Ask RIDE…Will upgrading equipment deliver performance gains?
Is there any performance boost by upgrading components or groupsets?
Jin Han Teng
This is quite a broad question but let’s cover a few of the fundamentals of performance which are only concerned with the equipment being used. Forget about training, bike position, diet and natural ability because they can be covered in another post. Assuming road racing is your perogative we can rule out aero helmets and disc wheels and only focus on those which will conform to road race regulations. And finally because you have specifically asked about components frames will not be discussed, leaving wheels, drivetrain parts, controls (handlebars, stems, pedals etc) and clothing.
Choosing the right wheel for the conditions is one of the best ways to boost your performance why possibly reducing the amount of effort required to sustain a certain speed or power. Minimising drag is a big talking point and wheels will have a dramatic effect in this regard. While it would be great to say Brand X offers the “fastest” wheel it would be biased. There is a lack of independent studies concerning most cycling parts, there are plenty of reports about how different wheels perform over others but most are conducted in-house. Upgrading to a higher-end wheelset will no doubt improve your performance. It is generally accepted that a pair of good quality carbon-fibre tubulars wheels of approximately 50mm rim height or more will make a big difference over a standard box-section alloy rim. But it will depend on the weather conditions. The shape of the rim will play a big part in how it performs in cross winds meaning a shallowe
Tubular tyres, of a high thread count are more supple than the majority of clincher tyres which means that less energy Ensure that the hubs are also well made and consider ceramic bearings as an upgrade. These bearings are basically harder and more round than convential steel balls and offer less friction at any speed. Many top-end wheels and hubs will come fitted or can be upgraded for an extra cost.
Ceramic bearings have made steady progress and can be fitted to many areas of the bike including jockey wheels, bottom bracket and even chain lube! The idea behind the ceramic push is that reducing friction means more power is transferred into forward movement. Replacing both jockey wheels and bottom bracket with ceramic options can – arguably – produce a 3-5% in power. I think some of these numbers are generous but there is no doubt that an increase will be apparent. Looking closely at a large percentage of professionals bikes and you will find ceramic bearings. They look for any small increase and ceramic bearings will do just that.
What else can be changed to make me ride faster? The hard truth is that this cannot be easily purchased from a bike shop. Going back to the beginning; training, diet, position and other aspects like planning and goal setting will likely deliver you with the biggest gains so consider what will make the most difference for someone of your particular fitness level. New wheels may be enough to give you the edge needed but perhaps consider using those funds and book a session at a Sports Institute or equivalent location which has the facilities and expertise to test your fitness level. Valuable information can be gained from these tests and then used to develop a customised training program just for you.
Hard work and persitance will pay itself off if you are truly committed.
Alex Malone is Technical Editor and staff writer for RIDE Cycling Review.
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