Best bike upgrades: 8 cheap upgrades that won’t break the bank
Getting fitter and more aero, or splashing out on the latest superbike, are ways to go faster (or lighten your wallet), but few of us have the time or money.
Thankfully, some of the best bike upgrades present simple and often affordable ways to ride faster, further and in greater comfort.
In fact, some of the smartest upgrades will even save you money in the long run by preserving expensive parts.
Others, meanwhile, will see you spend less time fixing punctures on the side of the road, trail or track.
What’s more, unless your bike already has an impeccable spec, well-chosen upgrades can transform your ride, without breaking the bank.
Here are eight of the best upgrades you can make to your bike.
You can also check out our guide to the best road bike upgrades, with more tips for dedicated roadies, or head to our piece on the best MTB upgrades for specific mountain bike recommendations.
Whether you’re riding a road bike, mountain bike, gravel bike or hybrid, the most effective, affordable upgrade you can often make will be to change its tyres.
While there are exceptions, the tyres specced on off-the-shelf bikes can be underwhelming. It’s an easy area for bike brands to cut costs.
Cheaper tyres will usually deploy cost-saving measures such as using harder, less grippy rubber or a more basic construction with inferior puncture resistance.
Switching to a set of the best road bike tyres can make big improvements to the speed, comfort and handling of your bike.
This might also be an opportunity to convert to tubeless tyres. By ditching inner tubes, tubeless tyres can help stave off punctures and boost comfort by allowing you to running lower tyre pressures. We’ve got a guide to the best tubeless tyres for road bikes.
Things get a little more complicated with mountain bike tyres, where there are countless options for different styles and conditions, but choosing a set of tyres that match your intentions on the bike can transform the ride.
The best gravel bike tyres sit somewhere between the two. If you’re riding a gravel bike, upgrading your tyres to something wider or grippier can help unlock more confidence on rough terrain, while a fast-rolling gravel tyre will boost your speed if the going’s less tough.
2. Handlebar tape
As the contact point between your hands and bars, handlebar tape is designed to provide shock absorption and grip.
The best handlebar tape is a cost-effective way to make your bike more comfortable – and breathe new life into a machine that’s feeling a bit tired.
Plusher tape will ensure fewer vibrations pass through the handlebars, so riding over broken surfaces and long days out are more forgiving on your hands, wrists and arms.
Plus, handlebar tape offers the opportunity to personalise your bars with cork or leather for a traditional look, or lively-coloured modern synthetics.
However, there’s a knack to fitting the stuff. Read our guide on how to wrap handlebar tape if you’re unsure.
The seatpost extends vertically from a bike’s seat tube and holds the saddle in place. By moving up or down, they also permit saddle height adjustment.
But, while the seatpost has a simple job on the face of it, don’t forget this humble component when it comes to upgrades.
Seatposts flex to varying degrees in order to protect your backside from jolts and vibrations.
Cheaper bikes tend to have alloy posts, which often provide a harsher ride than carbon equivalents.
Some seatposts, such as the Ergon CF Allroad Pro Carbon with its leaf-spring design, are also designed specifically to offer more flex than a typical post.
A lighter and more comfortable carbon seatpost is a smart upgrade at reasonable cost.
Saddles are another component that can be underwhelming on otherwise impressive bikes.
Saddle choice is highly personal, too, so replacing your existing seat with something more comfortable for your rear-end will make a big difference to your enjoyment on the bike.
Saddle design varies significantly from one model to the next, with varying levels of padding or features such as pressure-relieving cut-outs, while many saddles also come in a choice of widths.
Some saddles, meanwhile, are designed for a racier position on the bike, often with a shorter nose to allow you to get into a more aggressive, aerodynamic riding position.
As saddles are a highly personal choice, we recommend trying before buying, but our guide on how to choose a bike saddle will get you started.
5. Cleaning kit
Bike cleaning kits contain everything you need to keep your bike looking smart and running smoothly.
These typically include a bike cleaner, degreaser and chain lube. Brushes and sponges are also normally included for applying and removing the products.
Such kits are often worth more than the sum of their parts. They’re easy to keep tidy and organised for when you need to clean your bike after a ride.
Everyone wants a clean bike but, more importantly, keeping your bike clean will improve the efficiency of your drivetrain and preserve your components in the long run.
Regular servicing can iron out more minor niggles, such as squeaking brakes and mysterious creaks.
A good mechanic will spot signs of drivetrain wear that, if acted on, can save a lot of dosh down the line.
An ageing chain, for example, will chew through your chainrings and cassette.
Replacing the chain as it approaches its end is far cheaper than leaving it too late and having to buy expensive drivetrain parts.
A full service at your local bike shop should also look at often-neglected parts of the bike. Bearings in the rear hub and bottom bracket benefit from an occasional clean and grease.
While a service isn’t as fancy as a shiny new part, your bike will run like a dream after spending some time with a good mechanic, and it could save you money in the long run.
7. Bike fit
If your bike isn’t the correct size – or it’s the right size but doesn’t offer a good fit – that’s an issue.
A correctly fitting bike is more comfortable and efficient, and therefore, more enjoyable to ride.
While most bikes offer a degree of adjustability, there are limits – and if yours is significantly too large or too small you may want to consider trading it in.
For less experienced riders, it’s a good idea to visit your local bike shop to ask for advice on how to perfect your position on the bike. If you’re looking to buy a new bike, a good shop will also be able to help you choose the right size and cover basic setup.
More advanced riders, or riders with specific niggles and fit requirements, may want to seek the advice of a professional bike fitter. These aren’t cheap, but some cyclists, whether racers or injury-prone recreational riders, swear by them.
Okay, we’re getting into more expensive upgrades here, but wheels are another component ripe for switching, if your budget allows.
Some brands are prone to scrimping on wheels to lower the cost of complete bike builds. Many mid-range bikes roll out of the factory on wheels that don’t do the frame or rest of the build justice.
As a result, one way to improve the ride of your bike is to upgrade from its stock wheels, whether that’s to lower weight or improve aerodynamics.
Switching from alloy to carbon wheels, for example, is one of the pricier bike upgrades, but still much cheaper than a new bike.
The best road bike wheels are lighter, faster and increasingly compatible with wider tyres, adding additional comfort into the mix, too.
In addition, spare wheelsets may enable you to use the same bike, particularly a gravel bike, on a variety of terrain.