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6 road bike upgrades you don't actually need

From ceramic bearings to disc brakes, here are 6 upgrades you don't need to enjoy a bike ride

We’ve all bought things that we don’t need but following some rather dubious purchases, we thought we’d take a look at 6 of the best ways to waste money on your bike. Whilst we agreed on most of the selections, upgrade number 6 had the office split, so make sure you let us know on which side of the fence you sit.

Oversized Pulley Wheel Systems

2022 Ceramic Speed Denmark OSPW - 1

First up is oversize pulley wheel systems, whenever we review one the comments section is soon filled with anger and hate and we have to say that quite often this is justified. 

The thing that really annoys us is cost. Normally you're looking at the best part of £500 and they offer very very marginal gains.

> CeramicSpeed OSPW Aero officially launches with a €739 price tag

The manufacturers would have you believe that if you fit one of these, the very next thing you’ll be doing is winning the Tour. The truth is that yes, watts can be saved but it acts on a place where the chain isn’t under tension so any saving really is minimal.

The one way in which they can save watts is by reducing chain tension, that’s fine during a smooth time trial but can lead to an increased chance of dropping a chain when used on bumpy roads.

2021 Absolute Black Hollowcage Testing rig.jpg

> Review: Absolute Black Hollowcage Carbon Ceramic Oversized Derailleur Pulley Cage

And that’s probably why very few pro teams are using them for road stages. Sram, Shimano and Campagnolo have done a decent job with their standard derailleur cages, so save your money and stick to them.

Integrated Cockpits

2021 Vitus ZX1 EVO CRS - integrated stem.jpg

It pains us to say it because we do love the clean looks of a race bike with no cables showing. But do you need all of the cables hidden away? No, not at all. On a pure race bike then maybe it’s worth going for but on everything else, it’s more hassle than it’s worth. 

Integrated cockpits are a pain if you ever want to take your bike somewhere in a box. The cables and hoses going through the bars don't allow very much movement so if they need turning sideways then you could be in trouble. If you’re already too late and have purchased an integrated bike then take a look at the bike box Alan triathlon aero EasyFit, which we found to be an absolute lifesaver. 

Top-end groupsets

2022 Dauphine Jumbo Shimano Dura-Ace 12-speed Di2 - 1

Moving on to our third bike upgrade that you don’t need and as lovely as it is, it’s Dura-Ace and Red eTap AXS. Campagnolo is forgiven here as the only way to get the electronic EPS system is to buy the top-end stuff. 

Sram and Shimano's top-of-the-range groupsets are an upgrade that we just don’t think is justifiable, not when they cost a huge amount more and save only a tiny bit of weight over the second-tier Force and Ultegra.

> Review: Shimano Ultegra R8170 Di2 Disc Groupset

When you realise that both are available as electronic systems with shifting performance which is just as good, well, the maths just doesn’t add up.

Review:  SRAM Force eTap AXS Wide groupset

To put it into perspective, the 278g you'd save going for Dura-Ace over Ultegra is about half of a bottle of water. And while yes, on climbs every little helps, we don’t think that this will make a feasible difference to your Sunday cafe ride or even in a Nat B road race.


2022 TdF Ineos shimano continental GP5000TR tubeless mucoff

Time for some controversial-ness with our next one, it’s tubeless. This one certainly divided opinion with some thinking that tubeless on the road is pointless despite using it for gravel and mountain biking.

For others, it has saved them a few times from having to stop and put a tube in and that’s good enough in their eyes. Admittedly, there are some aspects that could still do with some work but it’s getting better, sealants are now designed for higher pressures and tyres are reluctantly getting easier to fit.

> Should you get tubeless tyres? Are they your best option?

There are some combinations that just don’t work, however. They’re either impossible to get on, or impossible to blow up and then you get a puncture, cover everything in sealant and ruin your fingers at the side of the road…while getting cold.

We do also begrudge having to pay extra for tubeless tyres versus their tube-type clincher counterparts.

Ceramic Bearings

ceramicspeed bearings5.jpg

One thing that we agree on far more is the fact that ceramic bearings at our level are just a bit unnecessary. 

We’re lucky enough to test all sorts of equipment from wheels, bottom brackets, jockey wheels and so on. Many of these come with the latest and greatest ceramic bearings. Does this mean they’re the best products out there? Quite often no, it just means there's a significant price hike compared to their steel bearing baby brothers.

There are all sorts of studies on ceramic bearings that you can go and read online but the general gist is that good ones are good and bad ones are worse than some good quality steel bearings. Sadly, however fast we pedal, the rotational speeds of bearings on bikes are fairly minuscule when compared to applications where ceramic bearings make a lot more sense, aerospace and motors for example.

> Should you buy ceramic bearings? Expert opinions polled

So when you’re summing up where best to drop a few hundred quid on road bike upgrades then we recommend you seriously consider where those 10 or so watts can be found elsewhere, maybe a few months with a coach, a more aerodynamic position or just keeping your current bearings maintained.

Disc Brakes

2022 Dauphine ineos pinarello 160mm front brake rotor

Before everyone gets angry in the comments, we'd just like to point out that many of us here do actually both ride on disc brakes and they certainly have their benefits. Do you need them though? No.

When looking for a new bike there is now quite a price discrepancy between disc brake and rim brake bikes with many people completely discounting rim brake bikes with little to no consideration. Let’s just get this straight, there is nothing wrong with rim brakes, it was a perfectly good solution for absolutely decades and using them will still allow you to have a great bike ride.

> 8 reasons not to get disc brakes — find out the hassles before you switch

So if you do find a good deal on a rim brake bike, then please just consider it at least, especially if you mainly ride in the dry. We’ve already said that they can be cheaper but did you know that they’re generally lighter as well, that's why we used to see Tour de France favourites switching back to a rim brake bike on particularly gruelling mountain stages.

If you think we’ve missed any road bike upgrades that you don’t need then let us know in the comments below, otherwise we hope that we’ve managed to save you a few quid.

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IanMSpencer replied to MTB Refugee | 1 year ago

The hedge cutting season is already with us, and I had the tick, tick, tick. As did someone else. An extraction, tube change and One bent valve later and a valve core removed by the Lezyne pump (fortunately I carry a valve core tool) they were back on the road. I left my thorn in till I got home, pulled out an inch long gem. I took the opportunity to top up fluid as I last topped it up in March. Who knows what other punctures I have had.

However, I agree, there is hassle getting a good tubeless solution. I didn't find Schwalbe Ones reliable. Giant own brand and Continental have both been uneventful.

Surreyrider | 1 year ago
1 like

Oh dear:

"especially if you mainly ride in the dry". 

Spouting the old anti disc brake line that ignores   the many other benefits. 

Consider rim brake bikes? Brands need to sell them to do that. Not many do any more. 

Michael5 | 1 year ago

How about; fancy carbon frame?
Most cyclists riding fancy carbon frames aren't ever going to put a number on their backs, let alone ride it to its supposed full potential.

Ditto aero wheels...

Having said that; if you're one of those that likes to splash their cash on tech cos it looks good... why not, its your hobby, and there's a lot worse you could be doing.

Kieran0885 replied to Michael5 | 1 year ago
1 like

Agreed on the carbon frame. I'd say the vast majority of us amateurs/recreational riders don't need a carbon frame. Can't say it would make a great loss to my cycling if I had a good alloy frame. It's just most mid to higher level bikes come with a carbon frame. And they do look nicer which is the most important thing 😉

Geoff Ingram | 1 year ago
1 like

You can't just upgrade to discs, you need new frame, forks and wheels. Generally easier to just buy new bike and have n+1.

Simon E replied to Geoff Ingram | 1 year ago
1 like

In the article Liam says "When looking for a new bike..." so he's not writing about swapping brake components. With the dearth of nice rim-braked road bikes available now it appears that there are very few options if you intend to spend £1,500 or more.

I see the widespread adoption disc brakes as an inevitable because the advantages outweigh any minor downsides. While rim brakes are fine up to a point (mine are great, most of the time) the writing is on the wall.

Almost everyone realises that upgrading is subject to the law of diminishing returns and it's a merely choice so just like other technology items (hi-fi/stereo gear comes to mind) I'd not begrudge someone a top quality frameset and Dura-Ace or Super Record groupset if that's what they want.

But I cherish simplicity so integrated headsets get a thumbs-down while OSPW and ceramic bearings are just a vanity purchase IMO. The people who might benefit are already being paid to train and race and given free top-of-the-range equipment serviced by a professional mechanic... in order to convince the rest of us that we should part with large amounts of good money to emulate them.


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