If you are looking to ramp up your road bike performance in 2021, there are a number of upgrades you can easily make to get the most out of it. Some will help you improve your climbing and smash those Strava PBs, while others will simply make your ride a more comfortable and enjoyable one.
Here are 8 of the best road bike upgrades you can make this year.
1. Upgrade your tech with a GPS Bike Computer
Getting a good GPS bike computer puts all of your data in one place. Market leaders include Wahoo and Garmin, but there are plenty of options available.
From calculating and recording your cycling speed, distance and route, to calculating elapsed time, calories burnt, and elevation, a decent bike computer empowers you to make improvements and map your rides.
Most bike computers can be paired with other bits of tech, such as heart rate monitors and cadence to get a more detailed view of your rides. And your rides will sync that data to apps such as Strava and Garmin Connect. Expect to spend between $150 to $400.
Try: Garmin Edge 830 GPS Bike Computer.
2. Lighter and smoother carbon wheels
A lightweight and strong carbon wheel is an excellent addition for any rider still using aluminium wheels. The rising popularity of carbon wheels has also made them more affordable.
Getting a good pair of wheels will help you tackle climbs, maintain speed, cut weight, and improve overall performance. They also, usually, look nice as well! The stiffer and more aerodynamic wheel will roll a lot better through the air, so your overall efficiency will also improve.
Some of the best in the market place are the Fulcrum Racing 5s (cost-effective) and the Mavic Ksyrium Elite (more expensive). Prices vary and can go up to a few thousand dollars, but you can get a reasonable wheel for $500.
Try: Bontrager Aeolus Pro 3V TLR Disc Road Wheel.
3. More riding time with a new saddle
A lot of saddles that come with your bike purchase are pretty uncomfortable, so upgrading is an easy way to improve overall comfort levels. Sometimes it doesn’t need to take the biggest of upgrades to make the biggest difference.
Saddle options include gel or foam padding, perineal cutouts, additional padding or covers, more or less weight, or a specific saddle for hip pain. You should expect to spend between $50 and $300.
Try: PRO Falcon Carbon Bicycle Saddle.
4. Go faster with a new set of tires
Along with new wheels, getting a new set of tyres will lower your rolling resistance, meaning more speed. Continental, Vittoria and Schwalbe are common options for an upgrade, and you can expect to spend between $60 and $120 for a new pair. Some of the more expensive options can go up to $1000 though.
A new pair of tyres will help improve your energy loss efficiency. If you upgrade your wheels, investing in new tyres is a no-brainer as well. The things to consider is the tread, the size and the puncture resistance.
Most bikes come fitted with 23mm tyres, but upgrading to 25mm tyres will give you an instant improvement in comfort, stability and speed. Just check what size wheel your tyre can take.
Try: Continental Gatorskin Foldable Tire – 700 x 23-32 or Continental Sprinter Schlauchreifen tire.
5. Add comfort with handlebar gel or tape
Lots of pro riders also opt for this cheap bike upgrade, costing between $20 and $50. Bar gel is the equivalent of the traditional cork padding, but new handlebar tape, particularly modern versions, offer a lot of extra grip and comfort.
Benefits are better shock distribution to absorb bumps, greater overall comfort over long distances, improved control and a smoother ride. Plus, new bar tape can colour coordinate with your bike for a visual upgrade.
Try: Deda Presa bar tape.
6. Cycle safety with better bike lights
If you cycle at night a lot, investing in new bike lights means you’ll always be seen. Cateye and Lezyne are amongst the leading brands, but bike light tech generally has come a long way.
Modern lights can even be used in the day, so you can be visible at any time, with adjustable luminescence levels. You can get a good set of lights, both front and rear, for between $30 and $200. The more you pay, typically, the longer the battery will last and the better strength and distance the light will be.
Try: NiteRider Swift 500 Front / Sabre 110 Rear Bike Light Set.
7. Brake and gear cables
Brake and gear cables are often overlooked but are an essential bike maintenance upgrade. Cables often stretch and get worn with use, meaning they operate at lower efficiency, reliability and risk snapping.
You should replace your cables yearly, but most riders don’t replace cables until they are completely worn. It doesn’t need to be an expensive upgrade, either. $20 will get you some basic cables, while $200 will mean a full replacement with smoother and pre-lubed performance.
Try: Shimano Optislik Road Bicycle Shift Cable Set.
8. A new groupset
Finally, a full groupset upgrade is probably the best upgrade you can do this year. A top-grade groupset can get expensive, but it delivers a massive performance improvement. Groupsets also get worn, so not only will you transform your riding experience but you’ll improve your overall efficiency.
Obviously, if you already have a mid-range groupset, swapping it for a similar spec version won’t deliver too much in terms of gains, but if you upgrade, you’ll get smoother and crisper gear changes and performance.
SRAM and Shimano are the market leaders so look carefully at the compatibility with your bike before making a purchase. For the top range versions, you’ll need to spend between $1500 and $2000.
Try: SRAM Red e-tap groupset.
Sometimes, all you need is a few simple tweaks, such as a new saddle or handlebar tape, to make all the difference. Other times, you’ll need to replace worn components, which can be more expensive. Alternatively, sometimes it’s just really fun to get some new gadgets and gear!
Whatever you buy, to get the most out of your investment, keep it clean and perform regular maintenance, pump your tyres to the recommended pressure, use bike lube on your chain, and keep an eye out for any worn components.
Founder of Vivi Nation, the cycling, running and active living brand. Chris is a sports enthusiast, occasional triathlete and experienced cyclist, having led multiple cycle tours across Europe.