7 Bike Upgrades You Don’t Actually Need

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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7 Bike Upgrades You Don’t Actually Need

As cyclists, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of lighter, faster and more aerodynamic when it comes to bike parts. No matter what you have, there will always be something newer coming out that’s advertised as just what you need to take your performance to the next level.

While some bike parts like a saddle, quality wheelset, tires and bike lights can make a big difference in your performance, comfort and safety, not all upgrades are equally valuable.

Instead of wasting your cash on upgrades for your bike that you don’t really need, we’ve compiled a list of seven you can probably do without.

1

HANDLEBARS

Some cyclists might argue carbon handlebars increase comfort and decrease fatigue in the hands and arms by dampening road vibration. But the cost difference of a set of carbon handlebars doesn’t make it a smart choice unless you’ve got money to burn — especially when you consider thicker bar tape and wider tires do a great deal to make your ride more comfortable, too and cost much less to upgrade.

In most cases, aluminum handlebars do exactly the same job as carbon handlebars while costing three times less. The weight difference between the two is not significant enough to justify the price for most recreational riders, and in a scenario when you happen to take a tumble, aluminum bars have a better chance of surviving. In fact, you can crack a carbon handlebar pretty easily by mistakenly tightening one of the bolts too tight.

High-End Option: Enve SES Aero Road Handlebar$400
Cost-Effective Option: Specialized Expert Allow Shallow Bend Handlebar, $50

2

A HIGH-END GROUP SET

There’s no denying a high-end groupset looks and performs beautifully. But even while the shifting of Shimano’s electronic Dura-Ace DI2 groupset might be slightly better and weigh a little less, the drop off from Dura-Ace to Ultegra is minimal. The performance difference between the two is hard to notice, and even if you prefer electronic shifting to a manual groupset, the Ultegra DI2 can be had for $1,700. That’s $1,400 for a slight decrease in weight, which is a high price to pay unless you’re a professional cyclist looking for any advantage possible.

In addition, a lot of the high-end component range is made with lighter materials that aren’t quite as durable as say an Ultegra or even Shimano 105 groupset might be. If you’re looking for a workhorse that performs just as admirably, the second- or third-tier option is your best bet. Focus more on keeping your drivetrain sparkling clean, which keeps your bike functioning and performing at a top level.

High-End Option: Shimano Dura-Ace R9150 DI2 Groupset, $3,183
Cost-Effective Option: Shimano Ultegra R8000 Groupset, $918

3

CERAMIC BEARINGS

Bearings inside the hub of your front and rear wheels are what make your wheels spin. Less friction between the bearings makes your wheels roll easier and smoother. It makes sense then that ceramic bearings with fewer imperfections and a reduction in weight provide some performance advantage over steel bearings.

While this may be true, you’re going to pay a significant price to upgrade to ceramic bearings. While cheap wheels might not have great steel bearings, you can upgrade these to a better steel bearing option like those made by Chris King. Known for creating quality wheel hubs with amazing durability, you can get an entire new hub with very nice steel bearings for less than the cost of ceramic bearings alone. Unless you’re Chris Froome planning on winning the next Tour de France, this is an upgrade you can likely skip without much of a performance drop off.

High-End Option: Ceramic Speed Zipp-9, $714
Cost-Effective Option: Chris King Steel Bearings, $82

4

A HIGH-END WHEELSET

Upgrading from stock wheels to a nice wheelset is one of the best upgrades you can invest in. A nice wheelset rolls smoother, is more comfortable, weighs a lot less and provides aerodynamic advantages worth your investment. That said, you don’t necessarily need the best wheelset money can buy. There are plenty of affordable carbon-aero wheelsets that are lightweight and provide most of the same benefits.

The weight difference between high-end and mid-level aero wheelsets is minimal in most instances, and the uptick in price is usually related to the type of carbon fiber being used, the shape design and bearings. While they might not be quite as fast in racing conditions, the truth is most amateur riders aren’t riding at speeds necessary to make these high-end wheels worth the purchase price. In fact, even a quality pair of aluminum wheels with a tubeless design is all most cyclists need, and it lasts much longer than its carbon counterparts.

High-End Option: Zipp 858 Carbon Tubeless, $2,400 (per wheel)
Cost-Effective Option: Hunt 3650 Carbon Wide Aero, $969 (per pair)

5

PEDALS

The biggest difference between carbon pedals and standard aluminum pedals is weight. While pedals like the Look Keo Blade Carbon advertise they are more aerodynamic, this advantage on a pedal is negligible, particularly at lower speeds. When you consider the weight difference between a pedal like the Keo Blade Carbon (95 grams) and the Keo 2 Max (130 grams) is only about 35 grams, you aren’t really getting that much of an advantage for a $285 bump in price. The aluminum and sturdier materials of the cheaper option also last longer and are less likely to crack if you take a spill.

High-End Option: Look Keo Blade Carbon TI, $375
Cost-Effective Option: Look Keo 2 Max, $100


READ MORE > TOP 10 TECHNIQUE TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR CYCLING EFFICIENCY


6

BOTTLE CAGES

One of the most useless upgrades you can spend your hard earned money on is bottle cages. Nevertheless, there are carbon bottle cages you can spend $100 on that aren’t any lighter than plastic cages you can purchase for a fraction of the price. In terms of performance, they both hold your water bottles exactly the same way and should last you forever unless you crash. When you do, those plastic or metal cages can be replaced cheaply, while your broken carbon cage will likely make you cringe.

High-End Option: Campagnolo Super Record Carbon Bottle Cage, $110
Cost-Effective Option: Lezyne Flow Bottle Cage, $9.99

7

BIKE STEM

Like your handlebar, most of the advantage you get with a carbon stem is weight-related. Yes, you’ll save a few grams by opting for the carbon version, but you’d be better off using your money elsewhere if you’re on a budget. Tires, a comfortable saddle, a good chain and a mid-range wheelset all benefit you more than a stem, which really won’t make all that much of a difference. Of the two options listed above, there’s only about a 35-gram difference in weight, but the gap between the two price tags is much more drastic.

High-End Option: 3T ARX LTD Stealth Stem, $167
Cost-Effective Option: ZIPP Service Course Aluminum Stem, $50

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.

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