bike with some shiny new components that would give a certain performance advantage. In this article we discuss the top five upgrades you can make to your road bike.
Decrease rolling weight and improve acceleration with lighter carbon wheels
When it comes to shaving weight off your bike, rotating weight (i.e. wheels and tires) are arguably the best return on your investment. As a general rule, high-quality and lightweight wheels will not come cheap, but if your budget allows for this type of upgrade, it will give you significant performance gains over your stock run-of-the mill pair of heavy training wheels.
The choice of exact wheel spec will come down to the type of riding you enjoy doing the most. For example, if you are a flatland speed fiend with an appetite for time trials, you will probably benefit from deep-section wheels optimized for aerodynamic efficiency. If you are a hill climber where (low) weight is everything and every gram count, and you will probably be well served with a pair of superlight carbon hoops.
Boost traction and reduce rolling resistance with new tires
Your tires are your contact points with the ground. Even if you have the best of the best components on your bike, the wrong (or worn out) tires can easily compromise performance and be unreliable when you’re pushing your bike hard on intense training sessions or, worse, in a race situation.
There is no shortage of great road tires on the market. Tire manufactures like Continental, Maxxis, and Schwalbe have a large menu of offerings to cover every need and type of terrain. Pick the tires that suit your style of riding and the conditions you ride in (e.g. don’t go with super light tires with thin sidewalls if you often ride on rough, debris-strewn roads). Better yet, consider switching to tubeless tires for benefits of improved traction and puncture resistance. There is also a trend in road cycling to use higher-volume tires , which have been proven to provide better traction and less rolling assistance on all but the smoothest of roads. Unless you’re a track cyclist, you would benefit from tires in at least 28C size.
Improve comfort with a new saddle
Your saddle is one of three contact points between your body and your bike (the other two being your handlebars and pedals). You simply can’t get the most out of riding a great bike if you’re uncomfortable on it!
Before you make a saddle upgrade, it would be worthwhile to first know how to pick the right saddle. A good starting point would be to measure your sit bones to determine your optimum saddle width (which would be your sit bone width plus two centimeters). Alternatively, many saddle manufacturers or bike shops have a saddle demo program that allows you to test ride several different saddle models to be able to pick the one that best suits your backside!
Enhance comfort with high quality bar tape
Handlebar tape is one of the consumable components on your bike. It gets worn out and dirty with use, and it is usually a good idea to retape your handlebar with fresh bar tape when your bike gets its seasonal service. It’s an inexpensive way to freshen up the looks of your bike as well as make an improvement to your comfort and grip on the handlebar.
With so many bar tape options on the market, it can be overwhelming to pick one. Many riders often like to color-match their tape to their saddle, which is a nice aesthetic detail, but what’s more important is the extent to which it improves your comfort on the bike by reducing road vibrations and providing a cushioned perch for your hands.
One option for more comfortable bar tape is to do a “double-wrap” of it as many pros do. Another option is to use gel pads placed in key areas on the handlebar that provide an additional level of cushioning and reduce hand aches on long rides. There are also some eco-friendly options that have natural vibration dampening characteristics, like cork bar tape.
Make steep climbs easier with a wide ratio gearing groupset
If you have an older and/or entry-level road bike, chances are your bike came with a 9 or 10-speed drivetrain with a 11-28 cassette. While this gearing is adequate for many riders, if you ride in a particularly hilly area or often do long rides where big climbs are involved, there is significant benefit to be had in modern 11 and 12-speed drivetrains with wide-ratio gearing and compact cranksets. Going from a 28t largest rear cog to a 11-32 or 11-34t cassette will offer you climbing gears that will allow you to spin more efficiently and thus reduce fatigue when going up steep grades.
Component upgrades are a great way to squeeze more performance out of your road bike. Whether those upgrades are small and relatively inexpensive (like bar tape and saddles) or major with a larger price tag (like wheels and drivetrain groupsets), you should always consider what any upgrade will give you in terms of actual improvement to your riding experience, and prioritize your purchases accordingly. Remember: the best investment you will make in terms of becoming a better rider is training, or as the saying goes: Don’t buy upgrades, ride up grades!