Upcycle and upgrades – Make your bike ride like new

Bike components broken down into piecesShiny, shiny. The carbon temptress awaits on every high street, every cycling forum, every ride and every conversation. Everyone, it seems, is buying a new bike. After complex calculations that included n+1, I had persuaded everyone, even my girlfriend, that I needed a new bike. Everyone that is, except me.

So even with full clearance to buy a third bike, I relented. Why? Not long ago two bikes seemed unnecessary and here I was considering a third! But no, reason had kicked in. Reason and bike buying, what was this phenomenon? I’m a frugal creature. Bling is not for me. And yet I was tempted, why?

It goes without saying I have a very fond attachment to my current ‘best’ bike, a second-hand £600 Bianchi from eBay. My second bike was also an eBay bargain, a fixed commuter bike. Yet my upgrade dilemmas had nothing to do with my existing bike stock. No, I was scared of being left behind in the great bicycle arms race. Literally.

When buying a new bike is not the answer

Maybe I've been overdoing the whole n+1 thing. Maybe.

Maybe I’ve been overdoing the whole n+1 thing. Maybe.

Truth is there was a dark and dusty corner of my brain that wondered if buying a new bike would make me quicker. Daft I know, but like any other cyclist, I’ll pursue any silly notion to shave seconds off a hill climb PB. Research began but no matter my search terms, even the evil empire that is Google could not lie. No, it screamed after search #99, buying a new bike will not make you a quicker rider.

Sure, I’d be a few grams lighter but ultimately no quicker. I could carry less water or eat fewer pies for such gains. Internal cable routing would make me more aerodynamic perhaps but I couldn’t really believe such claims. So what would a new bike achieve aside from denting my bank balance? Little. In fact, I could only see negatives.

I’m a fairly humble fellow and the thought of hitting my local roads on a super bike would have made me self-conscious. I know, I know, fear not the judgement of others for only your Strava segments are to be your judge. Yet I wasn’t worried about being overtaken by other cyclists on cheaper bikes because i) I’m a fairly rapid rider and ii) I ride my own race. What then? Like any shrink worth their hourly fee, I needed to dig deeper into my past.

It all stems from my working class sensibilities. Obvious, right? I do not like to be ‘flash’ as my mother might once have said when seeing a neighbour’s new sofa or car or haircut or handbag. Not that she was jealous, quite the opposite in fact, it was more the pity to see somebody seeking pleasure in material gain. That’s a very long-winded way to say I am not materialistic. Bike bling? No thanks, I’d rather just clean my old bike.

You are not your Pinarello Dogma

Don't worry, I've got some spare inner tube glue in my saddlebag

Don’t worry, I’ve got some spare inner tube glue in my saddlebag

Or you are not your IKEA kitchen, as Tyler Durden of Fight Club fame might have said. This is why a fancy new bike simply wouldn’t have worked for me. For one, I would have been scared to ride such an expensive toy.

Whilst I respect my bike, I like to get rough with it. I wash it in the bath and stand it upside down on the pavement to fix my gears. I’ve been known to ride home on the rims when caught short of inner tubes, my tyres stuffed with grass. Yeah, I will not let a bike be the boss of me. You see, I cannot have nice things. Besides, a shiny new bike would only have given me more reasons not to cycle in the rain.

In addition to being fearful, tight, lazy and overly self-conscious, I’m also paranoid. There is no way anybody could have ever seen me riding a shiny bike to my house as I would have suspected every man, woman and child of being a potential bike thief. N+1 is a simple enough calculation but it doesn’t account for the additional cost of hidden extras when buying a bike. Like dead bolts, a house alarm, infra-red security lasers, the rottweiler, the gun.

My own true love

A little retro styling

An ode to my bike. I bought my Bianchi with very little consideration of frame size, of weight, of gear sizes, of anything much than a little research into the gear set. Whilst I am known to often plan the smallest of decisions down to the finest of detail (it can take me a day to buy new inner tubes, no amount of research is ever enough!), when it comes to the bigger decisions in life I am often at the mercy of my whimsy. In this instance I had convinced myself my bike must have Shimano Ultegra gears and I ignored pretty much all other criteria. Odd, I agree. Oh and the colour, it couldn’t be garish. Or stolen.

A few days of eBay sniping later and I was taking a Bianchi Via Nirone Special Edition for a test ride which consisted of a lap around a very small car park. The bike was quiet. It was equipped with Ultegra. It was not garish. Sold!

An aluminium frame with carbon fibre rear and front forks, the bike handles like a dream. It does not jerk, it does not whither, it simply floats. Four years old when I bought it, another three years of hard pedalling has not diminished my lust for my next ride. Ooh er, missus.

That said, the bike is in need of some tender loving care. Whilst I’ve been fastidious (ish) in my cleaning and basic maintenance of the bike, tyres aside, there have been no upgrades. The bars are still wrapped in the original bar tape! Seven year old bar tape. If it wasn’t grey in the first place, it is now. Time for some TLC.

How to make your bike feel like new

What cyclists get up to on rainy days

What cyclists get up to on rainy days

Don’t waste money on a new bike when you can upgrade your existing ride with little effort and just a little cash.

  • Degrease and oil the chain. There is no greater pleasure than riding a bike with a clean chain and chain set. Smooth.
  • New bar tape. Every cyclist loves new bar tape. Both the finished new look but also that heroic feeling after a successful application. At first the thought of fitting new bar tape is a little bit of a mystery until you realise it’s just a simple wrap. Soon you can wrap your bars like an experienced nurse applying a bandage when tending to open wounds. In addition to your new go faster colour of choice, you’ve also got a better grip and perhaps more padding too.
  • Learn how to index your gears. For many a year I lived in fear of the dreaded skipping gear. No more. Thanks to Global Cycling Network and their simple How to video series, I can now index my gears. The secret? Forget about those mysterious high and low screws, it’s all about cable tension. Soon your gear shifting will be smoother than the snot wipe on the back of your gloves, which Google tells me is gloriously named a snot spot.
  • New gear cables. Gears not working no matter how much you adjust them? Time for some new cables and bingo, away you go.
  • Cheap bike fit. Forget about spending your hard-earned pocket-money on an expensive bike fit when you have all of the world’s knowledge at your finger tips. There’s plenty of bike fit videos on YouTube, of which this one has cured my knee and neck pains. Sure, there’s no fancy 3D motion sensors or videos of you wobbling about on the bike, yet these simple tips will get your position on the bike 99 percent perfect and make for a pain-free ride. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
  • New tyres. Tyres are undoubtedly the best value for money upgrade a cyclist can invest in. I wasted many a ride rolling around on cheap Michelins until I broke down and splashed out on a set of Continental GPS4000. Roads become smoother, sharp corners seemed to straighten themselves out, and punctures became as rare as a dry cycle ride in the Lake District.
  • New saddle. My saddle has been peeling like the pink skin of a Brit on day three of their beach holiday. There’s been a flappy piece of skin on the side of my saddle for the best part of 12 months and in truth, the saddle has always been a little uncomfortable. So why haven’t I upgraded? For me the grass is always er, yellower on the other side. What if my new saddle is actually even more uncomfortable? The idea of finding a new saddle fills me with dread. What is my body shape? Er, human? How flexible am I? Ish. And finally, who is going to measure my ass, sorry sit bones?
  • New wheels. After upgrading your tyres, the wheels are your next best investment. Both the weight and aerodynamics of some expensive wheels will make your bike lighter and a little more aero. As with buying a new bike, don’t get expecting any miraculous speed improvements. At best you’ll be quicker off the mark and up hills. Remember the true benefits of deep rim wheels don’t really kick in until you’re approaching speeds in excess of 20 mph.

My new bike

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Ok, so it’s not exactly new and the casual eye wouldn’t even notice the difference between the before and after images. Yet I know. The upgrades bring me great pleasure and have rekindled my love affair with riding my bike. Sure, I’ve only actually bought new handlebar tape and a new saddle but yes, the impossible has been achieved. I enjoy cycling more than before! I even broke down and bought a small saddle bag after seeing that picture!

Purchasing a new saddle

The new seat. Sleek.

So, did I get my ass measured? No. Somewhat like buying a new bike, I ignored all practical advice and purchased my new saddle on a whim and on the basis of what I thought looked like my new saddle. Yes, I bought a saddle because it was aesthetically pleasing! I mean how could you resist? Look at it, my god, I’m in love with a saddle, what have I become? As it happens the saddle is a heck of a lot more comfortable than the previous aged skin flapping incumbent. And yes, I’m sure it has made me faster. At least that’s what I’ll keep on telling myself.

What about you? What are your tips for upgrading your bike?

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Images courtesy of 1) The excellent Things Come Apart blog 2, 3, 5) Unknown 4, Gallery, 6) Human Cyclist – C’est moi

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14 thoughts on “Upcycle and upgrades – Make your bike ride like new

    • I’ve heard mixed reviews about carbon seat posts and comfort, glad its working for you. One thing I did forget in terms of a comfort upgrade is lowering your tyre pressure. The tyre drop technique is invaluable.

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  1. I’m totally with you on all this, but being a bit more aged, probably, I have less speed increase to consider on the whole. Mine is a Specialized Roubaix also from Ebay, but was £800 a few years back. Best upgrade was a Brooks Cambian saddle + 11-34 rear cassette (it’s hilly round here!). But it still feels good when new bits go on, even brake inserts! Ah well, sad indeed?

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    • The pros were on 34 cassettes in the Vuelta the other day. I wonder if they get excited when they get new bikes each year. I’m guessing they’re not very excited to fit 25mm tyre come cobble s season, at least not the skinny ones!

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  2. I am enough of a bike dork that I have several sets of tires and things to mount to my trusty (new) Kona Sutra when I feel moved to do so. I am not one to leave well enough alone.

    In fact, I have fallen hard for this bike. It is not the fastest, most nimble, and certainly not the lightest bike in my stable, but it is well on the way to becoming the most comfortable and overall pleasing bike to ride that I have owned.

    I continually keep it refreshed by purchasing treats for it. Nicer fenders here, a brass bell there. Makes it feel new each time I do it while still allowing me to wear grooves into the bike.

    And the added bonus is, all this flippery costs less, considerably less, than fuel for my Volkswagen. In fact, bike enough to work, and the bike is free. Mine passed that point last week. I am planning to celebrate with a nice rando bar and Brooks leather bar tape…

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  3. Oooh at seeing that snapped Pinarello frame. That can actually be fixed for the homeward journey with some duct tape, zip ties and branches from the trees in the background. We’ve had to do it before!
    Actually, I can feel a blog post coming on…!

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  4. I think my old Trek has just the frame, forks and seatpost as the original bits now. It’s still my old Trek to me though. Nice article, don’t be looking for a job in marketing though!

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  5. Pingback: Outbound: glass houses, outlawed jungles, and London illustration | detour blog

  6. Hi, just found your blog, great read. Just out of interest in winter do you manage to fit mud guards to that Bianchi & if so surely you have to run 23c tyres. I bought an all out race bike last year albeit aluminium & mid range but now regret it as I am only able to run 23c tyres with terrible pastic guards. Seriously considering building a proper winter bike.

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    • Hi hardgraf, I’ve recently added mudguards and 25mm tyres, both work really well. I reckon I could even run 28s at a push. My mudguards are SKS race blades, removable. Work really well. They come in two sizes. I actually went for the small size for aesthetic reasons, the recommended max tyre width for the smaller mudguard is 23mm but they work fine on 25mm tyres. Have you got Crudcatchers by any chance? I’ve heard they are very flimsy.

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