Bike performance "Tipping point"

Hey y’all

Whilst marginal gains can be “bought” everywhere - such as integrated cabling to aero wheels - is there any objective consensus around where the “tipping point” shifts from greatly improved performance to marginal gains?

TR’s article “The cost of getting faster” raised this point from a slightly different angle; However, in terms of specific bike types and price ranges, where would you draw the line? I’m mostly curious about road bikes, but this could obviously be extended to TT, MTB, Gravel and more…

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I usually get stuff from the tire below the top tier, you get most of the trickle down benefits without the added cost for luxury materials. DA is no more functional than Ultegra but costs nearly 2x as much because it uses fancier materials to save weight. Top tier frames offer super high modulus carbon but the tier below usually still has high modulus which is fine for most.

Some will say that even beyond 105 level there’s no improvement in performance, but Ultegra DOES have some advantages such as Di2 availability, and 105 I believe still uses single piece chainrings so you can’t replace the inner and outer separately. Blindfolded you would probably be hard pressed to tell them apart riding


The most cost efficient point is the lowest one you will tolerate.


I skimp on everything except my bike lock.


I would say for me it’s a combination of:

  • Upgradability, so for example 105 gets you to the base of Shimano 11 speed, and from that you can pay increments for the marginal gains
  • As @ErickVH said, what you will tolerate
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This is incorrect. Just bought a 160mm 105 and put my ultegra rings on it. Same assembly but the metal on the 105 rings is much heavier

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If you’re just talking road bike here, I’d say an aluminum aero road bike from specialized with 105 would be the sweet spot for me.

Edit: make sure you have latex or tubeless tires such as conti GP5000 in the width of your choice too.


Interesting I could have sworn I saw 105 rings being a one piece deal where the inner and outer were not able to be separated, but obviously I was drunk.

I agree 100% on the road (racing) side. Aero matters a lot, weight not much at all, and weight is basically all you can improve upon by spending more than a bike like this costs. First upgrade would be wheels, then it’s onto marginal gains for sure.

For Gravel, a frame that fits well and clears at least 40c tires, a 22 speed drivetrain or wide-range 1x11 speed (Rival 22, GRX, etc) and some decently wide rims that aren’t too heavy. Probably $2500 max.

For mountain, too many variables to answer easily but probably $3500-4000 max whether it’s for XC, trail, or enduro.

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Lol. Yup here’s a pic. Heavier screw/bolts too

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@Cleanneon98 I think that’s a sensible approach. However, it probably still puts you behind the tipping point. Whilst a Tarmac SL7 Pro in lieu of an S-Works Tarmac would be near to your definition, how much better is it than an even cheaper model?

@ErickVH I understand your comment fully, but would argue that it still isn’t an objective assessment of the tipping point. I might afford a TCR Advanced 0, but am pretty convinced that it won’t unlock a lot more performance for myself, than a bike of half the price. If my name was Rohan Dennis, i might have thought something entirely different… :slight_smile:

@JulianFishtown Haha, good point.

@steveking I think that makes sense, and am even thinking if it isn’t that kind of bike segment ($2000, 105…) which is around the tipping point? similar to @Bones point!

@jwellford Yup, mountain is hard for me to discern with the variables as you say. Many layers and types of riding. Gravel i agree with you except for 1x, i think 2x opens up many more ratios (assuming the same cassette).

Thanks for all your good input! This is getting interesting

For me, the tipping point is the max I can reasonably afford while saving enough to replace consumable/wear items like chains and tires before I actually need to.

No sense in paying $12K for a bike if I have to squeeze every last mile out the $40 chain.

This applies to clothing too. I like having nice bib shorts even if I’m just on the trainer. I spend more time training indoors than outdoors anyway, so I budget for that.


A $200 bike (do those still exist?) will make you infinitely faster than no bike. A $600 bike will probably be much less a piece of shit than the $200 bike and will probably save you time by not being broken all the time. A $1000 bike might be marginally more reliable but perform identically to the $600 bike. $1500 bike is going to have more racy geometry but you’re probably too much of a chicken to really use it. The $3000 bike is lighter but you’re too fat for it to matter. The $6000 bike is more aero but you’ll still get dropped. The $9000 bike has electronic shifting which will impress your friends but you don’t have any because your obsessed over how much your bike costs.


Haha. For being an anecdotal summary i think it’s brilliant @ErickVH . We’re zooming in on the “tipping point”… The obvious benefits seem to decrease from $1500?

Disposable income…sorta joking but, not really. The more money I have the more ridiculous I get with it. And I know better. But, it’s fun.


@Landis For sure! It IS completely reasonable to “invest” in your interests and passions. Whilst i haven’t gone north of $2k with my bike expenses, having a background as musician and DJ i’ve invested >$10k studio equipment over the years which might seem totally unreasonable to an outsider. Good studio monitors are important, but 95% of the music could be made with a macbook. As much as creativity and technical skills play a huge part in making good music, i suppose some similarities hold true for cycling - conditioning, experience and technique being the key determinants, matched with a bike priced similarly to a macbook. That might present 90% of the total effect, with the rest coming from marginal gains with additional :money_with_wings:


Tipping point is different for everyone - which is where most of the prior posts have gone

That said - if you’re a reasonably serious performance focused cyclist I’d suggest it will almost always be worth investing in your drive train friction points primarily from a maintenance standpoint (keep your chain clean and properly lubricated, don’t ride worn cassettes, etc.) and purchasing good tires and wheels.

All other bike related improvements will depend on your financial situation as to whether or not its below the tipping point

For non-bike purchases - properly fitted kit and an aero helmet are also almost always worth it


I’m excited to see this thread. I’m always looking to get my bike right at this tipping point, whatever that point may be. What that means for me now is that I’m looking to upgrade to 105 from really old Tiagra, if that gives any context for where I’m coming from and still trying to reach that tipping point. Next will be wheels.

One thing that I’m a little bummed on is that I’m going to lose some gear range going from an ultra wide triple chainring to the 105, and I do actually use all the range that I currently have. I’m trying to figure out a solution that’ll keep the range but be more modern, without hacking together some sort of mullet system. Nothing really against these set ups, it’s just not what I want to do on my bike. No need to derail this thread, since it’s about proper road bikes, just rambling about how sometimes when you reach towards more performance you give up some tertiary benefits.


I let my bank account draw the line… :wink:

I started with an $800 aluminum road bike, which I rode for about 5 years. Of course I upgraded to a carbon framed bike with Shimano 105… and just bought a new pair of wheels after owning the bike for a year… and added a power meter… lol… The newer bike is much more comfortable to ride (I got a fit this time) and a little bit lighter and maybe a bit more aero… but the biggest gains I made were starting to train rather than just riding randomly.

I think supple high-TPI tires and maybe latext tubes (for race day) are cost affordable upgrades that make a good difference.

When it comes to aero, your position on the bike and wearing tighter fitting clothes are probably a much cheaper and cost efficient way to improve over dropping a ton on an aero bike.

I do think at least getting a Shimano 105 level drivetrain is worth it. My old bike had a mix of Sora parts and while it worked, it never worked smoothly or well for long.

Of course, if you’ve trained consistently for years and sort of hit your plateau, and you know that a better bike may be the difference for being in the race or hitting your goal, it’s probably worth it for you to spend the cash for some very cool gear.

Look at the 105 Medium Cage Rear Derailleur (11-speed)

Unless you’re doing some touring with heavy bags, ride steep mountains all day or do some rough gravel riding, it probably could work.

I very rarely needed anything lower than the 34T sprocket in the back with compact chain set in the front.

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