Knowledge Level: Intermediate
Although there’s no substitute for focussed and consistent training, such as following the British Cycling Training Plan, cycling is a sport where you definitely can buy some speed. However the potential speed gains to be made by buying super light and often super expensive components, will usually represent a relatively poor return on your money.
Rather than obsessing about the grams saved by titanium chainring bolts or carbon bottle cages, if you’ve got some cash burning a hole in your pocket, follow our experts’ advice about the best bang for your buck way to spend it.
Upgrade your wheels
This isn’t a cheap option but, especially if you’ve bought an off the peg bike, upgrading the wheels will significantly improve how it rides. Wheels are often where manufacturers will save a few pennies on a build and it’s not unusual to find a sub £200 wheel-set specced on a £2000+ bike. Higher quality wheels will be lighter, stiffer and more aerodynamic. Apart from the frame, the wheels are probably the most significant component that contributes to a bike’s overall performance. Think carefully about the type of riding you intend doing on them. Super deep section wheels might be great for time trialling or long flat rides but they can be a handful in sidewinds, can be slower to accelerate and often won’t climb as well as shallower section lighter wheels. Full carbon wheels will typically be lighter but braking performance can be compromised and they can be prone to overheating on long descents. An alloy braking track will improve braking but will add weight the wheels. Ideally talk through your requirements with a specialist wheel builder. Not only will their advice be invaluable for choosing the right wheel-set for you and your riding but it’s also very reassuring to know who’s built your wheels and they’ll often provide you with a truing for life warranty or similar. Don’t forget, you can still use your old wheels for training and commuting duties.
Streamline your clothing
There’s little point in putting in hours of hard training and spending money optimising your bike set-up if you and more specifically your clothing is an aerodynamic weak link. Overcoming the wind resistance that your body generates is where the majority of the effort you put through your pedals goes. This especially applies to when the weather is poor and, if you’ve got an ill fitting waterproof that flaps and billows in the wind, you’re making cycling considerably harder for yourself. Take an audit of every layer of your cycling clothing and ensure that it’s all close fitting and minimising the size of hole that you have to punch through the air. Specialist “pro quality” cycling clothing may be more expensive but, over the course of a long day in the saddle, can make a significant difference to your average speed and energy expended.
Recce your rides
If you’re focussing on a specific event, spending the time and money to travel to its location and training on the course can make a massive difference on the big day. Over the course of two or three days, riding any significant climbs, scoping technical descents or becoming familiar with any tricky navigational sections can all contribute to you riding faster.
Book a training camp
Training through the British winter can be a real battle and, with your target event possibly months away, finding the motivation to crawl out from under your duvet and face the wind, rain, snow and ice is tough. Booking a late winter or early spring warm weather training camp will give you focus and a stepping stone goal to motivate you on those cold and dark winter days.
Treat yourself to decent accommodation
If you’ve invested significant time preparing for a big event, don’t let a poor night’s sleep before it put all those training miles to waste. At the same time as you sign up for the event, book your accommodation and don’t opt for the budget choice. For popular events it’s essential to book early or you’ll end up left with poor options that are often inconveniently far from the event HQ. Look for a hotel that is near to the start, is quiet and comfortable, can provide an early pre-event breakfast and offers secure bike storage. An uncomfortable night in a tent, an early start with a long drive or lying awake fretting about whether your bike is secure in your car can all affect how well you’ll ride.
Professional clean and service
You’ll have logged some serious miles in preparation for you target event and this will have taken a toll on your bike. Booking it in for a professional service will ensure that everything is running smoothly. Allow at least a couple of weeks before your event in case new components have to be ordered and to allow you to have a few more rides to double check that the setup is exactly how you want it. A final tune up including indexing the gears can be completed a couple of days before the event.
Get a bike fit
For many sportive riders, the key to better times is not necessarily riding faster but not slowing down. This is a subtle but important distinction and, along with fitness, having a comfortable and sustainable position on the bike that allows you to keep on pedalling strongly is essential. A professional bike fit can ensure that your position is optimal, help safeguard you against injury and maximise your performance. A bike fit can be beneficial when tweaking the position on your existing bike but is most valuable when used to inform and guide your decision when buying a new bike. With any change in your bike setup it’s essential to allow enough time and training miles to adapt your new position.
Buy a heart rate monitor
If you’ve previously just trained on feel or perceived intensity, buying a heart rate monitor is an extremely cost effective way to improve both the quality of your training and your sportive pacing. By finding your threshold heart rate, calculating training zones from it and then applying these to your riding, you’ll be helping to ensure that you’re getting the maximum benefit from your time in the saddle. On the day of your event, you’ll know from training how to use your heart rate to pace your ride with it showing how hard you can push climbs and preventing you from going too hard early on.
Buy a power-meter
A power meter in conjunction with a heart rate monitor is an incredibly powerful combination for training and pacing. Although they are still prohibitively expensive for many riders, their cost is slowly starting to come down and their widespread use in professional cycling is an indicator of their value to performance. They allow you to accurately track training load and intensity and to pace long rides extremely evenly and efficiently. As well as the financial cost, to get the most out of power meter you’ll need to invest significant time in learning how to interpret and apply the data you obtain from it. Find out more about training with power and buying a power meter.
Get some coaching
For performance gains versus pounds spent, working with a British Cycling Level 3 coach is probably one of the wisest ways you can spend your money. It’s not as glamorous as a sparkling new set of wheels but having a bespoke training programme that is tailored to you and your event will make you faster. Knowing that someone is following your progress closely is extremely motivating and you’re far less likely to skip sessions if you’ve got someone to answer to. If however your budget doesn’t quite stretch to a coach, the British Cycling Training Plan and the accumulated knowledge of the expert articles that go alongside it will help.