10 Terrific Bike Upgrades for Commuting, Racing & Touring
Imagine having to leave work before dark because the headlights on your car didn’t work–a good excuse, but wouldn’t that cramp your style at the office?
So if you ride your bike to work, it stands to reason you’ll need to shed some light on your evening trip.
For headlights, we love NiteRider’s infinitely varied selection of handlebar- and helmet-mounted offerings, from our budget Trail Rat to the high-end XCL Pro. For the rear, “blinkie” LEDs such as VistaLites ($15) are the only way to go. Top it all off with some reflective tape on your helmet, heels and rims.
There are a couple of ways to go about schlepping office-style clothes to work. For the shorter distances of commuting, you needn’t use panniers and a rack, although it’s a great way to combine your gear needs for touring with those of riding to work or school.
You can also go one of two other routes: a backpack offers stability and lots of storage, and those which are bike-specific, like offerings from Pearl Izumi or Topeak ($100), don’t cramp your headroom or poke you in the back when riding.
Or you can go the high-style route with a courier bag, in wide use for one simple reason: they work better than just about anything else. A shape that wraps around you, cavernous space and a no-fuss design are the hallmarks of bags from Timbuk2, PUSH and Chrome (shown). $70 and up.
3. Repair Kit
As the Boy Scouts say, “Be prepared.” That means carrying a small survival kit including a spare tube, patch kit, tire levers, pump or CO2 cartridges, and a multitool such as Ritchey’s CPR-13 (shown) with hex wrenches and a chain breaker.
Cool extras are Innovations in Cycling’s Fiberfix replacement spoke and a little roll of duct tape to repair tire sidewall rips and secure loose widgets. Toss in a $20 Jandd seat bag to carry it all, and you’re there. $20 tool, $5 tube, $2 patches, $1 tire levers and $20 pump.
Not really glamorous and you’ll look like an English chap, but for foul-weather riding, mudguards are a must-have. They keep grit and water off your bike and your back, and with today’s composite materials, the weight really isn’t an issue.
You can get a full-coverage model like the Esge pair, or a lighter-weight setup from Zefal that attaches with easy mounting brackets and can be removed from the bike for riding in sunnier times. $20 to $30.
5. Racks or a Trailer
You have two choices when it comes to hauling the touring gear: racks or a trailer. Trailers, like B.O.B’s Yak or the Burley Cargo, are great for hauling all the stuff you’d normally carry on the bike and attach with little fuss to the rear triangle.
An added benefit here is that if your bike doesn’t have rack eyelets, you won’t need cumbersome hardware to mount racks. About $200. If you don’t want to look like a big rig on the road, racks and panniers are the way to go.
We like Blackburn’s simple, cheap and easy-to-find models (shown, $40), but for Cadillac style, there is simply no substitute for Bruce Gordon’s offerings. Gordon builds only touring bikes and gear, including custom racks that go for about $160.
If you go with racks, you’ll need something to put the gear in. We like panniers from Cannondale (shown), which has been into touring for the entire 27-year existence of the company. The luxury steamer trunk of panniers is Madden’s Buzzard, with huge capacity and bombproof, field-repairable construction. $60 to $190 a set.
For touring, you want recessed cleats and walkable shoes, which generally entail SPD or SPD-like pedals, such as the CycloLooks.
If you use SPDs, you can buy two shoes for the same pedals: a traditional road shoe and a recessed-cleat model for touring. Another tip is to buy a discreetly colored touring shoe–one that you would feel comfortable wearing with street clothes; it means one less item you’ll need to carry on the bike. $100 and up.
Dedicated cycling shoes offer unparalleled sole stiffness, power, and efficiency. We like models such as Carnac’s Legend and Time’s Equipe Pro, both full-bore race models with “universal” soles that accept cleat styles for whatever pedals you use. If you don’t already have clipless pedals, they’re not only a necessary upgrade but a worthy one, too. $150 and up.
9. Integrated Brake and Shift Levers
When the attacks start coming, you need to be able to respond, and brake lever/shifters are the way to go. The downside is that with today’s 8- and 9-speed systems, upgrading can be complicated.
If you still run down tube shifters and 7-speeds, you’ll need to spread the rear triangle (not possible on aluminum or carbon frames) to 130 millimeters, and the parts list includes a pair of integrated shift/brake levers, cogset, chain, rear derailleur, and rear hub. That can run over $350, even for a midrange group like Shimano’s 105SC. Unless you’re a bloodied-in-battle shop mechanic, it’s best to have a bloodied-in-battle shop mechanic do this upgrade for you.
10. Heart-Rate Monitor
Forget fancy gear. If you want to go faster, there’s only one piece of equipment that’s proven to help your fitness–a heart-rate monitor. Even an entry-level model such as Freestyle’s Circuit Three or Polar’s Beat, is an invaluable training aid for anyone aspiring to be more fit. $89 and up.