So, you want to cheaply upgrade your mountain or road bike, but which shiny new component or part will give you the most bang for your hard-earned bucks? The Hub has the answer…
We all want to be riding around on carbon wheels with just released components sparkling like jewellery on our thoroughbred steed, but unless we happen to have a few thousand Bitcoin laying around, we’re going to have to be selective.
For most cyclists, getting the dream bike is a long process of gradual improvement as we make incremental upgrades over time.
And even when we finally get the set-up we’ve long-sought after, there’s always something else we can add or upgrade to give our bikes a lift.
So, if you have the money to upgrade just one part of your bike, what do you go for? What will make the biggest difference to your ride and your bike’s performance?
Well, The Hub has put all possible options into its considerably large thinking hat, and pulled together a helpful guide to upgrading your road or mountain bike (click here to jump straight to the mountain bike section).
And, as a bonus, we’ve also had a look at a few free and bargain basement adjustments you can make to get your bike performing and feeling better.
Yes, we’ve ranked new tyres as the most efficient use of your hard-earned coin for instant and real benefits to your road riding experience. A new set of shoes, like these Continental Grand Prix 4000S II Road Tyres, will improve almost everything about your bike – speed, acceleration, grip, and braking. For around the same price of the average monthly mobile phone bill, the advantages vastly outweigh the costs. Ok, so it’s not as sexy as a flash new derailleur, but it is by far the most sensible.
They may not be quite as cheap, but in terms of transforming your bike’s performance, a new set of hoops will make a huge impact to your speed and acceleration.
If you’re still riding on your stock wheels, the improved feel of a lighter and stronger set like these awesome Campagnolo Zonda C17 Road Clinchers will be instant.
Another advantage is that the wider rim profile will give your tyre a better shape and allow you to go for a wider tyre for a more comfortable and faster ride.
It’s by far the most expensive upgrade listed here, but it will make the biggest difference by a considerable margin.
The reason the performance of F1 cars isn’t measured in how long it takes just to go from ‘0 to 100kmph’ but instead ‘0 to 100 and then back to 0kmph’ is because better braking means more speed. Fast cornering is about getting down to the maximum speed the corner and your grip will allow in as short a time as possible, then accelerating back up to your maximum speed; essentially, the more time you spend braking, the less time you have for accelerating. A set of good brakes will also give you more confidence to go faster when descending allowing you to push your limits further.
Spending long hours on the road requires a comfortable riding position, so if you’re having to endure sore shoulders or neck pain, then a new set of bars could be the upgrade for you. A better riding position will also enable you to deliver more power, and push your performance that little bit further. If your bars are already of a decent spec, have a look at an alternative stem to shorten or lengthen the distance between the saddle and the bars. It’s a small change that could make all the difference.
Now we’re into the good stuff. The drive train is of course a fundamental part of the modern road bike, but if you can only upgrade one component then a fresh cassette will make the most significant difference. If you’re still riding a 11-25 cassette, upgrading to a 11-28 or an 11-32 will be a game-changer for you – although be aware that moving up to a 32 could require an upgraded derailleur too; pretty much undoing all your cost-saving efforts. The Shimano Ultegra 6700 10-Speed Road Cassette is known for offering excellent value for money, and its lighter weight and better range will vastly improve your uphill struggles.
While this is all very fiscally responsible, there are ways to upgrade your road bike butt-clenchingly cheaply. Here’s a quick guide to elevating your ride for less than the cost of a decent lunch.
Wash your bike
A clean bike will run more efficiently, it sounds better, looks better, and probably smells a lot better. Make sure you have a decent cleaner – a job worth doing is worth doing well, and all that.
If you don’t want to go the whole hog with sparkling new callipers, a fresh pair of pads, like these Dura-Ace 7900 stoppers can brighten up your existing brake set.
Sloppy and unresponsive gear changes could be the result of a poor quality and/or badly fitted gear cables. A change-out is fiddly but worth it, especially when you can get a decent set for under a tenner, like this LifeLine Performance Gear Cable Set.
Whether you want to stand out from the crowd with these bright yellow tapes from Fizik, or keep it pro and Euro with the traditional white, then some fresh tape can make a big difference to the comfort and the look of your steed. If it looks faster, it probably is faster – right?
The unique demands of the trail will mean different priorities for your mountain bike when it comes to upgrading. Here’s a look at the Hub’s choice for which parts you should upgrade first.
For the same reason the tyre was top of our list for road bikes, they make a return to the top upgrade choice for mountain bikes. A pair of Schwalbe Magic Mary Addix MTB Tyre – SnakeSkin tyres are well priced and should give you great all-round results, especially if you’re looking for more speed on the trail.
Dropper seat post
It’s a tough choice between wheels and the dropper, but for instant, budget-friendly upgrades, a dropper seat post – especially if you don’t already have one – will make a huge difference to your technique and confidence.
They may even be the greatest mountain bike innovation ever…
If you haven’t already got disc brakes on your bike, then The Hub thinks this is where you should spend your money next. This is particularly true if you run downhill, or if you’re a particularly aggressive rider that likes to take chances. A good set will see your speed increase in inverse proportion to the amount of crashes you experience on a typical ride. While decent stoppers are important on a road bike, mountain bikers tend to be accelerating and decelerating more often and to a greater degree, so good anchors are a must. A decent set can be pricey, but this Shimano SLX M7000 Disc Brake + Rotor Bundle will get you started for well under a ton.
Mountain bikes are designed to take punishment, so a set of robust hoops is a must. But making them tough means it’s difficult to keep them light, and a mix of both isn’t cheap. It is worth it though, as the spinning momentum of the wheel multiplies the wheel’s resting weight. That means every gram saved makes for a much more responsive ride, and quicker, well… everything. Cheaping-out on decent wheels will always be a false economy, so dig deep and you’ll reap the rewards. Check out these funky Hope Tech DH – Pro 4s for something a bit different or try these tubeless ready and aptly named Nukeproof Neutrons for razor sharp cornering with bunker-grade materials.
Once you have all the above at a decent spec, it’s time to have a look at your front suspension. Decent forks will allow you to stay in contact with the ground longer, for better control, and to be more aggressive in your descents. A front fork replacement isn’t going to be cheap, but it will make a huge difference to the quality of your ride, especially if you’ve got poor-quality stock components. For something in the mid-range, try the Fox Suspension 32 Float FIT4 Performance Forks which you can trust to absorb not just the bumps but also the big hits.
If this is all a bit rich for your blood, here’s a few cheap ideas to get your bike performing better for the total sum of the change currently stored under your sofa cushion.
Clean your bike
As above, and, if anything, probably more important for a mountain bike. Maybe go one step further with a cleaning bundle like the Muc-Off CRC Pro Cleaning Kit II.
Set-up your shocks
Take the time to properly set-up and adjust your forks for your weight and terrain. Set the sag, compression and rebound damping. There’s more information on setting up your shocks in our Forks Buying Guide.
A bit of grease and lube will… well, you know what it will do. Pick up some Shimano Premium Grease to get your bits moving smoothly. Ahem.
Lower your tyre pressure
Lower tyre pressures mean your wheels absorb more impact and stay in contact with the ground longer, instead of wasting energy by bouncing around. Rear mountain bike tyre standard pressure is around 45 pounds per square inch (PSI) while standard front tyre pressure can be around 35 PSI, but many mountain bikers will reduce their pressures by up to ten PSI, or more depending on their weight, tyre width, and whether they’re running tubes or tubeless tyres.
The Hub will be putting together a complete guide to tyre pressure in the New Year, so make sure you subscribe to find out more.
Is this the order you would choose? Let us know what your upgrade priorities are in the comments below.
[The ‘Lower your tyre pressure’ section of this article was edited for clarification 14 December]