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Sorry for the length this post has reached. Please scroll down to Edit #2.

Original question: "I recently bought a used 2019 Allez with an installed power meter. The previous owner installed a 105 crankset and bottom bracket to accommodate the meter. Otherwise, the bike has all stock components. I'd like to upgrade the bike for performance, focusing on 105 components. Assuming a budget of at most $500 and excluding new wheels, how would you prioritize upgrades? Which upgrades would provide the most noticeable benefit to a novice racer?"

Edit:

Thanks to everyone for all your advice and suggestions on how to improve the question. My initial question was overly ambiguous. I was worried about adding too much detail all at once to the original post, but I'll add the specs and a few other details about my experience with the bike and what I know from what the previous owner told me.

Here are the main specs:

Crankset: Shimano 105 52/36 (upgraded)

Cassette: SunRace, 11-32 (8-speed)

Derailleurs: Shimano Claris, 8-speed (rear)/Claris, clamp on (front)

Shifters: Shimano Claris (8-speed)

Brakes: Tektro, alloy, dual-pivot

Chain: KMC X8 w/ Missing Link™, 8-speed

Wheelset: Axis Sport

Tires: Espoir Sport, 60 TPI, wire bead, double BlackBelt protection, 700x25mm

Here’s a link with all the specs: https://99spokes.com/bikes/specialized/2019/allez

So my bike is the base level 2019 Allez, just upgraded with a 105 crank and bottom bracket.

I’ve ridden about 600 miles on the bike since buying it in mid-September. My longest ride to date on the bike was a little over 30 miles. I’ve mostly been riding it about 15-20 miles at a time to train around an hour a day.

I’ve enjoyed the bike, but lately, I’ve started to notice some issues. The drivetrain doesn’t always shift gears smoothly and the shifters themselves are not very responsive. (I sometimes have to push the levers almost all the way in to shift.) Lately, the gears have started to sometimes grind a bit when shifting. I’m concerned with the state of the drivetrain. The brakes are adequate most of the time, but do not stop as smoothly and are not as responsive as I would like.

The previous owner told me the bike was in one accident which caused surface damage to both shifters (they’re scratched up significantly but work other than the issues I just noted) and the rear derailleur is scratched up significantly, although I can’t be sure it is responsible for the shifting issues.

The cassette has some wear on the teeth as well and it would be nice to upgrade that to 11-speed to reduce the jump between some of the higher gears.

As to why I didn’t buy a better bike since I have $500 to budget now, I didn’t have the extra money back when I bought this bike and I bought it on a bit of an impulse after looking for months and being unable to find a good entry-level road bike. I was really impatient to get a road bike after spending about 6 months riding my old heavy mountain bike everywhere. That’s a long story I won’t get into now. I also don’t anticipate being able to save up $2k+ for a much better bike any time soon. So, I’d like to make this bike the best I can in anticipation of using it for (hopefully) several years to come.

To sum up, I think I need to replace the shifters and rear derailleur and I would like to upgrade the cassette to an 11-speed at the same time. I’d like to upgrade these components to Shimano 105. I know I’ll need to get an 11-speed chain as well if I upgrade these components. At this point, I realize I’m talking about replacing most of the groupset minus the crankset which I already have.

Should I just buy the full 105 groupset (which I’ve seen on eBay for around $580) and then sell the superfluous crankset?

Or would I be better off just buying better wheels and replacing the shifters and derailleur if they ultimately fail? I discounted the option of buying better wheels in the original question, but if that would make more sense given all I’ve explained here, please let me know.

I hope these notes have helped to clarify my position. I’d really appreciate any additional advice. Thanks!

Edit #2

Thanks to everyone for providing so much more detailed advice! I’ll try to sum up what I’ve gleaned from reading through the answers and comments.

  1. Thanks to @VladimirF for pointing out that I could remove the power meter by removing the crank arm. Rookie that I am, I wasn't aware of that. I'd previously said I couldn't sell the bike because I didn't want to lose the power meter. Does anyone have any idea what this bike would sell for without the power meter and in the condition I've described?
  2. @JoeK mentioned the Axis Sport wheels limit me to a 10-speed groupset, so without replacing those wheels I will have to consider upgrading to 10-speed Tiagra components instead of 11-speed 105 components (e.g. cassette, rear derailleur, chain). This is fine since Tiagra components are cheaper and I’m unlikely to make full use of the advantages of 105 over Tiagra at this point. Since I do need to replace some damaged components, I think I’ll have to keep the Axis Sport wheels and look at Tiagra replacements for the damaged components.
  3. @thelawnet mentioned that replacing the tires would provide greater improvement in performance than replacing any aspect of the drivetrain. I checked the provided link and it looks like picking up a pair of Grand Prix 5000 tires (recommended by MaplePanda) would work well given my budget.
  4. @thelawnet also mentioned checking the components of the drivetrain more carefully to see what might be damaged (e.g., the hanger and rear derailleur in particular) and whether some of my issues could be addressed by replacing/cleaning cables. Since I don’t trust myself to inspect everything yet, I will take the bike back to my LBS to have these issues checked before buying new components. I still have a lot of learning to do when it comes to maintaining and upgrading bikes.
  5. Both @thelawnet and @Michael mentioned it might be worthwhile to upgrade the brakes, which I could do either by purchasing the entire Tiagria groupset or by purchasing 105 brakes separately if I only purchase select components from the Tiagra groupset.
  6. @thelawnet also mentioned issues related to the chainset and the bottom bracket. I can confirm that the bottom bracket was changed to the round SM-BBR60 round bracket used with Ultegra/105 when the 105 crank was installed with the 4iiii power meter.

With all this said, my current plan after digesting all this great advice is to first take the bike to my LBS for inspection (it needs a tune-up anyway) and then, if the derailleur/shifters/hanger/cables turn out to be significantly damaged, I’ll look into purchasing Tiagra replacement components. I just checked Ebay and noticed the entire Tiagra 4700 groupset is available for just under US $300. Add in the GP 5000 tires at about $100 on Amazon and that leaves $100 in my budget to cover cables (if needed) and at least part of the fitting costs at the LBS.

I’d end up with a Tiagra crankset that I wouldn’t need if I bought the entire groupset, but maybe I could just sell that to recoup some of the excess costs if I go over budget a bit.

Do you all see any major problems with this approach to upgrading my bike? I assume Tiagra would be compatible with the 105 crankset in the same way the Claris and other components are, but please let me know if I’m mistaken.

Overall, here are the changes I have in mind, after considering everyone’s advice (assuming all the check with the LBS shows components need replacing):

Rear derailleur: Upgrade Claris 8-speed to Tiagra 10-speed

Front derailleur: Leave current Claris (no indication there is anything wrong with it)

Crank: Keep current 105 with meter

Shifters: Upgrade Claris 8-speed to Tiagra 10-speed

Cassette: Upgrade SunRace 8-speed to Tiagra 10-speed

Tires: Upgrade Espoir Sport to GP 5000

Chain: Upgrade KMC 8-speed to Tiagra 10-speed

All of this would come to around $500, maybe a bit more. My budget didn’t include fitting costs, just components. Please let me know if any (or all of this) would be inadvisable.

I would really like to upgrade the wheels and then upgrade to all 105, but that would just be way out of budget even if I sold the current bike.

Thanks again to everyone! I’d upvote all your comments but apparently I can’t do that since I’m so new to the site. I’ll definitely be sticking around to learn more from you all.

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    With a $500 budget, you might have been better off just buying a better bike in the first place. – MaplePanda Nov 5 '20 at 5:15
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    You need to provide at a minimum a link to the bike , or better a full spec list, because there are a bunch of things called Allez you might be referring to. most likely $500 won't give you any worthwhile benefits . Just ride the bike, maybe $50 on new tyres, and then sell it next year and buy something different. Upgrades to drivetrain won't bring performance gains, especially as nearly all the extra weight is in the crankset , which you have already upgraded, and weight isn't that important anyway. – thelawnet Nov 5 '20 at 6:52
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    How far have you ridden on this bike? Have you done a 100 km or 4 hour ride yet ? Get a couple of them done and then see what bothers you, what hurts you on this bike. – Criggie Nov 5 '20 at 8:30
  • Why not the wheels? These are the most obvious and most important upgrade on a bike of this type. – JoeK Nov 5 '20 at 17:21
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    With the new edit, I would recommend selling the bike (take off the power meter, you’ll want to keep it for training purposes, and install a cheap, regular crankset). Find a better bike that hopefully isn’t so scratched up (it’s likely that you would have to replace the derailleur, hanger, cassette, and chain on this bike anyways). That’s all additional saved money that can be added to your upgrade budget. – MaplePanda Nov 6 '20 at 2:59
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You can buy new components to improve your comfort, performance, or to reduce weight in general.

  1. Comfort is simple but important: if you find that something does not fit you, replace it. Examples: saddle, stem (longer/shorter etc to change reach), handlebar width, tires (if you want a plushier ride, have wider tires) etc. Don't forget about shoes, helmet etc, which are not strictly part of a bike but an important part of cycling experience (affecting performance). A bike fitted for the previous owner does not mean to perfectly fit you in all aspects.

  2. In terms of components' performance (excluding the weight), it is very likely that what you have now is good enough. That is, the brakes are powerful enough to stop you, the drivetrain is efficient enough to accelerate you, wheels are round enough, etc. Unless something is worn out right now and bothers you, replacing stuff will be trading "good enough" to "good enough", but losing money in the process.

  3. Finally, weight. A common empirical rule for bike equipment is about 1 gram of savings per 1$ of spendings. That is, with the budget of 500$, you can expect to reduce the weight by ½ kg most. But remember that total weight that you haul consists of: the bike, your body, clothes, etc. This means that you can for example invest in losing weight (unless you are already as skinny as it could possibly be). Losing ½ kg can often be achieved for much less money. Or hire a coach for these money to improve your cornering skills etc.

The point here is: do not just focus on your bike alone, after all, it is just a tool. Instead, think about the wider perspective of your cycling and how else you can spend your money to achieve your cycling goals.

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  • I was too new to this forum to fully appreciate your advice.I'd just like to thank you for pointing out the importance of viewing the bike as a tool. I've lost 40 pounds since starting cycling in March of this year. Most of that weight loss was on a 35lb mtb. I still have maybe 5-10lbs to lose, so focusing too much on dropping weight on the bike at my stage is simply silly. It's more important that I select upgrades that encourage me to cycle more often and more efficiently because those upgrades will ultimately improve my fitness and thereby lead to the most significant gains in the long run. – startagain Nov 11 '20 at 4:41
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    @startagain Totally agree with this! After all, if an upgrade makes you go out and use your bike more often, and have more fun as a result, that is the best kind of upgrade. For me, sometimes even washing my bikes is an "upgrade" good enough to start me feeling much better and wanting to go for a ride. Even if it means to get myself wasted in mud and to get my toes frozen in November's chill — that's even more exiting! – Grigory Rechistov Nov 11 '20 at 5:03
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With the spec I would suggest new tyres.

Your current ones are mid-range, wired, and fairly heavy. A top-end tyre will for absolutely certain give you more performance benefit than any amount of drivetrain upgrade.

Review the list here and reviews here. You want 'TT' type. https://www.bicyclerollingresistance.com/road-bike-reviews

It still is not clear which chainset you have fitted - there should be a model number, but depending on whether it's 10 or 11-speed you would probably be better off with a slightly narrower chain on your existing 8-speed components. The stock bike appears to have had a square taper BB, whereas the current standard Claris crankset uses HT2 bottom brackets. So assume you have replaced that?

A set of 'SLR EV' brakes (Ultegra, Dura-Ace or 105 from the 5800/6800/9000 or R7000/R8000/R9100) might well be better than what you have fitted.

Most of the problems you mention could just be ageing/dirty cables - mostly you should replace cables (and outers) on a regular basis on a bike. Also it would pay to learn to setup your front and rear derailleur (check out Park Tools for good guides). Also if you check the smoothness of the front shifters without cable tension it might well be that they need lubrication - these parts are not disposable, but they do need some care & lubrication sometimes.

Road brifters are quite expensive, so you might find it cheaper to just sell the bike and buy one with 105 11-speed fitted, which has been cared for better.

A rear derailleur that is bent might well need replacement, but then this could also be the derailleur hanger, in which case replacing the rear derailleur won't help. Inspect the bike carefully to see if the RD and/or hanger are straight. Unless a rear derailleur has done many miles, which seems unlikely on a 2019 model Claris bike (most people who do many thousands of miles would spend more), then it's unlikely to have worn out. Removing the jockey wheels, cleaning the bushings, lubricating, etc. would normally be enough.

Cassette wear often is not - the teeth do look 'worn' from the factory to some eyes. First thing would be to check chain wear. If you measure the chain and it's worn beyond 1%, then the cassette is likely to be toast. If the chain is only worn to around 0.5% or less, and there is no jumping in smaller cogs (e.g., between 2nd and 3rd), then the cassette probably is not worn out. Replacing the chain is kind of the first step (if it is worn beyond 0.75%) - then you can replace the cassette if it still does not shift well.

Definitely the 11-speed cassette has fewer jumps:

11-12-13-14-16-18-20-22-25-28-32 t

vs

11,13,15,18,21,24,28,32

but this is not that critical in that if you have just started with this bike, it suggests you likely need to do a lot more riding/training, before such issues become important. Remember that pro riders such as Aqua Blue Sport have been forced to use things like 1x drivetrains (to help sell bikes), which are also not optimal for riding. And the Tour De France has been won on much lesser bikes.

Carefully price selling your bike as-is and buying a second-hand 11-speed bike, vs. the cost of your upgrades.

Also I'd mention that a saddle is a personal item and you might like to replace the current one with one more suitable.

Finally it doesn't sound like you have done much maintenance/repair to the bike yourself, so whatever you spend on upgrades will either need you to learn DIY, or you'll likely spend $100 or whatever more on having it all fitted. So price that in.

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    Why would one want the "TT" type tire? If you mean what I think, they're specialized time trial equipment that trades durability for very small performance gain. – ojs Nov 6 '20 at 11:25
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    Retracted my previous comment - on closer inspection, 'TT' type represents a tubed tyre rather than TL for tubeless – Andy P Nov 6 '20 at 12:04
  • @ojs At the very least, I would recommend putting on GP5000 or the equivalent from another brand. The TT tires might well be worth it if this bike will see a lot of crit racing as OP mentioned. Having them on hand as a race-day-only tire could be an option too. – MaplePanda Nov 6 '20 at 17:34
  • 'TT' just means 'tube-type' in that link. It's an unfortunate abbreviation really in that there is a 'Grand Prix TT' where TT means 'time trial'. I was not referring to a specialist race-day tyre; they were trying to distinguish between 'tubeless', 'tube-type' and 'tubular' using two-letter abbreviations. Probably they should have used 'IT' or something like that. Certainly GP5000 was one of the tyres listed as 'tube-type' – thelawnet Nov 6 '20 at 19:28
  • @MaplePanda I don't see crit racing anywhere in in the edit history, and the 11-32 cassette doesn't sound like the OP would be racing any time soon. – ojs Nov 6 '20 at 19:43
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If you want to upgrade the bike to 105, then the bike must have a sub 105 drivetrain, which means it must be 10 speed Tiagra, or a lower 9 speed group; and have rim brakes,

You can’t mix drivetrain components of different speeds, so you’ll have to replace the shifters, derailleurs, cassette and chain in one go. There is no prioritization possible.

After that it’s personal preference.

You could leave the existing rim brakes on, but I’d upgrade them so everything is the same color.

High end tires would probably be a good idea, or a good set of pedals.

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    If it's Tiagra 4700, then you would not need to replace the derailleur, as it is compatible with 11-speed shifters. – thelawnet Nov 5 '20 at 11:39
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    Concur -Tiagra and GRX are the two "weird" groupsets that tend to mix ratios. – Criggie Nov 6 '20 at 3:42
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From various reviews it sounds like the frame of the bike is quite nice. It’s the wheels and the Claris groupset which are bad. So unlike other answers and comments have suggested, I think it makes sense to upgrade or at least properly maintain this bike instead of selling it.

You are correct that upgrading to 11 speed Shimano 105 would require you to change the brifters, rear derailleur, chain and cassette.

If your current components (chain, rear derailleur, cassette, cables) are actually worn down you have to replace them anyway and might as well upgrade. It could also be that only your derailleur hanger is bent and/or the derailleur is out of alignment (cable tension and/or limit screws). Or it could be that only the chain is worn or only the cables.

Good cables and proper routing make a lot of difference for shifting and braking.

A few other options: If you don’t need the easy gears you could change the cassette to one with smaller steps and otherwise keep the groupset. Better wheels (you can get some good ~1500g wheels for ~450€) and tires would be great. Better brake pads can improve braking, especially in wet conditions.

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    Claris is not 'bad' road.cc/content/review/specialized-allez-2020-272001 "Some might smirk at the thought of using a Shimano Claris groupset, but I tell you what, it's a good 'un. You're getting the same looks, shifting and feel as you'll find with Sora and Tiagra but you're sacrificing a few sprockets on the cassette. " – thelawnet Nov 6 '20 at 16:35
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    @thelawnet For a solo/casual ride it would be fine, but the huge jumps in an 8 speed 11-32 cassette will not be pleasant while crit racing. – MaplePanda Nov 6 '20 at 17:37
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    @MaplePanda I didn't see where he said about crit racing? But maybe that's what he meant. At any rate it could well be worth a race-day bike and keep this one for training. – thelawnet Nov 6 '20 at 19:30
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    @MaplePanda Who needs an 11:32 cassette for a flat crit? People managed with five speeds. Just take a narrow cassette and you have your fine spacing. – Vladimir F Nov 6 '20 at 22:37
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    @Vladimir F Of course, but then that’s extra expense and a lack of range for training rides. All more considerations. – MaplePanda Nov 7 '20 at 0:04
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Typically on a bike of this type, the supplied wheels are fairly low grade as it's not a headline component for the bike (like the groupset is). If you spent most of your budget on a set of quality factory wheels eg. Mavic, DT etc or handbuilt race wheels and the rest on very nice tyres from high-up in any manufacturer range, you will have an upgrade that you will feel and appreciate immediately.

It will also give an upgrade path into 11/12sp that you may be missing currently.

Any other upgrade you make will produce only marginal gains (slightly improved shifting from derailleurs or shifters, slightly lower weight/better stiffness from a better chainset, slightly smoother running from a better chain) that will realistically make very little difference to your ride, unless these parts need replacing due to wear or damage.

If you don't change wheels, you are limited to a 10sp groupset on the Axis wheels but tiagra is a nice step up from claris. The Shimano brakes tend to last longer than the Tektro ones for all weather riding too.

Other top upgrades are contact points. Saddle, handlebars and bar tape are very important for comfort and therefore performance and the longer you spend in the saddle on any given ride, the more important these become. On an off-the-peg bike, these parts are chosen to suit the largest proportion of riders so are always a compromise.

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  • A limitation with upgrading the wheels is that the OP has a rim brake bike, and new bikes are transitioning to disc. I don’t feel that upgrading the bike to 11/12s is worth it, and that it’s more cost effective to buy a new or used bike with a more current drivetrain. That would remove one incentive to upgrade the wheels. That said, deals on good rim brake wheels are probably available if you look! – Weiwen Ng Nov 6 '20 at 22:20
  • @weiwen even if he bought campagnolo calima wheels which are cheap! He would have a great, easy to feel upgrade. Rim brakes are not obsolete for this type of bike. Maybe in five years, but he'll have good use out of the new parts by then. – JoeK Nov 6 '20 at 23:33
  • @JoeK After reviewing prices on Tiagra brifters, I'm leaning away from replacing the groupset and toward following your advice on replacing the wheels. That would give me more options later on if I decide to upgrade the groupset. That said, the cheapest set of Campagnolo Calima wheels I've found is on eBay for around $210. I've seen them cheaper from European sellers but the shipping to the US costs almost as much as the wheels themselves. Is that a reasonable price? If so, would pairing those wheels with Grand Prix 5000 tires be a good idea? – startagain Nov 7 '20 at 12:28
  • @startagain Calima is £150 in the uk, you could consider Mavic Aksium at the same price point, which may include some tyres, or Fulcrum etc etc. Apparently product recommendations are frowned upon, sorry. Brifters are amazingly expensive by themselves which is why the full gruppo prices end up being a really good deal. 105 is often discounted quite heavily too. The Conti GP tyres are very good, but best for summer use. Try 4-season if it gets a bit cold where you are. – JoeK Nov 7 '20 at 17:26
  • @JoeK Thanks for your reply. I've been comparing Axis Sport specs to Calima specs to try to get an idea of how much of an upgrade Calima would be. I noticed Calima is about 250g lighter and the inner/outer rims are about 15-20% narrower than Axis, which I understand would translate to a significantly lighter and more aerodynamic bike. Since I'm a novice rider, would I be likely to benefit from these differences much or might I be better off waiting for demand to drop before upgrading wheels? I'm thinking about just getting the Conti GP tires since it's warm where I live almost year-round. – startagain Nov 7 '20 at 23:41

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