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 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.

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The clipless diaries, part 6: Shimano Deore PD-M530 SPD pedals

As I found myself using the turbo trainer more often, clipless pedals made more sense as they allow me to keep my feet planted while I spin high cadences during interval training. I quickly realized just how much I disliked the effort of swapping pedals between bikes, how many tools it required, and how much time it took…the added faff has the potential to discourage me from logging in my training.

I needed another set of SPD pedals. I got a good deal on a barely used pair of Shimano’s PD-M530s. Nominally part of the Deore groupset, this is perhaps the company’s most basic SPD pedal with an external cage.

Like the Saint PD-MX80 flat pedals, the M530s thread into cranks either with a 6 mm hex wrench, or a 15 mm pedal wrench. At 455 g they’re around the same weight, too; weight weenies need not apply. They’re plenty strong, though, as is typical with Shimano pedals.

I like the workmanlike, minimalist aesthetic. No groupset branding to shout, just the Shimano logotype on the outside vertical face. In silver, those would be even stealthier and hide scratches better. Seems there’s lots of room for any mud to fall off the pedal body, too – not that I’ll be testing this, as most of my riding is on asphalt.

The PD-M530 pedals look pretty good paired with the FC-R565 crank. Non-series? No problem.

Had I bought these brand-new, they would have come with the black SH51 single-release SPD cleats. Not a bad bundle for PhP1600 SRP. There are vastly more expensive versions of this basic design, but your added cash isn’t necessarily getting you a better-working pedal – you’re really just paying for exotic materials and weight savings.

Perhaps not the best option for beginners, though…

Compared to my existing Deore XT T780 pedals, the M530s have a much tighter hold built into their SPD mechanism. I think it’s down to a spring with stronger tension. Set to minimum, the cleat retention is as strong as the T780s set to half or even 70% of maximum. It took me a bit of getting used to, but it does eliminate any chance of unwanted release. In contrast, the SPD bindings of the T780s have relaxed over time; sometimes my cleats pop out of them when my pedaling motion isn’t as straight as it should be on the turbo trainer.

The stronger release tension does mean more foresight needed for unclipping in urban riding scenarios, though. In that respect, they’re a little less newbie-friendly, even paired with SH56 multi-release cleats. The T780 or something like Shimano’s Click’R line would be better for nervous newbies to learn on, the latter due to their SPD bindings having 60% less spring tension.

Clockwise from top left: Deore PD-M530 double-sided SPD; Deore XT PD-T780 SPD+platform; Saint PD-MX80 platform

With the M530s, I now have quite a spectrum of pedals – all of them below PhP3500. The Saint MX80s are my reliable platform pedals, further customizable with traction pins; these are going into storage, going back on when my wife feels like riding with me. The Deore XT T780s are my commuter pedals, sporting a platform side, an SPD binding side, and reflectors in the pedal cage. The Deore M530s, with SPD bindings on both sides, are for maximum foot retention for take-no-prisoners riding.

Showing some skin(wall): Clement Strada LGG 700C x 32 mm

Road cycling is slowly learning a lesson that cyclocross racers, gravel riders, and mountain bikers have known for years: wider tires are better. The past few years have seen road cycling pros give up their 23 mm tires for a defacto standard 25 mm. In the Spring Classics races, such as Paris-Roubaix, the Strade Bianche, and the Ronde van Vlandeeren, pros will even swap in 27, 28 or 30 mm tires to deal with the gravel and cobblestones of these unique events.

In the past, I’ve pressed 28 mm slick road tires into duty for the majority of my riding, as Hyro came stock with 35 mm knobby mud tires that were just a little too ponderous for cornering on asphalt. I was generally fine with running my 28 mm tires at 80-90 psi, although one road ride back on the 35 mm knobbies did make the case for even wider rubber.

Here in the Philippines, 28 mm tires have been rather hard to come by. It wasn’t until recently that the gamut of choice for this width has widened. When the time came for my worn Continental Ultra Sport IIs to perhaps be relegated to turbo trainer duty, I wondered about my options.

It was then that I saw Clement Cycling offer its Strada LGG line locally in a huge width range – from 23 mm to 28 and even a whopping 32 mm. Even better, they offered almost all these in either traditional black sidewall, or a hipsterrific skinwall treatment. I don’t know about you, but the last time I saw skinwall tires in person was on my dad’s 1981 Peugeot ten-speed which I used to ride in high school.

I got these from Raven Cycles for PhP1200 apiece.

FEATURES

  • 60 or 120 TPI casing
  • Skinwall treatment available for 60 TPI versions
  • Chevron/herringbone tread pattern
  • 60 TPI version: 70A durometer single compound
  • Puncture protection belt on tread
  • Folding bead
  • Claimed weight: 335 g
  • Pressure range: 40-80 psi for 32 mm

IMPRESSIONS

One of Clement’s quirks is to name its tires after the airport codes of cities. “LGG” is the code for Liege in Belgium, home to the annual Liege-Bastogne-Liege bicycle race – another of the Spring Classics.

Having had sketchy moments on the all-slick Ultra Sport IIs when I rode over dusty roads, I began to get curious about how even a light tread pattern would help increase mechanical grip.

Well, one thing in favor of the Ultra Sport IIs, or indeed most road tires by Continental, is their on-road grip is pretty damn good despite the near-absence of tread. Their black art of effective tire compound is most evident when leaned over and turning. For pure road riding, it’s fair to say that Continental’s tires are hard to beat.

By comparison, the Strada LGGs…aren’t as straightforward.

Mounting them to my wheels was very easy and required zero tools, in contrast to the tire lever breakage I got when mounting the Ultra Sport IIs for the very first time. Do note that because of the width, these have much more air volume, and so need a bit more pumping to get up to pressure.

The skinwall treatment does make them look a little chunky on Hyro, but he is a cyclocross bike after all. Knobby skinwall tubular tires are a staple of European cyclocross, so there’s that. They do fill out the SKS P45 Longboard fenders very nicely!

Mounted to a 19 mm internal width rim and inflated to 60 psi, they’re true to size at 32 mm. The photo above doesn’t show it too well as I had to hold too many things to take this photo and the tape measure isn’t straight. I thought the herringbone tread would make a racket when used on a turbo trainer, but that wasn’t the case. There’s enough continuous slick center tread for the trainer’s resistance unit to silently work on, and the tread is on the shoulders for better cornering bite.

So…out on the road, how do they fare? Fundamentally, I was curious about how much comfort gains can be had moving to a wide 28 mm road tire to an even wider 32 mm road tire, and what compromises I should expect. At which point on the tire width scale does diminishing returns set in?

“Honey, does this make me look fat?”

It turns out that was only part of the question. In my first month riding these, I saw that the 32 mm Strada LGGs live and die by the air pressure you put into them. When you get to tires this wide, there’s not much to prepare you for the complex relationship between them and air pressure if, like me, you’re coming from narrower widths. These tires’ characteristics tend to vary wildly and drastically with small changes in pressure. Who knew that just 4 mm of width could give such a massive difference?

One night, I was riding around with these tires softer than normal. I could feel them holding me back and soaking up the watts I was pushing through my legs. It wasn’t until I got home that I found I had just 30 psi in my rear tire. Fair enough.

Toward the other extreme, plumped to 70 psi, the LGGs remained comfortable, rolled much better, and carried a surprising amount of speed when spun up. However, they were not happy at all with anything more than light turn-in. Along a left-right flik-flak along my usual long ride route, I had a sketchy moment as the front wheel lost grip shortly after light rainfall. An hour later, I could still feel the LGGs squirm a bit when making tight U-turns in the dry.

In subsequent rides, I detected the same peculiar slippage on wet patches, even after slight deflation to 65 psi. Clearly, there was still too much air, and the tire wasn’t deforming enough to grip wet asphalt properly.

After some more experimentation, and following Frank Berto’s 15% of sidewall height rule, I felt the LGGs hit their stride at 45 psi front, 50 psi rear. That was a total surprise, counter-intuitive even, given that my body weight doesn’t lend itself to these low pressures, and it’s close to the bottom of Clement’s recommended range. They still rolled well, yet behaved better with cornering forces going through their contact patches, retaining good firmness in the carcass with barely any squirm. Zero punctures, too.

Easing off on the pressure also alleviates their tendency to sniff out little ruts and longitudinal irregularities on the road.

At 50 psi, the Strada LGGs are proving to be happy campers, as grippy as they’re going to get. For people who want to spend long days on the saddle and explore, and are willing to experiment with air pressures, these are just the ticket.

And, to be honest, those fat skinwalls just look really good.