Which Bike Part should you upgrade first?

Following on from the last post which I hope I laid any any fears that not having the very best equipment would hold you back to rest. I thought it sensible to talk about the best order in which to purchase upgrades and what to focus on when looking at a new bike.  Not everyone will agree, but hopefully it will provide a good starting point. Here goes

  1. Frame.

Truth be told, there isn’t much point in putting lipstick on a pig. If it comes down to a choice of a lesser frameset with higher end wheels/groupset etc or slightly cheaper components and a better one, always go with the latter. Quite simply – the frame is what everything else bolts on to, much like the chassis of a car. A good frame will be the best starting point for any future upgrades. My top tip would be to go for high end alloy over cheap carbon, the material is undergoing a major resurgence at present and the weight penalty is often smaller than you might think. Need convincing? Just read this review of the Cannondale CAAD12. 

2. Pedals, Saddle and Handlebars.

Why? These are the contact points, in other words those that probably make the biggest difference to the feel of the bike. Finding the right saddle for you often involves some trial and error but is well worth it once you succeed – an incorrectly fitting saddle can cause more pain than any hard training session. Most bikes don’t come with Clipless pedals (the choice of the great majority of road riders). There are a wide variety of systems to choose from; Shimano, Look and Speedplay to name a few. You can spend as much or as little as you want here though I’d recommend going for at least Shimano 105 level, having had a nasty experience with a very cheap cleat breaking during a sprint – resulting in two weeks off and some very painful road rash. Much like saddles, handlebars come in a variety of shapes and sizes – it’s a matter of finding the right one for you. For instance, as a smaller rider I prefer to ride with a 40 cm bar as a pose to the 42 cm you’ll find with most bikes as standard. None of these upgrades cost a fortune and all can significantly improve your experience.

3. Wheels, tubes and tyres

A decent pair of wheels can make a very big difference to the overall feel of a bike. Manufacturers often spec new bikes with very cheap models as a means to get the cost down. You really don’t have to spend a fortune, my pick of the bunch would be Fulcrum Racing 3’s. I’ve found them to be robust and long lasting – with greater stiffness and of a lower weight than most stock wheels. A decent pair of tyres can also make a difference, at the time of writing many bikes still come with the 23mm variety as standard – 25mm tyres offer reduced rolling resistance, improved handling and greater comfort. For racing I tend to go with the Schwalbe One‘s, for training I use Continental Gatorskins, in my experience these can’t be beaten for puncture resistance. If you really want to reduce the weight of your bike, latex inner tubes coupled with lighter tyres can be a good place to start.

4. Groupset.

In all honesty this does tend to be expensive. You can of course just change parts as they wear out and upgrade drivetrain components gradually. Again, a better groupset will likely knock a couple of hundred grams from the weight of your steed but what you’ll notice most will be improved shifting and braking. In terms of value for money, Shimano 105 is about as good as it gets – failing that Shimano Tiagra is a good budget option (it’s basically the old ten speed 105 with a slightly more modern look). For me – I’d always look to upgrade the brakes before anything else as manufacturers own-brand units do tend to be a bit substandard (from my own experience – sometimes downright scary).

5. Power meter

I’m going to use the examples above to illustrate something. Once you have a bike of this kind of spec (lets say a CAAD12 frame, Correctly fitting saddle and handlebar, Clipless pedals, Racing 3’s with Schwalbe One’s and sporting a 105 Groupset) it really won’t hold you back in races, sportives or whatever events you choose to do. In fact I’ve seen people do very well on far more modestly specced machines. Before buying deep section wheels, carbon handlebars etc – invest in a power meter. I can testify that working with one has made a massive difference to my training and seriously improved my performance – if you’d like to find out more then this book is a brilliant starting point. If you only ride for fun then it’s probably not necessary to get one – however if you are looking to improve performance then look no further.

So far I have only talked about bike parts. It hasn’t escaped my attention that anyone reading this who happens to be new to Cycling might have some questions regarding kit. Unfortunately, especially if you live in the UK you will need to buy gear for just about every eventuality. If you have a tight budget, I’d recommend spending most of it on a decent pair of shorts. I have had a very positive experience with Wiggle’s dhb range –  never having experienced an issue with the quality of this kit. In fact, I’d go as far to say that it’s better than some of the more expensive offerings (Having had to send two pairs of shorts from a more ‘established’ kit provider back in the space of one season owning to the stitching falling apart). A separate post covering this in more detail is on the way.

To finish with – just remember that it’s always best to invest in yourself before your bike. You can make very large gains with improved training, nutrition and recovery. Marginal improvements are important for professionals but don’t lose sight of the bigger ones that make a much greater difference for us mere mortals. Let’s face it – you do look a bit silly riding a pro-standard bike if you are 20kg overweight.

As always – Stay tuned for more.

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