So, I have an 80's raleigh bike, reassembled from spare parts. I'm wondering what the best way to get more speed out of the bike is. Wheels? Gears? Lighter gear? Different pedals? I'm rather fond of the frame, so I'd rather not replace that.

  • 46
    Pedal faster. :)
    – xpda
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 4:35
  • 7
    @xpda - I would add point yourself downhill.
    – Techie Joe
    Commented Dec 5, 2013 at 0:52
  • My first bike was a Raleigh. Garmin's new Rally power meter pedals seem to be spelt wrong! Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 13:22

13 Answers 13


Gabe, If you love the frame, and are willing to spend the money to keep it, start upgrading everything else. Start with:

Wheels/tires - rotating mass will slow you down the most - go to aluminum wheels and thin/light tires size 23 or 25.

Bottom Crank - Once again rotating mass, you can get some hollow core cranks, and adjust the chainring sizes to the biggest you can push. You can save a few grams by going to a compact crank versus a triple.

Shifters/derailleur(s) - get some aero shifters/brakes, and upgrade to a lighter front/rear derailleur.

Seat post, handlebars, stem - On an old raleigh, they are probably steel - you can get inexpensive aluminum replacements.

Seat - get rid of the OG heavy seat and get something more comfortable and lighter.

From expensive and most effective, to least expensive/effective, thats the list off the top of my head.

Good luck on your decision, and keep those old Raleighs going, they are great bikes :)

  • 1
    +1 Best answer in my opinion, because it covers many different bike parts.
    – b.roth
    Commented Aug 26, 2010 at 8:57
  • 8
    Why do you say rotating mass will slow you down the most? Wouldn't it be fairly negligible once you're up to speed, and just maintaining angular momentum?
    – naught101
    Commented Aug 1, 2012 at 1:23
  • 1
    @naught101 I agree with you, it seems to me that once you are at speed, the mass of the wheel is irrelevant. However it is often the case that you have to accelerate with your bicycle, after a sharp turn or a granny crossing. In all those cases, mass is an important factor.
    – astabada
    Commented Oct 23, 2012 at 9:04
  • 9
    Rotating mass and acceleration: This question shows that the rotating mass slows acceleration AT MOST 2x the same non-rotating mass would slow acceleration. So a change of rims that shaves 1 pound from the bike will be like shaving 2 pounds of non-rotating weight -- measurable in a lab, but not going to make any major difference. Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 12:27
  • 1
    I am a fan of triples and I would like to make a comment regarding weight. If you have a compact crank but need low gears, you are going to save weight in the crank, but ... you will have to put larger cogs in the cassette, increasing weight respect a smaller cassette that you could allow with a triple. If you consider weight overall, you are not saving too much, if at all.
    – Javier
    Commented Dec 21, 2012 at 18:48

The only thing that will make the bike have a higher top speed (on the flats) is changing the gearing. Bigger rings up front and smaller cogs in the back.

Beyond that: start training. You're the engine, after all.

  • 1
    Yeah, as Lance says, it's not about the bike.
    – Kevin
    Commented Aug 26, 2010 at 8:29
  • It's not the gearing only. See Mike Converse's answer here.
    – b.roth
    Commented Aug 26, 2010 at 8:55
  • Thanks Jack. My commute is pretty much all "flats", so that's likely where I'll start. And, I'll continue working on the engine, of course (: Thanks!
    – gabe.
    Commented Aug 26, 2010 at 13:19
  • 9
    @Kevin in light of recent events, it certainly seems like it's not about the bike. Commented Oct 24, 2012 at 3:06
  • 1
    On the flats, body position matters a lot. Changing the gearing is pointless unless there is too much drivetrain friction or the gears are too small for a reasonable cadence (try going 110 rpm in the highest gear on 80's gearing and you might as well sign up for the TdF)
    – HRSE
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 8:33

Honestly. Get a new bike. Technology has changed greatly since the 80's bikes are much lighter, comfortable and stiffer thanks to space age technologies like carbon fiber. Can't afford it, check craigslist.

That being said. If your are really attached to your bike. You will see the best performance improvement in new tires and wheels. When you accelerate your bike you have to put almost twice as much energy/gram into the wheels get them moving. This is due to the fact that you not only get them translating horizontally, but to also have to get them rotating.

  • 1
    I think that training is much more important than technology, read this interesting article about modern bicycles and cycling speeds cozybeehive.blogspot.com/2010/08/… Commented Aug 26, 2010 at 7:43
  • 6
    Of course training matters. But that doesn't answer the question - I'd suggest that the site will struggle to work if every time someone asks a valid question the response is don't bother, train... and worse its not entirely true as some bikes are faster than others - gearing aside, lighter and better kit may make a difference. Absolutely improve the engine - that will usually make the most difference - but that doesn't mean that other things won't
    – Murph
    Commented Aug 26, 2010 at 8:02
  • 2
    Also, getting a new bike is much cheaper than replacing all of the components on an old bike.
    – amcnabb
    Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 19:04

Make sure you have street tires. Knobbies will slow you down.

Make sure your wheels spin freely. If the hubs are jammed, or the brakes drag, that will slow you down.

After that, changes you make to the bike won't affect your speed very much, perhaps only enough to matter in racing. Changes to your fitness will matter more.

You can reduce rolling resistance (change tires, pump them up). You can reduce windage (mostly in your posture). You can reduce weight (in the wheels first). Where you ride will affect where the biggest wins are.

Personally, I would focus on reliability and fun over speed, but you gotta find what's right for you.

Go to your local bike shop and ask to test ride different bikes, and see what you think. It's hard to get objective comparisons of the speed of different bikes, but you may learn about what you like more.

  • 1
    +1 cause everyone else is assuming that this bike is half decent to start with :)
    – naught101
    Commented Aug 1, 2012 at 1:26

The cheapest ways to go faster are to get high pressure tires -120 or even 140 psi (8 to 10 bar) - and keep them at high pressure. For the highest pressure tires, this means pumping them up every time you ride. For 50 bucks (US) or so, you can't go wrong with this upgrade, because you can transfer them to a new bike if you if want to upgrade everything else.

Keeping your chain well greased, and riding with the chain in the proper gears can also increase efficiency slightly, and at no cost. By 'proper gears', I mean that you lose some small amount of efficiency by, for example, having the chain in the large front chainring and the large back cog (you wouldn't normally ride like that, but this is for illustrative purposes), because the chain isn't 'straight'. I believe that improving 'Q-factor' is a similarly small increase in efficiency.

Edit: additionally, if you haven't checked this already, take the cranks off and try to spin the bottom bracket spindle by hand. You may need to repack the bottom bracket (or buy a sealed cartridge BB. Can go for as little as US $20). Stickiness and crunchiness can be hard to detect when spinning the spindle with the cranks on because the cranks add so much more leverage. You get a much better feel for the condition of your BB when spinning it by hand like this.

  • 4
    Beyond a certain point, additional pressure really doesn't do you much good, and may actually cause you to bounce around more. 140 lb is extremely high pressure, unless you're a big guy on very skinny tires. I do agree that high-quality tires, good bearings, and good lube give you the most bang for the buck.
    – Adam Rice
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 20:27
  • Cool tip: Google will do unit versions for you. lmgtfy.com/?q=140+psi+to+bar. 140psi = 9.65 bar Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 14:55
  • 2
    Research shows that rolling resistance cannot be easily decreased a lot by raising tire pressure. There is a different effect of harder tires: Suspension losses in the rider's body, which may be larger than what you might gain from pumping. High quality tires (that's mostly about supple sidewalls and flexible tread) are certainly the best means to get faster (beyond training). But tires don't need to be narrow and hard.
    – bhell
    Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 20:36
  • 1bar = 14.5 psi = Earth's pressure on us and everything :)
    – Vorac
    Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 10:05
  • 2
    I think the extremely high pressure myth has been thoroughly debunked by now.
    – Noise
    Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 18:24

I'm not sure if this is a "legal" answer since it involves upgrading you as well.

I highly recommend getting cycling shoes if you don't have it. It's almost a direct conversion of money to performance with minimal additional effort.

  • 1
    I tried half toe clips, and found they were kind helpful, but hard to get into at the lights. Then one was upside down and caught something at low speed, stopping the bike but not me. Immediately I removed them. A year later I dried some clipless pedals and shoes, and they certainly feel a bit better. When going back to a normal platform pedal, I realise just how much the clipless pedals were helping. Minor help on the up-pull when doing a fast start or acceleration, but mostly by keeping the foot in place when changing gear. Simple stuff but you have to experience it.
    – Criggie
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 7:45
  • If the OP didn’t have clipless pedals, then those plus shoes would clearly seem to be ‘legal’. Related to clothing, relatively tight fit cycling clothes would also be a big performance gain if the OP were coming from loose clothes. Much more closely fit gear has become quite widely available since the original question.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 14:03

It isn't the bike. It is the rider. Unless you are at 6% body fat and have done all you can to improve your output your best improvement in speed is yourself.

  • 5
    Unfortunately, as much as I agree with this, the question was about how to make the bike faster. Commented Aug 26, 2010 at 5:21
  • 3
    We should aim early to stop with the "get fitter" answers. Its a given that the engine is the most important thing but after that it is a simple fact that changes to a bike can make it faster - a simple roll down test with knobblies and with smooth tyres will demonstrate this. Aerodynamics are not to be sneezed at. Heck, most people will see a progression from platforms -> toe-clips -> clipless pedals. If you don't like the question add a comment but if you're going to answer then address the question
    – Murph
    Commented Aug 26, 2010 at 7:58
  • @Murph - I understand your point of view, but when a question asked how to get faster and the person is working on second or third-order issues it is hard to ignore the bigger picture. Had the OP acknowledged the point I would not have answered that way.
    – Tim
    Commented Aug 26, 2010 at 14:02
  • @neilfein - so getting stronger WON'T make the bike faster?
    – Tim
    Commented Aug 26, 2010 at 14:02
  • 2
    Perhaps I should have reworded my question to be more along the lines of "what improvments can I make to my bike to help transfer more of my power to the wheels." That's essentially what I was actually looking for, and I seem to have gotten that answer. Thanks for pointing out what I overlooked, though: Me.
    – gabe.
    Commented Aug 27, 2010 at 1:40

The momentum in tire rotation is so minimal as to be negligible. To see this put your bike on a stand and turn the pedals with your hand - almost effortlessly you quickly get to 20-40 kph equivalent rate of rotation. It is not so easy to accelerate on the road because of your body weight mass, and because once over 20-25 kph air drag on your body and bike start to really kick in meaning that you are already using most of your available power just to keep the same speed.

Beware of lightweight wheels - a true and straight wheel is important for handling and safety. I have Shimano C24 wheels for some years, light with 16 bladed spokes on front and 24 on rear, but I was constantly truing them and they were constantly getting wobbly again. Last month I replaced them with locally handbuilt wheels Velocity A23, round steel spokes 32 front and rear - and the wheelbuilder offered a lifetime guarantee of free truing because he knows it is basically uneccesary. The result: improve braking, improved high speed handling, a more pleasant ride over rough roads. My uphill strava scores all improved dramatically, which I attribute to higher lateral stiffness in the wheels, meaning they don't deform when I apply power (e.g. >300 watts). Holding the wheels in the hand the new wheels are obviously heavier, but standing on the scale in full kit with bike in hand the difference is not even noticeable - meaning less than the weight of a pee (no not a pea, a liquid pee).

Going downhill and and on the flats a slightly heavier bike can be an advantage because of handling stability and because a little added momentum helps to even out the changes in wind speed - a rider gets more tired the more s/he must vary the output power to keep going. Notice how time trial bikes are heavy compared to general purpose racing bikes, and often have heavy high profile or even heavier disk wheels.

For steep (>7%) climbs your uphill speed for a given output power is mostly exactly proportional to combined rider/kit/bike weight (you can calculate at this URL: http://www.gribble.org/cycling/power_v_speed.html).

It seems illogocial to spend money on lightweight groupset etc. when you have a steel frame. If you want a lightweight bike suitable for touring / distance you might look for a used Cannondale Synapse w/carbon frame which tend to be cheap (except for the hi-mod carbon frame versions). The you get the groupset/etc with the bike.


Besides cutting fat and growing your quads, if u wanna keep this frame going I would increase your gearing and then just get strong enough to crank on the higher ratios. But I feel that once you start shooting for speed you need to get a modern bike. Even the crappiest newer group components are worlds apart from the 80's parts. But a combo of good gearing for your fitness level, awesome wheel set(wheels are the most important part!) and focus your training on your pedal stroke technique should help you go faster. Also find a hill and point down.


I ride several different types of bikes for recreation. among them are a trusty 700c raleigh tri lite, a Trustier pink Giant Acapulco with front and back big steel pannier baskets (heavy), a 16" dual suspension mongoose tiny mountain bike with 20 inch tires and 5 inch cranks (legendary leg workouts to be had here)

so those are my three bikes. The hills around here are tough but there are also a lot of flats in town. so heres what i will say! when it comes to hills the lighter you and your bike are the faster you will go. Ice cream is your Enemy, Steaks, Deviled eggs, Pie. After an hour or so of hard riding without any food i usually start to 'plane out' some. it is a tired leg burning feeling. but accompanying it is a lighter feeling and keeping momentum seems to get easier. this is probably the fat cells in my body resorting to the 'Beta phase' glycogen release mode. where bust strentch is exhausted and the flow begins to trickle out what glycogen is left...

snacking while riding is HARD! (well. maybe not so hard on flat ground) all these little energy shot edible goo packages i see littering the roadside are supposed to get you back into burst mode, give them a try if you want but please dont litter! Trail mix works great too. Working off all the excess poundage and then supplying yourself with a steady stream of lightweight nutritious food ONLY AS NEEDED will make you go faster. IT can be done a lot faster than you think! i think i remember losing 12 or 14 pounds of bodyweight in one day a couple of times. and will routinely drop 5 or 7 pounds if i go 25 or 35 miles on either of my slower wide tire bikes. just get out biking and tell yourself ! i am not going to stop riding till this feels easier! when it starts to feel easier your body has 'planed out' and you have begun the long long road to good health and vitality. ignore your rumbling stomach and ride on. you may not quite be 'In the zone' just yet but you are getting there. herein is the key to really getting faster! and it really is good for your body as well.

when it comes to the Wind and flats the heavier you are, the better. now this sounds conterintuitive but it is sort of true.... sort of. by sort of i mean that moving that heavy bike and your heavy self is obviously up to you!!! but if you are in good shape and can tackle hills on a steel bike, pie ice cream and all then wind is not going to stop you, and momentum does come into play against it. EG a leaf blows away in the wind but not a rock. flat ground is good ground on a bike. wind plus hills = tough

We are Living creatures, constantly growing and such, doing things the hard way sometimes is an effective shortcut to get to the point where you will eventually break down, have to learn new things, change, and re emerge hopefully better stronger faster harder. provided you did things 'right'. otherwise trying things the hard way will most likely result in giving up right off the batt or stubbornly injuring yourself faster than your body can cope with.

so back to bikes.

a quality steel bike is more stable in the wind, the more weight you have under you the lower your Center of mass will be. any road bike is trickier to handle than a mountain bike due to more precise tracking, tallness and smaller footprint. the lighter and taller your bike is the less stable it becomes. not to mention less crashworthy in both cases. the Tiny bike i ride is LOW, the pedals clear the ground by and inch or two. it is not geared for fastness but it is low and compact and aerodynamically 'not that bad' screaming down steep hills at 38 mph it feels actually really safe. the incredible lowness and strong bmx handlebars, the short top tube all lend themselves to being able to put your body over the back wheel and lock the brakes down without losing control.

i once T stopped this bike from about 28 mph to a stop after coming down a really steep road in the sprinkling rain. aside from eating through a good rear tire in 2 seconds, i learned that this tiny hard to pedal 7 speed really was my best bike. It is Safe and it is slow, and it is suprisingly comfortable. It has 4 bike pegs on it and it can be ridden like a jetski or a street luge.

anyway , thought id give you bikers another perspective on things.

Be the slow guy! he goes home tireder and wakes up stronger. LOL and if you really ride on flats mostly and want the answer to your question from left field HERE IT IS!

get out your electric drill, or borrow your friends if you dont have one. take that classic steel bike that feels so fat and unloved in this modern era. AND START DRILLING HOLES IN IT!

leave the rear triangle alone it is probably too skinny. drill holes through the sides of Everything else, even multiple rows if you want. id leave the tops and bottoms of the tubes alone and the corresponding front and back of the fork, because i think the bottom of each tube bears the most weight, then the top, then the sides, that is just a guess. Drill lots of holes everywhere so that they are horizontal to the ground and cross the bike right to left, same with your handlebars through the sides. Space em out at least a centimeter and make sure when youre done to Spray paint the whole thing real good (rustOleum) and check to make sure the frame is not overweakened on some grass. add drain holes if there are not any for water.

a friend of mine just took an old shwinn world sport 700c bike to the scrap metal dealer and now that i think about it i really should have done this to it! all those little steel circles would really add up. Line the frame with saran wrap if the holes causing drag seems an issue!

Really folks it is just that simple! i am so suprised that no one actually answered this guys question except with 'spend money on this' or 'spend money on that' when you can just drill holes in the bike and make it lighter.

I do NOT reccommend this for anywhere where there are hills, or for anyone who is of a heavy build! stay safe out there.

i hope i have covered the many facets that make up of bicycle speeed, offered multiple ways to creatively and inexpensively Speed up your bike and yourself (while ignoring the obvoius answer of out with the old in with the new), and also offered a counterpoint of the drawbacks of having an overfast bike and its effects on safety, workout quality, and durability.

The End sincerely -Carl Langner

  • This is an awesome and excellent answer to my question, thank you Carl Langner.
    – gabe.
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 14:46
  • The tubes used in frames and other components were much thicker in the 1980s, so this isn’t as bad an idea as it would be with modern bikes. However, it’s still bad. You weaken the structural integrity of everything this way and you introduce the potential for stress risers that can lead to later cracks. Also, small difference in weight produce less of a performance gain than you’d think.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 14:06

Make everything else lighter if you really like the frame. The first thing I'd replace (if you have the money) are the wheels. If you want more top-end speed, get some aero wheels (Zip 404, Dura-Ace C50, etc) laced to some older hub (Dura-Aces are always nice of course) that would work with your bike. If you want faster acceleration and climbing, get some lightweight climbing wheels (Zip 101, Dura-Ace C24) laced to an older hub. You could then move on to the derailleurs, shifters, headset, handlebars, crankset, etc, but I think the biggest difference you can make are the wheels.


So, I have an 80's raleigh bike, reassembled from spare parts. I'm wondering what the best way to get more speed out of the bike is

The two sure ways that work on any road bike are:

  • Adjusting the riding position. You want to have a handlebar height and distance where you can comfortably use every riding position -- on the corners, on the hoods, on the drops -- but not be excessively unaerodynamic. If for example the handlebar is too low it may mean you never ride on the drops, hurting your speed. If the handlebar is too high, it may mean you lose speed due to less aerodynamic riding positions.

  • Swap the tires to the best tires money can buy and ensure you always ride at optimal pressure. This means inflating tires once every week if you want to be absolutely as fast as you can all the time. The site https://www.bicyclerollingresistance.com/ knows about the rolling resistance of different bicycle tires. My suggestion for the tires is 32mm wide Continental Grand Prix 5000 but there may be others nearly as good.


New aluminum road bikes will help to increase your speed a lot. is not just the rider but a combo of rider and bike that makes up your riding speed.

  • 3
    Getting a new frame seems a little outside the scope of "getting more speed from an existing bike"
    – bmike
    Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 18:45

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