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Find Your Winning Edge: Best Road Bike Upgrades of the Year

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Many cyclists upgrade their bikes, often by purchasing better-quality parts that are not included with the original bike. Some upgrades are worthwhile, while others can be used as a smokescreen to make you spend more money than you need.

What upgrades are worth the investment and which ones are not? This is the question we will answer. This article was written with a roadbike in mind. However, the concepts can be applied to triathlon bikes and gravel bikes. In some cases, even fat bikes or mountain bikes.

You can upgrade the touch points of your bike

There are two types of upgrades: ones that the rider interacts and those that they don’t. The first can be described as “touch point” or “cockpit” components. They also include saddles and pedals. The categories are more like a sliding scale rather than a straight line. For example, crank length can have a significant impact on how a bike fits or feels to the rider. The size of the gear can make a huge difference in how the bike and rider interact.

Aerodynamically-focused riders like triathletes and road racers change components and even frames in pursuit of lower drag, and it’s easy to lose track of efficiency in the process.

If the awkward contortions limit pedaling power by ten watts, it is not a good idea to ride in a tucked-in position to reduce drag by five watts. The difference in power that a rider gets from a properly fitted bike and the one they are fighting against is far greater than any new drivetrain innovation.

Zipp SL-70 Bars

A well-done bicycle fit by a qualified fitter is our top priority. You will need to make an appointment at your local bike shop with this person. These bike-tweaking experts can be described as a mix of mechanic, coach, and physical therapist. It’s possible to connect with a professional in any one of these areas. A fitter may also wear one or more of these hats. You can expect to be closely observed while pedaling, or even recorded to see any evidence of injury. Don’t be discouraged if upgrades are viewed as retail therapy. Your fitter will likely suggest modifications to components such as the stem and saddle.

They can make a big difference when it comes to bicycle pedals. It might be worth upgrading if you carefully match the type of pedal to your riding style. A good pedal is lighter and provides more power transmission platform. It also offers the convenience of allowing for more flexible clip-in/clip-out.

You should consider Touch Point Upgrades:

  • Zipp Handlebars. A more ergonomic drop bar can improve your handlebars. The Zipp SL-70 handlebars are great for both upright and aero positions. The slight flare of the drop makes it a little more comfortable to be down in the saddle. They are available in aluminum or carbon.
  • If you are considering ditching your stock pedals, consider a pedal-basedpowermeterto hit two birds with one stone. The pedal quality and comfort are excellent, as well as the power meter. Although it will cost you twice as much, many people will find the price worth it. For more information, see our pedal-based energy meters article.

You can’t make a bike frame that is too tight by adding touchpoints. While you can make minor adjustments to the stem or seat post, a bad fit is still a bad fit. Size your bike correctly from the start when buying it. Refer to the size chart and if in doubt, seek professional advice from a bike fitter.

Get new tires for your bike

You’re familiar with the many shapes, sizes, and constructions that can make tire shopping confusing. For more details, check out our detailed guides. But for now, here’s a key takeaway: tires are huge. Every bike, be it aerodynamic triathlon machine or slow, unstoppable fatbike, can only go so far as its tires will allow. A bad tire can create more drag than any other drivetrain component, and a flat tire could be a fatal accident that can end your race and cause you to lose your soul.

The classic “pick two or three” tire scenario is that performance, cost, weight, and style all depend on the type and construction of the tires. Low-quality tires can lead to poor speed and easy flats. However, extra rubber can be an economical but difficult option to prevent flats. High-tech materials such as kevlar offer excellent protection at low weights and allow tires that are race-weight to withstand some punctures. There are many tread options available for off-road tires. However, they all follow the same rules. Lightweight cross-country tires can offer flat-resistance premium casings or basic protection. Burly downhill tires provide maximum protection and have upgrade options to reduce weight.

It is possible to spend smarter on tires than you do on other things. Why subject high-tech performance tires with lightweight technology to the punishments of road training when your goal is progress and not time? Worse, why add weight to race day just for a tire that can withstand construction zones? An inexpensive tire can still be strong in terms of speed and durability. Sometimes, two sets of quality tires can provide superior results for a lower cost than one set of more expensive tires. Smart spending on tires doesn’t just have to be about the tires. It can be a smart investment to have your tires changed more frequently. Some cyclists will also purchase additional wheelsets in order to swap between types of tires quickly, even before they realize any potential benefits. Next,
we’ll talk about wheels.

Tires Upgrades:

  • Continental Grand Prix Tire. It was featured in our tire guide. However, the Conti Grand Prix tire is an all-around tire that may be better than any stock tire on your bike. You should always get the most current model number.

Get new wheels for your bike

The wheels have a lot of potential for improvement, not only because they are closest to the ground. A bad wheel can make a rider stop in their tracks. But good quality wheels are no longer a luxury that is only available to hand-built. New bikes are typically equipped with usable wheelsets thanks to better quality spokes and more advanced machine building. As a way of sharing their buying power and saving with their most discerning customers, some brands will offer high-end wheel options. Popularity and availability on the aftermarket can help you determine if a wheelset is an upgrade. Even though wheels that trade under house brands are attractive upgrades for owners of any brand bike they can look deceptively similar to basic tires sold with bikes they are compatible with.

High-end wheels for road, triathlon and time trial biking are made of complex carbon fiber rims with a few airfoil-shaped spokes. They also have featherweight, skeletal hubs. Smart shopping is more than just looking at wheels. It’s about understanding why they look the way they do. Wheel performance is generally determined by three factors: weight, aerodynamics and mechanical drag. Wheels with high-end features often have benefits in all three areas. But, keen readers may notice a theme: wheels are not unlike tires in that they can be subject to compromises and trade-offs.

Aerodynamic wheels have higher rims. These rims are often called “deep-section” and “aero” respectively. At the extreme end of a disc wheel, there is a continuous structure known as a “fairing”, which has no spokes. Spokes are a sign of the disadvantages. Deeper rims require more material and are therefore heavier. Because of the danger of catching wind like a sail, disc wheels are usually only used in the rear of bikes that are ridden outside, and can make the front of the bike unsafe. This could negate any aerodynamic advantages. This principle is also true for deep-section wheels. Deeper rims increase the aerodynamic and safety consequences of cross-winds.

Mavic Ksyrium Wheelset

This simplistic explanation of aerodynamics is incompatible with the technical claims and marketing copy of many aerodynamic wheel. Deep-section rims are being claimed to be freed from their limitations by new designs that include elaborate saw-tooth forms and golf-ball-like dimples. These claims can be difficult to verify. It is also hard to determine if they are true. Watt figures and percentages are not relevant without context. Most people who are skilled in testing and modeling are already using these tools to sell products. We recommend the same approach as for tires: understand the advantages and drawbacks of equipment, choose the right gear for you, and be open to changing gear depending on the conditions.

A reputable brand of wheel should offer decent value for money. But remember, if it sounds too good to true, it probably will be! Not only are wheels a hotspot for counterfeiters, but also for off-brands with questionable quality. Be cautious, as unexpected failures can be dangerous if a wheel spins too fast.

Wheel Upgrade:

  • Mavic’s Ksyrium wheelset is a popular upgrade option. It is likely that it will be lighter and more durable than the original wheel on your bike. However, it won’t cost you a fortune. It’s been around for some time and has almost legendary status in mid-tier wheelset prices.

We now have both good and bad news. The good news is that most of the upgrades available are completely safe. Some of these upgrades are exquisitely made, and have a better quality and finish than their original counterparts. The downside is that not all upgrades will check every box, but they may leave out other critical questions. Red Herring awards go to upgrades with so little potential and extreme cost that they should be considered last priority.

Do not delay with ceramic bearing upgrades

Some people may prefer to read this news standing up, but let’s not forget that ceramic bearings in bicycle applications aren’t significantly better than steel. There are many claims.

Ceramic Bearings: We say “Don’t bother.”

Ceramic bearings are based on friction, which is a fundamentally misunderstood phenomenon. Many cyclists have seen identical cranks or wheels with both steel and ceramic bearings. The stickiness and friction of the steel bearing piece is evident when the demonstrator spins it. However, the ceramic bearing counterpart seems to spin easily. This powerful demonstration could be misleading.

Ceramic bearings are a focus on the bearings themselves. The friction generated by tiny round balls spinning against a track is certain. Assuming that forces remain the same between bearings. Their friction depends on how well the bearings are made, the size of their bearings, and any other factors which could get in their path. This could be a sign of contamination or grit, but it is actually a sign that lubrication is essential for bearings. Bearings can spin and swim through oil and grease. The churning friction that develops is an important component of overall friction. Bearings come with a viscous grease that balances performance and water resistance. You can replace this grease with a thinner, lighter alternative, and watch it spin! It should be able to see grit and water on a
road or heat for long miles.

Lubricant is a key ingredient in achieving durability and efficiency. Bearing life is dependent on seals, but they wear away as soon as a bearing spins. Seals that are tighter will seal better and rub less, while seals that are looser will lower friction but provide much less protection for the bearings. As many readers may have guessed, seals have a greater bearing friction impact than bearing composition or quality, and possibly more than lubricant. The impressive demonstration of ceramic versus steel ball bearings may be reduced to a demonstration of light seals, lubricant, and heavy duty waterproofing. In fact, it’s impossible to determine if costly ceramics are present.