Friday Group Ride #395

Friday Group Ride #395

I am fortunate to have a few great bikes, and when I add or replace one, I’m also lucky to have some serious bike nerds for friends, people who help me make the right decisions, rather than just the right-now decisions, if you know what I mean. The result is that I have been over-the-moon happy with the last four bikes I’ve built for myself, and yet…

And yet.

The best bike you can build today will be supplanted by something better, cooler, newer tomorrow. And even though I have custom frames, so that no improvement can reasonably made to them, the urge to upgrade pieces and parts persists. The trick, I have found, is in those initial decisions, when you make fundamental choices that won’t box you in later. Avoid the lure of non-standard parts. Choose things that will leave your options open.

Wheels are the obvious and best place to upgrade, I think. The emergence of disc brakes has made choosing carbon hoops less sketchy that it used to feel, although there are some awfully light, stiff alloy wheels on the market now, too. And don’t forget the tires. There is a mind-bending array of widths, treads and casings available now, and even these low cost changes can have a big effect on your ride experience.

Cockpit parts, bars, stems and posts, can be fun to play with also, particularly if you’re inclined to experiment with your fit. I like to swap for cockpit parts with my friends, so I can try different things without plowing my retirement savings into my parts bin.

This week’s Group Ride asks, are you an upgrader? If so, what do you think is the best upgrade you can make? What changes have you made that surprised you with their impact? Or, are you the sort who buys a bike and leaves it as it is in perpetuity?

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21 comments

  1. MidTNBrad

    Funny you should bring this subject up. I’m pulling together a Shimano 105 groupset to upgrade all of the components on my 1999 Litespeed Tuscany. Mostly just because I want to.

  2. Aar

    I’m an upgrader. IMHO, better fit and friction reduction are the best upgrades. In the better fit category, the most surprising impacts for me came from handlebars with a different bend and canting wedges between my shoes and cleats. As far as friction reduction is concerned, a clean drivetrain is huge and regular bearing lubrication is a must. It’s not just sufficient to clean and lube your chain. Degunking bottom brackets and remove/clean/reinstall of cogsets both deliver big impacts. Whenever the funds present themselves, bearing upgrades (if possible on your gear) are less expensive than many other options.

  3. AG

    Tires. Most bikes don’t come new with very good tires, and they wear out anyway so upgrading them is a no-brainer. I was blown away by how much better my bike felt when I switched from stock Vittoria Rubino 23’s to Conti GP4000 25’s. I mean it was like a totally different bike. They won’t be cheap, and they won’t last long, but I am convinced that high-quality, supple tires will do more for your riding than any other upgrade, no matter the cost.

    1. Jeff Dieffenbach

      @AG, can you fit Conti 28s? If so, try it and be amazed. I’m 185 pounds and ride 65psi in the front and 80 in the rear. More comfortable, and I’m faster than before.

    2. Winky

      Jeff. My two current go-to bikes have different tyres. My road bike (carbon) runs Conti 23mm 4000s (I’d run 25mm but they don’t clear the brakes), pumped pretty hard (~110), and my commuter/gravel bike (Ti) has Conti 4-seasons 28mm at lower pressures (~70). I must be really weird, because I honestly don’t really notice a lot of difference in terms of either ride comfort or handling. They are both very comfortable (I never give it a thought), I feel the road seams the same on both, and the handling is pretty similar. I’m perhaps slightly more likely to ride over, rather than around, something on the 28mm tyres, and on the odd occasion that I take briefly to the grass to avoid the randomness of the shared-use path users, the 28mm work better on soft ground. The wider tyres have not been transformative for me, like they seemingly have for others.

      (Roads around here are smooth and mostly in good condition. And getting even better.)

  4. sciottg

    I run the upgrades in the other direction, I had a touring bike that I built up.
    The parts of the build moved from a Stan Pike, to a Trek sport tourer, to an Ebisu
    and are now on a Black Mountain. I built a Kvale with left over wheels, 9
    years later I finally built specific wheels for it, 135oln Campy not being
    factory anywhere, got rid of the Jtek shiftmate too.

  5. Lyford

    Going from narrow rims and cheap 23s to wide rims with nice 28s made a huge difference in comfort and cornering confidence.

    Upgrading to improve the fit and the contact points is almost always worth it.

    Upgrading from cheap-feeling external-cam quick-release skewers probably did nothing for performance — the new ones are heavier — but it just feels so much better every time I attach a wheel.

  6. David

    Robot…I thought in a recent post that you were, at least contemplating, downsizing?

    I’m NOT an upgrader. I bought my Lynskey in 2009 and have only replaced parts that broke or simply wore out. I still run the original SRAM Rival derailleurs, brakes and crankset. I’ve had to replace wheels due to a spoke that pulled through – but I replaced Fulcrum Racing 5’s with a newer version of the same wheel. And at 47,500 + miles I’ve gone through my fair share of chains and cassettes, and of course tires.

    My bike still shifts like I want it to, even after all the miles. When the shifting becomes compromised due to wear, I’ll replace what I need to, likely with SRAM components. At that time I might upgrade to Force!

  7. Michael

    Definitely a buy-and-hold person. However, I do upgrade the things I actively don’t like on my bikes. Thinking back, that is often the brakes (including the velo orange brakes after Paddy’s recommendation). Being able to stop reliably allows me to ride more confidently and faster. I recently switched to wider rims and bigger tires (now tubeless) on my cross bike, making it illegal for cross racing but more fun riding in rocky terrain. I do lots of the latter and none of the former any more. I agree with the folks above – tires make a HUGE difference, and they are a small enough investment (and one you were going to have to make anyway, although perhaps not spending quite as much) that you can try new ones each time you need new tires, until you find your favorites. Swapping parts with friends sounds like a smart way to try things out and not break the bank.

  8. Jeff Dieffenbach

    I’ve been a mild upgrader–only when parts broke or wore out. My best bike’s a good bike but not a great one. I’m in N+1 mode right now (which makes me an upgrader of sorts) and future-proofing is a major consideration. Mixed terrain serves that interest. I’m all in on wide tire clearance, disk brakes, and through-axle (I may have to replace hubs before standards there settle in). Drive train is my big concern–the wireless electronic 1x system I want is probably a few years away. But, in a way, wireless holds out the promise of being upgrade-friendly since shifters are decoupled from derailleurs.

  9. Winky

    I’m absolutely not an upgrader. Nothing gets replaced unless it needs to be. When something wears out or breaks, I am actually more likely to replace it with something from further down the range. The irrational passion for the particular bike has perhaps faded a bit, and I become more focussed on value-for-money. Think of it this way, when you’re speccing your new dream bike, a $300 Ti/steel cassette doesn’t add much in percentage terms to the overall cost. But when you have to replace that cassette, the difference between the $100 steel one and the $300 Ti/steel one just seems ridiculous.

    I have nothing much in common with the rider who sells/bins hs perfectly good 3-year-old Ultegra groupset (that’s perhaps on a middling frame) because he/she wants Di2.

  10. Ray Akamuri

    I am not a upgrader. Used to be 10 years ago. Now, I would rather buy a frame set and put together a new bike if I get the itch or more accurately check the hype on disc wheels / thru axles etc. If I don’t like the end result, I sell the bike. My most recent build is an example. Carbon frame set with disc wheels and thru axles capable of 42mm tires if I am so inclined, although I am currently maxed out at 38mm. My conclusion: Disc wheels are hype but only useful in running wider tires. Thru Axles are a pain in the rear end especially with the goat heads rampant here in the Southwest, even though I am running sealant.

  11. Brian

    Wheels and tires usually as they by far changes a bike the most, currently have 2 set of wheels one with 35 mm tubeless gravel tires and a set with 32 mm Continental 4 season on them but will properly end up buying another set for some summer tubeless road tires. I also changed the stem and bars of my current bike, so it turns out I’ve properly become an upgrader. And if Sram comes out with a Force etap HRD i would properly upgrade to that and build another bike with the old groupset.

    Tbh I don’t find thru axles that big of a pain, sure a QR is quicker but for security TA is better. Disc brakes are better in some situations and not without flaws/drawbaks but if you’re only going to run 25 mm tires i wouldn’t bother with them, but disc can give you the options of running 30+ mm tires on a lot of bikes.

  12. Fausto

    Rather spend the money on the maintance than the upgrade. Swap out the tires, cables, chain and cassette more often, then I don’t worry about the what ifs? Agree on the 25’s and pressure being a simple cheap change that has a slight performance improvement at $150 vs. $1500. The early adaptor thing is too expensive in an industry that has few standards. Look at carbon road disk wheels, we are just now seeing the exploration of what you can do to the rim without the braking surface. They just leveled out the thru axle debate. Zipp is making their own technology almost obsolete every two years between hub engagement, rim shape, rim inner width, hub design, aero texture. It all changes too quickly now. Ride UP grades as the T shirt said.

  13. Tominalbany

    I buy the bike and replace things when they break or are worn.

    I’m boring and useless for most of the bike industry.

    1. Padraig

      I really detest the way that segments of the bike industry minimize your value and participation in cycling because you don’t spend lots of money on gear. Our pursuit would be smaller and less interesting without riders like you.

  14. Dave in Houston

    I’m somewhere in the middle. My bikes are midrange at best, never particularly current tech wise. Thus, part upgrades are not too hard to find, and when I spot something that’s maybe a couple generations old and is going for cheap and is better than what I’m currently running, I snap em up. For example… Running heavy old fulcrum AL rims w/10 speed 105. An old pair of Zipp 404s with an AL brake track and a 10 speed hub represents a massive upgrade at a fraction of the price of a current wheelset. Grabbed em for 300 bones. Kinda like a moneyball philosophy, find the undervalued but good quality upgrade points, and take advantage of what others take for granted!

  15. David Arnold

    Wheels…Tires…Frameset upgrades…new chains/cassettes…most importantly make sure your bike fits. Make sure all contact points are the best for your body(Bibs…shoes.. saddles) Notice I didn’t say the most expensive.

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