It's no lie that cycling is an expensive hobby, especially after taking the plunge and buying your first bike. However, it doesn't have to be as there is a range of upgrades that'll make a huge difference to your bike's ride without busting the bank and even make it feel like new. Here are seven of them.
1. A fresh front tyre
Often, bikes don't have the most suitable rubber for your terrain or conditions and upgrading both the front and rear tyres can be one spendy endeavour, especially with many reaching around £75 in price.
If you're in a pinch, you don't need to upgrade both of your bike's tyres if they don't suit you or they're starting to look a little worn. Swapping your tyres around or only replacing the front tyre is a great budget option. Because the front tyre is responsible for most of your bike's cornering grip, you can still get a big improvement in grip by only getting a new front tyre.
Then as your rear tyre wears out, you can also swap the tyre you've been using at the front onto the back wheel, and buy another fresh front tyre. This saves the initial sting of buying two new tyres - and if both of your tyres are tubeless, the swap is pretty simple.
While many tyres retail above the £50 mark, if you're savvy at finding the best deals and happy to steer away from market-leading brands, you can pick up very good tyres for £50 or less.
2. Converting your tyres tubeless
Yes, I'm harping on about the tubeless tyres yet again but that's only because it's that worthy of an upgrade and thankfully, making the conversion won't cost you more than £50... Unless you need a new set of wheels.
Tubeless-ready wheels are already commonplace on most bikes above the £1k price point, meaning that they come with tyres and wheels that are tubeless-ready, and often tubeless valves are included in the box.
If this is the case, all you need is a bottle of tubeless sealant. And if your rims don't yet have tubeless rim-tape or the valves were not included in your bike purchase, it's not a massive cost to get these.
Even in the worst-case scenario, you'll need to buy some rim tape, valves and sealant to get your bike rolling tubeless. All this can be bought for less than £50 and will make the biggest improvement to the way your bike handles - and you'll be much happier rattling down some chunky gravel descents.
3. Brake pads
All off-the-shelf bikes come with either resin (organic) or sintered (metallic) brake pads and both kinds perform at their best in specific conditions. If you're riding resin pads in the wet, you'll find that you've got next to no braking power and as such, a change to sintered brake pads will make a whole world of difference and boost your confidence to no end.
That doesn't mean that there's not an argument for resin pads though, as these bed in very quickly, operate much quieter and provide more initial power when it's bone dry out. When buying a new bike, it's smart to find out which pads it has come with and change them to suit your particular conditions.
It's also a great idea to keep a regular eye on the state of your pads. No friction material on the pads means no braking power. Not only will new pads rejuvenate your braking power but your levers will feel much better for the change.
4. Bar grips and bar tape
Lizard_Skins_Strata_Grips_3.jpg, by Ty Rutherford
Grips for flat bars and tape for drop bars come in all shapes and sizes and it goes without saying that they're not a one size fits all kind of product. Often grips are the first thing I'll change on a test bike because fresh grips can stave off arm pump and up confidence when out on the trail.
While wrapping bar tape is a slightly more laborious task than changing grips, having a bar tape that suits your riding makes a huge difference in comfort. Bar tapes come in a range of thicknesses and materials, some being extremely sticky, and some slick. Once you've ridden your bike for a while, think about how the bar tape feels to you and then consider if swapping it could help for example, with numb hands or your hands slipping off the hoods. Swapping your bar tape or grips is also a super quick and easy way to give your bike a fresh look - or perhaps a little pop of colour.
5. Fresh cables
This goes for any second-hand bike or one that you've been riding for ages. Unless you're running the extra fancy electronic SRAM eTap AXS or Shimano Di2 drivetrains, your shifting relies on cables to move the derailleur up and down the cassette. These cables can stretch and dirt (and rust) can find their way into the housing which has a huge effect on shifting performance, making it slow, and sloppy and making the shifter paddle feel heavy and clunky.
Brand-new cables can cost as little as £5 or under but they can go up to £60 if you're gagging for those marginal gains. They're simple to fit at home too, as you only need a pair of cable cutters to cut the cable to length. So if you don't mind a bit of wrenching, fresh cables are a cheap and effective upgrade.
6. New cleats
The big appeal of clipless pedals is their security and ability to transfer power more efficiently but it's no secret that cleats wear and as they live at the bottoms of your shoes, they're very easily forgotten about. Worn cleats can pop out of the pedal with blissful ease and spending the £13 to £30 (let's ignore the Silca ones...) on a brand new set will provide solid interaction with your pedal's mechanism.
If you can pull up on your SPD pedal and your foot pops right out, it's time for a new set of cleats.
7. The right saddle
While the best saddles for mountain and gravel bikes can cost an awful lot of money, the most important aspect of any saddle is how well it fits. With that in mind, if weight, flex and rail material aren't a priority, a correctly fitting saddle can easily be bought for less than £50 - or you can find one on sale.
2023 selle italia x-bow superflow hero 2.jpg, by Liam Mercer
As stated in our 5 best upgrades for your new mountain or gravel bike article (where we outline the best upgrades regardless of the cost), we explained how to find the best fitting saddle for you and if you are looking for a women-specific saddle this guide is well worth a read.
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