How far to upgrade an entry level road bike

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Most of us start out on an entry level road bike to keep our initial investment in cycling low-ish until we’re sure we’re going to keep riding and enjoying it. This is a sensible approach to minimise how much money you’re risking to try the sport out. However, once you do start riding regularly and get the taste for it you will most likely immediately wish you’d spent more money (assuming you could have) on a lighter faster bike. I certainly did.

 

It’s at this point most people think about what they should/can upgrade to significantly improve their bike. I wanted to share my thoughts on this as I’m currently on my second entry level road bike as well as having a high end bike too and I’ve learnt some things that have changed what I’ve done the second time round.

 

On my first bike, a Specialized Allez that featured heavily in posts during my first year of Giro di lento, I upgraded many many components over a period of time.

This list included:

  • Brake pads – Koolstop Salmon (great brake pads by the way)
  • Tyres – First Continental GP4000s and then Vittoria Pave
  • Inner Tubes: Michelin Latex
  • Saddle: Specialized Phenom SL
  • Stem: 3T Arx Pro
  • Handlebars: 3T Ergosum Pro
  • Bar tape: Fizik Microtex
  • Wheels: Easton EA90 SLX
  • Cassette: Shimano UItegra 12-27
  • Chain KMC X9SL
  • Chainset: Shimano R700 Compact
(The photo of the Specialized is with the stock wheels)

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As you can imagine, it cost me a lot of money to make all of these changes. Now I certainly enjoyed my bike more than before but to be honest many of these changes weren’t worth the money I spent on them, which is really the point of this blog post. In three years of riding and 10,000kms plus on my Specialized and now my Trek 1.5 winter bike I’ve now established what for me are the simple changes you’ll get value from.

 

It’s quite simple, if you’re going to change anything (assuming you ordered your bike with the right gearing and for any beginner I recommend ordering a compact version of your bike to give you lower gearing to get fit with), these are the things to change in order of priority:

1) Tyres – most bikes ship with cheap (often nasty) tyres especially at entry level price points but even at up to £2k retail. Good tyres are a must upgrade for me. They’re your contact patch on the road and good tyres will make a big difference. A tyre like the Continental GP4000s is a perfect upgrade but there are other good options too.
2) Saddle – this is a very personal thing but if you’re not comfortable on the saddle of your new bike after 500km, change it and try another. Just make sure you give it enough time to get used to the initial saddle, especially if you’ve not done a lot of riding before.
3) Wheels – this can make a huge difference to your bike. But don’t skimp if you do this, I recommend spending at least £400 on an upgrade set of wheels or you just may not notice a big enough difference. Ideally push your budget to £500. You’ll get some great wheels for around this price … and you can take them to your next bike.

On my Trek winter bike, I’m practising what I preach. As soon as I got the bike, I took the stock wheels off it as they were very heavy and by not using them at all I hope it will help as and when I decide to sell this bike on. I initially put my much loved Easton EA90 SLX wheels (http://www.eastoncycling.com/en-us/road/wheels/race/ea90-slx/) on the bike (which retail for £500-600) with a pair of Vittoria Open Paves (http://road.cc/content/review/15731-vittoria-open-pave-evo-cg-folding-tyre) which for me are the best winter/wet weather tyres I’ve ever ridden. However recently I swapped the wheels out for a set of Mavic Ksyrium SLs (http://www.mavic.com/wheels-road-triathlon-ksyrium-sls-c#.U9VTib1dV8E) shod with Hutchinson Atom Comp tyres (http://www.bikeradar.com/gear/category/components/tyres/road/product/review-hutchinson-atom-comp-reinforced-tyre-11-44879) and I have to say these are an even better match for the bike. I’m enjoying the Trek more than I have so far with these wheels and they look great on the bike too. I do need to point out though to reinforce my key message here, the Trek 1.5 retails for £800 as a complete bike. My Ksyrium SLs retail for £750 a pair (although you can easily find them cheaper with some googling) and the Hutchinson’s retail for more than £40 each before you shop around. So to be clear I’ve put wheels and tyres on that are worth more than the bike and they’ve transformed it to pretty much as good as it’s going to get. I really can’t tell you how much I like them on the bike though, they’re great and they’re a much better match than the Eastons and will be staying on for the foreseeable future.

The only other change I’ve made is the saddle. I put my favourite Specialized Phenom SL saddle on the bike after giving the Bontrager one a go but it never really worked for me.

Making these changes has cut nearly a kilogramme off the weight of the bike (nearly a 10% drop) and massively improved the ride of it too. Yes, I could find other things to change but no, it’s really not worth it.

 

If you make these three changes, you’ll be getting the best out of your current entry level bike and the wheels will also make a good improvement on your next bike too as you should keep them and transfer them onto the next bike you buy.

Thanks for reading