Ask a Mechanic: Road Bike Upgrades

Landon wants to know, “Where should I be spending my money to upgrade my road bike?”

Upgrading your road bike to enhance your riding experience can and should be a fun way to spend your time. For many riders, thinking about, researching, and installing new parts on your bike is almost as fun as riding itself. Upgrading doesn’t have to mean buying the lightest, newest, most expensive thing to hit the market either. Base your upgrade choices on comfort and function, not just weight savings, and you’ll be happier for it. Here are a few go-to upgrades I would suggest to have more fun on your bike.

The number one performance upgrade will always be wheels, and there’s a lot to consider when selecting new ones. Weight, of course, is very important, since a lighter wheelset allows faster acceleration and is easier to maintain speed on. But weight isn’t the only thing you should look at in a wheelset. Criterium racers and non-climbers will benefit with a deeper, stiffer, but more aerodynamic rim.

Another place to lose rotating weight and increase power transfer are the crank arms. Installing a lighter, stiffer crank arm set will help your acceleration by dropping weight and by minimizing power lost in flexy crank arms, which means more power gets to the wheels. Many cyclists upgrade to an integrated power meter crank, which are usually heavier, but is the ultimate training tool.

A lot of riders often upgrade their derailleurs before their shifters, but I disagree with that. Your shifters are what control the derailleurs, and are a point of contact for the rider. Most of the “feel” and timing of gear changes are a result of the shifters. Upgraded shifters will save a little weight as well but the big benefit is having a precise and well-built unit controlling your derailleurs. High-quality shifters usually have lighter action for faster, low-effort shifting.

You can instantly increase comfort by swapping from an aluminum handlebar to a carbon bar. Again, this is an area where weight isn’t necessarily the biggest benefit to making the change. Carbon bars absorb much more vibration and “chatter” than aluminum bars do, reducing hand and arm fatigue. This may seem insignificant over a short distance, but on a longer ride your hands and arms will certainly thank you for making that upgrade.

The last thing I’ll recommend upgrading is your saddle, although it certainly shouldn’t be the last thing that you consider when upgrading your bike. Having a saddle that is comfortable and fits well is the key to a comfortable road ride. If you don’t already know, watch our video detailing what to look for when selecting a saddle. I won’t recommend any one saddle or type of saddle because there are so many different choices, and just because I like my saddle doesn’t mean you’ll be comfortable on it. If possible, I recommend demo’ing as many saddles as you can to find your best fit. Saddles often have the most dramatic effect on comfort and enjoyment on the road bike.

Those are the major upgrades I recommend to improve performance and comfort on your road bike. Although they may not be the cheapest options, they are what I think will give you the best results when it comes time to enhance your riding experience.