How much can you upgrade your road bike for under £50 and make a real difference to how it performs? A surprising amount, it turns out, especially if your definition of performance includes comfort and practicality as well as factors like weight and speed. Here are 12 good ways of spending that £50 your auntie put in your birthday card.
Upgrades that improve practicality and comfort are the most sensible to make your road bike ride better
Reducing rolling resistance with lighter inner tubes is one of the cheapest and most straightforward road bike performance upgrades
A better cared-for road bike will ride better so we've included a couple of workshop 'upgrades' here too
If you want comfy hands, then this bar tape — the same as used on Cannondale’s Synapse endurance bikes — adds some very useful cushioning, making it an ideal road bike upgrade for long rides and those commuting runs where you can’t always dodge the potholes.
A new set of bars can really transform the look and feel of a bike plus they give you the chance to drop a few grams too. For under £50 a handlebar upgrade isn't going to make huge weight savings over a stock bar, but you can save something. The Bontrager Elite combines a fairly classic shape with a more modern shallow drop with 93mm of reach and a 124mm drop. It’s a comfy bar too, according to road.cc’s editor Tony who has this bar on his bike and It’s also the bar Trek’s pros choose over carbon when given the option we’re told.
This long article by Aussie bike fit guru Steve Hogg discusses handlebar fit.
At 270g for a 42cm it’s around 55g lighter than a stock bar. If you want to drop a bit more weight – 22g, (we did say a bit) - and you’re willing to go £1.50 over our £50 limit it’s worth checking out the Deda Zero 100.
Being able to snack while you ride — whether on gels, energy bars, Snickers or Jaff Cakes — is the secret to staving off the dreaded bonk on long rides. A top tube bag like this is a comfortable alternative to stuffing your jersey pockets, and easier to get at too.
At 75g each these tubes are a bit lighter than the 110-120g that’s typical of regular butyl rubber tubes, but that’s not really the point. Because latex rubber is more flexible than synthetic butyl rubber, latex inner tubes reduce the rolling resistance of your tyres, so you go (very slightly) faster for the same effort. The downside is that latex is more porous, so loses pressure more quickly. You should pump up latex tubes before every ride.
If you want to lose a few grams as well, Vredestein makes a 50g latex inner tube and if you're running tyres wider than 23mm Vittoria do a latex tube that will take 25mm to 28mm tyres for a slight 10g weight penalty, and at £5.99 they're cheaper than the Michelins too.
There are times, especially in traffic, when you want to be able to cruise along in an upright position so you have the best possible view of what’s around you. With these nifty extra levers you can do that and still brake when you need to.
A dropped chain is an annoyance on a ride, but can be a disaster in a race, leaving you frantically trying to sort it out while the peloton vanishes up the road. Even the most careful front mech adjustment can’t completely prevent this, so a chain catcher is handy insurance.
Quietly and without fuss, Shimano has been making some of the best brake pads around for years. It’s one of the reasons their 105, Ultegra and Dura-Ace brakes stop so well, and you can improve the stopping power of many cheaper Shimano brakes and the countless clones on mid-priced bikes by fitting Shimano pads and shoes.
You’d be mad to change your stem just to save weight; even inexpensive modern stems are surprisingly weight efficient. However, the reach to your handlebar is a vital part of getting your bike comfortable. If it’s wrong you can end up with a sore back, neck, arms or hands. It’s therefore worth having an expert figure out where your bar should be, and if you then need a new stem, this shiny little number comes in lengths from 70 to 130mm. If you need your bar dramatically higher or lower than the Classic’s 6° angle allows, take a look at Zipp’s 25° Service Course stem (£38.99 - £42.99).
You don’t have to spend big to get a more comfortable and lighter saddle. Fabric's Scoop saddle comes in a range of widths and shapes so you should be able to find one that works for you, though the usual caveats apply: a saddle has to fit the shape of your bum, and if it doesn’t it’ll never be comfy. Other sub-£50 options include the Selle San Marco Concor and the Selle Italia C2 Gelflow Racing Saddle.
The highest-rated women's saddles tend to be out of our price range, but this inexpensive little number from WiggleCRC has generally favourable reviews — some are absolutely rapturous — for its fit and seems to have scored points for its understated looks too.
If you’re using parts or a frame made from carbon fibre or lightweight aluminium, a torque wrench is a workshop essential. It’s easy to overtighten areas like seat post and handlebar clamps with regular hand tools, and the old adage of ‘tighten it until it breaks then back off half a turn’ gets expensive very quickly.
Fitting a set of tubeless tyres to your bike will make a difference to your ride, better rolling resistance, fewer punctures, what’s not to like? Well, getting the buggers on to a road rim can be a bit of a faff, that’s where the Airshot comes in, basically you pump it up and then blast the tyre in to place. It’s extremely effective. There are a number of similar products out there, but most are licensed versions of this original. If you’re going tubeless – and here’s why you should consider it – then you’ll want one of these too.
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Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.