Posted by: Joe Nuss on Oct 27, 2009
By Rob Lamme
Walk into any bike shop and you’ll see riders with their eyes rolling back into their heads and their tongues hanging out as they pay heavy money for the newest bike in the shop – budgets and bank accounts be damned.
The clinical term for this disease is Bike Lust. Unfortunately, there is only one real cure – a really bad recession. Nothing like unemployment to keep you from buying the next best thing in cycling.
While some may ride out a recession by going cold turkey on cycling purchases, most of us manage our addiction by trying to get the most from our upgrade greenbacks. Recently, I tested a few components and other cycling gear for road and mountain bikes to figure out which purchases do the most for comfort or performance.
But first, a disclaimer. I’m no expert tech guru - just your average rider. I pedal a coupla metric centuries annually and just completed my first full 100 miler. I also spend a few weekends in the Smokies on my mountain bike each year. My criteria for judging this stuff is simple: did it increase my comfort, my performance or both? (With added points thrown in for making me look cool or turning my bike buddies green with envy).
I started the experiment with my mighty cycling steed, a 4-year old, all carbon Specialized Roubaix. She’s a beauty, so when I slapped a new Ritchey carbon fork, seat post, stem and handlebars on the old girl, I figured I’d feel a minimal difference. That turned out to be true for the bars and post, but the WCS CF Fork ($400) and WCS 4-Axis stem ($110) proved me wrong. Together, they reduced vibrations considerably and made my recent century ride much more comfortable. Then there’s the bling factor – I don’t know what it is about Ritchey stuff, but several of my friends made cooing noises and – there is no other word for it - stroked the white Ritchey stem when they saw it on my bike. I know: TMI.
My next step was swapping out my stock wheels for some Shimano WH-RS80 carbon clincher road wheels, which feature stiff, durable carbon fiber wrapped around an alloy rim. What a revelation: my bike seemed to leap forward with every pedal stroke and climbed like a champ. Alas, at $900, these wheels ain’t cheap, but if you want increased performance, they’ll do the trick for under a grand.
Assuming you have a decently performing mountain bike, it’s probably already so heavy that spending big money to take a few ounces off with lighter components doesn’t make sense. Better to save your bucks for one of the new ultralight full-suspension bikes or hardtails that are hitting the market now. Or strip it down to a single speed. The only exception might be the front suspension fork. I replaced a respectable, well-cared Rock Shox Reba fork with a Fox 32 F100 FIT RLC fork on my 4-year old Trek full-suspension bike and was - forgive me – shocked by the difference. The Fox fork was noticeably lighter (under 4 pounds), making climbing and handling vastly better. And it took hits and licks on downhills like a champ. A new F-Series will set you back a bit – close to $700 – but it’ll make a huge difference in both performance and comfort.
On the gear side, you can ride the sweetest bike in the world, but if your butt and your feet aren’t comfortable, cycling is a pain. So it’s important to make good investments. My size 13 feet, for example, always ached after a long road ride, until I slipped into Specialized’s BG Comp Road Shoe($170) like Cinderella into the glass slipper. Can’t say enough good things about ‘em.
If you’re feeling pain in Be-Tween (you know what I mean), it’s time for new shorts. I’ve never understood why folks shelled out heavy money for Rapha bike clothes, but after riding in the company’s shorts and jerseys, I am a believer – almost. Rapha’s bib shorts ($205) are the most comfortable I have ever worn. And my wife totally digs me in my black Rapha wool jersey ($195), with its subtle pink trim at the front zipper. Very metrosexual. But when money is tight, I can’t justify spending that much money on, well, clothes. Better to buy a good pair of Pearl Izumis – I love my Quest bib shorts and they are only $65.
Those are my recs for getting the most bang out of your bike buck. See you on the road or trail, and please, keep your hands off my stem, will ya?
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