Many of us look for ways to upgrade our bikes - whether that's to improve weight, speed or comfort - and despite the rising cost of cycling, there are still affordable options out there. In this article, we'll go over some of the best value upgrades you can make to your bike, that we'd spend money on ourselves when upgrading our own bikes.
Unless you go for a top-of-the-range model, stock components are often included on off-the-shelf bikes to provide something functional that hits a price point. This can result in compromises in terms of quality, performance or durability.
Thankfully, some of the best bike upgrades don't need to cost a fortune. Even some of the best road bike upgrades under £50 can make a noticeable difference to your performance, allowing you to ride faster, further and in greater comfort.
It's not all about performance either. Even if you're 'just' a commuter who cycles to work, a more robust wheelset, wider tyres or plusher bar tape can make your journey faster, smoother and more comfortable.
Without further ado, here are the six most cost-effective changes you can make to your bike according to the road.cc tech team...
To enhance your bike's performance, upgrading the wheelset is a great starting point. Factory-fitted bike wheels don't always prioritise optimal performance, which becomes more apparent as you descend through the price tiers.
You will notice big improvements in ride quality, comfort and speed by upgrading to a better quality set of wheels, and this doesn't have to break the bank.
If you're after a more suitable wheelset for year-round riding or fast commuting, Hunt's 4 Season Disc Wheelset and Scribe's Race-D Wide+ wheelset are great examples, priced at £449 and £370 respectively, proving that aluminium wheels can be more than just training wheels.
The Race-D Wide+ wheels feature a 27mm-deep aluminium rim and tubeless-ready design, weighing in at 1,448g. Not only are these wheels lightweight, but they also offer durability and stiffness. With 21mm internal rims, they provide a comfortable ride when paired with wider tyres, making them an ideal choice for winter riding.
Similarly, the 4 Season Disc wheels are 26mm deep and tubeless-ready, with a claimed weight of 1,588g. They have a 19mm internal rim profile which is designed for 25-30mm tyres.
If you're looking to spend a little bit more, you can improve your aerodynamics with some deep-section carbon wheels. An affordable carbon offering that's worth spending your money on would be something like Prime's Doyenne 56 Carbon Disc Wheelset.
They retail at £599.99 and in spite of their very appealing price, the Doyennes do not feel like cheap wheels when you're riding them. The carbon fibre rim is stiff – as is the rest of the build – and the ratchet-style freehub gives instantaneous engagement for hard and rapid acceleration.
Changing your tyres is one of the most cost-effective upgrades you can make to a bike, and when paired with a wheel upgrade, this combination can significantly improve your overall riding experience by decreasing your rolling resistance and improving your handling.
The Hutchinson Challenger tyre is one of the best value tyre upgrades you can make, costing £31.99 at the time of writing. It's an endurance tyre built to handle substantial mileage, and Hutchinson says has lasted 5,000 miles (8,000km) in testing.
Many brands opt for hard rubber compounds to increase tyre longevity at the expense of grip and ride quality, but the Challenger uses a bi-compound rubber delivering a balance between durability and performance.
The Challengers are standard clinchers available in 25mm, 28mm and 30mm widths and overall, we don't think you can beat them for the price.
One of the best road bike tyres is the Continental Grand Prix 5000 Clincher which has an RRP of £69.95. While it's more than double the cost of the Challenger tyre, they are still a more cost-effective improvement than changing your frame or wheels, as they can significantly enhance your ride feel compared to a cheaper tyre.
When pursuing speed and weight reductions, don't overlook the importance of upgrading your inner tubes as well as your wheels and tyres.
Upgrading to TPU tubes (short for Thermoplastic Polyurethane) offers excellent value in terms of increased performance, and the cost-per-watt saved in rolling resistance is nearly unbeatable, especially when compared to butyl alternatives.
Something like the Tubo Road tubes from Tubolito are an easy way of shedding some weight from your bike. Priced at £28 each, you might be wondering what we've been smoking... but compared to a new wheelset, they really are a cost-effective way of dropping your bike's weight. In fact, when compared to a standard butyl 700C tube from the garage, Tubo Road tubes provide a 70g weight saving per tube.
TPU tubes won't be for everyone, so latex inner tubes are a viable alternative, offering an affordable upgrade for performance-minded riders.
Latex offers distinct advantages as a material for inner tubes when compared to butyl. The highly elastic nature of latex not only decreases rolling resistance but also minimises the risk of punctures. Fortunately, these benefits don't compromise weight, with latex tubes typically weighing on par with, if not lighter than, the lightest butyl inner tubes.
Stock handlebars often come in a standard width, but this one-size-fits-all approach may not suit the preferences or body proportions of every rider. Opting for a handlebar width that suits you is far more beneficial than prioritising the most aerodynamic handlebar on the market and it will significantly improve your comfort, control and overall performance on the bike.
It also has a compact shape that might be a bonus for less flexible riders who struggle to get down on the drops, and a slightly thinner-than-usual top section. This means you can run thicker bar tape for extra comfort without adding too much bulk.
The STV Road Bar is available in 36, 38, 40, 42, and 44cm widths, which should cater for most riders.
A more race-orientated alternative would be the Pro Vibe Aero Alloy Handlebar. Despite being more expensive than the Genetic STV Road Bar, it will save you a packet over carbon alternatives. It looks great with internal cable routing and it's comfortable to hold, whether on the tops or drops.
Moving on to the finishing touches, upgrading your bar tape is a small change that can make a significant difference to the way your bike feels in terms of comfort and control.
Something like Cannondale's KnurlTack bar tape gives plenty of grip whatever the weather, and stays looking like new for a long time. It's also pleasant to use thanks to its 3mm thickness and has a layer of QuellGel silicone within the tape to better absorb vibrations from the road. This design enhances comfort and helps to reduce painful or numb hands on longer rides.
Prime's Comfort bar tape is another good option costing £19.99. It's an excellent way to add a little more comfort to your road bike, while also getting a boost in grip. The tape wraps easily, is perfectly grippy in dry and wet conditions, and comes with good finishing bits. It's available in six different colours too.
Our final value upgrade is a saddle because comfort is important no matter what style of riding you do. Our top tip is that the expensive saddles aren’t necessarily any comfier than the cheap ones and rather it’s all about finding a shape that works for you.
Bikes usually come with saddles that are designed to suit the maximum number of people as possible but it’s unlikely to be the perfect fit for everyone. Being more comfortable on your bike is priceless…or perhaps just around £50…
We’d recommend trying as many as possible before purchasing because once you find that one that works for you you’ll want to spend more time on the bike which after all is what it’s all about.
Which of these upgrades are your favourite? Let us know in the comments section below...
Emily is our track and road racing specialist, having represented Great Britain at the World and European Track Championships. With a National Title up her sleeve, Emily has just completed her Master’s in Sports Psychology at Loughborough University where she raced for Elite Development Team, Loughborough Lightning.
Emily is our go-to for all things training and when not riding or racing bikes, you can find her online shopping or booking flights…the rest of the office is now considering painting their nails to see if that’s the secret to going fast…