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Make your bike go better with these targeted tweaks

Eddie Merckx once famously said that you shouldn’t buy upgrades, but should ride up grades. Riding more is almost always the best way to improve your cycling, but there are some component changes that will improve your comfort, safety and speed. Here’s a selection that each cost under £100.

Gravel bike low gear kit — ~£88

low gear kit

Shimano SLX CS-M7000 11-40 cassette — £29.99
​ Shimano 105 RD-R7000-GS rear derailleur — ~£36
Shimano CN-HG701 HG-X chain with Quick Link — ~£21.60

If you have a typical gravel bike with an 11-32 11-speed cassette, this combination of components gives you a substantially wider gear range with a 25% lower bottom gear. That's enough to make the difference between riding and walking when things get steep, or between spinning comfortably up a shallower climb and grinding up with your knees whinging that they didn't sign up for this.

But hang on, you're saying, surely even the long-arm GS version of the new 105 rear derailleur can only handle a 34-tooth largest sprocket? That's the gospel according to Shimano, but Shimano's official specs are always very conservative. As we demonstrated in this article, it works just fine, although there are a couple of gotchas to watch for during installation. And since the idea is to ride up grades, we think Eddy would approve.

Continental Grand Prix 4000S II tyres — £31.99 ea

conti-tyre-01.jpg

Why: Faster rolling; improved comfort (if switching from 23mm to 25mm or 28mm)

Consistently rated in the top handful of tyres, the GP 4000S II is deservedly massively popular. Its main claim to fame is its low rolling resistance. As a tyre rolls along, it flexes, and this flex absorbs energy; the tyre literally resists rolling. Tyres with thin tread made from flexible rubber, and light, supple casings have low rolling resistance. Problem is, they also tend to be easily punctured. The success of the GP 4000S II is down in part to a layer under the tread of fabric made from Vectran, a high-strength synthetic fibre. This helps ward off punctures, though they still happen. It’s not as effective as the thick anti-puncture layer in a tyre like the Schwalbe Marathon Plus but it’s considerably better than nothing.

While you’re buying new tyres, consider going up a size or two. The 28mm version of the GP 4000S II rolls superbly and can be run at lower pressures to improve comfort and road holding.

A pair of these comes well under our budget, so consider adding Michelin or Vittoria latex inner tubes too (both £8), to further reduce the rolling resistance. Can’t be bothered pumping your tyres up daily? Fit a pair of Continental’s 50g Supersonic tubes.

Read more
All tyre reviews on road.cc
Buyer’s guide to tyres
The best tyres for winter riding

Speedplay Zero Aero Walkable Cleat Set — £50

speedplay-walkable-cleat-set.jpg

Why: easier walking for Speedplay Zero users

If you’re a Speedplay pedal user, then you know the system’s biggest weakness is that the cleats are very awkward to walk in. To make things worse, any significant amount of walking, or even frequent touching down at lights, erodes the aluminium outer plate.

Speedplay’s Walkable cleats fix both these problems by putting a rubber cover over the cleat mechanism, so the metal is protected.They come with plugs that stop crud from getting into the mechanism too, fixing another common gripe with Zeros.

USE Duro Carbon Seat Post — £67.99

USE Duro Carbon.jpg

Why: Less weight, less road buzz

USE is better known to road cyclists for its Exposure lights, but it has a long history as component maker, particularly of seatposts. At 174g in 400mm x 27.2 post, this is a light post, and will be lighter still in a more road-appropriate 300mm length.

Weight aside, carbon fibre seatposts have the advantage that they’re usually more flexible than those made from aluminium,reducing the road buzz that gets through to your bum.

If road buzz is more important to you than weight, Syntace’s P6 Flex post is specifically designed to absorb road shock. It’s usually over £200 but we’ve just noticed Amazon has 27.2mm versions for around £100 (okay, £101.20, but what's £1.20 between friends?).

Read more: All reviews of seatposts on road.cc

Fizik Aliante R3 K:ium Saddle — £87.99

Fizik Aliante R3.jpg

Why: Improved comfort; less weight

At 215g, this classic saddle lops almost 100g off a typical stock seat and is famously comfortable. The usual caveats apply, of course: everyone’s bottom is different, so what suits other riders may still give you a bum rap.

More broadly, changing your saddle, and carefully adjusting its height, angle and fore-aft position, can be the biggest comfort improvement you can make. If you’re not sitting comfortably — if cycling is literally a pain in the arse — then go shopping for a better seat.

Read more
All saddle reviews on road.cc
Buyer’s guide to saddles
Buyer's guide to women's saddles
Buyer's guide to performance saddles — improve comfort & save weight in one upgrade

Shimano Ultegra 11 Speed Cassette & chain — from £78.98

Ultegra cassette and chain.jpeg

Why: Better shifting; less weight; chance to change ratios

For the most part, Shimano shifting systems work best if all their components are made by Shimano. If the company that made your bike shaved a few cents off the bill of materials by using a non-Shimano chain and sprockets, then you’ll get slicker shifting if you fit Shimano parts when they wear out.

With its alloy carrier, the Ultegra-level CS-8000 sprocket set is in Shimano’s value-for-money sweet spot. It can be found for around £50, weighs 212g in an 11-23 (the Dura-Ace cassette is feathery at 166g, but costs three times more) and Just Works. In a bundle with an Ultegra chain, it’s a no-brainer.

Ultegra brakes — £96.48/pr

Shimano Ultegra R8000 brakes

Why: More stopping confidence

The brakes on many less-expensive bikes are, frankly, not great. In particular, the cheap unbadged brakes you often find on sub-£1,000 bikes lack feel and oomph. Replacing them with these solidly-built stoppers substantially improves braking feel and power, and if you can brake with more control, you can go faster.

Shimano says these brakes should only be used with Super SLR levers, but that’s all current Shimano brake/shift levers.

Hope Stainless Steel Bottom Bracket — £90-£95

hope-sst-bb-blue.jpg

Why: Improved reliability and durability; pretty colours

Hope’s bottom brackets have an enviable reputation for durability, with plenty going strong after five years or more of mountain bike use. Your cranks spin on Swiss INA bearings, and for another £24 you can have ceramic balls in them instead of steel.

Because the sleeve between the two threaded bearing holders is aluminium not plastic, the Hope bottom bracket is slightly heavier than a Shimano unit, but to make up for it you can have it in a choice of colours.

Shimano Ultegra R8000 SPD-SL Pedals — £89.99

Shimano R8000 pedals

Why: Light weight, excellent durability and reliability

Shimano’s SPD-SL pedal system is popular for its reliability and function. The Ultegra version is light thanks to a carbon fibre body and durable because of its stainless steel top plate and excellent, easily-maintained bearings. As with many Shimano pedals, you can remove the axle unit, fill the body with grease, and screw the axle back in, forcing fresh grease into the bearings.

Read more
All pedal reviews on road.cc
Buyer’s guide to clipless pedals
Buyer's guide to high-performance pedals

About road.cc Buyer's Guides

The aim of road.cc buyer's guides is to give you the most, authoritative, objective and up-to-date buying advice. We continuously update and republish our guides, checking prices, availability and looking for the best deals.

Our guides include links to websites where you can buy the featured products. Like most sites we make a small amount of money if you buy something after clicking on one of those links. We want you to be happy with what you buy, so we only include a product in a if we think it's one of the best of its kind.

As far as possible that means recommending equipment that we have actually reviewed, but we also include products that are popular, highly-regarded benchmarks in their categories.

Here's some more information on how road.cc makes money.

You can also find further guides on our sister sites off.road.cc and ebiketips.

Road.cc buyer's guides are maintained and updated by John Stevenson. Email John with comments, corrections or queries.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

39 comments

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Batchy [403 posts] 2 years ago
11 likes

Substitute Ultegra 6800 with 105 5800 and save some dosh . Same function just a few grams heavier!

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drosco [428 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

New tyres and latex tubes definitely, although there's so little difference between GP4000s and Pro 4s or Schwalbe ones, I'd go for whatever was cheapest.

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bendertherobot [1531 posts] 2 years ago
7 likes

Ultegra pedals? Please. 105 are practically the same and will save a good chunk of money. And, frankly, the PD-R550 are £35.95 at Merlin and "lose" you an insignificant amount of grams. 

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tailwind10 [49 posts] 2 years ago
4 likes

The USE seatpost is not actually as light as advertised. I bought one and it was 25%! heavier at 217g. I was told they had used incorrectly calibrated scales and would have to re-weigh everything. This was a few weeks ago and they still have not changed the details.

That's wrong.

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rix [243 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
drosco wrote:

New tyres and latex tubes definitely, although there's so little difference between GP4000s and Pro 4s or Schwalbe ones, I'd go for whatever was cheapest.

I have used all three of them... GP4000s are the best by far.

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BeatPoet [83 posts] 2 years ago
3 likes
rix wrote:
drosco wrote:

New tyres and latex tubes definitely, although there's so little difference between GP4000s and Pro 4s or Schwalbe ones, I'd go for whatever was cheapest.

I have used all three of them... GP4000s are the best by far.

I much prefer the Pro 4 (endurance) to GP4000. Much more grip and they feel almost bullet proof. My latest set of GP4000s seem to puncture every month.

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mike the bike [1128 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes
BeatPoet wrote:
rix wrote:
drosco wrote:

New tyres and latex tubes definitely, although there's so little difference between GP4000s and Pro 4s or Schwalbe ones, I'd go for whatever was cheapest.

I have used all three of them... GP4000s are the best by far.

I much prefer the Pro 4 (endurance) to GP4000. Much more grip and they feel almost bullet proof. My latest set of GP4000s seem to puncture every month.

 

I'm probably swimming against the tide here but I've never had a great Conti' tyre.  Of the half-dozen different types I've ridden precisely none have given satisfactory service.  They either wear incredibly fast or puncture too often or slip on wet roads.  Or sometimes all three.

You might think I've been unlucky but  every time I swap to another brand - mostly Schwalbe - my luck seems to change.  Funny that.

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SNS1938 [138 posts] 2 years ago
1 like
mike the bike wrote:
BeatPoet wrote:
rix wrote:
drosco wrote:

New tyres and latex tubes definitely, although there's so little difference between GP4000s and Pro 4s or Schwalbe ones, I'd go for whatever was cheapest.

I have used all three of them... GP4000s are the best by far.

I much prefer the Pro 4 (endurance) to GP4000. Much more grip and they feel almost bullet proof. My latest set of GP4000s seem to puncture every month.

 

I'm probably swimming against the tide here but I've never had a great Conti' tyre.  Of the half-dozen different types I've ridden precisely none have given satisfactory service.  They either wear incredibly fast or puncture too often or slip on wet roads.  Or sometimes all three.

You might think I've been unlucky but  every time I swap to another brand - mostly Schwalbe - my luck seems to change.  Funny that.

My experience is similar. 4000's that would get two punctures in the first 10 miles my rides for a month before I junked them. Then a set of Ultra Sport's or Ultra Race that did about as well. The only good conti's I've had are gatorskins and the attack/force combo set.

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mbrads72 [234 posts] 2 years ago
4 likes

It's wierd how Contis polarise opinion. I have 7 bikes and the only ones not wearing Contis in some form or other are the mountain bike (that's because I can't remember when I last changed them) and the track bike cos I haven't seen a Conti suited to that purpose.

GP4000s for the TT and road bike, Gatorskins for the commuter and tandem, Grand Prix for the winter hack.  I even gravitate to Conti tubes by default, although I'm less fussy about that (Michelin Latex on the TT).

Not going to tempt fate by mentioning the 'P' word, but you can tell I'm perfectly happy with Conti's product range.

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mike the bike [1128 posts] 2 years ago
3 likes
mbrads72 wrote:

It's wierd how Contis polarise opinion. I have 7 bikes and the only ones not wearing Contis in some form or other are the mountain bike (that's because I can't remember when I last changed them) and the track bike cos I haven't seen a Conti suited to that purpose.

GP4000s for the TT and road bike, Gatorskins for the commuter and tandem, Grand Prix for the winter hack.  I even gravitate to Conti tubes by default, although I'm less fussy about that (Michelin Latex on the TT).

Not going to tempt fate by mentioning the 'P' word, but you can tell I'm perfectly happy with Conti's product range.

 

From talking to cyclists and reading endless tyre reviews I have to accept that you are in the majority; I'm one of only a few who can't seem to get on with Contis.  It's not that I haven't tried, I've actually spent money on Gatorskins and I've had several bikes with different varieties fitted as standard.  And, sure as eggs is eggs, I feel badly let down by them, every time.

Maybe I upset a German when I was one of the occupying troops in the sixties?

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drosco [428 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

Having run GP4000s, Pro4s and Ultremos, my favourites are the Pro4s. Maybe it's luck, but very rarely if ever flat and with Michelin latex tubes, are as smooth as silk.

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The _Kaner [1173 posts] 2 years ago
1 like
bendertherobot wrote:

Ultegra pedals? Please. 105 are practically the same and will save a good chunk of money. And, frankly, the PD-R550 are £35.95 at Merlin and "lose" you an insignificant amount of grams. 

..and come with cleats...

(not sure about the Ultegra version)

 

Avatar
The _Kaner [1173 posts] 2 years ago
1 like
BeatPoet wrote:
rix wrote:
drosco wrote:

New tyres and latex tubes definitely, although there's so little difference between GP4000s and Pro 4s or Schwalbe ones, I'd go for whatever was cheapest.

I have used all three of them... GP4000s are the best by far.

I much prefer the Pro 4 (endurance) to GP4000. Much more grip and they feel almost bullet proof. My latest set of GP4000s seem to puncture every month.

 

I concur...Pro 4 Endurance...mind you they are 28mm vs 25mm on GP4000s....

I must be blessed when it comes to punctures...probably just gone and cursed myself now...GP4000s had a terrible wear rate...

Pro 4s seem better (I know the 'Endurance' possibly has something to do with it), but they appear fairly supple and are good in the damp in comparison.

Not tried the Schwalbe Ones.

Avatar
DaveE128 [1008 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
mbrads72 wrote:

It's wierd how Contis polarise opinion. I have 7 bikes and the only ones not wearing Contis in some form or other are the mountain bike (that's because I can't remember when I last changed them) and the track bike cos I haven't seen a Conti suited to that purpose.

GP4000s for the TT and road bike, Gatorskins for the commuter and tandem, Grand Prix for the winter hack.  I even gravitate to Conti tubes by default, although I'm less fussy about that (Michelin Latex on the TT).

Not going to tempt fate by mentioning the 'P' word, but you can tell I'm perfectly happy with Conti's product range.

I've had good service from two sets of GP4seasons over more than 4000 miles, with very few punctures indeed and plenty of life left on the second set. (One in wet weather, the other three have all been pinches on potholes but I did hit them very hard). I have got a few little nicks in them but I do take them offroad sometimes!!

Most people who I've spoken to who have tried gatorskins reckon the grip is a bit rubbish, but they are durable.

However, I definitely wouldn't bother with Conti MTB tyres - I think Schwalbe are a far, far better choice. 

Avatar
kevvjj [429 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
rix wrote:
drosco wrote:

New tyres and latex tubes definitely, although there's so little difference between GP4000s and Pro 4s or Schwalbe ones, I'd go for whatever was cheapest.

I have used all three of them... GP4000s are the best by far.

I have used all three of them... Pro 4s are the best by far.

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lambylamby [53 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Conti camp myself. Great tyres. Would like to test others, but when you have that 'good feeling' between your legs it probably would be foolish to go elsewhere. 

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Grahamd [996 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Conti 4000s for the summer and gatorskins for the winter. The 4000s are quick but not very resiliant, the gatorskins are more hard wearing. Both grip well.

 I did try some Vittorias, lasted 1 ride only, scared the $41t out of me, a little rain and they felt terrible, grip did not compare at all. 

 

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StraelGuy [1602 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

Me too, Grandprix GT on the summer bike and 4 Seasons on the winter bike. That said, the new Pro 4 Endurance V2 has me intrigued.

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bomba [13 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

That sub-£100 Syntace P6 seatpost on Amazon that you've linked to is the alloy version.

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Westy [19 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

I've found the Pro4's better too - haven't had a puncture with them for ages. Can't say the same about the Conti's - which for me puncture far too easily.

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ErgoKnees [6 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

I find the GP 4000s II sidewalls to cut too easily. The Pro 4 endurance too slick in the wet. The Vittoria Rubio Pro G+ are too easily punctured by thorns, etc. 

 

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madcarew [901 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Conti 4000 sidewalls can be annoying in the extreme, I had to ditch a new tyre recently after I slid out on a corner and the sidewall was more ripped up than my shorts. However, I find them to be fairly puncture resistant, the wear to be average and the grip is the best I've ever had from clinchers in 30 years of competetive riding, in the wet and dry. As a race clincher they're incomparable in my experience (rough NZ road surfaces, 90 psi). As a training tyre there are better wearing tyres generally with less grip (Rubin pros are so slippy I think they are actually dangerous in the wet), but I can't bring myself to ride armadillos or gatorskins as they're about as supple as a plank of wood and feel really dead. IMHO Conti 4000 are the best all round and I'd consider them an upgrade over anything else (except tubeless. Haven't tried owning tubeless yet :-/). Vittoria open corsas are the only other thing I'd consider for grip and feel a dry race, except in NZ conditions they slash up terribly and they are very average in the wet.

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80sMatchbox [42 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Holiday mode engaged?

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kevvjj [429 posts] 9 months ago
1 like
rix wrote:
drosco wrote:

New tyres and latex tubes definitely, although there's so little difference between GP4000s and Pro 4s or Schwalbe ones, I'd go for whatever was cheapest.

I have used all three of them... GP4000s are the best by far.

I have used all three of them... Pro 4s  are the best by far.

Avatar
ktache [1019 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes

Both my bikes have 3 sets of different Contis each.  Bit gutted that will not be able to put them on the new bike as they don't make a 27.5+.

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HLaB [241 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes
rix wrote:
drosco wrote:

New tyres and latex tubes definitely, although there's so little difference between GP4000s and Pro 4s or Schwalbe ones, I'd go for whatever was cheapest.

I have used all three of them... GP4000s are the best by far.

Each to their own but Iprefer the all round performance of the pro ones and pro 4 and the Mitchelin's are usually cheaper.  I found the sidewalls of continentals very poor, perhaps its my riding style  7

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maviczap [245 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes

Touch wood I've not had any issues with my Conti Gp4000s, good grip and no P's. I've seen one sliced open on the sidewall, but not one of mine. Gatorskins are bullet proof in my experience, but a bit wooden in feel and not confidence inspiring, and I've had them slide on me before.

My favourite tyre for summer is a Vittoria corsa cc with 320tpi carcass, super supple and comfy ride, great trip too. I prefer it to the Conti

I'm going to try out tubeless this summer, maybe some IRC's 

Hope BB's are a great upgrade, all my bikes have them, replaceable bearings, no creaking or noises.

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tailwind10 [49 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes

If you actually weight the USE seatpost I think you will find it’s about 45% heavier than claimed. Looks like they have not re-calibrated their scales from when I told them over a year ago. Poor. 

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jlebrech [69 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes

for the price of all those "upgrades" put together you could get a power meter.

 

a much better performance upgrade, and it improves the best bit of the bike too.

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zero_trooper [269 posts] 7 months ago
1 like

'Eight great upgrades for almost £100 each'

would be a more approriate title...

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