6 Upgrades Your Bicycle May Need

Written by

Below is an excerpt from the book "The No-Drop Zone: Everything You Need to Know About the Peloton, Your Gear, and Riding Strong" by Patrick Brady. The 250-page book outlines all aspects of road cycling for beginners, from riding skills to bike gear to the cycling lifestyle. Learn more about the book here.


Saddle selection is highly personal, and what works for one rider may not work for another. It is up to the rider to try to find a saddle that works with his or her body. A high-quality saddle will offer greater comfort and reduced weight.

Many saddles offer a central perineal channel or cutout to relieve pressure on a group of blood vessels and nerves that run beneath the rider's pelvis. Cutting off blood flow here results in numbness and discomfort for both men and women, and saddle companies have invested millions of dollars designing new saddles in an attempt to keep blood flow constant while riders are seated.

To reduce saddle weight, most manufacturers offer saddles with the rails made from titanium or even carbon fiber. Carbon fiber, while light, has the added benefit of reducing vibration that will fatigue the rider.

More: Make sure your seat is taken care of with a quality pair of bike shorts.

Carbon Fiber Handlebar

Carbon fiber has revolutionized handlebar design. Engineers now have unprecedented freedom in bringing new handlebar shapes to market. The most notable change has been the flattening of the bar top to give riders a more comfortable location to rest their palms when climbing, reducing pressure on the hands. And because carbon fiber reduces the vibration that travels through the bicycle to the rider, it cuts muscle fatigue, allowing a rider to ride longer or with greater strength later in the ride.

One of the more popular trends in handlebar shapes is the compact design. With a compact bar both the handlebar's reach and drop are reduced. While this results in less variation in body position between the three hand positions (bar tops, lever hoods, and bar drops), this design is an excellent alternative for riders who don't have the flexibility of an octopus. Compared to other bars, the compact bar effectively brings the hoods closer and the drops up, making the reach easier for anyone with a fussy back.

So while a carbon fiber handlebar can result in increased comfort for the rider, it will almost certainly cut the bicycle's weight, as well. There are several bars on the market that weigh fewer than 200 g, a weight no aluminum bar has achieved.

While a carbon fiber stem is not required to use a carbon fiber handlebar, many riders choose to purchase a matching set from the component maker responsible for the bar. While some aluminum stems rival carbon fiber in weight, the additional vibration damping can increase a rider's comfort perceptibly.

It used to be that if you crashed with a carbon fiber component it would break rather visibly, something called catastrophic failure. Today, manufacturers will design parts with layers of carbon that prevent a crack from causing a part to completely fail. It may feel unusually flexible, or in some cases the part may even feel okay under light loads. It is important, however, to replace a handlebar following a crash. It's just not worth the risk.

To purchase a handlebar, you will need to specify the handlebar clamp diameter (31.8 mm is the new standard, though 26.0 mm and 26.2 mm are still out there) and width (usually 40 cm, 42 cm, or 44 cm measured center-to-center). To order a stem you will also need to know the handlebar clamp diameter, the length (80--130 mm in 10 mm increments), the bore diameter (1 1/8 in. is most common) and the rise (or angle: 0, 6, 8, and 12 degrees are most common). Rise is the change in angle from the fork's steerer tube; 90 degrees is the starting point, 0 degrees. A plus angle means the stem points up and a minus angle means the stem points down.

More: Buy a pair of cycling gloves to keep a good handle on your bike.