Brodie Chapman: Upgrades are they worth it?

Cycling is a sport that let’s say, isn’t exactly economically friendly. There seem to be endless upgrades and gadgets and components available as technology accelerates at lightning speed. There is always something promising to either make you faster or make your riding experience that much ‘better’. What’s more, your friends, colleagues, or riding buddies always seem to have an opinion about what you absolutely “NEED” to have. 

Now, for many many years, I could hardly afford the sport I became utterly consumed with. I worked at bike shops for industry discounts, took out personal loans by effectively lying to the bank about my employment status, and forwent normal indulgences for a 20-something-year-old girl to afford the things I “needed” for my bikes. 

I then began to spend my money on race entries and cycling licenses to the point where my full-time job (at a bike shop no less) cut me back to casual because I was always taking time off to race, (or spend time in the hospital thanks to racing) – It was never-ending. Many cash jobs at cafes were juggled at once in order to fuel the addiction. 

In the end there was a pretty justifiable return for my many years of investment because now I race for Trek-Segafredo and have access to the best bike stuff in the world. It is a part of my job, as we do the racing at the highest level we get to put the equipment through its paces. So having been on both sides of the fence, there are some things I feel can improve your training that are ‘better value’ than others. 

Top questionable upgrades and less pricey alternatives 

Do I really need… a lighter frame/groupset?

A few grams shaved on the latest release frame or shiny new group set will make a marginal difference for a remarkable cost. If saving watts is what you seek, replacing component by component will not take you there swiftly. 

Budget-friendly alternative: Wheel Set

The best upgrade you can make to your existing bike is a new wheelset – a lighter set of wheels with better, faster rolling hubs or more aerodynamic rims will change your riding experience and literally allow you to go faster than changing any other component. I think a lot about what wheels I want to race with, and it’s the only difference between my race bike and my training bike.

Do I really need… a power meter?

A power meter is super helpful for training towards specific goals – but doesn’t necessarily give you much to work with unless you can interpret the data, and even then it’s better to get someone qualified to look at your power in context. Comparing your numbers with your mates doesn’t count! If you are new to training or riding competitively, start with riding to feel and gaining some feel for fitness before meticulously measuring your output. There is always time to measure things, but developing a feel for your limits never leaves you. 

Budget-friendly alternative: Heart Rate Strap

A good start to measure your improvement in fitness is to measure heart rate, cheaper and still helps you towards your fitness goals. 

Do I really need… wearables like Whoop, Oura or smart watches?

Before the new-tech purchase, ask yourself what information do you feel you need to know. Who can help you analyze it and apply it? I personally use an Oura ring and yes, I would say it was helpful in seeing trends in my adaptation and recovery via my resting heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV). However, I don’t wear it all the time or take it as gospel. It can be a vice and a virtue if you are a data nerd, so take heed. 

Budget-friendly alternative: A smartphone app

A perfectly good alternative is to download an app like HRV4Training and take your HR each morning and use the app to see if it is something that helps your health and training before investing in a wearables subscription. 

Do I really need… recovery boots?

While the jury is still out about the exact science behind recovery boots, I believe for me the best thing about them is that they actually force me to lie down and sit still for 30 minutes. 

Budget-friendly alternative… sleep and stillness.

One way to get a good feeling in the legs after training is to simply lie on your back and put your legs up the wall, and give yourself a little quadriceps massage while you are there. The best recovery however is sleep and stillness – so I personally don’t think all the tools are worth the hype. If you can power nap for 20 minutes you will do wonders. 

Do I really need… sports supplements and vitamins, gels, and bars?

If you are reaching for expensive pre-workouts and things that promise you ‘energy’ you are probably not fuelling your training enough. You will have enough energy if you eat enough, especially carbohydrates to fuel exercise. Sports bars and gels are convenient, but aren’t cheap and create a lot of waste. 

Budget-friendly alternative: Lollies/candy/sweets.

A lot of sports products are just glorified lollies, so you can get the same effect without the ‘sports brand’ price tag. Most important though, is to get the basics of your diet right first. As an athlete, my baseline diet is high in carbohydrates, with protein, fat, and fruit and veg. At races, we also fuel with rice cakes, breakfast cakes, and crepes in addition to gels.

Check out this rice cake recipe or make Anzac biscuits – cheap and tasty!

Vitamin supplements are only really good if you are deficient, so before downing a handful of pills get a blood test and talk to your doctor about what you may need, otherwise, those expensive vitamins just go in your body and straight back out. 

Bonus upgrades that are worth the investment.

Get a coach

If you want to see real and sustainable improvements in your cycling- upgrade your training instead of your equipment. 

A new helmet

Yes, a new helmet is worth it if you have had yours for more than three years or you have ever had a crash in it. Upgrade. Your head is priceless.

A training camp in the mountains

The training camp effect is real, going somewhere else to do your training really does give you a boost. If you can’t find time to get away immediately, FulGaz has all the mountains you could want at your disposal as well as training plans to go with them! I am currently training in Lagos de Covadonga which is featured in this year’s La Vuelta España Feminin. 

Brodie Chapman is a professional rider with WorldTour team, Trek-Segafredo. She’s been a FulGaz ambassador for the last four years having represented Australia at Road Worlds, and Commonwealth Games and was crowned the Road National Champion in 2023.