Best cheap road bike upgrades

Small differences that can make a big improvement to your riding

Sadly, it’s very easy to spend a small fortune on parts that might look great but actually make very little difference to your time in the saddle. Thankfully, a bit of good advice can easily stop you from doing just that, and here it is:

Get the fit right

Consider getting a bike fit:
Consider getting a bike fit:

To start with, if your bike isn’t the correct size – or is the right size but doesn’t offer a good fit – then that’s a fundamental issue. While most bikes offer a degree of adjustability, there are limits – and if yours is significantly too large or too small then you may want to consider trading it in.

For less experienced riders it’s a good idea to visit your local bike shop and request a bike fit. More advanced riders may want to seek the advice of a professional bike fitting service.

Make sure everything works

Oliver woodman/immediate media:
Oliver woodman/immediate media:

This may sound like pointing out the obvious, but there’s little point in upgrading your road bike if it isn’t working well in the first place. Depending on the state of your bike, a full service could be affordable or pretty damn expensive. A good way to save cash and get some satisfaction of your own is to get behind the spanners and take on the maintenance yourself.

The BikeRadar video playlist should help you with many of the most common bicycle maintenance tasks covering everything from replacing drivetrain consumables to adjusting brakes or wrapping your own bar tape; read on below for the things you should be bearing in mind.

Switch your tyres

Upgrading your tyres is probably the cheapest and easiest way to improve your bike:
Upgrading your tyres is probably the cheapest and easiest way to improve your bike:

Often, the most effective, affordable upgrade you can make on your road bike will be to upgrade its tyres.

Some manufacturers are better than others in this respect, but the chances are the tyres that came with your bike will not be great. While they often look very similar to the aftermarket items you can buy as standalone items, OE (original equipment) tyres will usually deploy cost saving measures such as using harder, less grippy rubber or a more basic construction with inferior puncture resistance.

Switching to a better set of tyres can make big improvements to the comfort as well as the handling of your bike.

To find a road bike tyre worth upgrading to check out our latest road tyre reviews.

Concentrate on contact points

Purchasing a decent saddle, or upgrading any of your bike's other contact points is usually money well spent:
Purchasing a decent saddle, or upgrading any of your bike's other contact points is usually money well spent:

Okay, so you’ve got a bike that fits you well, is in full working order and rolling on decent rubber. It’s time to look into other upgrades that matter – and above all else, you should prioritise making yourself comfortable on the bike. Look over your contact points – your saddle should be your best friend, and if you’ve got any doubts about it then it's a good item to switch. Saddle choice is a very personal matter but here’s a good place to start. 

Similarly, investing in quality riding shoes and pedals is rarely a waste of money. For sound advice on both of these check out our buyer’s guides below:

Revise your rotation

Even expensive bikes tend to end up with entry-level wheelsets, spending money here can make a big difference :
Even expensive bikes tend to end up with entry-level wheelsets, spending money here can make a big difference :

 In order to get off-the-peg builds down to realistic price points, many bikes will be equipped with branded entry-level wheels. As such, for those with more to spend, a great way to improve the ride quality of your bike is to upgrade from its standard wheels. Take a look at our latest reviews of road bike wheels to find some well-rated options.

But don't forget…

The most important bit – don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Although most of us don't want to admit it, our bike probably isn't holding us back anywhere near as much as we'd like to think. A quote commonly attributed to Eddy Merckx sums it up nicely: "Don't buy upgradesride up grades".

Oli Woodman

Section Editor, UK
With more than 10 years of experience riding mountain bikes, Oli knows the good from the bad when it comes to gear. He's a total bike nerd and loves few things more than fettling with spangly riding bits. Also, he seems to have a talent for crashing hard but emerging unscathed.
  • Discipline: Mountain
  • Preferred Terrain: Loamy singletrack
  • Current Bikes: Marin Pine Mountain, Pinnacle Dolomite
  • Dream Bike: Honda RN01
  • Beer of Choice: Corona
  • Location: Bristol, UK

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