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Don’t buy upgrades, ride upgrades

“Don’t buy upgrades, ride upgrades” – Eddy Merckx

Wise words, of course, from perhaps the greatest bike rider of all time; but there’s a problem.

On the one hand, he’s Eddy Merckx, so we’ll listen to almost anything he has to say. On the other hand, he’s Eddy Merckx, so what the hell does he know about being a rank amateur? He’s possibly the least well placed person to dish out advice to a mere mortal.

He’s the opposite to me. To us. To almost everyone else who’s ever slung a leg over a bike. His advice is correct, I think – don’t buy upgrades, ride upgrades – but it needs to be delivered by someone else.

Me, for example.

So this is how it goes.

For us amateurs, when we feel quick and fit on the bike we begin to think we might look it, too. We’re in our race fit kit, we’ve polished our shoes, and our inner tube valves line up with the logo on our tyres.

In our mind’s eye we are now indistinguishable from Taylor Phinney.

And then we make the ultimate error. We ride past a large glass fronted shop and take a long, lingering look at the form reflected back. This upsets us. We momentarily believe an optical illusion, rather like a fairground hall of mirrors, is doing us a disservice.

But deep down we know the reflection is accurate. This is how we look. Neither as skinny nor flat-backed as we believed. Our pedal stroke distinctly lacking the souplesse of Laurent Fignon circa 1984.

We are not weighed down by the weight of our wheels, our seat post, or our shoes, but by the limitations of our heart, lungs, legs and diet. Reducing aerodynamic drag by three percent or wearing bib shorts made from a single sheet of graphene will have little effect. No amount of upgrades are going to improve the reflection in that shop front.

All of which leads up to one very simple solution: performance related upgrades.

You simply pop down to your local bike shop armed with your Strava stats, or Zwift data, and a highly trained expert will produce a decision on your eligibility for Zipp wheels or a Campagnolo Super Record groupset within three to five working days.

It couldn’t be simpler.

This is nothing to do with snobbery or elitism, and everything to do with making sure that we, the humble cyclist, get our money’s worth. Our bang for our buck. That the amount of money spent, and the performance in return, bear some relationship to each other.

Bike, and rider, in unison.

To paraphrase Merckx: “Don’t buy upgrades, ride upgrades, and qualify now for your next designated enhancement…”

(Image: By Ken – Eddy Merckx on Mount Royal Montreal Canada August 25, 1974 World Championship Road Race, CC BY 2.0,

6 comments on “Don’t buy upgrades, ride upgrades

  1. No substitute for more miles in one’s legs. But, that new kit looks tempting… Ahaha!


  2. I’d also add…….team issue kit. I might be on my own here, but I tend to think that you earn your club colours (this doesn’t apply when the kit in question is now so old, that retro love applies). Back in the day, I remember the odd US postal service jersey turning up on chaingang. Ouch. It got ugly.

    Recently I was riding through the lanes to the North of Cardiff and saw two full sets of Team Sky kit in the distance. I shook my head and tutted.As they got nearer one waved and said ‘hiya!. It was Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas.

    The best way to upgrade? Upgrade those hill climbing skills. Take lots of hill and ride ’em til you’re knackered.


  3. Hello! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay.
    I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look forward to new


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