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6 ways to upgrade your bike

Upgrading your bike isn't always about spending loads of money or giving it a full overhaul. There are plenty of ways to improve your bike or make the ride feel better and it can start from something as seemingly simple as a new set of bar tape or replacing worn shift cables. 

While it's tempting and exciting to buy a whole new groupset or a fancy set of carbon wheels, you need to think about what parts of your bike  - if any - actually need upgrading and where your money would be best spent. There are definitely some areas that make a bigger difference than others and the law of diminishing returns comes into play pretty quickly when your talking about larger amounts of money. 

This is our guide to a few things you might like to think about when it comes to upgrading your ride, and a few suggestions of where it might be best to start. 

Wheels

One of the most common ways that manufacturers make sure their bikes hit price points is to spec them with cheaper wheels. It might seem mental but it does make sense. If you’re buying a high-end road bike, for example you might already have a set of lovely carbon wheels and if the bike your buying comes with another set you’ll end up paying four figures more than you want to just to get another set. It's an easy way to turn a two grand bike into a £1,300 bike, with the relative amount saved increasing as bike price increase/fanciness of the specced wheels changes. 

So if you’re riding a set of stock wheels, then upgrading them to something lighter or more aerodynamic can make a noticeable difference to the way your bike rides. You don’t have to spend a fortune, either. Sure, if you have your sights set on something cutting edge aero and right at the top of the pile - like a set of DT Swiss ARC 1100 - then you’re looking at north of two grand, but there are plenty of more affordable options that will make a difference. 

One of our personal favourite sets of wheels are the wonderful DT Swiss PR 1400 OXiC. These aren’t for the aero-obsessed, as they’re low profile alloy clinchers, but they’re light (under 1,450g per set), look fantastic and the OXiC treatment gives seriously good braking performance.

If you’re looking for an MTB upgrade, you won’t do better than DT Swiss’s XM1501 Spline One wheels. Given 5 stars by BikeRadar, these are wheels that are tough, lightweight and available in a whole variety of different width options. 

Groupset

Upgrading your groupset is a game of diminishing returns. If you’re running Ultegra on a road bike or Deore XT on your MTB then upgrading to Dura-Ace or XTR will save you some weight, but cost you a lot to do it. 

But if you’re running Tiagra/105 or Deore/SLX, the upgrade to Ultegra or Deore XT will save you relatively more weight for a lot less money. Plus, if you’re a mountain biker running 10 or 11-speed you now have 12-speed groupsets available that offer a host of performance upgrades more than just that extra sprocket or two. 

There are other ways to upgrade the groupset on a bike than just replacing the whole thing as well. For example, if you’re riding a lot of hills, sticking a larger cassette or even going for a smaller ratio with your crankset can pay off very smartly on the road. An 11-30 cassette might only give you one more gear than an 11-28, but you’ll be thankful for that on a long climb and it’s a relatively affordable thing as well since 11-30 road cassette start from £50. 

That works on an MTB too, since Shimano now offer massive 11-51t cassettes on the new 12-speed groupsets which gives you far greater gearing range. The point is that if you want to upgrade your groupset is doesn't mean doing away with everything on your current bike and changing the whole thing. Think about what you want/need from the bike and change the parts accordingly. 

Bar tape/Grips

If you’re looking for an upgrade that’s cheap and will make your bike feel noticeably better straight away, it’s hard to look beyond bar tape or a new set of grips. Most of us are guilty of leaving the tape on our bars until it starts falling off or tears which can happen pretty quickly if you ride in bad weather. 

Bar tape is one of the cheapest parts of a bike, and brands like Pro, Profile Design and ODI have various different types that start from as little as a tenner. 

ODI make some of the best grips for MTBs and BMXs you can buy, and they come in a massive variety of types and colours so no matter what you’re after you’ll find something for your bike. You can check out the whole range here. 

Tyres

Another of those things that isn’t always the best on stock bikes, your tyres are the only part of the bike designed to make contact with the ground and at the risk of repeating ourselves yet again, you shouldn’t cheap out on them for that very reason. 

Good tyres are, quite literally, the reason that you make it round corners at high speed or in the rain without ending up taking an unnecessary spill. Of course there’s a compromise that has to be made (isn’t there always), because the softest, supplest race tyres might be the best for grip but chances are they won’t last too long, and are definitely not up to the puncture protection standard required for most urban commutes. 

If you want something for sunny Summer riding, you’ll struggle to do better than Continental’s GP 5000. They’re a soft, grippy race tyre made from Conti’s highly regarded Black Chilli compound that’ll help you rack up miles with the best possible ride quality. 

If you want something with a little more durability, then Conti’s GP 4-season are designed, as the name suggests -  to give a quality ride year-round, which means they’re ready for rain, road debris and all sorts. 

Saddle

The thing about saddles is that most of us just ride whatever came on our bike. If you don’t experience any discomfort then that’s obviously not a problem, but if you’re not completely happy with the way that the bike feels - or the way you feel on the bike - after an hour of riding or more then it might be worth thinking about changing your seat. 

Road bike saddles used to be hard, narrow things but these days there’s a far greater variety around and a lot of riders are changing to saddles like Pro’s Stealth - snub nosed at the front and wider at the back. But the main point is that everyone is different, and a saddle that works for one person might be another’s worst nightmare so it’s worth trying some out (if you can) to see what works fork you. 

If you want an expert opinion then getting a bike fit is a great way to figure out whether your saddle is right - as well as a whole host of other things. If there’s one thing you can put a value on in cycling it’s how comfortable your bike is. 

Give it a clean

Okay it’s a little tongue-in-cheek but let’s be honest for a moment - how many of us actually clean our bikes as often as we should? Dirty bikes wear out quicker, sound awful and look worse. It’s not bike industry propaganda, a dirty drivetrain will genuinely wear out quicker than a clean one so that 20mins you don’t spend cleaning your bike after a dirty ride might be better value than any of the upgrades further up this list. 

We’re not talking a full-on, old-school clean, either. You don’t have to take the chain off and bathe it overnight or buy a sonic parts cleaner or any of that, just spray on some bike cleaner, crack out the degreaser and make sure things look more metal than mud by the time you’ve finished. Finish Line are a one-stop shop for all your cleaning a lubrication needs and you can see all their products on Freewheel here. 

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