(Edit, 30 June: Hi all, I was supposed to be posting a bit more regularly but last Wednesday my car was stolen and Friday was when I had to leave for home again, so I was very busy running around and sorting things out. Not to worry, I am okay and normal business has resumed! More on this story another time!)

I am a fan of upgrades. From software upgrades on my phone or PC to physical upgrades in the form of new components for my car or bicycle or anything for that matter. Pity those upgrades often cost money. By bargain hunting and using some elbow grease, one can really improve bike performance and aesthetics for cheap. Here’s a look at some past upgrades I’ve done on my road bike and some future upgrade plans I have in mind.

The “free” stuff:

I love working on my bicycles and my fairly recently acquired road bike is no exception. I’ve poured many enjoyable hours of work into it and look forward to whatever future work it needs. While technically free, the following things do require you to have things such as grease, lube and polish to actually work.

  • Clean and regrease: Grease is inherently very thick and attracts sand and dirt like a magnet, thus it is only used in sealed areas such as the wheel bearings, bottom bracket, steerer tube bearings and jockey wheels. Cleaning and regreasing these areas will do wonders in minimizing wear and will help slightly with pedalling efficiency. Easily servicable areas would be the wheel bearings, jockey wheels (if they use bushings, not the sealed cartridge variant) and the bearings in your steerer tube. Bottom brackets are generally not user servicable and are normally replaced instead of serviced. Luckily they are well sealed to prevent ingress of foreign materials.
  • Wash and polish: As said by many a bike guru: A clean bike is a fast bike. There are, however, more benefits of a clean bike, such as less wear on parts due to sand or grit grinding away at moving parts. You will also spot damage on your bike much easier on a clean bike which can potentially save you quite a lot of cash in the long run. Polishing your bike is not entirely necessary but will help remove any scuffs or minor scratches in your frame and also bring out a really stunning shine on your bike. Just don’t polish anything finished in a matte paint job as it will ruin the effect.

The not-so-free:

Normally in the form of new components or parts, these upgrades can have huge performance gains or be completely useless for the amount of money you put into it. Money is scarce as a student, so I always try look for the best deal.

  • Handlebars: On my local bike classifieds, I once spotted a few Oval 910 carbon bars for sale for well under half price. Since I had a very oddly shaped and old aluminium handlebar, I decided to buy a pair of those. I took a marginal risk as I had no way of knowing if the bars had internal cracks or not and those cracks could lead into a sudden brittle fracture. Nonetheless, I bought them and they weigh as much as the packaging! Carbon fibre doesn’t cease to amaze.
  • Tyres: I’ve never had the money to spend on high end Conti GP5000’s but I don’t mind it too much. You can still get great performance and durability out of cheaper tyres. This is why I’ve got a couple of Vredenstein Fiammante’s on my bike. For much less than a quarter of the price of the GP5000’s, you still get a tough, dual compound, fast rolling and long lifespan tyre. Over 1000km into those tyres and no punctures yet.
  • Saddle: Up until recently, I’ve been using the MTB saddle I stole from my Silverback MTB. It’s been solid, but chunky and very heavy. Fortunately, I scored a Fizik Aliante R5 for like 75% off at a local sale. Boy is that a comfortable saddle. There was virtually no need to break in the saddle. It was instantly comfortable.

Future upgrades:

There’s still a lot I’d like to upgrade on my bike. I am just holding off on those upgrades for now as I’m waiting for old parts to wear out and money to fill my wallet again. These are things such as:

  • Wheels: These can potentially be the single best upgrade to make. Wheels rotate, so their mass is increased when spinning due to rotational inertia. This means, a lighter set of wheels could save you tons of weight in reality. A bike with lighter wheels will accelerate faster, feel more responsive and make you faster.
  • Brakes: In the professional racing scene, rim brakes are beginning to die. This, however, will not have an impact on casual riders or enthusiasts for many years to come. As such, I will be on the look out for a nice set of brake callipers soon. Perhaps my next road bike will be a disc brake model but for now, I’m happy with rim brakes.

Every upgrade I’ve done has put a smile on my face and that feeling has never become muted over the countless upgrades I’ve applied to my bikes over the years. Riding a bike after upgrading it is as fun as installing the upgrade in the first place.

Here’s to many more upgrades,