Whether you’re new to cycling or you’ve been pedalling away at it for a few years, you might be at a stage where you want to make some upgrades to your bike, either to shed or just to make it a bit nicer to ride.
We’ve rounded up 10 upgrades costing under £500 that we reckon will enhance the performance of the bike and your enjoyment of cycling. And if you want some more affordable cycling upgrades, here are 10 for consideration.
Handlebar: Pro Vibe 7S Compact — £74.99
You wouldn’t believe how many shapes and sizes handlebars are sold in, it’s a veritable maze of reach and drop and bend shapes. If they’re good enough for Team Sky, these Pro Vibe 7S handlebars are surely good enough for your bike.
They’re made from aluminium so tough and reliable and, at 287g, not all that heavy. A compact shape means you don’t have to overstretch to reach the drops, ideal if you like to spend time in the drops but don’t want to knacker your back. They’re easy to install with dual cable routing and guides markers for the brake levers and stem.
The bicycle stem has a relatively simple job, but it’s a highly visible part of the bike and its aesthetics can be enough to push some people to upgrade it based purely on looks. You can save a bit of weight with a lighter stem as well, though gains are marginal at best. The other common reason for upgrading the stem is to improve your bike fit, and most stems come in a vast range of lengths to suit all shapes and sizes.
This Easton EA70 stem is forged from aluminium and weighs 146g for a size 110mm, which is a very respectable weight for the price. A neat four-bolt faceplate secures the handlebar in place with the company’s Top-Lock system which reduces the weight and makes bike set up a little easier.
Handlebar tape: Fabric Hex — £19.99
Is your handlebar tape looking a bit grubby and worse for wear? There are myriad options for upgrading the bar tape on your bike, you can choose a tape with more padding if you want a smoother ride, or just go for a different colour. Fabric uses a rubberised foam with a layer of silicone gel for shock absorption in its Hex Handlebar Tape, and it proves to be very comfortable and grippy in the wet and dry.
Saddle: Fizik Antares R5 Kium — £112.49
Changing the saddle is probably one of the most popular upgrades any cyclist can do, and it all comes down to saddle shape and personal preference. Saddles now come in a huge range of shapes, widths, lengths, with optional channels, gel padding and sprung rails, but helpfully most saddle brands now use a system that helps to choose the right one for you, from your range of flexibility to measuring your sit bones.
Fizik uses the former and the Antares R5 Kium sits in the company’s Chameleon range which is between the Snake and Bull at either extreme of spine flexibility. Saving weight is also a reason for upgrading a saddle, and with its carbon/nylon based and titanium alloy rails, the Antares weighs a respectable 202g. Flexible sides enhance comfort and there’s a reasonable degree of spring in the hollow rails.
Tyres are an easy and popular upgrade, and can either be bought when the original tyres on your new bike wear out, or to replace the cheap and heavy tyres that are sometimes specced on some road bikes.
Tyres really can make a difference to the bike both in terms of weight and rolling resistance. These new Michelin Power Endurance tyres provide excellent durability if you want a tyre to last and last, and stave off punctures very well, while still being reasonably light and fast. They use a new rubber compound that offers more traction and it even says they’re disc-brake ready, able to deal with the extra forces placed on a tyre by a disc road bike.
Chain: KMC X11SL DLC — £86.99
Is your chain creaking and groaning and looking a bit worn out? Maybe it’s time for a replacement? You could do much worse than this jolly expensive chain from chain specialists KMC. The high price is down to the ‘Diamond Like Coating’, a hard coating that the company applies to the chain, and which should reduce wear and extend its life on your bike. It’s also available in a range of colours (black, blue, red, green, celeste, orange, pink and yellow) so you can match it to your bike frame, which is a critically important thing for some cyclists.
Jockey Wheels: Tacx T4035 — £39.99
The jockey wheels are easily overlooked on a bicycle but they perform a vital function and if worn can lead to inferior shifting and power transfer, so if the teeth are looking a bit rounded, it could be a good time to replace them.
The snappily titled Tacx T4035 Jockey Wheels are the upper end of the aftermarket replacement jockey wheel market, but they work to justify the price tag with ceramic bearings and teflon material in each wheel which, if the claims are to be believed for ceramic bearings, can reduce the resistance in the drivetrain and last longer.
Wheels: Kinesis Racelight Disc — £449.99
It’s quite probable that you’re reading this as the owner of a disc braked road bike, and you might be thinking about investing in some new disc-ready wheels for your steed. These Kinesis Racelight Disc wheels are a fine upgrade wheel on account of their sub-1,600g weight and aluminium rim that is tubeless-ready. Bung in thru-axle compatibility and you've got a well-rounded product. And at £400 they’re a bit of a bargain.
Wheels: Halo Evaura D 700C — £459.98
Wheels are a hugely popular upgrade for cyclists, and for good reason; a wheel can make a big difference to the performance of any road bike. Weight is often the primary reason for upgrading wheels and weighing 1,573g yet costing under £300, these Halo Evaura wheels are a good value upgrade without breaking the bank. The rims are fashionably wide (24mm) which means they’re a good base for wider tyres - 28mm tyres go on just fine.
Okay, so we’ve been sticking to recommended retail prices (RRP) for most of the products in this guide so far, but what if you have a shop around? Well, you’ll find some healthy discounts, that's what. Such as this brand new Ultegra 6800 11-speed groupset, for example, which can be had for a staggering £479.99. That's a massive 50% cheaper than it should be.
Upgrading the entire groupset, from the cranks to the brakes levers, mechs and brake calipers, isn’t the quickest upgrade but if you’re coming from one of Shimano’s cheaper groupsets, it’ll offer you improved shifting and braking and save some weight to boot. It might just be cheaper than buying a brand new bike as well.
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.