‘Need’ is a funny word, isn’t it? Here are our five favourite road bike upgrades that stretch its definition to the max
It’s all too easy to get trapped in a mentality of needing new stuff however, so here are five upgrades you might just be able to live without.
1. Carbon wheels
Yes, they look awesome. No, you don’t need them
Carbon wheels are AWESOME. Everyone thinks so. They look cool, they sound cool and they’re more aero so you’ll go faster, right?
Well, maybe, but full carbon wheels are incredibly expensive and if your bike has rim brakes, the braking is almost invariably worse than with cheap alloy rims, especially if it’s raining.
If you’re a lighter rider, deep section wheels will make your bike harder to handle because they catch more wind. You could swap back to your regular wheels when the weather’s bad, but don’t forget you’ll have to change brake pads as well because carbon requires special pads.
Does it still seem worth the effort?
2. Tubular tyres
Do you have someone to do this for you? Thought not
Pro cyclists ride tubular tyres because they make sense for pro racing. When Richie Porte punctures, all he needs to do is put his hand in the air and a nice man in a car will hand him a fresh wheel or a whole new bike.
You don’t have that luxury when you’re out for a ride, and swapping out a tubular by the roadside is a tricky process that will leave you with a bike that needs to be ridden carefully, lest the tyre should come unstuck.
Modern clinchers perform great and are easy to live with. If you’re sick of tubes, try tubeless rather than tubulars.
3. Aero frames
Aero bikes can be absolutely stunning, but there are always compromises
Faster is always better, no question, and if there’s free speed on offer you’d be a fool to reject it. An aero frame promises you a quicker ride, but it always comes at a cost.
Even the best aero frames are a little heavier, a little less comfortable, or a little more expensive than a standard bike, and the gains on offer are marginal in the extreme. If you’re racing and every second counts, then knock yourself out, but an aero frame won’t make your fun rides more fun, it’ll just make you poorer.
4. Electronic shifting
Electronic shifting is extremely good at what it does, but it doesn’t fundamentally change the riding experience
There’s something very satisfying about pressing a button and getting a perfect shift every time, but electronic shifting is a luxury you can certainly live without.
Mechanical groupsets will shift perfectly every time if you look after them and replace the cables occasionally, and you’ll never have to remember to charge your bike. When your mechanical groupset does break, you won’t need a laptop to figure out what’s wrong with it.
5. Disc brakes
Disc brakes are fantastic. And also, optional
There’s no question that disc brakes are better than rim brakes and we’re not going to pretend otherwise, but that doesn’t mean you actually need them.
Discs are an obvious choice if you ride in all weathers or you do a lot of high-speed descending, but if you’re a fair weather rider with a limited budget, they may not be the best fit for you.
Disc brakes are heavier than rim brakes, and cheap cable discs are higher maintenance too. If you can afford proper hydraulics they’re definitely worth trying, but don’t assume you need them.
Matthew is an experienced mechanic and an expert on bike tech who appreciates practical, beautifully-engineered things. Originally a roadie, he likes bikes and kit of every stripe, and he's tested a huge variety of both over the years for BikeRadar, Cycling Plus and others. For a long time Matthew's heart belonged to the Scott Addict, but he's currently enjoying Trek's lovely aluminium Emonda ALR and having a torrid affair with a Giant Trance e-MTB. At 174cm tall and 53kg, he looks like he should be better at cycling than he actually is, and he's ok with that.