[This article was last updated on December 19, 2017]
How much difference can you make to the way your bike performs for under £50? A surprising amount, it turns out, especially if your definition of performance includes comfort and practicality as well as factors like weight and speed. Here are 10 good ways of spending that £50 your auntie put in your Christmas card.
If you want comfy hands, then this bar tape — the same as used on Cannondale’s Synapse endurance bikes — adds some very useful cushioning, making it ideal for long rides and those commuting runs where you can’t always dodge the potholes.
Being able to snack while you ride — whether on gels, energy bars, Snickers or Jaff Cakes — is the secret to staving off the dreaded bonk on long rides. A top tube bag like this is a comfortable alternative to stuffing your jersey pockets, and easier to get at too.
At 75g each these tubes are a bit lighter than the 110-120g that’s typical of regular butyl rubber tubes, but that’s not really the point. Because latex rubber is more flexible than synthetic butyl rubber, latex inner tubes reduce the rolling resistance of your tyres, so you go (very slightly) faster for the same effort. The downside is that latex is more porous, so loses pressure more quickly. You should pump up latex tubes before every ride.
If you want to lose a few grams as well, Vredestein makes an 50g latex inner tube.
There are times, especially in traffic, when you want to be able to cruise along in an upright position so you have the best possible view of what’s around you. With these nifty extra levers you can do that and still brake when you need to.
A dropped chain is an annoyance on a ride, but can be a disaster in a race, leaving you frantically trying to sort it out while the peloton vanishes up the road. Even the most careful front mech adjustment can’t completely prevent this, so a chain catcher is handy insurance.
Quietly and without fuss, Shimano has been making some of the best brake pads around for years. It’s one of the reasons their Ultegra and Dura-Ace brakes stop so well, and you can improve the stopping power of many cheaper Shimano brakes and the countless clones on mid-priced bikes by fitting Shimano pads and shoes.
You’d be mad to change your stem just to save weight; even inexpensive modern stems are surprisingly weight efficient. However, the reach to your handlebar is a vital part of getting your bike comfortable. If it’s wrong you can end up with a sore back, neck, arms or hands. It’s therefore worth having an expert figure out where your bar should be, and if you then need a new stem, this shiny little number comes in lengths from 70 to 130mm. If you need your bar dramatically higher or lower than the Classic’s 6° angle allows, take a look at Zipp’s 25° Service Course stem (£42.24).
You don’t have to spend big to get a more comfortable and lighter saddle. Fabric's Scoop saddle comes in a range of widths and shapes so you should be able to find one that works for you, though the usual caveats apply: a saddle has to fit the shape of your bum, and if it doesn’t it’ll never be comfy. Other sub-£50 options include the bargain Cosine Ti Endurance and Prologo Kappa Evo PAS T 2.0.
If there’s a women’s saddle that deserves to be called a classic, it’s this one. Broad enough to support a woman’s wider-spaced sitbones, it’s decently but not excessively padded and has the de rigueur pressure-alleviating central gap to look after the tender bits.
If you’re using parts or a frame made from carbon fibre or lightweight aluminium, a torque wrench is a workshop essential. It’s easy to overtighten areas like seat post and handlebar clamps with regular hand tools, and the old adage of ‘tighten it until it breaks then back off half a turn’ gets expensive very quickly.
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.