What componentry goes into a good-value road bike?

In my previous post I looked long and hard at the features of the road bike frame you should be checking. The frame is only one part of the equation that makes up the whole bike, though; many bike makers will pair one basic frame with many levels of component package to cater for different budgets.

What componentry should you prioritize? I’ll give my two centavos on the matter.

BRAKES

Why are brakes on the top of this list? I’m a strong believer in having brakes stronger than your accelerative ability.

Shimano’s Tiagra BR-4700 dual-pivot rim brake calipers are reportedly some of the better ones around, just let down by their stock brake pads. A swap to cartridge brake pads is easy, cheap, and improves speed retardation.

They’re also one of the very first things bike makers cheap out on when outfitting bikes. Fortunately this is a very easy fix, especially for caliper rim brakes. Many rim brake calipers are hamstrung by poor pads, so swapping them out for a quality set will improve your deceleration and speed control in more conditions for not much money.

Sometimes it’s the calipers themselves that are the weak link. Given how cheap of an upgrade these are, go ahead and spend the cash for good rim brake calipers. For a few generations now, Shimano’s Ultegra brake calipers are anecdotally widely recommended.

TRP Spyre brakes: still a hallmark of a good value disc-brake road bike, in my opinion.

For disc brakes, though, I would advise getting the best stock disc brake calipers you can get from the outset, as they’re not quite as cheap as rim brake calipers on the aftermarket. Aim for at least a SRAM Avid BB5 or a TRP Spyre; if you can work your way up to a Juin Tech R1/F1 (also sold as the Yokozuna Motoko) or a TRP HyRd, then better. Given how widely panned Promax’s Render R brakes are, I’d suggest upgrading them with something else straight away.

TIRES

The single best-value upgrade you can buy for your bike: better tires.

Like brakes, these are a relatively cheap fix but offer a huge improvement for the outlay. Go for as wide a tire as your frame can take. Trust me, 700C x 28 mm tires are great for dealing with the streets we have in Metro Manila. Even Continental’s basic Ultra Sport II tires are a great all-round option for everything bar very dusty roads.

WHEELSET

This is another easy target for cost cutting. If you’re buying a new bike with a lower-spec component package, you’re bound to end up with heavy but tough wheels with basic hubs and wheel bearings. I say keep them, man up, and deal with the extra rotating weight because they got you a cheaper bike overall – but target them as a possible future upgrade. If you have a turbo trainer, you could always reuse the rear wheel for indoor training.

Hyro’s Giant S-X2 wheelset. While solid, it is rather heavy and uses hubs with loose bearings. Worse, the hubs’ bearing seals have deteriorated over the last three years.

Keep in mind that wheelsets with loose bearing hubs will need hub replacement, at least, if the bearing races on the cups and cones become pitted from water ingress and general wear and tear.

TRANSMISSION

Take a long hard look at the bike’s gearing. It doesn’t really matter how many speeds the bike has (just make sure there are at least 8 at the back). What matters more is the spread of gearing, measured by how many teeth (T) the largest and smallest cogs have.

Once upon a time, this 12-30T cassette was Shimano’s widest-range offering on road bikes.

Wide range cassettes such as 11-28T or 11-32T are supposedly better for beginners, but I’d say they’re better for all-round riding. With such a wide spread, if you’re tired or feeling weak, you could always just click into an easier gear. I’d advise going for a narrow range 11-23T or 11-25T cassette only if all your riding is done on flats or in criterium races, or if you’re a particularly powerful rider.

Top: Shimano 105 RD-5701-SS short cage rear derailleur. Bottom: Shimano 105 RD-5700-GS medium cage rear derailleur.

Similarly, look for the longest cage rear derailleur you can find fitted to the bike. There is absolutely no downside to running a longer-caged rear derailleur on a road bike. In case you want to fit a cassette with easier gears, a rear derailleur with a longer cage means it’ll accept a wider range cassette at the outset. All you’ll need is an appropriately longer chain.

Up front, a 50/34T crank is just about the best option for most riders. Only strong racers need apply for 52/36T or 53/39T options (although such cranks make more sense on a small-wheeled bike). Hyro started with a 46/36T crank, and that was surprisingly useful for most riding.

COCKPIT

To maximize value, you’ll want aluminum in your cockpit. The material has many benefits, most noteworthy of which is that handlebars made of the stuff tend not to crack in a bad crash.

Giant paired Hyro with aluminum drop handlebars, with an anatomic bend and a rather deep 140 mm drop.

If you’re pinching pennies on your road bike while trying to improve your fit and comfort, I would prioritize the shape of the handlebars over than the material they’re made of. From the traditional deep round bend, to the compact and anatomic bends, there are many shapes of drop handlebar to suit all sorts of riders.

Upgrading to carbon can improve vibration dampening and shave some weight, but carbon handlebars and seatposts are never cheap…nor are saddles with carbon rails.

PEDALS

Most road bikes don’t come with pedals as they’re a matter of personal preference, and everybody’s got their preferred clipless system.

Despite the high-zoot Saint and Deore XT branding, none of these pedals breaks the PhP3300 mark.

This is another area where more money spent doesn’t exactly get you more. Looking at the Shimano SPD lineup, you’re paying quite a bit more cash over the basic Deore PD-M530s to get the weight savings of a pair of Deore XT PD-M8020s. So far, all my pedals have cost less than PhP3300 new.

Among brands, Shimano pedals are a good choice for longevity due to their easy maintenance; many others such as Look can’t be serviced and are essentially disposable.

 

Let me know in the comments what else you could compromise to get yourself a deal on a road bike that’s long on value.

Review: Cat Eye Volt 800 (HL-EL471RC) front light

Alas, the little Cat Eye Nano Shot front light I bought along with Bino in 2013 died a feeble “death.” Well, maybe that’s incorrect. The LED emitter and optics still worked fine, but its proprietary internal 1050 mAh battery had given up any semblance of holding a charge.

My dearly departed Cat Eye Nano Shot: 2013-2016. Rest in peace

Theoretically, I could order a new battery (but I highly doubt local availability), open the Nano Shot chassis up, and swap it with the old one. Given my experience with the Volt 1200, though, the 200-lumen Nano Shot just wasn’t going to cut it for me any more. It was time to upgrade…and I now had specific demands.

Is the Volt 800 front light going to satisfy those demands?

FEATURES

  • Single white high-intensity LED emitter with OptiCube optics and reflector design
  • Replaceable 3100 mAh, 3.6V cartridge battery
  • Mounts via FlexTight bracket
  • Five modes
    • High: 800 lumens @ 2 hours burn time
    • Normal: 400 lumens @ 3.5 hours burn time
    • Low: 200 lumens @ 8 hours burn time
    • HyperConstant: 200 lumen beam + 800 lumen pulse @ 7 hours burn time
    • Flashing: 200 lumen strobe @ 80 hours burn time
  • Rechargeable via included micro-USB cable or optional charging dock

IMPRESSIONS

This thing is sleek. The blocky Volt 1200 could look out of place on a road bike, and the Nano Shot can give off a toy-like vibe at times. In contrast, the Volt 800 looks right at home.

On the surface, the appeal of this light to me was how it could pack a large punch in a package half the size of the Volt 1200. It so happens that the main things about this light, the 3100 mAh battery and single LED emitter, are exactly half that of its older big brother.

Also noteworthy is its appearance. The Volt 800’s light head comes in anodized black, a treatment it shares with many of the second-generation Volt front lights, like the Volt 400 and Volt 1600. So far, it has resisted the cosmetic corrosion I got with the Volt 1200 and its bare aluminum light head. At max power, the light head can get warm, but not as scaldingly hot as the Volt 1200 does.

Basic layout is the same as with most other Volt front lights. The optics still have cutouts at the sides in a bid to improve side visibility, although they’re proportionally a little larger here. There’s a lone button up top which glows red when the battery runs low or is charging.

Underneath, a rubber grommet on a strap still provides protection for the micro-USB port. It uses the trusty FlexTight bracket; the mounting foot here slides and clicks into the middle rail instead of surrounding it on the outside.

The rear of the Volt 800 is made up by its replaceable cartridge battery. Instead of mounting up with three bolts, this screws itself into the light head and terminates in a satisfying soft click. The screw-in design is friendlier for quick battery swaps than that of the Volt 1200’s, whose battery on mine is pretty much permanently seized inside the light head. Cat Eye even sells a two-way dock you can use to either quick-charge this battery, or as a power bank for charging other devices.

SAMPLE BEAM SHOTS

All photos were taken with a Panasonic Lumix LX5 with identical exposure settings: F/2.8, 1/2 second shutter, ISO 400, 50 mm. The camera was simply placed on top of the saddle, unsecured, and may have been slightly nudged sideways with each press of the shutter release button. The lights were tilted about 5 degrees down from horizontal to avoid dazzling other road users.

OFF

Volt 800 – LOW mode @ 200 lumens. (The HyperConstant mode’s steady beam is identical.)

Volt 800 – NORMAL mode @ 400 lumens.

Volt 800 – HIGH mode @ 800 lumens.

Here’s how the Volt 1200 fares in the same location, for comparison.

Volt 1200 – ALL-NIGHT mode @ 200 lumens. (The HyperConstant mode’s steady beam is identical.)

Volt 1200 – NORMAL mode @ 600 lumens.

Volt 1200 – DYNAMIC mode @ 1200 lumens.

Side-by-side against the Volt 1200, the Volt 800’s light has a slightly cooler, bluer tint. Apart from that and the lower max intensity, they share a lot in common. The beam pattern is still a tightly controlled rectangle which emphasizes seeing off into the distance over short-distance flood lighting. It doesn’t seem to mind being mounted upside-down, either.

LIVING WITH THE LIGHT

One notable change from the Volt 1200 was the pulse frequency for the HyperConstant and Flashing strobe modes. On the 1200, both modes have quick turnover – perhaps even obnoxious and seizure-inducing on the Flashing mode. On the Volt 800, the pulse frequency is a little more relaxed and friendlier in both modes.

The improvement I appreciated the most on the Volt 800 was its button programming. A long press turns the light on or off; once on, single presses on the button cycle through the different modes as listed above. This time, Cat Eye finally got the hint that a quick double press of the button should instantly switch over to the High 800-lumen mode; the next button press returns to whatever the previous mode was. I wish I could export that programming to the Volt 1200 because it’s just so useful. For most of my riding, I just switch between HyperConstant and High, to squeeze as much operating time as I can out of the battery while maintaining good visibility.

That brings us to the intended purpose of this light. Unlike the Volt 1200, whose mammoth battery makes it a super-versatile monster of a front light that can swallow either a 200 km audax or 10 days of commuting on a single charge, the Volt 800 leans more heavily toward commuting. In the day, you could get by with HyperConstant; switch over to Flashing in the bright light of noontime for extra attention. The 400 and 800 lumen modes ensure that fast-paced night rides can be done more safely.

All the while, you’re going to be more aware of the limitations of the battery’s legs, especially since a full charge from empty will require five to eleven hours depending on how much current you can push into it. Buy a spare battery or two, though, and all concerns of burn time anxiety go out the window. If you also own either a Volt 300, Volt 400, or Volt 700, or the Volt 50 rear light, you can use any of those lights’ batteries in the Volt 800, as they all share the same basic chassis.

VERDICT

Like the Volt 1200 that I got before it, this is not a cheap light. It is, however, just as packed with value, although I do feel investing in a least one spare battery increases that. The 800-lumen emitter, good optics, and improved button logic make it investment-grade. Everything else checks the important boxes for me.

Highly recommended.

Review: Continental Ultra Sport II tires

Hyro, my TCX, came equipped with Giant’s S-X2 wheelset with 19 mm internal width. This is a good match for the 35 mm Schwalbe Super Swan mud tires it also came with.

However, when repurposing him for the road, slick tires are better. I encountered some concerns with the relatively wide internal rim width. As per ISO 5775 by the European Tire and Rim Technical Organization (ETRTO), the narrowest tire they recommend mounting onto my rims should measure 28 mm wide…which is a relatively hard to find size here.

After my first set of slicks, a second-hand 28 mm pair of Specialized Espoir Sports, wore down to the carcass threads after lots of riding, I decided to continue with the same width. Fortunately I did have some locally available options, and I ended up buying a pair of Continental’s Ultra Sport II folding-bead clincher tires from the guys at Built Cycles in Parañaque – one of the few local bike shops that really cater to cyclocross bikes.

 

The Ultra Sport II is the second generation of Continental’s entry-level road slick tire, meant for commuting and training. The original model had a nasty reputation on bike forums for attracting punctures, but that was feedback from around five years ago. Let’s see how the successors fare.

FEATURES

  • “PureGrip” compound for all-round durability and grip
  • Available widths: 23 mm, 25 mm, 28 mm, 32 mm
  • Construction: 3/180 threads per inch
  • Folding Kevlar bead
  • Recommended pressure: 80-115 psi (max)
  • Weight: 340 grams per 700C x 28 mm tire

IMPRESSIONS

Out of the box, these tires have incredibly tight beads. They can be frustrating to mount onto rims for the first time – and I pride myself on being able to mount and dismount tires using just my hands. Best to use dedicated tire levers on them; if you use those that come with a multi-tool you can snap them clean in half, such is the stubbornness of these beads. And I thought folding-bead tires were supposed to be easier to mount than wire bead-ones?

As basic tires, the Ultra Sport IIs don’t contain any puncture protection features. (I think the slightly pricier GrandSport Race is essentially the same tire with an anti-puncture belt.) With the gruntwork of initial mounting, I was worried when I got a puncture on these and had to swap out the pierced tube. Once they’ve been mounted and have held air for a while, though, the folding beads become much more compliant, and they can be dismounted and remounted with greater ease. Yes, even without any tools.

That said, the above was my one and only puncture with these tires. The puncture gremlins of the original Ultra Sports have been exorcised. I was even able to finish my maiden 200 km randonnee ride on them with no flatting at all.

Mounted on my 19 mm rims and inflated to 85 psi, they actually measure 30 mm across on my tape, benefiting air volume and compliance.

 

Considering these are bottom of the barrel for Continental, grip itself is pretty good. They ride slightly better than the old Espoir Sports, which were decent to begin with, but these also roll more effortlessly with less resistance. I can lean pretty aggressively into turns and confidently carry a fair bit of speed…if you’re riding on asphalt or concrete roads. They’re well-behaved in the wet, too.

Carry too much speed into shiny, polished concrete parking-lot driveways when turning, and you can hear the tires groaning as they lose grip. To be fair, even the tires on my car understeer on such low-grip surfaces, and the Ultra Sport IIs lose traction in a progressive, predictable way, with enough warning given for corrective action.

Similarly, another weakness for the Ultra Sport IIs is dusty, gravelly surfaces. There’s not much of a pattern on the tread area, so they lack the bite for aggressive cornering on loose dust. Best to take such stretches riding as upright as you can.

 

While Continental recommend running the 28 mm Ultra Sport IIs with pressures of 80 to a maximum 115 psi, I find they still ride well with as low as 65 psi of air in them. Usually I put 85 psi and ride all week without topping up, and they support my 85 kg weight and ~7 kg of loaded panniers well. Still, the carcass retains a bit of ride firmness, which will be desirable for racers in training.

VERDICT

They’re not quite the last word in grip or ride quality, but the Ultra Sport II tires do very nicely as an all-around durable tire. At PhP920 a pop, they’re also excellent value.

That said, I’d love to see a softer-riding version of these tires with better puncture protection. Both areas would be addressed by tubeless technology, and I’m rather confident my wheelset is ready for it. Sadly, Continental seem to be firmly against road tubeless tires for now.