Nothing can really compare to the lightweight materials, new tech, and innovative designs of the newest road bikes. But if you’re not ready to commit or shell out a couple grand, there are a few cheap and easy changes that can make your current bike ride like the first day you got it. Here’s where to start.
The rubber meets the road — and that’s the only thing that it does. For that reason the cracked, or paper-thin tires on your present bike, not to mention the weakened-by-wear tubes inside, are surely ready for refreshing. Why now? Because we bet you can’t remember your last tire swap, which surely means you’re overdue. Choose a model such as Michelin’s Pro4 Endurance, because they strike a good balance between wet/dry grip and offer very predictable handling while still rolling fast. Tip: If you only make one upgrade on this list, new tires will instantly make your bike safer and handle better. [From about $35-$80]
With bikes, the engine is you, so wasting extra distance braking means you have to spend more energy pedaling, and that’s tiring. Plus, worn brakes aren’t safe. Replacing pads is as easy as sliding the old pads out and the new ones into place. Most shops can perform the swap in five minutes — pay for the pads and they’ll likely do the job on the spot, gratis. [About $25]
Cables and Housing
Ever pull an emergency brake in an old car only to have it keep rolling backwards down the road? That’s because the e-brake cable has stretched out, and the same thing happens with gear and brake cables on a bicycle. One sign: Your chain can’t climb or drop to the top or bottom of the cassette. The fix is to have a shop swap all your cables and housing. Shifts will become crisp, braking will be solid. [About $75-$100]
A worn chain stretches out, same as shifting and brake cables. A decent bike shop will have a tool to measure an elongated chain. The bad news — a really worn chain might be a sign that other parts of your drivetrain need an overhaul, too, but that’s less common. And if you replace a slack chain, you’ll immediately feel the difference in pedaling efficiency, because an old slack chain robs energy from each pedal stroke. [From $40-$60]
Haggard bar tape is hazardous because it provides less grip. Add in sweaty hands or rain, and it’s a recipe for expensive dental surgery. Plus, new tape can add some extra style to your bike, almost like a paint job. Note: You can easily do this yourself, but we happily pay the shop to do the new wrap because getting the tape to overlap perfectly is a subtle art. Which tape? We like Fizik’s Microtex tape. It adds just a hair of cushion to absorb road buzz, but isn’t so plush that you lose handling sensitivity. [From about $25]