Having been around the road cycling culture for most of my life, I have seen many changes and many trends. More importantly I’ve seen the evolution of a breed that traditionally consisted of real hardcore racers, lycra clad, shaved legs and reeking of embrocation cream. It’s been really cool to see a mainstream acceptance in the sport of cycling. I could be wrong but it seems like the growth of cycling is very much concentrated at the entry to mid level. Which bodes well for the long term popularity of the sport.
This has been observed and proving to be apparent with the influx of new people to cycling that have been visiting the shop. The other demographic that is continuing to grow, are the cyclists that have been riding for the last 2-3 years and are now in a love affair with the sport. These individuals are in a period of transition between their first bike and the next one they will eventually graduate to.
It is not uncommon to see the novelty of that first bike get stretched with a few tweaks and upgrades. The common question we receive is “what is the best upgrade(s) for my bike?” There really isn’t a simple answer, but we have an idea as to what upgrades can result in the best bangs for the buck.
1. Bike Fit:
It is true that most consumers had they’re bike fitted when they purchased it. However, if you were asked to straddle the top tube to check and see if the bike fits properly when you picked it up, then you may want to investigate this area more thoroughly. Being comfortable and efficient can make or break your experience out on the road. We are all unique in our own right, and it is questionable that everyone can fit in the same mould when it comes to your position on the bike.
A Retul bike fitting using a 3D motion capture camera has resulted some of the biggest improvements to a riders overall experience on the bike, and is arguably the best bang for buck improvement that you can do to your bike. From the countless Retul fittings we have conducted, we have yet to see someone who’s position couldn’t benefit from some adjustments.
The vast majority of bikes on the market come with a generic saddle, and typically the inadequate match for each rider. Not to mention that most manufacturers skimp on the budget they allocate for a saddle. Never before have we had such a range of options on the market, but more importantly saddles that have a fair amount of clinical backing to maximize pelvic support, improving range of motion and comfort. A riders’ position on the bike heavily relies upon how the riders’ pelvis is supported. It will dictate how you can pedal the bike, what muscles you are recruiting, it affects optimal blood flow for arteries that reside where you sit on the saddle. It also affects how your spine is supported on the bike, which directly translates to how your arms and hands make connection with the handle bar. If you have yet to explore the different saddles available on the market, or you have been wrestling with your current saddle, it is a good indicator to investigate this unique part of your bike.
Over the last 20 or so years, bicycle tires have seen some of the greatest advancements of any bike component, and is an upgrade that is in reach for everyone. Tire upgrades can transform the ride of your bike, that very few upgrades can do. We are currently seeing a trend towards the installation of larger tires on road bikes. While most bikes are limited to a max tire size of 25mm, some of the newer bikes on the market can take up to a 32mm tire. “Why go larger?” The simple answer, bigger is better. A wider tire requires less air pressure for stabilization. Which therefore provides a smoother and more comfortable ride. Oddly enough it tends to roll quicker and retain speed easier. Wider setups also increase cornering grip due to its increased contact patch laterally. The wider tires also shorten the linear contact patch which increases wheel turnover. Furthermore, the explosion of tubeless technology for road bikes, both with an abundance of wheel and tire options, if it is feasible for you to go tubeless, you will never go back. A proper tubeless setup amplifies much of what has been mentioned about the improvements of a better tire, and then some.
Over the last 10 years, the interest for ceramic bearings just keeps climbing. Rightfully so, it displays some of the most compelling improvements to the performance of your wheels and drivetrain. We are shocked almost every time we upgrade BB, jockey pulleys, and wheel bearings to ceramic. What is so amazing is that these areas, even the top end components are so poor to begin with. The jockey pulleys and BB from a Dura-ace group set for example are so static. So for those that are riding 105 and want to upgrade their BB to Dura-ace, we recommend saving your pennies (if they still exist) and go with a Ceramic bottom bracket. The common question is “why ceramic” quite simply, it is not uncommon to see a 10-16 watt savings, and dramatic improvements on bearing life. This is due to the massive reduction in friction. We should also stress that not all ceramic is the same. Certain brands claim to offer ceramic bearings, but the reality is that all bearings are graded collectively, alongside stainless steel bearings, and some of those SS bearings can rate higher on the scale than a ceramic bearing. It should also be noted that full ceramic bearings cannot be used for bicycle application, except for jockey pulley bearings. This is due to the nature of lateral forces that affect the BB bearings, wheel bearings etc. So this is where certain bearing brands separate the “men from the boys”. Ceramicspeed, a company based in Denmark, produces the best ceramic bearings for bicycle application. They have developed a special coating process that results in bearings that perform like a full ceramic, but have the durability of a hybrid ceramic (ceramic balls / stainless race) The coating helps to even out and nearly match the smoothness between the ceramic balls and the stainless steel race. The result is unmatched performance and durability.
Its hard to argue that wheels make the bike go round, and that wheels make the bike. For those that are not necessarily in the position to upgrade to a new bike, but can fork out a percentage of the bikes’ value towards a new set of wheels, you can expect to receive a massive boost in performance for the money you have invested. How big the boost might be will all depend on what wheels you currently have and what you are upgrading to. If your wheels are relatively entry level, then you can expect to see a decent increase in performance for a $1000 or less. If you wheels are mid level, then it won’t be as dramatic of a difference, and you are better off forking out a bit more dough to see a worthy improvement. The other nice thing about a wheel upgrade is that in can be transferable to another bike in many cases. So you investment isn’t limited to the bike you currently have, but can be carried over to a future bike. “What can be expected from a wheel upgrade?” Typically you will experience a healthy weight reduction, but of a critical moving part of the bike. The result is faster acceleration, improved climbing ability, and overall responsiveness. Some wheels can also improve in the aerodynamic department, helping to boost your overall average speed. Wheels with some of these mentioned features can run anywhere from sub $2000-$4000.00 + from a reputable brand.
6. Carbon handlebar:
If you still have an alloy bar equipped on your bike, and you have some birthday or Christmas money burning a hole in your pocket, then you might want to consider upgrading your bar to carbon. Not because it is obviously lighter, but because carbon is far more forgiving. Naturally aluminum is a great conductor of energy, and thus why you can really feel every divot and crack in the road. Carbon on the other hand has a natural dissipating effect, and really helps to eliminate the jarring and buzzing that comes from an alloy bar. The options on carbon bars come in greater arrays, with better ergonomics, internal cable routing, varying geometries, etc… You can expect a decent carbon bar to run you anywhere from $250-$500 +
So there you have it. Before jumping at a low reward upgrade like a carbon stem, or marginally lighter seat post, consider these options as a sure bet for noticeable improvement to your bike.
Good post. In my experience bike fit, wheels & handlebar change made a great upgrade.