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Earlier this year I purchased my first road bike (a 2013 - Felt F75). I had never really ridden before, so I didn't want to spend too much money up front not knowing how much I would actually ride. All in all, I think I'm riding more than I really ever thought I would.

My question is this:

If I wanted to start upgrading components on my bike, generally speaking, where can I get the most bang for my buck right off the bat? I've heard that getting new wheels can make a night-and-day difference in some cases, but didn't hear much evidence to back that up.

What do you guys think? Here is the spec list for the F75 for reference:
http://www.feltbicycles.com/USA/2013/Road/F-Series-Road-Bike/F75.aspx

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So long as the bike fits you, nothing you can do will make THAT much difference. Just enjoy the bike, and only replace stuff you discover doesn't suit you. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 6 '13 at 2:06
    
Well, if you are racing, and some change makes you go 0.5 km/h faster, then in a race which lasts 2 hours, you'll be 1 km ahead of a person going your previous speed. So it can make a difference. Although if you're not racing, you probably don't really care about the fact that your 2 hour ride is now 1.5 minutes shorter. You'd probably get the best money from optimizing gearing and working on technique in knowing which gear to be in versus actually actually changing out parts for better ones. –  Kibbee Jul 6 '13 at 11:31
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I think you should ride at least a year on that bike before considering upgrades. You're starting on a very nice machine. You need some real world experience before you start spending even more money on upgrades of dubious utility. –  Andrew Heath Jul 9 '13 at 3:06

4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

looking at your bike, which I basically see as a alu-105 setup (albeit a good setup, Felts are lovely bikes), I can suggest a few things but right away I'll say I don't think there is a "magic bullet". In no particular order:

  • wheels, as you say. On a lot of low-to-mid-range bikes, you just need to look at what wheelset they have to realise that this is where the manufacturer is keeping costs down. Obviously this goes away as you climb the range but whichever way you look at it, the better the wheels, the more expensive they are. For example I upgraded my wheels last year, but the ones I got cost me 50% of what I paid for the bike, over 1000GBP. (In fact I started off with near enough the same question as you just asked, and this was my answer.) So, relatively speaking, a lot. However, purely performance-wise, this is probably one of the best upgrades you could do. As with most things cycling, you're paying for lightness and aerodynamics.
  • groupset. Your bike has 105 components, you could always upgrade your components to Ultegra. (I'm thinking specifically of the 10-speed mechanical Ultegra rather than the 11-speed or electronic versions here.) The plus side here is that you can do this in a piecemeal manner, so they will fit to your budget/timeframe, the downside is that these parts work out a lot more expensive if bought separately than they would if they came on a new bike. That's just down to economies of scale. A further possible downside is that you won't notice much difference! 105 ain't a bad groupset.
  • keep saving until you can upgrade the frame itself. You always have the option to go carbon.
  • how much are you interested in the actual mechanics of your bike? In terms of maintenance, for example. Some people hand their bikes off to the bike shop, other people do things themselves (or would like to). If you're in the latter category, a decent tool set perhaps? Plus of course this type of "upgrade" would last you for life.
  • lastly not so much the bike itself but peripheral stuff like getting good clipless pedals, if you don't already have them, more comfy shoes etc. Perhaps, if it turns you on, a gps-enabled trip computer. Personally I love the "data" aspect, and a Garmin 800 was top of my "next cycling purchase" list for a very long while, of course it doesn't make me any better a cyclist but to be able to look at all my rides retrospectively certainly adds to my enjoyment. Perhaps also smaller bike parts such as a better saddle etc. Obviously there are no big bangs here, but if you're budget-driven....

I think which, if any, of these you choose is ultimately going to be down to how you see yourself using your bike going forward. Are you wanting to get faster? ride longer? go touring? compete? etc. etc. etc.

Likewise you could look at every suggestion and decide that none of them is worth it.

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Having a Felt F75 myself, I would recommend the following upgrade path from stock:

  1. Clipless pedals They take some getting used to, but behold the extra power and comfort!
  2. Tyres (and tubes). Vredestein Fortezza Tricomp or similar lightweight folding tyres will give noticeably better grip than stock equipment. Latex inner tubes will smooth the ride and reduce rolling resistance.
  3. Brake pads. Kool Stop Salmon brake pads will give noticeably better braking.
  4. Wheels. You'll want to spend at least 300USD to get a noticeable improvement over the stock wheelset. (I went with Campagnolo Sciroccos myself.)
  5. GPS bike computer With heart-rate and cadence sensors. The extra data is fun to watch and will help your training. (I recommend the Garmin Edge 510.)
  6. Clothing. Spend some money on quality kit. You'll be more comfortable and maybe even faster.
  7. Saddle. The stock saddle is not bad, but more comfortable and lighter options can be had. (I went for the Charge Knife myself.)
  8. Bike At this point you may as well upgrade to a full carbon frame with Ultegra-level or better groupset than apply further upgrades to your current bike.
  9. Power meter. By all accounts a valuable training tool, but most expensive. Fit one to your next bike.
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^ This. Clipless, tyres, brakes. (Wheels if your budget permits.) Clipless improves efficiency of power transfer and encourages good technique. Grippy tyres increase your confidence when cornering and accelerating out of the bends. Better brake pads mean you can brake later. All these things will make you faster. But as has been mentioned before, riding up grades > buying upgrades :D –  headeronly Aug 7 at 13:07
    
I actually purchased clipless pedals with the bike, so I've never ridden without them. I eventually upgraded to a Garmin Edge 500 GPS computer after a few months. Also, I can't recommend these De Soto bibs enough: link - they are very comfortable. I haven't gotten new tires yet, but I've had my eye on some Continental Gatorskins for a while - but not 100% sold on them. Thanks for the input. –  J Good Aug 7 at 14:32
    
Unless you're riding competitively, I wouldn't get new tyres until your current ones are worn out. Then by all means grab some Gators - they're pretty puncture-resistant and roll well. But you can do far, far better than Gatorskins - I've never understood why they're so hyped. If you want a pair of tyres for Sunday best, you could do a lot worse than these. Not exactly hard-wearing, but I reckon they're the fastest and smoothest clinchers on the market. –  headeronly Aug 7 at 16:59
    
I would recommend against the folding tires because they're a PITA to mount (especially the first time) and the latex tubes because they tend to leak down fast. Replace the brake pads only if you don't like the action of the stock ones. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 7 at 18:19
    
@headeronly: +1 for "riding up grades > buying upgrades". –  Jahaziel Aug 12 at 22:07

It looks as if you chose wisely. Very nice bike! As for upgrades at this point, if I were you, I'd just ride the bike and enjoy it for now. You'll find things down the road you may want to try. The Mavic wheels should perform very well for you. The tires woould possibly be the first thing you'll possibly "upgrade" when you wear the original tires out, but by then you'll have talked with other bikers and will have many opinions about which tires are the best for your particular style of riding and for the road conditions you ride on the most. To get the most from your bike, just perforem regular maintainence on the critical moving parts and enjoy your rides.

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Any rough recommendations on how many miles to put on tires before changing them? –  J Good Jul 5 '13 at 19:26
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@JGood when you ride enough to fine something lacking then upgrade. But if you start upgrading now then you don't really know if it was worthwhile because you didn't know what you replaced. –  Brad Jul 5 '13 at 20:10
    
@JGood re tyre lifetime a ballpark figure will be a few thousand miles but there are lots of factors that will influence this. Last couple of tyres I've replaced have been due to one-off punctures which damaged the tyres, rather than wear and tear. –  PeteH Jul 6 '13 at 6:45
    
+1 for tire upgrades. I'd do that now in fact. Good tires cost a lot less than good wheels, and can make almost as much of a difference at non-pro speeds. –  John Doucette Jul 6 '13 at 23:07

Many upgrade components will perform better than their lower cost counterpart, many are just lighter. Sometimes the weight savings comes at the cost of reliability. I would try to test ride some more bikes with higher end components even if you have to beg borrow or plead. While on the ride try to notice if the shifts seem smoother, the saddle fit better, the brakes seem steadier, the handling crisper less twitchy. If you don't feel the difference between your 105 and Ultegra don't spend the money on that upgrade. If your butt feels like you went to heaven then upgrade the saddle. The best way to get the most for your money is to upgrade as items need replacement. If it is broken or worn out the extra cost of better components 25 to 50 percent more than the original.

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the "when" to upgrade, and the percents are good ideas. Plus for some components its a no-brainer to go up a level when you need to upgrade because of the tiny difference in price. For example a cassette or a chain. Things like shifters and cranks will have a big price difference however. –  PeteH Jul 6 '13 at 19:44

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