specialized allez

So you just picked up a new road bike to take advantage of the beautiful sunny weather. It’s a great bike that cost about $1200-1400. That got you some pretty good parts, like a full Shimano 105 drivetrain and a decent wheelset.

Some bikes that fall into this category are: Trek 2.1, Giant Defy 1, Specialized Allez Sport, and Cannondale CAAD9 5. These bikes all fall into the price range, although each one has slightly different parts.

Despite it being a new bike, you probably want to upgrade some components now or in the near future. Here is how I would do it:

Day of Purchase

The same day you purchase your bike, you should make a few changes or upgrades.

First, make sure you’re getting a comfortable saddle. Some shops have loaners that you can borrow for test rides so you know which one works for you, before plunking down $100+ for one that looks neat but is totally uncomfortable. (The Selle Italia Flite, Fizik Arione, and Fizik Aliante are popular choices, but what matters is getting the one that fits your behind.)

Next, you most certainly want clipless pedals and shoes. Going to a clipless pedal system (instead of platform pedals) will totally transform your riding experience for the better. This could cost anywhere from $100-450 or even more, but it’s worth it.

I’d also get some bike-specific clothing at this point, if you don’t have any yet.

The First, Most Important Upgrade

If you have some extra money and you’re just itching to get some new bike parts, there is one upgrade you can make that will make more of a difference than all others combined.

And that upgrade is new wheels and tires. Lighter, stiffer, smoother, and/or more aerodynamic wheels will noticeably increase your performance and make the bike more fun to ride.

Some of the nicer wheelsets include Mavic Ksyrium SL, Williams s19, Williams s30, Neuvation R28, Reynolds Solitude, Shimano Dura-Ace, and Zipp 404. The Williams and Neuvation wheels are great values at $300-500, with other high-end wheels costing $800 or more.

To go with the new wheels, you definitely want new tires. Heck, even if you can’t afford new wheels, getting new tires will still make a huge difference in your bike’s ride.

I’m a fan of Michelin tires – I love the Krylion Carbon as well as the Pro 3 Race. Other popular tires are the Continental Grand Prix 4000, Vittoria Open Corsa, and Hutchinson Fusion. These top-of-the-line tires will cost about $35-65 each.

(If you’re low on cash, a tire upgrade is going to make a huge difference and is definitely the most bang for your buck.)

Upgrading Other Bike Parts

Once you have upgraded the wheels and tires, your bike should feel great. If so, you’re all set. But if you want to keep going, here are some more ideas…

If the bike came with carbon seatpost, great. If not, get a carbon seatpost. That will add comfort and save some weight at the same time.

You could also go to a carbon handlebar for more comfort for your hands and arms. It’s not super important, but if you have any sort of hand discomfort, an anatomically shaped carbon bar could help.

The other parts to consider are brakes. Most brakes on bikes in this price range are cheap, no-name brakes without a lot of stopping power. If your brakes work alright, but lack a little stopping power, the first upgrade is actually new brake pads.

Sometimes the small switch to high-quality brake pads will make a huge difference in stopping power.

Now, if the brakes are bad enough that they don’t work well at all, it’s time to replace them! Maybe you ride in hilly areas and your brakes feel weak and spongy on the downhills. New brakes, perhaps Shimano 105 or SRAM Rival, will give you greater safety and confidence, since you know the brakes will stop you if necessary.

Upgrading the Drivetrain

The natural instinct is to upgrade the bike’s drivetrain, so you might be wondering why it’s so far down the list. But believe it or not, your Shimano 105 drivetrain is going to work nearly as well as Dura Ace.* It might not be quite as stiff or shiny, but it’s close enough.

What you’re really paying for with the upgrades is weight savings, and there are much better places to save weight on bikes in this price range.

* If you have shifting issues, most likely the drivetrain needs adjusted. If it is setup properly, it should shift flawlessly. (Also, a double chainring setup will shift much better than a triple, so keep that in mind if your triple setup is a little rough.)

Performance-wise, the best drivetrain upgrade would be shifters. That’s where you really feel the difference. (Since the shifters control the derailleurs, it’s likely that upgrading the derailleurs and not the shifters, everything will still feel the same.)

Weight-wise, upgrading the cassette should give you a pretty good weight savings. Sometimes the cassette will be a super cheap one that weighs a ton, since the casual observer won’t notice it. (As opposed to the rear derailleur, which “screams” its name thanks to the big logo on it.)

But before plunking down money for upgraded parts, be sure you can afford your regular replacement parts! The cassette, chain, and chainrings will wear out from normal use, and they’ll need replaced.

** Another thing to consider is, in this price range, you won’t always get a full Shimano 105 drivetrain. You might see some Tiagra and Sora parts. Tiagra parts are alright, but not as good as 105. Sora parts, well, they are worth upgrading!

Don’t Forget, You’ll Need Replacement Parts

Before spending money willy nilly, be sure you can afford to replace the parts that will wear out.

Drivetrain parts need replaced on occasion. The chain will need replaced 2-3 times per year, the cassette once per year, and chainrings may last 1.5-2 years. (Of course, this varies by mileage and your maintenance schedule.)

Cables and housing should also be replaced periodically. Once per year is more than enough, unless your cables get covered in gunk from wet and muddy rides, or if you see the cable fraying. (If the cables aren’t moving smoothly or if there’s rust or fraying, it needs replaced.)

The handlebar tape will need replaced too. This is a fun upgrade because you can change the color to give your bike a new look.

Lastly, the cleats for your clipless pedals will wear out. Plastic cleats could need replaced as often as once every 3-6 months.

Final Thoughts on Upgrading Components

Upgrading components can be fun and exciting, but buying purely on emotion will burn through your money real fast. You should first upgrade the parts that will give you the most bang for your buck, and then move on to the other parts. And don’t forget that many parts will wear out and need replaced, so you want to have some money saved for that!

In any case, it’s your bike, so have fun with it!

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  1. You can’t always bow down to carbon. although it is good in many applications it is not always appropriate, before diving into lots of carbon on your bike talk to a good local shop and see if your riding style and physique work with carbon.

  2. @mechanic

    Who is bowing down to carbon? The bikes mentioned in this article are not even made of carbon. The bikes’ forks are carbon and there are only two carbon parts mentioned – seatpost and handlebar.

    I would say carbon works great in those areas, and most anyone who is “anti-carbon” has either a) never ridden carbon or b) broke a carbon part due to misuse.

    I do agree carbon is not ideal in 100% of situations, though.

  3. I’m going to go ahead and respectfully disagree with this guide and say that the only REALLY necessary upgrades on an entry level road bike are the first two you listed – a saddle and clipless pedals. New cyclists should DEFINITELY get fitted, however – this is far more important than buying new wheels and tires straight off the bat. In my experience, most LBSs (that’s where you’re buying your bike, right?) will include a fitting when you purchase your bike, but even if they don’t, THAT’S where you ought to be spending money. If your bike is not comfortable, you will not want to ride it, and that’s what you came here to do, right?

    Remember: don’t buy upgrades, ride up grades!

  4. @Ally

    I don’t know why you think you’re disagreeing with me. I’m just listing what I recommend as most worthwhile when you need to upgrade your bike, not saying you need tons of upgrades immediately. The goal of this article is to keep riders from spending money on pointless upgrades.

    When to make the upgrades is a personal decision and many factors should be taken into account. For example, if you have upgraded to Cat 1 and are trying to turn Professional, good wheels and tires would help a lot. And if you have a set of broken wheels and bald tires, well, that’s also a good time to get new wheels!

  5. While I know from forum experience (photography/cars) that certain upgrades are not as essential as they’re hyped up to be, I appreciate this article and found a lot of the information to be very useful (particularly maintenance intervals and parts needed), so thanks.

  6. Great article. I’m currently in the process of upgrading the components on my bike and your article is the same advice I’ve heard from many in the riding community.

  7. Thanks Levi for the info. I just recently bought a CAAD9 105. I’m fairly happy with the drive-train setup except I just found out that my 12-27 cassettes is pointless for Florida flat roads. Sooo, my replacement by second quarter of 2012, will either be 12-23 for or 12-25. Now, I do have a question about the seatpost. Mine is the Cannondale brand C3 carbon-wrapped. Is this good enough or should I go full carbon?

  8. @datduude

    Consider that seatpost to be an aluminum post. The carbon wrap provides nothing more than the look of carbon.

    When you have a stiff aluminum frame like the CAAD9, a real carbon post can make the ride a little more comfortable, so it’s usually worth the upgrade.

  9. Dude thank you so much for your article… it helped me a LOT… would you recommend some article or advice to do basic maintenance to my bicycle? greetings from Spain my friend

  10. @Adrian

    Consider BikeRepairVideos.com and ParkTool.com.

  11. I have a 2008 Bianchi Via Nirone 7, that has sora triple components. I hate triple chain rings, shifting is all right but it gives a bad look to the bike and most important I dont use the small ring AT ALL !!!

    I am thinking: It is worth to upgrade this bike to 105 or ultegra? Its better to buy another bike maybe the infinito? Because soon or later i’ll have to replace the cassette, chain rings, cables and shifters (this are really expensive maybe the whole group its like $500.00), and I will have to spend money even if I dont want to.

    What do you think? I’ve been participating in every contest out there to see if I can get a new bike, even I am thinking to make a home made carbon fiber frame, I am getting nuts!

  12. @Kevin

    I hate triples as well. You can replace the crankset with a double, rather than buying a whole new bike.

  13. Hi
    I have a Caad 10 105 w upgrade marvic kysrium elite
    Do I need anymore upgrade ?

  14. @Jeff

    Is anything broken? Is anything ruining your riding experience? Are you in danger? Are you losing races specifically because of your bike?

    If the answer is “no,” you probably don’t need any upgrades. 🙂

  15. Hi i just got a caad 8 with shimano 2300 parts (horrible, I know). Would you still recommend an upgrade of the wheels and tires or should I just go with a drivetrain upgrade to a full 105? I’m just new to cycling have been doing it for just a few months

  16. @Martin

    Shimano 2300 isn’t bad at all. Unless you come up with a good reason, I see no need to update anything just yet.

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