Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Why you should upgrade or update your bike

2012 GT Aggressor 1.0

Bicycles and everything around them are a multi-billion dollar per year industry. No doubt about it. If you are hooked on the sport, you know what I'm talking about. If you are new to this, keep reading. 

Before getting too deep remember, cycling is fun! That's why we do it!

What is an upgrade/update?

Almost every year, the industry comes up with new bikes, new wheel sizes, new standards, more speeds, wider tires, bigger axles, less weight and higher prices. If you can afford dropping $4,000 to $15k every season for a new stud, congratulations! This post may not be for you. For the regular Joe, that's probably not the case.

You might buy a new bike with low specs or already have one for years. Some riders prefer to keep it "Era-Specific," which means they strive to keep and replace everything as when new. Even decals. That's totally fine. The only problem with this approach is availability.

Upgrading old or low tier bikes is said to be a waste of money but that's totally false. As parts start wearing out because of the use and abuse, you need to replace things like the chain. After a couple of chains comes the cassette and after a couple of cassettes comes the chainrings. By this time, you have also replaced about two sets of tires, cables, grips, a bottom bracket and probably the saddle. That if fair maintenance was done regularly and you didn't crash or broke other stuff.

Of course, it depends on the mileage, weather conditions, storage and the like. Most bikes never see enough miles to even change the original tires. However, for you addicts, in a few years, with everything you have replaced plus labor if you rely on someone to do the job, you still have practically the same bike, with the same components as when it was brand new. More importantly, you've probably spent the same or more as when you bought it. Cheap components do the job. Performance wise, not so much. Top of the line parts are awesome but they're expensive and their lifespan is slightly shorter. So what to do? You have limitless options. Go as far as you can! Some people throw lots of money on Honda Civics so why not on your hobby/commuter/love of your life?

2011 GT Series 5
Upgrade vs New Bike

Of course you can get a new bicycle for about the same price point as the old one. Others prefer to buy them used, but that's a new set of potential problems that I'm not getting into right now. That brand new bicycle can be shiny and from the current year. However, chances are that the groupset and components will be basically the same you already have on your old stud. So you are in the same situation. Instead of shedding more money, why don't you just update your old bike?

This can be done in many different ways. Nonetheless, if you like your frame, have some kind of brand loyalty or whatever your reasons, you can bring that old bike to life and make it even better than when new. This is true specially since you're not planning on becoming the next Tour de France winner. Isn't this about having fun after all? Also, don't give in to peer pressure. The other riders in your group or around you don't pay your bills. 

One word of caution is that not every frame can acomodate the ever changing new standards. Even so, getting a new wheelset can open the doors of going from a 7 speed freewheel to 10 or 11 speeds.

DO's and DON'Ts

Some bikes are just no worth it. I know many statements on this post may sound contradictory but there are limits. 99% of bicycles from Big-Box stores are not suited for updates because they are cheaply designed and the frames weight a ton. Those are mainly the steel 50 pounders. Also, they're extremely outdated right out of the box. Decades! Anything you can buy at your local bike shop or straight from the manufacturer will be lightyears ahead.

Know what you want. If you're like me, you'll want to keep every little detail under control. After all, it's your new old bike for years to come. Choose wisely. Some companies like Shimano trickle their technology down the gruppo hierarchy over time. The same groupset of ten years ago has now 1, 2 or 3 more speeds and better performance. Deore right now ranges from 10 to 12. 

Carbon Fiber:

Hello my friend! This is the number one weight saver. Do it right and you'll feel like floating on the air. Do it wrong and... well, you'll float a little before getting hurt. Carbon fiber is strong and light. However, not every part is made equal. Good quality ones are really expensive. Off brand and eBay knockoffs are a hit and miss. The primarily reason according to most people is quality control. In truth, some components are gonna be good but I don't like to gamble with my well being. Forks, handlebars, stems, frames, wheels or seatposts are things that you don't wanna see snapping while going at 25mph. 

Cantilever/V-Brake to Disc Conversions:

I personally don't recommend it unless the frame has the mounts for the calipers. Been there, done that. There are aftermarket solutions for this but your frame wasn't designed to do so. Chances are that you'll snap or bend the chainstays or seatstays. Also, why add more weight and other hardware? Soldering mounts weakens the frame too!

Threaded to Threadless Forks:

This update is way less problematic as long as the frame has the appropriate dimensions. Most threaded forks are 1 inch in diameter while threadless are 1 1/8. Some from the 1990s are also threaded and 1 1/8 in size, the ideal for swapping! There is a huge debate on fork travel and how much or less is too much of a difference. It all depends on the intended use. It may not be wise going from 40mm to 140mm if you're planning on jumping from the roof of your house. The frame and yourself might break really badly. For this conversion you'll also need to replace the headset, buy some spacers, a stem and handlebars. Other than that, I'm all for it. Air forks? Bring it on!

Bottom bracket/Crankset/Chainrings:

Some people swear by the old and trusted square taper. Some critics say that the new Hollowtech bearings go bad after a few hundred miles but those are the same who replace their chains after 500 miles because it wore out. Do you lubricate it with sandpaper and acid? Total nonsense. If you're gonna do it, go with Hollowtech II or similar. It's the present. Also, you'll save a ton of weight. Now, ditch the 3 chainrings for 2 or 1.


They come in many sizes and flavors such as steel, chromoly, aluminum, carbon or titanium. If it doesn't fit... don't try to modify, drill holes, solder things or force stuff on it. Some of these materials are more or less tolerant but the end result is almost always catastrophic. 


This is probably the one that'll be fundamental if you have 7 speeds or less in the rear. The only way to accommodate 8-11 cogs back there is by replacing at least the hubs. Why go through the hassle? Get new wheels. You can even go tubeless. Not my thing but hey, it's your bike.

Wheel Size:

This is another controversial topic. Bigger is better right? You are the engine of your bicycle. In the end, it doesn't matter the size of the wheels you use. If you're in good shape, you can be faster on a 20" than other people who aren't that fit on the fastest road bike. Fact! Most people just repeat what they read or try to convince themselves that 29 is the S.H.I.T. solely because they dropped a few grand on it. For generations, we have done the craziest stunts and trails on 26". So? 99% of bikes out there still 24" and 26" for years to come. Not quite dead. Now we are living the explosion of the electric era. Give it some time and you'll see 26" marketed as a new discovery. Mark my words! (Nothing against 29", 32", 36" or the Penny-farthing, just to be clear.)

2000 GT Palomar / Steel Triple Triangle

I've done some crazy conversions that are totally worth of note. 24" to 26"? Check. If it has disc brakes, anything is possible. No disc, no problem. V-Brakes can be extended with a little, invisible part called... extender! Tire clearance is a factor but remember, the difference in radius is only 1 inch. 26" to 27"/650b? Check. Especially if the intended use is Cross Country, with thinner tires. The same applies to 26" to 700c. That's the case of the example on the left. The only thing you'll usually need is a fork sized accordingly. Fun fact: a customer on the phone the other day was arguing that the 29" rims weren't gonna fit his 700c hybrid MTB. He has 29 rims with 700c tires and said that his rims were only about 25 inches in diameter. Indeed my friend, these measurements are confusing and archaic, from the time of tire brakes. The outside of the tire is what measures 29, 27.5, 26, 24, 22, 20 and so on. Do you know how many inches equals 700mm? 27.5! Blew your mind... Moreover, even when the rims are the same size, you can get into more trouble with the hubs. Traditionally, it was 130mm wide for road bikes and 135mm for MTB. Now? Good luck! 


Since now everything's bigger, this part is getting as wide as you can handle it. Anywhere from 740 to 800mm is the norm, compared to the low and mid 600 of a decade ago. I use between 740 and 760mm. It's true that you have more control in technical situations but hitting trees on narrow passages is not my thing either. 6cms are a hell of a difference. I even changed my road bike from 400 to 440mm! They've also gotten thicker. From 25,4mm to 31,8 and even 35. Think stems. Those are getting shorter for MTB.

1999 GT Saddleback / Steel Triple Triangle / Steel is Real
In conclusion:

Covid has brought new challenges to the industry. Mainly chain supply delays and price gouging. Right now everything is more expensive and scarce. You don't need to break the bank doing it. If you value your stuff or have some kind of attachment to it, it's the best and cheapest option. Not every rider is a pro or can send it down 10 feet drops. So why spend more on a potential "Garage Queen?"

Don't forget to wave at other riders and be kind when driving. Follow the rules of traffic. You know that Florida sucks because is full of psychopaths and me-me motherfu... don't be one of them!