For the typical babe or bro, it's hard to justify spending cold hard cash to trick out a bicycle. New pink handlebar tape might be pretty but it won't make the bike work any better, and swapping out the wheels for a new set can get expensive. However, spending some money on your tires and changing out your brake pads can be a good investment in your safety.


The only contact point you have between your rapidly moving body and the pavement are your tires. Road tires are on the skinny side – usually 18mm to 25mm in width – but hyrids and cyclocross tires can get a bit wider. Mountain bike tires are measured in inches and are typically over 2 inches in width.

Tires vary dramatically in their price, being anywhere from $18 to over $100 each. Around $40 or $50, tires begin swap out stiff steel wire beads for Kevlar beads, have better rubber, and decent protection against flats. Investing in a really good set of tires can cost around $100 bucks or so, but the amount of hassle and money it could save by not having to swap out flats is worth it.

If you’re riding a bike with 700C wheels around town, I suggest trying to use the biggest tires that can safely fit on the wheels – at least up to a point. Larger tires ride more comfortably, take curbs and potholes better, and can be run at a lower pressure than skinnier tires. You can even keep your wheels truer for longer by using bigger tires because less impact is transferred to the spokes. Try using at least 25mm tires. 28mm and 32mm tires will be more comfortable but might be hard to fit on the frame.

For riding mountain bikes around town, you can get away with paying less money for a durable tire because nearly all 26-inch or 29-inch tires have pretty tough construction. If you want something better suited to riding on pavement, look for “slicks” that have little tread on them and are about 2 inches in width.

As you get more comfortable riding on road bikes and want to try more aggressive movements, you can try smaller tires with dual-compound rubber. This means the tires have stickier rubber on the outside but tougher rubber on the inside. Also, higher-performance road tires can have more “turns per inch,” or TPI, in their weave that can enhance their feel.

Mountain bike tires are offered in different tread patterns, and on a serious ride the front tire and rear tire will often be different patterns. If you are taking mountain biking seriously and want to maximize your effort, check out a bunch of different tread patterns at your local bike shop and ask for their recommendations. For hard-packed dry dirt, smaller knobs help the bike travel faster. When the soil is wetter, use tires with wide spaces between the knobs to shed mud and dirt.


Brake Pads

Whether you buy a used bike or a new bike, swapping out the brake pads for a set of high-quality ones can be a cheap way to help keep you safe and make the riding experience more enjoyable.

Brake pads are available with different characteristics, but nearly all of them are to be used with aluminum rims (what are probably on your bike). Softer brake pads offer better feel with less effort, but will wear down faster. Hard pads will require more force to clamp the wheel down but will last longer, sometimes at the expense of wearing down your rims. Some pads can also be designated for different types of weather, though I haven’t personally noticed a big difference in performance.

I suggest buying softer, replaceable pads made of good material. These pads offer better braking power and feel in most conditions. My favorite pads are made by the Kool-Stop brand and are salmon-colored. With these softer pads, however, you’ll find that they need replacing more frequently than pads made of harder compounds. Luckily, the cost of new brake pads is much less than new wheels, so it’s still a good decision. Buying a set of brake pads that come with an aluminum brake shoe, or pad holder, will ensure that you can replace the pads easily down the line.