Can road bike upgrades under £50 really make much of a difference to performance? Yes, they can. Here's how you can improve weight, speed and comfort without breaking the bank.
Upgrades that improve practicality and comfort are the most sensible to make your road bike ride better., while reducing rolling resistance with lighter inner tubes is one of the cheapest and most straightforward road bike performance upgrades.
A better cared-for road bike will ride better so we've included a couple of workshop 'upgrades' here too
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.
The highest-rated women's saddles tend to be out of our price range, but this inexpensive little number has generally favourable reviews — some are absolutely rapturous — for its fit and seems to have scored points for its understated looks too.
That said, you can pick up a Selle Italia Diva Gelflow for £39.99 right now, which is a very good deal on a highly-rated women's saddle.
Not getting on with the shape of the saddle that came on your bike? Maybe it’s time to try a different shape? The Charge Spoon is a modern classic: a very comfortable saddle, with a curved shape and the flex in the plastic base along with the foam padding makes it a very comfortable place to sit for many hours. It has an amazing 1,200 reviews on Wiggle, almost all positive, though like any saddle there are some people who it simply doesn't it fit them.
These saddles were also rated highly by our reviewers.
This luxury tape is the only bar wrap we've ever given full marks for performance and comfort. It's not cheap, but in the greater scheme of things, what are comfortable hands worth? Many of us have become fans of silicone bar tape over the last few years because it's easy to remove and refit if you need to make handlebar or other positional adjustments and it's durable.
Replacing worn or uncomfortable bar tape can transform the appearance and ride comfort of your bike, and here’s a luxury bar tape that looks good, lasts well and feels great. It’s also available in a wide range of colours so you can match it up to your bike if you’re that way inclined.
There's a little bit of give in this rubbery bar tape which helps enhance grip and absorb a bit of road shock. It's reusable, so if you need to tweak your set up you won't have to replace it, and it washes easily. For extra comfort, a double layer is still within our budget.
These tapes were also rated highly by our reviewers.
A new set of bars can really transform the look and feel of a bike plus they give you the chance to drop a few grams too. For under £50 a handlebar upgrade isn't going to make huge weight savings over a stock bar, but you can save something. The Bontrager Elite combines a fairly classic shape with a more modern shallow drop with 93mm of reach and a 124mm drop. It’s a comfy bar too, according to road.cc’s editor Tony who has this bar on his bike and it’s also the bar Trek’s pros choose over carbon when given the option we’re told.
This long article by Aussie bike fit guru Steve Hogg discusses handlebar fit.
At 270g for a 42cm it’s around 55g lighter than a stock bar. If you want to drop a bit more weight – 22g, (we did say a bit) - it’s worth checking out the £49.99 Deda Zero 100.
Handlebars come in a vast array of shapes and sizes, which means if you don’t find the handlebar that came with your bike very comfortable, you can easily change them. These Genetic Flare bars provide a compact shape with flared and anatomic drops that are pretty comfortable. The small degree of flare offers a bit more control when in the drops, and the anatomic shape means you have loads of options for where to place your hands.
Go wide, young gravel rider! That's Salsa's message with the Cowchipper bars which are available in a range of widths up to 52cm, a size that actually measures 63cm across the ends beacuse of the 24° flare of the drops. The idea is to provide loads of space for bikepacking luggage, and lots of off-road control, and it works, giving all the space any rider could reasonably need, without restricting usability; it's comfortable, uncomplicated and great value.
These bars were also rated highly by our reviewers.
Being able to snack while you ride — whether on gels, energy bars, Snickers or Jaffa 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.
Fed up with filling your jersey pockets with a spare tube, pump, tyre levers and multi-tool? The best solution is to invest in a small bag that attaches to the bottom of the saddle and can house the essentials, keeping them safely stored away from the elements and your jersey pockets free for more food. This Lotus bag (it has nothing to do with the car manufacturer) is easy to fit it to the bike and the size is just right for the essentials.
These bags were also rated highly by our reviewers.
If your new bike came with no bottle cages, you’ll be want to add one or two if you want to do any rides longer than an hour, to avoid dehydration. There are plenty to choose from, Zefal makes some really good ones and this affordable plastic cage holds water bottles securely with a nice firm grip - no bottle ejection to fear here.
Bicycle tyres can be surprisingly dear, but Continental's mid-range rubber bucks that trend. They’re a really good all-round tyre with decent grip, rolling resistance that's almost as good as the more expensive GP5000 and slightly better puncture resistance.
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 a 50g latex inner tube and if you're running tyres wider than 23mm Vittoria do latex tubes for 28mm and even 38mm tyres for £12.00.
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. The Aerozine XS7 stem is a sensible price for a very light stem that looks good, and is all held together with titanium 4mm Allen bolts.
If you want a more conservative option stem option, this shiny little number comes in lengths from 70 to 130mm. The recent wave of price rises of, well, everything has pushed it over the £50 mark, but it's still a favourite so we've kept it in.
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 (from £34.99).
If you’re looking to make the leap to clipless pedals, Look's entry-level Keo pedals won’t break the bank and offer excellent performance that belies their low price. They offer lots of support and 6 degrees of float and the release spring tension can easily be adjusted.
If you want clipless pedals that work with shoes you can walk in, and don't want to spend much money, it's very hard to go past Shimano's base model double-sided SPDs. They're easy to use, tough as old boots and cheap. Deservedly considered a practical classic.
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.
Road bike upgrades under £50? Here's one that could potentially have a huge benefit for under a tenner. Quietly and without fuss, Shimano has been making some of the best brake pads around for years. It’s one of the reasons their 105, 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.
At some point, your brake blocks will wear out and will need replacing. Sometimes, you might be wanting a bit more power than your regular brake blocks can provide. There are many aftermarket brake blocks available so you don’t just have to automatically replace yours with original manufacturer equipment. The dual compound design of these Kool Stop blocks provides great braking performance in a range of conditions, especially when it’s wet, and are noticeably better than many original brake blocks fitted to new bikes.
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.
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John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.