Upgrades and Add-Ons - Cycling Magazine

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Saturday 10 June 2017

Upgrades and Add-Ons

Upgrades and Add-Ons

NEW CYCLISTS OFTEN HAVE A CERTAIN EXPECTATION THAT since they plunked down thousands of dollars for a new bike, it will come equipped with everything they need. It’s true for the most part—with the exception of pedals, your bike will likely come fully equipped.
But there are common (and less common) things you might want to invest a little more money in for your bike to have much better performance. They might have to do with the environment you’re riding in or the type of riding you want to do. Unfortunately, bikes come stocked with the same parts no matter where you live or how you use your bike, so these tweaks to your ride can make a big difference.
One thing to be clear about is that these purchases will usually be upgrades as opposed to “trade-ins.” Even as expensive as bicycles are, shops don’t make much money selling them, so they usually can’t afford to give you credit for the part that came on the bike that you hope to replace. Upgrades or add-ons mean you’ll usually be paying full price for your new item. You can either sell the one that came with your bike, keep it as a backup, or donate it to your local bicycle nonprofit.


It seems very obvious that a bike won’t function well without pedals. That being said, most bikes over $1,200 don’t come equipped with them because the industry got tired of throwing away pedals. Strange, huh? There are many, many brands and pedal systems on the market. Depending on the rider’s style, physiology, and comfort on the road, he or she will usually have loyalty to a certain type or brand, so if a bike came stock with pedals he or she didn’t like, they’d be tossed away. The solution? Bikes come as a blank slate to be filled in with your preference. So let’s talk about your options.
The first type is what most of us have ridden our whole lives, flat pedals. They are named for the flat platform your foot easily finds to get the wheels turning. If it seems as if you wouldn’t need more than that, think again. Your body can work most efficiently when you can control the pedal in a complete circle. With flat pedals, you are limited to only pushing down on the forward stroke of the pedal—using about one-fourth of the complete rotation your foot makes. Because of this, they are the least common on road bikes.
An improvement on the flat pedal came by way of toe clips. These are little cages on the front of the pedal that trap your toes and the ball of your foot to help you push down in the front of the pedal stroke and lift from the back, giving you twice as much efficiency and power. You don’t need special shoes, and the clips are fairly inexpensive (and removable). Their downfall is that in order to remove your foot, you have to pull back and out of the cage, which is sometimes hard to do—especially during an emergency stop when your body’s weight is being propelled forward.
The final and most commonly used system today is called the clipless pedal. Its design is based on downhill-ski bindings, where your shoe has a cleat attached to it that locks into the pedal as you step down and releases when you twist your foot. Being “attached” to the bike may sound a little scary, but these are the most popular pedals for road bikes. They allow the rider to use the complete pedal stroke—gaining power around the entire rotation—making you faster and more efficient. Safety-wise, the pedal is quick and easy to release from the shoe with a flick of your foot, and in case of an accident your shoe will break free. These pedals are also smaller and therefore lighter than the flat option.
Clipless pedals are usually divided into two categories, mountain or road. Their names are deceiving though, because either can be used on a road bike and both regularly are. Each one was specifically developed for its type of riding, but later, riders found there was a lot of crossover. What they both have in common is an extremely stiff sole so that as much of your power as possible is transferred into the pedal—making you more efficient.
Mountain-style clipless pedals are often sold to new road cyclists when they begin riding because they are a great introduction to clipless pedals without sacrificing easy walking when off the bike. This style’s benefits include being a little easier to clip in and out of, being able to clip in on both sides of the pedal, and having a cleat that sits deeper in the sole of your cycling shoe. This recessed cleat doesn’t stick out at all, and you can pretty much walk in them the same as you would in a normal shoe. It was developed with the thought that mountain bikers sometimes have to hike on the trail to get around obstacles, or because their bike broke down in the middle of the woods. This pedal also works great for commuters and bike tourists who will be walking around in their shoes a lot when they are taking a break, or to get to their destination. The double-sided pedal also makes it much easier to clip in.
Overall, the contact points between pedal and shoe are small, giving your knee more side-to-side movement through the pedal stroke (called float), which can be a blessing for tricky knees. The downside is that it also decreases the amount of potential power and efficiency you could have. The very small area of contact can also cause “hot spots,” which are places on the bottom of your foot that get painfully warm and uncomfortable after hours in the saddle. Still, this system is much more efficient than flat pedals or those with toe cages.
The road-style clipless pedal uses a much larger cleat and pedal interface that utilizes more of the ball of your foot. Much like downhill-ski boots, the cleat on the shoe sticks out from the sole, forcing you to balance between your heel and the cleat when walking (and making your stride resemble an elf’s). However, this design gives a huge power advantage over the mountain-style and is a good choice if you’re putting on your shoes to walk out the door and get straight onto your bike, riding, then heading straight home, as you would for fitness or competitive riding.
Either way, if you decide to go clipless, be prepared for a steep but quick learning curve. A rite of passage when learning to ride clipless pedals is falling over when trying to get out of them. This almost always happens when coming to a dead stop while you’re trying to put your foot down for balance while, say, waiting at a red light. You will tip over. You will be mostly unscathed, but your ego may be a little bruised if anyone notices. You are unlikely to be physically hurt or repeat this ever again.
To help avoid this scenario, ask your bike shop to install your cleats and adjust your pedals to the lowest spring tension setting before installing them. Practice clipping your bike shoe in and out of the pedals while the bike is stabilized in a trainer (which holds the bike upright and steady). This way you don’t have to balance, brake, coast, or shift and you can get used to the feel of sitting on the bike and clipping in and out before you head out on the road. You’ll be a pro in no time.


This is the second-most common upgrade because fitting saddles is a little bit like fitting into jeans or shoes. Since everyone’s anatomy and shape is a little different, size is only one part of the equation when you’re shopping. For example, if you have a narrow foot, you might find that one brand of shoe fits better than another even though they are the same size. Then, of course, there’s style to consider as well—though that tends not to make as big of a difference for most cyclists. Unlike jeans or shoes, the only way to tell if a saddle really fits is to spend at least an hour riding on it. Most quality bike shops will have a 30–day return policy on saddles because it will usually take that long to figure out if it fits or not.
We’ll discuss saddles in greater detail in the next section, on bike fit, but keep in mind that when you first start riding, most every saddle will feel a little uncomfortable because your muscles aren’t conditioned to the work and your bottom isn’t conditioned to the pressure. If it still feels uncomfortable after the first month of long rides, or is causing distinct, shooting pains not long into your ride, it’s time to start looking around for a new saddle.

Tires and Tubes

One of the places that bicycle manufacturers will cut corners is by installing inexpensive, low-quality tires. Your first defense against getting punctures on the road is to upgrade to a higher performance or puncture-resistant tire. Since you’re just getting started, we’ll assume your main motivation is to avoid flats at all costs. Investing in some puncture-resistant tires can save you time and the cost of having to take your bike to the shop to fix your flat. But tires affect the quality of the ride, too. Inexpensive tires don’t roll as smoothly and make going around corners and descending less safe because they don’t grip the road as well.
In the case of living somewhere like the western United States, where desert thorns can be found on the road, you might want to invest in very puncture-resistant tires as well as tubes that are either thorn resistant or filled with a sealant. This sealant will fix small holes so you don’t have to stop every time you hit a thorn or random blackberry. However, they do add significant weight to your ride, so consider how badly you need them before having the shop put them in.
If you’re racing, you might look into spending a little extra on lighter, high-performance tires for race day. It might seem like a luxury to have tires you use for only a few days, but you can train on the lower quality tires that comes with the bike and then have a sweeter ride when it counts the most.


Much like investing in a higher quality set of tires for race day, some people also want new wheels altogether. The wheels (and the tires) are among the heaviest parts of the bike because of the physics behind how they work. When spinning, it’s as if the weight counts extra because you not only have to carry this weight forward down the road, but also around in a circle. This means more work for you if it’s heavy.
The other reason some beginners may need to upgrade is if the wheels that come standard on the bike aren’t tough enough. Unfortunately, most road bikes are built for riders under 225 pounds. If you weigh more than that or are planning on carrying enough weight that your total bike load will end up weighing that much, you might want to explore upgrading to a heavier wheel that will be less likely to be damaged under load.

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