I'm looking to purchase a new bike in the intermediate level and I'd like the option to upgrade all if not most of the parts over time. That said, I've read some concerning articles [sic] and I want to make sure I don't get locked into a narrow selection of proprietary only upgrade options. In my research I've gathered that I should avoid Specialized and Trek as these manufactures tend to employ a lot of proprietary parts, but I've not yet come across recommendations for manufactures that are easy to upgrade down the line.

So my questions is this: Which manufacturers (and if applicable models) are easy to upgrade?

I just don't want to find myself in a situation where I spend good money on a good frame + average kit and later find that I can't build on the frame I invested in.

  • There's a big gap between "mid range" and $5000, for most people. A $5000+ bike is designed to last at most one-season of hard racing, so they have unique parts that are not going to be available after a couple of years. That's why you pay $5000/year, to get better technology/design every year.
    – Móż
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 21:34
  • So I'm gathering that upgrade-ability is not something I should lose sleep over, I just don't want to find myself in a situation where I spend good money on a nice frame + decent kit and later find that I can't build on the frame I invested in.
    – Austin
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 22:45
  • I don't think it makes much sense to plan to upgrade, other than obvious things like saddle, wheels, maybe a different cluster, etc. While there is a fair amount of interchangeability, there is also enough planned obsolescence that after about 10 years you will likely have trouble finding some replacement parts, especially fiddly things like shifters, suspension parts, etc. Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 23:08

2 Answers 2


The linked article is a bit more of a rant than anything scientific. High end $5000 bikes, especially road bikes, are not built to last - they are built light to go fast and trade durability to do so. A frame does not make a bike - in fact on a $5000 bike, a new frame will cost maybe $1000 - hurts and expensive, yes, far from a write off. Buyers of $5000 bikes understand this. Mid-range bikes are less likely to suffer the same problems as people tend to keep them longer and expect them to last. These bikes are mass produced in high volumes - so plenty of spare parts are manufactured, and held in stock. One way to save money as a manufacturer is not hold spare parts, so cheap bikes tend to have parts problems as well but these bikes are rarely worth the labour cost for a repair anyway.

Parts compatibility and vendor lock-in are not a problem in the cycling world, it was an effective monopoly for so long, and is still a duopoly, all parts are relatively interchangeable. The main mounting points etc on frames are all standardized (there is often more than one standard, so getting the right parts is important).

If you search other posts asking similar questions you will see my personal opinion is that upgrading a bike over time is a very expensive proposition and never gives a good bike for the outlay. Parts are expensive to the extent that it is no uncommon to buy a new donor bike to upgrade a frame, rather than buy individual parts - purely because it is much cheaper.

Best option is buy the bike you can afford today, and live with it till you can buy a better one. Buy a better quality used bike, of even better, last years model on 50% discount (The main difference is usually colour) rather than pay sticker price for this years model.

To alleviate your fears about parts availability, stick to big brands, stay away from chain stores, and consider a bike is a collection of distinct, easily replaced parts - unlike say a car.

  • 1
    I don't think big brands are a necessity - if anything, a small brand is probably going to give you better parts availability since they're going to pull something more common since they have to grab all their parts off the shelf aside from pretty much the frame.
    – Batman
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 21:00
  • @Batman - the problem is if you break a part that is vendor specific (derailleur hanger is very common and is prone to failure), you will have little hope of picking up a replacement for an unknown brand. Your 'undie' bike could be off the road for the sake of what would be a $15 part if you could get it. Big brand custom parts are typically big value items - (Specialized rear shocks come to mind), third party alternates exist in the market and useful answers can be found using the internet.
    – mattnz
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 0:45

I'm not sure what you mean by Specialized and Trek are proprietary. Things you can upgrade are seatpost, saddle, wheels, derailleurs, front fork, stem, handlebars, headset, crankset, bottom bracket, cassette, shifters and none of these parts are particularly restrictive. Lets go through this in list form:

  • Saddle: Just bolt a new one on (*)
  • Seat Post: Find one in the same diameter, shove it in. (* you may want a dropper)
  • Wheels: Match the wheel size and brake type, put it in and put tires that have adequate clearance. There are several "standards" like 650b, 29", 26". (* some people go lighter or tougher or whatever after buying the bike)
  • Derailleurs and Shifters: Index shifters have to be matched to the number of speeds. Just stick within Shimano's mountain group or SRAM's mountain group for the derailleurs and shifters and you'll be fine. (* you're going to break a derailleur and shifter eventually)
  • Crankset - Just match the spline/tapered-ness to your bottom bracket and dont put too many teeth/number of chainrings that your font derailleur can't handle it. (* but you probably will just be replacing chainrings as they wear)
  • Cassette - Just buy a new one. (*)
  • Bottom Bracket - BB30 isn't exactly a problem - you can get BB30 stuff from SRAM, Phil Wood, etc. and there are "Universal Bottom Brackets" which Velo Orange makes. Chances are, if it caught on enough at some point, Phil Wood will be making something for you for longer than you're alive. Sure, they introduce new ones periodically, but they don't exactly disappear. Plus, you're probably only going to replace this as they wear out. There are some newer ones, so just see if several manufacturers
  • Headset - This isn't exactly something that needs replacing regularly, but heres an overview on what to look for from Chris King. This is something that will depend on your frame. You could go for a "standard" like ZeroStack, but theres no guarantee 10 years from now your fork will work.
  • Fork: You're at the mercy of Fox/RockShox/etc... (* maybe - you may find it cost effective just to get a new frame and fork at this point)
  • Rear Suspension: This is usually something a bit harder to match up on the after market. Consider it effectively a part of the frame.
  • Stem/Handlebars/Grips: Just match the diameter, and go wild. (*)
  • Brakes and brake levers: Well, you can just replace the system. Presumably you're running discs, so you may need new hubs and calipers if someone eventually switches the type of mount, though I don't see the current rotors and pads disappearing off the market. But theres nothing you can do about that, other than get a major brand's brake system. (*)
  • Pedals: Just bolt your new ones on... (*)

You will probably need to stick to all Shimano / all SRAM derailleurs + shifter system though for sanity's sake though.

On the topic of frame repair: Steel can be welded up by pretty much anyone. Aluminium and Carbon are harder to deal with. As Moz points out in a comment, you're often better off buying a new frame usually, anyway.

I have starred things that I think are reasonable to upgrade.

As a general rule, if you use a smaller manufacturer/builder, you'll have more common parts than a major player like Specialized/Trek/Giant. But even small manufacturers are using a lot of the things that the article is complaining about. Its just something you have to live with. In all likelihood, you wont make significant upgrades on a bike anyway.

  • 1
    Aluminium and carbon frames are effectively not repairable, steel in the $2000+ MTB market might as well be. Any of them can be fixed, but you pay a lot for a weaker, heavier frame. It's usually cheaper to buy a new frame, and by the time it breaks you're often better off buying a new second hand bike.
    – Móż
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 21:30
  • Good point, I've added this to the post.
    – Batman
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 2:56
  • Add this (for mountain bikes): * Fork - steerer tube can be regular or tapered) * Wheel axles can be standard 9mm, 15mm or 20mm.
    – Papuass
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 8:31
  • @Ӎσᶎ I beg to differ - Carbon is repairable, there are plenty of places that will repair cracks & dents.
    – 7thGalaxy
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 8:47
  • @7thGalaxy: will the repair be heavier and weaker than the original? That's my point.
    – Móż
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 20:58

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