Including the smallest screws and ball bearings, the average car has about 20,000 parts. The average bike has about 300. With such a small number of parts, each individual component on your bike plays a much larger role in determining the performance of an already-efficient machine. As a result, even inexpensive upgrades can make a huge difference when it comes to grinding your way up the local hill or beating out your buddies in a county-line sprint. Now take that baseball card out of your spokes and read on for six other ways to get more out of your road bike.
It’s All About Data: Power Meter
The best way to get more out of your road bike is to get more out of the engine powering it. And the best way to get more out of your training is to track power output. Put simply, power (measured in Watts) is the most objective way of expressing how much effort you’re exerting; that information can be used to dial in precise exertion for targeted training or to make sure you don’t tire yourself out at the wrong time on a ride. There are a ton of power meters on the market — some measure power at the pedals, some at the crank and others at the hub of the back wheel — but they’ll all help you when it comes to getting faster.
It’s Still All About Data: GPS Bike Computer
If you’re not ready to take the (admittedly costly) plunge into power meters but still want the benefits that come with data, then today’s crop of high-tech GPS cycling computers is right up your alley. With the ability to display speed, distance, directions and elevation along with eight or nine thousand other things, GPS computers can help you track your rides and find your way home. As a bonus, GPS computers offer the ability to upload your rides to sites like Strava.com to see how you stack up against other riders.
High Voltage: Electric Shifting
Any opportunity to cut a moving part from an already efficient machine is a great way to get more out of your bike. Electric shifting does just that by replacing normal cable-actuated derailleurs (the bits that move your chain across the front and rear gears) with small, motor-actuated groups like Shimano’s Di2 and Campagnolo’s EPS. Not only do these electric groups offer vastly decreased maintenance, but they also improve shifting performance, streamline the bike’s looks and only need to be charged every 1,100 miles.
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Stopping Power: Disk Brakes
Disk brakes have been de rigueur on high-end mountain bikes for more than a decade because they offer improved stopping power, better brake modulation and hugely increased stopping ability when things get rainy. However, they’d remained absent on road bikes until very recently; some said they were too heavy, others said they were too complicated, but these days, complaints are falling by the wayside as more and more road bikes get disks. It’s a tough upgrade on a non-disk specific frame, but if you’re considering a new frame, disk brakes are a great way improve your ride.
Get Attached: Clipless Pedals
Upgrading to clipless pedals and shoes is one of the most cost-effective, easy ways to go faster and be more comfortable on your bike. (The term “clipless” is a bit confusing, but it refers to the lack of old-style toe clips.) By firmly attaching your feet to the pedals, you’re able to get more power out of each pedal stroke and actually produce power while your foot is moving upwards in the rotation. Clipping in and out of the pedals does take some getting used to, but it’s not nearly as hard as you’d think.
Get a Grip: Upgrade your Tires
Often overlooked when it comes to upgrades, tires are a (relatively) inexpensive way to get a lot more performance. High quality tires have a much more supple casing that allows the tire to conform and flex, matching changes in the road surface rather than just bouncing off of them like a more rigid tire. Also, most quality tires will have a different rubber compound for the sides of the tire, where you need softer, grippier rubber, and the middle of the tire, where you need a harder compound to reduce rolling resistance and improve the lifespan of the tire.