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Upgrade your ride! | Six of the best bike upgrades

Itching to make your bike a better place to be? Check out Becca and Liam's list of six great upgrades to make you faster, fitter, drier and safer.

Once you’ve got a shiny new bike, you’ll probably ride it for a bit and be perfectly happy. But at some point, you’ll probably start thing that you want to make it faster or comfier or maybe better for the commute.

Here are six of the best upgrades that you can make to your road bike.

Better wheels

2021 Pinarello Dogma DiskBrake Grenadiers PRBX_03833

The classic way to improve a stock bicycle is to upgrade the wheels. This used to be a case of getting some fancy carbon wheels, but many bikes come with carbon wheels these days, so it isn’t that simple anymore. And anyway carbon might not be the feature that you should look for.

2021 DT Swiss ERC 1400 DI 700 CL 36 wheelset - rim bed.jpg

Before buying a set of wheels, consider what you want the wheels to do. If you’re buying the wheels to make your bike a bit more comfortable then going for a rim that is wider internally is a great way to allow wider tyres to sit with a nice profile. Likewise, for longevity, a higher spoke count - that’s the number of spokes in the wheel - and sensible component choices such as brass nipples are a great way to get a set of hoops that will never let you down.

You could also go for a wheelset that is tubeless-ready. Tubeless has its drawbacks, but it is often very good at preventing punctures and there is a growing body of evidence out there that it is faster too.

> 58 of the best road bike and gravel bike wheels in 2021

A deep wheelset is an ideal choice for most racers as it makes your bike go faster on the flat. That’ll make your life easier when you’re attacking the bunch, or, in our case, allow us to hang onto the back of the group for a little bit longer.

With disc brakes moving the braking surface away from the rim, a carbon wheelset can be used throughout the year these days without you chewing through the expensive rims. And disc brakes have allowed rims to be designed with a wider internal channel, meaning that if you want to, you can buy one set of wheels swap between a road bike and a gravel bike.

That’ll certainly help to offset some of the cost, but these days, you can get good carbon wheels from around the £600 mark.

New/wider tyres

2021 Kinesis R2 - tyre 2.jpg

The only thing that connects your bike to the tarmac is the tyres, so getting the right ones for your riding is crucial. With new tyres, you can improve grip in crappy weather, go a bit faster, add some much-needed comfort or simply reduce your risk of puncturing.

Just as with the wheels, what you buy depends on the riding that you’re going to be doing. A roadie that likes to go fast and be comfortable will usually opt for a tubeless-ready tyre with a nice supple casing, a lightweight rubber compound and they'll have it in something like a 26mm width.

> 46 of the best road bike tyres 2021

But if you like to fly onto gravel sections a slick central tread, a 36mm size, tubeless compatibility and a bit of shoulder tread would be ideal for mixing road riding with those gravel sections.

Bonus tip: If you’re not sold on tubeless, the best price to speed gain that you can make to your bike is to go for latex inner tubes. They save a few watts for a few quid and you can’t say that about any other bike part.

Disc brakes

Disc brakes

They do have their drawbacks such as the slight weight penalty, extra bulk in the shifters and the seemingly complex bleeding procedure, but with the correct setup, disc brakes are brilliant.

You get more braking power, the ability to better control that power and as long as your setup is good, disc brakes require little to no maintenance.

> 8 reasons not to get disc brakes — find out the hassles before you switch

We’ve been able to test a few different combinations of callipers and rotors and the thing we’ve learned is that the lightest rotors aren’t always the best idea. Instead, using rotors that are a little heavier is a good compromise to make. SwissStop, Shimano’s cheaper models and Campagnolo rotors are all good choices. 

We don’t blame you if you're sticking to what you know with rim brakes, but we'd say that the extra control that discs give you is great.

Clipless Pedals

2021 Look Keo Classic 3 Plus.jpg

This is one for newer road riders and it can transform your cycling. Clipless pedals and the shoes that go with them are something that we’d highly recommend using.

At some point, you’ll topple over at a junction, but they soon become second nature and the increase in efficiency is amazing. This is because you’re able to pull up on the pedals rather than just pushing down as you do with flat pedals and running shoes. 

It’s also worth remembering that clipless pedals are also a lot safer than pedals with toe straps or ‘clips’ as they were known back in the old days. That does create a pretty confusing name. Because you clip into your clipless pedals.

> 10 of the best clipless pedals — click in from as little as £30

Away from the name, clipless pedals come in a few different forms. There are generally two types. Single-sided designs are for road use and dual-sided are for a mountain bike. But we say that mountain bike pedals are ideal for a huge range of road riders.

The dual-sided design makes clipping in dead easy which is handy when commuting. The pedals allow your feet to twist which can help people with dodgy knees and the release tension can be set incredibly low. So why bother with road pedals?

The wider pedal body design helps to spread pedalling forces so they can be comfier. The stack height is lower which means that you can pedal through tighter corners and also has some bike fit benefits. But the main reason for most road riders is the lower weight and sleeker look of road pedals.

Mudguards

kinesis-fend-mudguards-7

One of the best upgrades that you can make to a bike that you’re going to ride in any weather is a set of mudguards. Many chose their winter bike’s frameset especially for the ability to use full-length guards and we have to say that we’ve rather enjoyed not getting soaked by surface water.

Even clip-on guards are going to be a benefit if your frame doesn’t have the space or attachment points for full guards. They might not be quite as secure, but they’re easily better than getting a soaked rear-end a mile into your ride.

> How to choose the right mudguards for your bike

Mudguards don’t just protect your rear end either. They can help to keep your legs and feet drier, but we’d still go for a waterproof overshoe when the roads are wet. Your bike will also thank you for using mudguards. They keep salty road water away from the frame and the lower headset bearing and your bottom bracket are going to be especially grateful for the protection.

If you go out on a group ride in the winter then mudguards are actually required by some clubs. That might sound like a bit much and you might not care about getting wet. But we don’t want a face full of the spray from your rear wheel. 

A power meter

4iii power meter.JPG

The ultimate upgrade to make to your road bike for a performance-minded rider is a power meter. They come in various different forms these days and the price has come down considerably, so they’re not the investment that they once were.

A power meter is the most accurate way to gauge your effort and is a more reliable metric than heart rate data because it is less affected by external factors. But this is still just a tool and you’re still going to have to do the training to get fitter and faster.

> 12 reasons why you should buy, and use, a power meter

Bloody annoying really that your power meter doesn’t just propel you up climbs! Away from performance gains, power meter data is interesting if you like comparing yourself to pro riders or the fastest people on your local climb.

And they don’t just help with going fast. If you want to go far, then power data can really help as sticking to numbers that you know are within your capabilities can help you to measure your effort over the course of a ride.

 

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Bonus tip: If you’re not that bothered by actual performance and you just want to stay fit through the winter to make those sunny summer miles even sweeter, then a smart trainer would be a great buy instead of the power meter.

They really do help you to get a solid workout done on a weeknight in January when the weather is freezing and it has been dark since 4:30.

> Cycling fitness: How to get the most from your indoor training sessions

Hook it up to an app such as Zwift or Rouvy and the training can even be fun as you can ride with a group, keep up with faster riders or easily pack intervals into a short space of time.

Son of a Marathon runner, Nephew of a National 24hr Champion, the racing genetics have completely passed him by. After joining the road.cc staff in 2016 as a reviewer, Liam quickly started writing feature articles and news pieces. After a little time living in Canada, where he spent most of his time eating poutine, Liam returned with the launch of DealClincher, taking over the Editor role at the start of 2018. At the weekend, Liam can be found racing on the road both in the UK and abroad, though he prefers the muddy fields of cyclocross. To date, his biggest race win is to the front of the cafe queue.

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