Five Easy Bike Upgrades That Won’t Break the Bank

They will break your commute-time record, however

By Michael C. Brown

Five Easy Bike Upgrades That Won’t Break the Bank
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19 August 2016

In the cycling world, manufacturers regularly routinely cut corners and leave out some essential components.

Why?

They assume you’ll be swapping out and upgrading parts to meet your needs.

But this idea doesn’t just apply to your brand new storebought carbon wonder: even a beat-up, 20-year-old steed can be revamped into a speed demon or serviceable commuter with the addition of new components or wheelset. Or even just a good cleaning and tune-up.

With that in mind, here are some simple ways to up your ride:

Go Clipless

Clipless pedals offer several advantages over other pedalling platforms, both for commuting and for training. For one, they’re much safer: instead of having your shoe strapped to the pedal, all it takes is a quick turn of the heel to disengage the cleat and clip out. For commuters, this offers increased control and stability in hairy situations, a better pedal stroke and greater power transfer for the aspiring racer.

The only con? You’ll not only need to invest in new pedals, but also in (oft-pricey) cleats (though there are commuter models that function both as dedicated cleats and, off the bike, as casual sneakers). We recommend the Kursk SPD shoe ($95) from Chrome Industries, which utilizes the MTB-style clipless system, as a good place to start.

Get Wheel Fancy

This is one of the most common places where you're getting fleeced when buying a brand new bike. Even on Cannondale's $5,900 best-in-class CAAD12 (their aluminum Everyman racer) built with Shimano's equally high-end Dura-Ace group, you're getting a mid-tier wheelset that just doesn't do the rest of the bike justice.

Regardless, even with more modestly spec'd bikes, there's nothing quite like adding a superior set of wheels to really transform the way your ride performs. From deep-section, carbon-rimmed wheels for an aerodynamic edge to ultra lightweight wheels to appease the mountain goat in you, this is the best place to start upgrading. You can even go custom. Fulcrum makes great wheelsets at several price points; their Racing Zero model (ca. $750) is a personal favorite (yes, ceramic bearings are as fast as they sound).

Lose the Weight

So, you're regularly getting dropped by your buddies on climbs. And in sprints. And just about everywhere else. If you've duly upgraded your wheelset, then maybe it's about time your bike goes on a diet. And there's no better way to shed that weight than to go carbon. Even if you're bike is built with an aluminum frame, sourcing a carbon seatpost, stem, saddle and handlebars (yes, you can go crazy with carbon) will inevitably take several pounds off your bike.

You can even go a step further, switching out all the bolts with titanium replacements. King Cage titanium bottle cages ($60) are a great place to start. Hell, your quick-releases (the things that keep your wheels on) are probably a few grams too heavy. Just be careful on subtracting weight from your bike: get too obsessed, and you could wake up one morning and discover you've transformed into a weight weenie. Try explaining that to your old lady.

Get a New Engine, So to Speak

If you want to completely change the way your bike performs, then you'll want to switch out its groupset — the engine/transmission (if you will) and brakes of the bike. Not only will this manifest in additional weight savings, but it will literally transform how your bike works. Higher-end groupsets will shift better, brake better ... just generally work better. There’s a reason why the pros race Dura-Ace or Super Record: it’s the best stuff money can buy.

But you don’t have to drop three grand just to get that edge. Even upgrading to, say, Shimano Ultegra from their 105 gruppo will provide a noticeable performance boost. And bang for you buck has never packed as much firepower as it does now: the Ultegra only costs about $600, which makes it the obvious choice for all the aspiring racers out there.

Start With the Old

All of the above applies as much to old bikes as new ones. Say you’ve got your dad’s old steel-framed roadie languishing in the garage, or you find a sweet deal on a 15-year-old bike on Craigslist. Retro-modding an old bike with new components can not only be a great crash-course exercise in learning bike mechanics, but it can also yield stunningly beautiful results. There’s nothing quite like pairing the flawless functionality of a modern components group with the timeless ride of a classic steel frame.

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