Our 6 best 'bang for your buck' bike upgrades

Upgrading your road bike doesn't have to cost a fortune, here are some of the best value ways to take your bike to the next level

Clock21:10, Tuesday 6th February 2024

© Marc Kitteringham 2015

If you are looking for some budget friendly upgrades for your bike, look no further than this list

Us cyclists are rarely satisfied for long. We are always looking for the next thing that will make us faster, more comfortable or just generally more efficient when heading out for a ride. When it comes to upgrading our bikes it can be all too easy to get sucked into the typical thoughts around one-piece bar and stems, carbon fibre wheelsets and wireless groupsets.

All of these will unequivocally revolutionise your ride but they will also empty your wallet at an astonishing rate. If you're looking for the next value upgrade for your bike these six solutions will offer the most benefit for the least amount of money.

1. Inner tubes/tubeless: £30 - £60

This is a commonly overlooked area when it comes to upgrades but there are legitimate performance and maintenance benefits to be had from swapping out the basic black butyl inner tube.

If you want to keep using inner tubes for simplicity and ease of installation there are two other options that you can fit that can save weight and reduce rolling resistance. Latex inner tubes will cost around £15 per wheel but they can also save five watts per wheel, which is more than most other individual component upgrades can offer. The only issue with latex inner tubes is that they are porous which means they will lose enough air pressure to require pumping up again every few days.

Another option is the slightly more pricey TPU inner tube. TPU stands for Thermoplastic Polyurethane, which is a flexible plastic with an inherently low weight. These cost around £30 per wheel but can save around 115 grams per tube. This means that for £60 you can drop nearly a quarter of a kilo from your bike weight. This is one of the best ways to save weight gram per pound.

The final consideration is tubeless. This is a little bit more involved and could cost a little or a lot depending on your current setup. Switching to a tubeless configuration does require tubeless specific wheels and tyres so if you do not already have these this could raise the cost considerably. Removing the inner tube and replacing it with a sealant can save up to seven watts per wheel and greatly improve your puncture resistance as any small hole will be sealed by the sealant.

2. Tyre upgrade: £120 - £160

In a similar vein to inner tubes, the tyres you use can also provide a massive impact to the feel and performance of your bike. Tyres are the only contact point your bike has with the road's surface so finding a tyre that meets your needs is necessary to really unlock yourself and your bike's potential.

Matching your tyres to the conditions you ride in will give you an increased sense of control through the use of specific rubber compounds and tread patterns. Using summer tyres in warmer and drier conditions and all-season or winter tyres for the cooler and wetter months will have you enjoying your riding with fewer issues and greater performance.

Fitting wider tyres is perhaps the number one thing you can do to improve the overall comfort of your bike. Wider tyres are not only more comfortable but in tests have repeatedly proven to be faster than narrower options. If you are currently using 25 or even 23mm tyres making the move to 28 or 30mm tyres will transform your bike. Wider tyres have the all-around benefit of more grip from a larger contact area with the road while the lower pressures they can be run at results in greater comfort, as well as a reduction in the likelihood of punctures.

3. Bike fit: £150 -£300

This is undoubtedly the most expensive item on this list but it is here for good reason. Most of us get a bike that's roughly the right size and then estimate our saddle height, cleat position and stem length. After these vague estimates are set, we then spend countless hours and kilometres subjecting our bodies to this position. The problem with this is that unfortunately most of us aren’t actually very good at getting these measurements right.

Spending the time and money to get a professional bike fit can prevent injuries from developing, alleviate discomfort and also increase your biomechanical efficiency as a rider.

The benefits of a bike fit can not be overstated, and with the measurements fixed to you, they can be used from bike to bike. It will also allow for better-informed decisions when it comes to buying your next bike with an altogether better idea of what size and style of bike best works for your body.

4. Saddle: £60 - £100

There are three contact points you have between yourself and the bike. The handlebars, your pedals and your saddle. Out of these three, where you perch yourself takes the most weight and has to deal with both a static hip position and the dynamic movement of your legs as they pedal.

If you start to get a little sore in your hands whilst out on a ride you can simply readjust them or move to the tops or drops for a while to mix things up. You do not have this luxury when it comes to your saddle. Getting a saddle that is the correct width for your sit bones will prevent any soft tissue damage and pain as well as prevent chafing and numbness.

Every rider has a different shape body and the saddle should be matched to the rider. If you tend to use whatever saddle comes as stock on your bikes, the likelihood is that there is something far better out there for you. Heading to a bike shop to try some out is the best way of finding what works best for you.

5. Bar tape: £25

One of the other two remaining contact points you have with your bike is the handlebars. In fact, very seldom do you hold on to the bars themselves, instead spending time holding on to the bar tape wrapped around them.

The feel of the bar tape can tangibly change how it feels to interact with your bike. There are plenty of options out there from thin cloth tape to thick gel tape and even tacky and grippy tape. Finding one that feels nice to hold is a worthy upgrade if for no other reason than it makes the cockpit feel a bit nicer.

6. Brake Pads: £30 - £60

The brake pads you use can heavily influence how well your brakes perform. Upgrading to a premium brake pad or a different braking compound can transform how your brakes feel. Organic pads offer more power in the dry but lose a lot of that bite in the wet and can be the cause of a lot of squeaking.

If you find yourself riding in wet and dirty conditions for prolonged periods upgrading to a sintered pad will give you better braking and last longer as it uses a metallic compound that is harder wearing and better at dealing with wet braking surfaces than other compounds. Equally, if you ride mostly in dry conditions a premium Kevlar or organic pad will give the best performance.

It might not seem like a consideration but trying different brake pads and compounds and finding one that works best with your style of riding can be really improve the feel of the bike out on the road. If you use Shimano brakes and you ride long descents where the brakes are susceptible to overheating it can be worth trying pads with cooling fins that aim to keep the pads within their optimal range even under heavy and prolonged braking.

Bonus: Aero clothing

If you are looking to find some additional speed, one of the best areas to invest in is your clothing. Although aero clothing certainly doesn’t come in at the budget end of the spectrum replacing some generic fitting clothing with some tight fitting aero garments that use the latest in material technology can save upwards of 20 watts.

For an investment of around £300, it is possible to get a similar benefit to upgrading from standard wheels to a pair of deep-section carbon wheels. Even though the initial outlay can seem steep compared to traditional cycling clothing, the performance it can offer puts it firmly as a value performance upgrade.

For more tech features head over our dedicated tech section or if you are looking for some advice on your next purchase why not head over to our buying advice section.

GCN's Essential Road Bike Maintenance
GCN's Essential Road Bike Maintenance

For road, gravel, commuter and hybrid bikes, Essential Road Bike Maintenance is intended to be a proper bible to all those essential bike maintenance, repairs, and set-up tasks that we all need to know. Everything from basic bike set-up, how to get your wheels on and off, through setting up gears, bleeding brakes, and beyond to things like installing electronic gears, converting to a 1x transmission and more. In a nutshell, pretty much everything you would want to tackle on your bike (or bikes, plural) yourself. And then some. Like bike set up tips for taller and shorter riders; bottom bracket standards explained; common bike maintenance mistakes and how to avoid them; essential roadside fixes to keep you riding; how to make your bike more comfortable; how to puncture-proof your ride and much, much more. “A huge amount of knowledge, hacks, and know-how to help improve both your workshop skills and your ride” – Ollie Bridgewood, GCN Presenter Each chapter is structured with the tasks you’ll most likely need more of the time at the start (like how to adjust your gears, replacing brake pads, or changing a tyre), before running through to those that you’ll do much more infrequently (such as changing disc brake hoses, servicing a freehub or pedals, and so on). This also means that many of the tasks naturally ratchet up in difficulty as you go through each chapter which should also mirror your natural progression as you become more mechanically capable and confident. In short, 260 pages packed with all the essential knowledge you’ll need to confidently take on and complete pretty much any bike maintenance task. Get Some ‘Show-How’ With Your ‘Know-How’ Each walkthrough is linked to a companion video which you can watch for free from your computer, tablet or smartphone. To watch, either type in the walkthrough’s short-link URL – e.g. https://gcn.eu/GetPerfectShifting – into your browser, or scan the QR code with your smartphone or tablet so you can get the best of both worlds: know-how and show-how. Simple. All you need to know to fix your bike. Product Details: Pages: 260 (120sm) Size: 280mm (h) x 216mm (w) (portrait) Cover: Paperback Cover Finish: 300gsm, silk stock with anti-scuff matte laminate and spot UV gloss finish Please note: There may be some additional shipping charges for orders consisting of 2 or more books. However, our customer service team will contact you after you have placed the order to advise on delivery options. Click here to explore all GCN best selling books

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