Choosing a Road Bike Upgrade: A Functional Perspective

Posted at: Feb 13, 2022

When you ride a road bike, you can't help but want to upgrade the parts. In this article, I'll show you how to upgrade your road bike and in what order.

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Let’s understand how a road bike works

A road bike is made up of more than 20 parts, each of which has its own role to play.

parts role
Frame+Fork Supports weight and vehicle body
STI lever braking, shifting gears
Front derailleur shifts gears
Rear derailleur shifts gears
sprockets transmit rotation to wheel, shift gears
Front Brake Braking
Rear Brake Braking
Crankset transfers rotation to wheel
Pedals transfers rotation to crankset
seatpost supports your weight
Saddle Bears Weight
Handlebars Bears Weight
Stem Bears Weight
front wheel transfers rotation to straight-line force
Rear Wheel Turns rotation into straight-line force
Tire connects the bike to the ground

Upgrading each part can be roughly divided into the following five categories.

  1. rotating performance
  2. straight-line performance
  3. braking performance
  4. shifting performance
  5. attitude control

Upgrading a part means upgrading (improving) any of these.

If you’re going to upgrade, think about “what’s unsatisfactory”?

Road bike upgrades range from inexpensive to expensive, and the cost effectiveness varies widely. Therefore, you should first think about what you are not satisfied with in your current road bike, and then pick out the parts you want to upgrade.

Once you know what you want to improve, you will know which parts to upgrade first and in what order, which will help you upgrade more efficiently.

Upgrade points by type

If you want to go faster, upgrade your straight-line performance

If you want to go faster or increase your cruising speed, upgrading your straight-line performance is the way to go. To put it simply, it is the closest point between the ground and the road bike.

The following two parts are the main components of straight-line performance on a road bike.

  • Tires
  • Wheels

Tires are the only part of the bike that is installed on the ground, so the higher the individual grade, the easier the bike will roll.

The wheel is the end of the power that we generate on a road bike, so the more performance (weight, rotation, air resistance, etc.) you get here, the less power loss you can transmit to the ground.

So, if you want to ride fast, you should first prioritize upgrading your tires and wheels in order to improve straight-line performance.

If you want to ride with ease, “Rotational Performance and Attitude Control

If you want to have an easier ride on your road bike, it is a good idea to upgrade the parts related to rotational performance and posture control.

For example, if you change your pedals to binding pedals, you will be able to use your pulling foot, which will improve your spinning performance and make riding easier. If you can maintain your bike, upgrading the BB is also surprisingly effective.

Upgrading your posture will allow you to transmit power to the pedals more efficiently, resulting in a more comfortable pedaling experience. For posture upgrades, it is a good idea to upgrade the handlebars, saddle and other parts related to fitting.

Posture upgrade is a high priority for upgrade because it also affects your speed. If you are not good at maintaining your road bike, you can start by replacing the saddle, which is easy to do.

If you want to be able to climb hills, “revving performance and shifting performance

Climbing a hill requires more power than on a flat road. In the case of a car, you can choose a powerful engine or a 4WD body, but in the case of a road bike, the engine is a human being, so you can’t suddenly upgrade the engine. Therefore, we need to think about how to ride with the current engine (and rider) and how to resist gravity.

The first thing to consider is revving performance. When riding up a hill, the force of gravity pulling you downward will have an effect, so you will need to ride in the lightest gear possible with a high cadence. If this is the case, the easier it is to turn the crank, the better. Upgrade your crank, BB, pedals, etc. to make the rotation smoother.

Lowering the gear ratio on hills is also effective. Upgrade to a sprocket (rotation performance, shifting performance) and chainring for lighter gear ratios to make pedaling easier.

If you want to drive far, “braking performance and attitude control

If you don’t care about speed, but just want to ride far, upgrade your attitude control parts more than anything else. If you ride for a long time, your hips and shoulders tend to get sore, so upgrading to a better fitting saddle and carbon handlebars that reduce vibration from the ground will be effective.

Braking performance is also important because your hands get tired and your grip strength gradually weakens after a long ride. Shimano’s higher grade brakes can be applied with a little force, so your hands will not get tired and you can brake firmly until the end.

Weight reduction can be the last thing you want to do

When it comes to upgrading a road bike, weight reduction has become a major issue, but unless you are a race rider, it is better to solve the problems you are not satisfied with than to reduce the weight.

The exception to this is tires and wheels. Since most of the tires and wheels that come with complete bikes are of a low grade, even entry-level grade products are fine, and you can definitely feel the effects of upgrading this area first.

Once you have upgraded your tires and wheels, try to choose an upgrade that will solve your current dissatisfaction without focusing on weight reduction, so you can enjoy the upgrade.

Upgrading components does not make you faster

Components are synonymous with road bikes. When you see a bike with the higher grade DURA-ACE or ULTEGRA, you can’t help but admire it.

However, DURA-ACE is a professional grade and ULTEGRA is a semi-pro grade component. Even if a hobby racer suddenly rides professional grade equipment, he may be able to cruise a kilometer or two per hour faster, but he will not be able to ride dramatically faster. The engine is the same even if the components change.

Therefore, upgrading the components to a higher grade is the last step in the upgrade order. If you upgrade in the dark, you may end up losing cost effectiveness.

In this sense, it is probably better to upgrade components only when necessary.

The exception to this is brakes, as the higher grade brakes “stop easier and more firmly”, making it easier to ride a road bike.

I thought about the upgrade points of a road bike from the perspective of the bicycle mechanism.

Upgrading is one of the most fun things to do on a road bike, but rather than just reducing the weight or upgrading to higher grade components, it is better to think about the performance you want from the mechanism of the bike and upgrade it to make your road bike more fun.

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