Doesn’t your bike just feel like an endless money pit sometimes? Sorry, but we’re not going to tell you otherwise; in fact, just the opposite: here’s our list of the best road bike upgrades.
If you happen to have £1,000-plus burning a hole in your pocket, worry not; some of our suggestions will easily swallow that up. But there are also upgrades you can make for less than £20 that will make a real difference to your bike, so that’s where we’ve started on our way up to the serious big ticket items.
For each suggestion, we’ve explained you why it’s on the list and recommended a couple of options. Of course, there are hundreds of other possibilities for most upgrades and you’ll need to make sure that any product is compatible with your bike.
The cost of most upgrades can vary wildly, so don’t take our recommendations as too prescriptive: you might find a product you like that’s a lot cheaper than our suggestions, or be looking for the best of the best, with price not a consideration at all.
Bike upgrades for less than £20
Bottle cages (and the bottles to go with them) are a must-have on any ride of over a few miles. Proper hydration is vital for performance on the bike and for safety in hot conditions, so bottle cages that hold your bottles securely while making them easy to access are essential.
The most common cause of poor shifting is dirty or damaged cables, making a cable refresh a good, inexpensive upgrade option. Ideally you want to change both the cable inners and outers at the same time. Incompressible outers and quality inner cables will go a long way to sorting out spongy, imprecise gear shifts.
New bar tape
Although some bar tape breaks the £20 mark, you can get quality offerings from top brands that fall in this price range. Besides the aesthetic benefit of clean bar tape, you can choose a thickness and grip pattern that suits you – not to mention a colour to complement your bike.
Bike upgrades for less than £50
If you’re riding through poor weather, there are few outlays that will add to your comfort more than a quality set of mudguards. Many new bikes, even racy ones, allow you to fit full-length bolt-on mudguards. Set up correctly, these shouldn’t rattle and will protect you and anyone riding with you from the worst of the road spray.
TPU inner tube
Yes, we know you can buy a new inner tube for less than the price of a cup of coffee, but TPU inner tubes are lighter, more puncture-resistant and, most importantly, really compact. TPU inner tubes make great spares to carry with you, cutting down on bulk and weight. You probably only need one and may be carrying it around unused for ages, but that makes it even more handy if your spare tube doesn’t take up unnecessary space.
Bike upgrades for less than £100
Although you can buy a new pair of tyres for well under £100, a premium set will cost over £50 each. It’s surprising how much difference a quality pair of tyres can make to your ride though. They’ll normally be lighter than budget tyres and have significantly less rolling resistance with better grip, helping to liven up your ride.
In the winter, a set of the best winter tyres can add to your road grip and help save you from punctures. Many will do so without much additional weight or rolling resistance over summer options. Most modern road bikes have tubeless-ready wheels, so you could invest in tubeless tyres. You’ll need valves and sealant as well, but running tubeless can make your ride more comfortable, reduce rolling resistance and save you time fixing punctures.
Over time, pedals tend to wear out and you may find that the bearings are not turning as well as they used to. For less than £100, you can buy a quality pair of pedals, usually with carbon bodies to save a little weight. If you’ve not switched to clipless pedals, it’s a good opportunity to try them out or maybe try a different pedal system with popular road offerings from Shimano, Look and Wahoo. New pedals are usually supplied with cleats, so if your pedals are at the end of their lives, it’s a good opportunity to refresh your cleats at the same time.
Bike upgrades for less than £500
If you’re not sitting comfortably, it may be time for a saddle upgrade. There are so many different designs out there that it can be hard to choose the best bike saddle for you. Higher end saddles will cost over £100, but brands usually have lower priced saddles in the same range, making it less expensive to find the right one.
Knowing that saddle preference is very personal, many saddle brands offer a money back guarantee if you decide a saddle isn’t for you. Others have test saddles available in some bike shops, so you can get a feel for a saddle before purchasing. A saddle upgrade can also take a chunk of weight out of your bike if it came fitted with a budget steel-railed number.
Handlebars are another item spanning a wide price range. There’s a mass of designs with different widths and different amounts of reach to the hoods and drops. If you’re spending over £100, you can expect a lightweight, quality item. Often carbon handlebars will replace alloy and aero bars usually fall into this price range, offering a more streamlined look, saving a few watts and providing more comfortable tops than a standard round bar.
Top notch aero wheelsets (see below) often break the £1,000 barrier – although there are options costing below £1,000 too – but you can find many winter wheelsets that cost below £500. They may not have the deep section of an aero set and will probably be made of alloy rather than carbon, but you should be able to find a set that is high quality, robust and durable and that will cope with poor riding conditions, allowing you to save your best wheels for when warmer weather returns.
Bike upgrades for less than £1,000
The price of a power meter that measures left and right side output independently usually falls within this bracket. A power meter is a useful tool to judge your effort on rides and improve your pedalling technique. It also allows you to track trends in your fitness, making it a near-essential tool if you want to improve as a rider.
Oversize pulley wheels
We’re getting into flashy territory here, but oversize pulley wheel systems, OSPWs, are a hit with the pros who want to save a few watts in their drivetrain. The larger jockey wheels turn more slowly and usually include ceramic bearings, which generate less friction, while the smaller angle through which the chain links have to move relative to one another also cuts down friction. They’re an expensive upgrade, but if you’ve bought a nice new bike, they’ll help it look the part.
Bike upgrades for more than £1,000
Although you can find top-notch wheels costing under £1,000, brands’ best wheelsets typically exceed the £1,000 mark. There’s a lot of development and tech that goes into the best bike wheels and at this price you’ll typically find a set that’s both aerodynamically tuned and lightweight. It’s a significant outlay, but a quality wheelset will make a real difference to your ride.
A groupset upgrade is another expensive purchase that can make a big difference. Once you exceed £1,000, you’re in the realm of electronic groupsets. Electronic shifting isn’t just about faster, more reliable changes than manual shifting, it also allows you to change how your shifting works, with sequential shifting and compensating shifting helping to ensure that you’re in the right gear every time after a shift.
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