Whether you’re a seasoned sportive rider, you’re aiming at your first century, or you’ve just signed up for your first sportive and are wondering what you’ve let yourself in for, there are a few easy upgrades you can make to your bike that will allow you to get the most out of your ride. We pick out our top five upgrades that will give you the most bang for your buck.
When considering upgrading your bike the first thing to consider is what your aim is; are you looking for more comfort, more speed, or something that will give you the best of both worlds and let you complete the course as smoothly and efficiently as possible. None of these are necessarily mutually exclusive, but having an aim in mind will let you iron out some of the finer details of your choices.
There’s nothing worse than losing out on that PB or indeed being stuck at the side of the road in the rain because of a puncture. Whilst there’s no such thing as a puncture-proof tyre, there are plenty of puncture resistant tyres on the market that won’t slow you down. These style of tyres will come with a harder wearing rubber compound that is more resistant to thorns and flints, and many will come with Kevlar woven into the canvas below the rubber that will deflect all but the toughest of road debris. Our pick of the range that manages to work all of the resistance into it’s design without compromising on grip or speed has to be the Continental Gatorskin range. There’s the standard tyre which will absolutely do the job, or the Hardshell version for those looking for that extra bit of protection.
Alongside puncture protection tyre choice also plays a major role in comfort on the bike, and tyre width is a hotly debated topic within that. Generally speaking a wider tyre will be more comfortable for the simple fact that it can put more air between you and the road, of course your frame and brake type will limit the width of your tyre. Unfortunately it’s not quite as simple as that, the pressure you run your tyres at will also play a major part in both comfort and grip. Slightly lowering your tyre pressure will provide both more comfort and more grip, whilst a higher pressure will provide a lower rolling resistance and so feel faster. There are plenty of factors such as rider weight and weather conditions that will affect your choice of pressure for the day. The only real hard and fast rule is to make sure you keep your pressure between the manufacturer recommended amounts to avoid the chance of ‘pinch puncturing’ on rougher roads. These values will always be printed on the side of the tyre wall.
Whilst most bikes these days come with quality wheels that will see you round a sportive without any issues, upgrading them can make a massive difference to your ride. Having a good set of wheels on your bike can save you time and weight on those climbs, though these can be on the costly side of potential upgrades. For the performance aspect of riding opt for a low weight set of wheels, you will always need to balance this out against strength however. A strong wheel will result in better performance, this will be noticed when cornering and sprinting out of corners or up steep climbs. Carbon fibre wheels are a nice choice but costly, a great example of a light weight, fast, durable wheel set, that have been road tested by many of our team are the Mavic Cosmic Elites. They are a brilliant choice if you want an affordable but good quality wheel set. On the other hand if you do want to upgrade to carbon fibre then you might want to consider the Mavic Ksyrium Pro exalith they are fast responsive and low weight.
If you’re not looking to upgrade your wheels at the moment then it’s still worth taking the time to get a service that includes a wheel true. Over time, spokes can lose tension and throw the wheel out of alignment. This can result in your rim rubbing against your brake – or your frame in the worst cases – and slowing you down. Over the course of a long sportive a loose spoke could develop into a rubbing wheel.
This is a sore point or can be, excuse the pun. With saddles they should be comfortable & stylish. When you are riding on the drops the front of the nose of the saddle should be well padded and comfortable in all the right areas, there should be good support on the rear as well, though there should be no flex in the saddle when riding generally. When setting up the saddle position you should always have the main body of the saddle horizontal, this will affect you when riding. You don’t want to be sliding around on the saddle. Absolutely the most important element when buying a saddle is making sure that you get the right size. Saddles are manufactured in a range of widths to cater for different sized people. We all have different size bodies and so the distance between the bones in our Pelvis that make up our seat are also going to be different. It’s this width that will affect the size of the saddle that you need. If you’ve never been measured for a saddle, visit your local store and ask for some advice on sizing. Getting the right size and shape for your body will be vital to being comfortable over a long ride. There’s no point in spending loads on a new saddle if it’s not going to work for your body. It’s worth noting that women generally have wider Pelvises than men and so women’s specific saddles will come in wider sizes and are worth their weight in gold – we don’t recommend gold saddles unless you’re an Olympic champion though.
Your choice of gearing will dramatically affect your performance on a long or a hilly sportive ride. Being ‘over-geared’ for the hills will result in you grinding your way to the top, whilst being ‘under-geared’ on the flat – whilst much less likely – will mean you end up spinning away ineffectively. Gearing choice is all about allowing your engine, ie you, to run as efficiently as possible over different types of terrain. That means keeping your legs spinning within a fairly narrow range of revolutions per minute or RPM that allow you to put enough power into the drivetrain without wearing yourself out too soon. Thankfully most modern bikes come with what is known as a compact chainset as standard. This gives a wide enough spread of gears to allow for this efficient riding style. If however in your training you find yourself struggling up hills it might be worth looking at lowering your gear ratios. There are essentially two ways you can do this, either by putting a cassette on the rear of the bike with a bigger top sprocket, or by putting a chainset on the front with a smaller little chainring. Which method you choose will depend on your own aims and your bike’s current setup.
And for the last thing on the list of upgrades, GPS unit, like the Wahoo Element Bolt, is very helpful to track your performance and also finding out where you are going. When you get home at the end of a training ride with your friends you can download your ride and see where you were struggling or going for gold. It will measure altitude, average speed, time, heart rate and many more data points. They are fairly costly but worth purchasing for the long run, over the course of a year you can track your mileage and also where you have ridden. If you are competitive you could download the strava app and start to race your mates, it gets competitive, trust us. During training they’re invaluable simply for the amount of data they give you, and whilst most sportives are well signed meaning you won’t need the navigation features of these units, they do add to the peace of mind that you’ve not taken a wrong turn, allowing you to focus on riding. They also help with the mental element of riding a long distance, by being able to see how far you’ve gone – and how far you’ve got left – you can both better pace yourself and mentally prepare yourself. Many units also helpfully track how far you’ve got left of a climb.
One more for luck
Whilst not strictly an upgrade so not included in our official list, one of the most effective things you can do to help get you round a long sportive efficiently and comfortably is to get a proper bike fit. It will allow you to both put more power down through the bike for a longer period, and more importantly avoid injury through your training meaning you get to the start line fit and healthy. The rest of the ride is down to you.