How to Prioritize Your Bike UpgradesPublished on 05/13/2023 · 7 min readIn this article, Cycling expert Jared Fontaine ranks all the best upgrades to make so that will get you the most speed for your money.
Photo by David Marcu
So, you want to be faster on your bike? You’ll need to know about the potential upgrades you can make to your equipment. In this article, I will rank the best upgrades that will get you the most speed for your money. Although this list focuses mainly on upgrades for road bikers, it’s sure to help mountain bikers and roadies alike.
The first change you can make to be faster on your bike is to upgrade all the points where your body touches the bike. This will improve your performance and increase your comfort. Trying out different saddles and even different handlebar widths is a great way to improve your speed and level of comfort on the bike.
If your behind is on fire every time you ride your bike, you’ll be less likely to ride it in the future. Therefore, you need a well-fitting saddle. Measure your sit bones to see how wide of a saddle you need. Also, note that there are men’s- and women’s-specific saddles with cutouts that relieve pressure from your nether regions. You can also measure your flexibility in order to pick out the perfect saddle. Flat saddles are for flexible riders who can get into a more forward or aero position on the bike, while curved saddles are for riders with generally less flexibility.
Another contact point to upgrade is your shoes. You can easily lose more than 200 grams of weight just by wearing lightweight carbon-fiber shoes. Many popular lightweight shoes weigh around 220 grams, while nylon shoes generally weigh around 400 to 500 grams. By upgrading your shoes, you lose a lot of rotational weight — there are fewer grams you must spin as you ride, so you can feel your feet spin up much faster.
In addition to shoes, the insoles of your shoes are very good contact points to upgrade and can provide you with both power and comfort. If you are flat-footed or have high arches, there are specially-designed insoles out there that will help you ride farther, faster, and more comfortably. You can gain a few watts of power just by changing your riding position and switching out the soles in your shoes.
Lastly, clipless pedals are great contact points to upgrade in your riding setup. When you use clipless pedals, your feet are held in place, helping you keep an efficient position on the bike. They also keep your knees in a straight position, which lessens the chance of a knee injury. If you don’t want to say goodbye to your clips, I like these pedals since the clip is adjustable.
Wheels and Tires
If you are using the stock wheels and tires on your bike, you’re missing out. This is because bike manufacturers use heavy 2,000-gram wheels and cheap tires in order to keep costs down. Most serious cyclists will junk the wheels and tires that come with their bikes and buy new ones. You can lose one or two pounds off your bike just by changing your wheels and tires, which also helps increase your speed.
Cheaper tires typically weigh around 300 grams, while many faster, more expensive tires weigh around 200 grams. By buying new tires, you will save 50 to 100 grams of rolling weight on the bike and you will feel the bike accelerate much faster. Plus, most higher-end tires have much less rolling resistance, so you can hold your speed. The tires grip in corners better, too. I happen to really like these. Tires are one of the first things I upgrade on a bike, and I use the manufacturer's tires on my trainer bike during the winter.
Wheels are one of the best ways to gain speed, but they’re not the cheapest. You can easily spend $3,000 or more on a wheel set, but it is worth it. Adding lightweight wheels to a bike is the biggest difference you can make in an instant. They can easily take 500 to 600 grams off your bike and you will be able to accelerate much faster, especially when going uphill. Climbing is much more fun too, because when you get out of the saddle, the wheels really spin up to speed and you can leave your friends in the dust. Moreover, wheels are aerodynamic so they will hold speed once you get them up to speed. Also, you will not spin out as quickly on the downhills. And, of course, they look very cool.
The power meter is my pick for the absolute best investment. It is for serious cyclists who want to take minutes off their personal best times or win their crit and state races. Although wheels are nice and will immediately give you more speed, power makes you a faster and more intelligent cyclist overall.
A power meter is a pacing tool that you can train with. This is one of my favorite options. Unlike speed or heart rate, power is a consistent metric to train. For example, 100 watts will measure as 100 watts in all conditions. Speed and heart rate both vary based on different conditions and are not the most accurate when it comes to measuring your efforts. For example, if you drink a couple cups of coffee or if it is hot outside, your heart rate will increase. Similarly, if it is cold outside, your heart rate will decrease. Moreover, if it is windy outside, your speed can dramatically increase or decrease depending on the direction you’re moving.
Power allows you to measure your efforts, just like a lifter measures his effort by knowing how much weight he is lifting. You can use this metric to train and get fit. I use the power meter to climb and pace myself. I know that my functional threshold power (FTP) — the amount of power I can sustain for an hour — is 250 watts. So, if I am riding up a climb that is one hour long and my power is at 350 watts, I’ll know from the beginning that I should slow down to maintain my FTP.
Having this knowledge allows you to become a better and more measured cyclist. You can see this with the pro athletes like Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin — they don’t follow the attacks because they know their numbers.
When you come to know your power numbers, you’ll understand that the person attacking you in the race is going to come back to you eventually. For example, if a cyclist attacks at the bottom of the climb at 500 watts, I am going to let him go. This is because I know that I will likely pass him halfway up the climb when he’s already out of gas, probably at 150 watts.
Expensive wheels, frames, or aero suits can give you a few extra seconds. However, knowing what you can hold and riding smartly can save you minutes in a time trial (TT) bike race or a local Strava segment. It is the BEST upgrade you can buy.
Moreover, power meters help in gear ratio selection, aerodynamics, weight loss, and many other areas. There is no other upgrade that will give you more benefits than a power meter. It is always the first upgrade I buy for all of my bikes.
All of these upgrades I mentioned will help to improve your comfort and speed while riding. However, it's important to note that no single item will improve your cycling more than continuously riding and practicing with whatever equipment and upgrades you already have. But if you have cash burning a hole in your pocket and a desire to be faster on your bike, these are the best upgrades to buy. To explore more Cycling articles as you pursue your journey in the sport, check out the Expert Journal here on Curated.