We look at five simple factors — wheel upgrade, brake pad replacement, tyre choice, saddles and bike maintenance — that can turn a good bike into a great bike.
The success of British cycling in recent years can be attributed to the philosophy of marginal gains, and it’s an idea that can be equally as effective in your own personal cycling. You might have the bike of your dreams and you might have the time to go riding, but the clever rider knows it’s the details that count. Matt Lamy reveals five simple steps that will maximise your bike.
Unless you’ve bought a money-no-object, range-topping model, the typical off-the-peg bike will have had some specification compromises to hit a budget. One of the favourite areas where manufacturers can save a bit of money is wheelsets. That’s not to say there’s anything inherently wrong with most stock bike wheels: they’re often sturdy hoops that will serve you well on winter training rides. But to really feel an added zing in your ride, it’s true that a wheel upgrade — even a relatively modest one — can have a dramatic effect.
Cyclists often seem obsessed with weight but wheel mass really does have a big effect on how lively and reactive a bike feels in terms of power delivery and steering control. Add to that other benefits such as aero niceties and improved construction, and a wheel upgrade should be every new bike buyer’s first luxury.
Better brake pads
It’s not so much the bike manufacturer’s fault, more that of component makers, but brake pads fitted to a bike’s standard brakes can feel just a little wooden and unresponsive, even after bedding in. In contrast, after-market brake blocks can be real humdingers from the outset, not only improving the amount of outright braking power you have but also aiding brake feel and control. For the sake of £10 or £20 you can turn a bike that feels like it has all the stopping power of a steam train on rain-soaked rails into a Formula 1 car.
If you want to go one further, then the caliper itself is sometimes another area that can be overlooked. Upgrading your brake calipers to ones with stiffer arms and even a dual pivot system can yield huge increases in braking performance and overall feel.
Brakes and wheels are nothing in isolation, though. A lightweight set of hoops won’t be worth anything if you stick heavy, old lifeless tyres on them. And you can have the best brakes in the world but they will count for naught if your tyres don’t grip the road. So good rubber is vital.
Tyre choice is hugely dependent on what you want to achieve with your bike, so be sensible. If you’re planning to go road racing or time trialling, 23c slick tyres might seem obvious but there are surprising benefits to be had by going just a little a bit wider. And don’t think of tyres purely as consumables that will get worn out. There should be many miles between now and then, and you want to enjoy them, so don’t scrimp.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Once people find a saddle that works for them they may never part from it, always buying a new one every time it wears our or they get a new bike. Whilst we wouldn’t recommend forking out for a new saddle immediately if you’re new to cycling – it’s much more effective (and cheaper) to start with a decent pair of padded shorts – if you know that you don’t get on with your perch then it may be time to look at a different model.
The most important thing when choosing saddles is to get yourself properly measured which you can do at your local Evans Cycles store. Once you know the right width there is a range of saddle types depending on your riding style and personal makeup. Remember you’ll need to spend a bit of time with your new saddle to make sure it’s the right one for you and many brands will offer a trial period on their products but it’s worth checking beforehand.
Keep it clean
Something that requires more elbow grease than simply choosing nice kit and spending money. To get the most out of your bike, ensure you keep it running in tiptop order. In seasons of changeable weather, give it a regular clean to prevent the build up of grime on things like chain and derailleurs. Make sure all parts that need lubricating are lubed. Then do some minor maintenance, such as checking your brake cables and caliper position are as effective as they can be, and your derailleur cables are tweaked to provide crisp shifting.
To make the most of your bike aesthetically, don’t forget little details such as fitting new bar tape. Pick wisely and it will improve hand comfort as well as looking classy.
An added extra
Finally, no matter how great your bike is on paper, and no matter how aerobically fit you are in the saddle, if body and machine aren’t set up to work well in unison you’ll miss out on absolute efficiency, perfect power delivery, and may even end up injured. There’s no end of resources that will tell you how to get your cycling position right, although time spent on your bike is often the best indicator of problems and any pain or discomfort in your hips, knees or back need addressing quickly. Setting your saddle to the correct height is easily achieved with the twist of an Allen key. However, reach is a little more difficult and may require the purchase of a new stem.
Of course, rather than take this approach of incremental changes and constant tweaking, you could save yourself a lot of time by booking a dedicated bike-fitting session. Certain Evans stores now offer a brand new £45 bike fitting service which is conducted in their new ‘Set Up Zones’. Over the course of about an hour the key aspects of your riding position and each of your contact points are assessed and corrected if need be. Each Set Up session must be booked in advance and is currently only available at Evans Cycles Manchester Deansgate, Chester and Guildford but with London Waterloo Cut, Mortimer Street, Mark Lane, Wimbledon, Kingston and Cambridge being added soon.