Bicycle Network: Bikes 'n' Bits
Turn your bike into a roadie
Can't afford a roadie? Give your MTB or hybrid a makeover!
Can't afford a flash road bike? Cycling legend Ian Christie shows you how to get your old faithful ready for some serious kilometres.
Ah, winter, time to put the feet up, snuggle in and snooze til Spring ... Hold on! No it's not. It's time to do some serious preparation for your next big challenge ride, whether it's Around the Bay in a Day, the Audax Alpine Classic or some other demanding test of rider and machine. Take advantage of winter to give your bike a quick (or extreme) makeover so that it is best suited to get you to your goal.
We suggest a range of options which cost from almost nothing to heaps. (But keep in mind that for every bike there is a limit to how much you can spend before you would be better off buying a whole new bike.)
Let's assume you are starting with a modest bike which you have had for a few years but don't want to replace just yet. We'll assume it fits and has been serviced recently.
The almost-no-cost renovation
This will cost you $20 max.
Pump up the tyres every week, and make sure you keep them at the maximum pressure as stated on the side of the tyre. This costs nothing and makes a huge difference. The higher the pressure the easier it is to ride your bike.
If you have simple pedals, try fitting toeclips and straps. After about three months your riding style will have adapted to them. If you go back to riding a bike without them you will wonder how you ever managed before - it just seems too hard. Nothing else you can do to a bike will make a bigger difference for each dollar spent.
Lower your handlebars. This will cut the wind resistance and stretch the large muscles in the back of your leg so that they work over a more powerful range. Aim to lower your bars to about 2-4cm below the saddle height. If this is a big change, try to do it in two or three stages so that you get used to the new setup gradually. You may need to lower the nose of the saddle just a tiny bit when you lower the bars. Your local bike shop might help you adjust your position for free.
Before the ride, take off the mudguards and the racks. On the day of the ride leave behind locks, lights (unless the ride includes a start or finish in the dark) and extensive toolkits. Carry the minimum: perhaps only a spare tube and a light pump. Wear close-fitting clothes that won't flap in the breeze and slow you down. Pump up your tyres again.
The medium cost renovation
The medium cost renovation
Lighter slick tyres can make your bike easier to ride. For less than $100 you can fit tyres and tubes which are very light and which inflate to very high pressures of 100PSI (7.0 bar) or more.
Saving weight on the tyres has double the advantage of saving weight anywhere else. You not only have less weight to get moving forward, you also have to do less work to get it rotating.
If you don't have them already, add bar ends. These give you a couple of extra hand positions, which is a great relief on long rides and will also enable you to stretch out further to cut the wind resistance. You should find some for less than $40.
Check your chain and cassette. If yours are near the end of their life replace them in time for the ride. The new ones will be nicely lubricated and soak up less of your effort. Take note, however, that changing to a cassette that gives you higher gears won't make the bike go faster. You need a more powerful engine for that (see our page on endurance training).
The money-is-no-object option
Have your position set up properly by your local bike shop, put in the serious training effort and then...
Think about a new set of wheels with lighter rims and fewer spokes. Change to wheels that will take 700 x 23c or 26 x 1.25 tyres, depending on your bike. Think of spending perhaps $400-$500 for a pair. Then choose your new tyres to suit your new wheels. Keep those new tyres inflated to their max.
Fit "clipless" pedals and buy cycling shoes which take the cleat that locks into your pedals. That positive "part of the machine" feel that they give is amazing. They are just as big an improvement as clips and straps were, but they cost more. Think of $250 as the starting point for a set of pedals and shoes .
Finally, add some new padded cycling knicks and a jersey to go with your new shoes so that you look and feel great as you rise to meet the challenge of your choice.
A renewed bike, a refreshed rider and a new challenge - roll on Spring!
Ian Christie is a workplace assessor for Certificate III in Bicycles (Mechanics) and Project Manager with Bicycle Industries Australia Ltd. He is also a life member of the Melbourne Bicycle Touring Club.
This article first appeared the August-September 2005 issue of Ride On.
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