So you’re thinking of upgrades—that means you're serious about ’cross! It can get pricey—think a whole new drivetrain or carbon wheels—or it can be as simple as a new handlebar tape.
The first question to ask yourself is why you want to upgrade your components. Chances are you're looking for speed or performance gains, or freshening up a stale ride to get you psyched for another season of racing.
In general, we find it all too common for cyclocross racers to reach for the credit card and purchase fancy race wheels or a whole new bike before really analyzing what they're riding, what their goals are, and what will provide the biggest return on investment.
There are plenty of affordable items that can make a big difference in your racing experience. We believe there are three "buckets" of affordable upgrades you can make before you get into the territory of new wheels:
- Speed: You might think this means new wheels, but if you're still rolling on stiff, narrow clinchers with inner tubes, you're at a major disadvantage compared to racers able to ride a lower pressure without flatting.
- Operation: We're tempted to buy new bikes simply because the old one doesn't work like it did when it was new. But there's a number of small, affordable upgrades to get it back to like-new operation.
- Psychosomatic: If you feel comfortable, you'll race confidently. If you feel pro, you might race like a pro.
Today, we'll take a look at some great options to consider in each "bucket" and hear from three outside experts on their favorite upgrades. The good news is that there are options well under $50 in all three buckets that even most budget-constrained racers can justify.
Affordable Changes That You’ll Definitely Feel
If you’re on a budget, think contact points. That means where your body contacts the bike: shifting, braking, handlebar tape, saddle and shoes.
Your contact points can help with comfort, and make riding more enjoyable, comfortable, and make you more confident. Grippy or cushioned bar tape is a cheap way to make your bike feel new again and give it new style. If your hoods are chewed up or sticky, consider replacing them, and you might add some color and style at the same time. Getting a saddle that fits you perfectly makes everything better, and shoes that fit and grip will help with your efficiency and comfort and should provide lasting benefits. Bar tape and a new saddle can be affordable upgrades, and we’d always opt for fit and comfort over titanium or carbon rail weight savings.
Mayhew supports the hands-on approach to upgrades:
“Bar tape is an easy and cheap upgrade. It’s hard to find something that is a bit padded and holds up well in the mud but there are tapes that will do that. And the handlebars are a contact point you’re constantly in touch with either when steering or when shouldering.”
While Gardner agrees with the posterior angle:
“Stock saddles are usually of the value version. Having a saddle that fits you is indispensable in building an efficient ride. All the fancy parts and bits are worthless if you hate sitting on your bike. Spend some time and money to find the right one.”
All of these upgrades can be easily justified, and aren’t typically budget-busting purchases, but keep reading on the next page to put them into perspective.