Here’s what’s different: Wheels (Vuelta Corsa SRL hubs and spokes with Velocity rims because the Vuelta’s hoops were crap), S-Works Aerofly handlebar, S-Works Crank, Blackburn carbon bottle cages, Specialized cycling computer, FSA carbon wrapped aluminum stem.
Original weight 18.8 pounds. Weight today, 17.2 pounds. The bulk of the weight savings came in the wheels (a pound) and the crank (3/4 pound-ish), though the stem helped a bit as well too (90 grams) and if I want to drop another $2,000 I can take that overall weight below 17 with a decent set of carbon fiber wheels.
The stem/handlebar were lowered by 10 mm. The reach of the Aerofly handlebar is 5 mm less that of the original bar. Stem length and rise are identical between the old and new stem.
The saddle nose was dropped to level to allow for the lowering of the stem. Originally, the saddle was leveled tip to rear but that produced too much pressure where I don’t like pressure. Ahem.
The new wheels roll immensely better than the original wheels. The crankset is vastly superior to the one that came with the bike. The stem? Meh, it looks a lot cooler and 80 grams is 80 grams. The handlebar seems to cut down on road chatter quite a bit but the weight savings were minimal – basically I bought the bar because it looks really cool.
Long story, shorter; I dropped another $2,000 on top of the purchase price to make my bike a pound and a half lighter, look cooler and roll just slightly faster.
The S-Works crankset was absolutely worth every penny. We’re talking a night and day difference. Had it to do over again, I’d buy the set again – and knowing what I know now, I’d pay 50% more. Seriously. The wheels were worth what I’ve got into them (though I’d opt for a more expensive set, hindsight being what it is).
The cheap cycling computer does everything I want it to do, which is not much. Current speed and distance traveled. Throw in that I’ve got average speed and high speed features and an odometer (11,000 miles) and I couldn’t ask for more.
I had the top-rate Body Geometry fit done at the shop where I bought the bike and if I’d have paid for the three hour session, that would have been worth every penny too – even if the only thing that came out if it was lowering the saddle by 2 millimeters (kinda cool, considering I did the initial set-up).
So I’ll get to the point. That’s a $5,000 bike the way it sits. Give or take. Does the extra $2,000 matter over, say an equally appointed Tarmac, or $2,500 for a Venge Elite (which has everything my Venge has except decent wheels and the S-Works crankset) or even $3,000 to go with a top of the line Allez Sprint Expert?
Here’s the trick: I had the money. I paid cash for everything, right down to the bottle cages. My bike is vastly superior to the one I brought home because of the wheels and crankset… but the difference could have been made up for with “want to”. It all comes down to what I can afford and being happy with what I’ve got.
There is a difference between the Shimano 105 and Ultegra lines, but not enough that it would matter if you don’t know any better. Sure, there’s a difference between an aero frame and a standard round tube frame, but not enough a person couldn’t hang in a group.
The only hitch in the giddy up is the wheels. Good wheels matter. A lot.
Let me illustrate it this way:
I’ve got three club rides this year north of a 22 mph average. All three occurred with the Vuelta/Velocity Wheels on the bike. However , two were on the Venge and one on my 17 year-old Trek 5200 that was built long before aero bikes were a thing and weighs four pounds more than the Venge… I swapped out the cassettes and wheels. The aerodynamic advantage didn’t matter. Sure, I absolutely had to work a little bit harder (and yes, it was enough to notice), but it wasn’t so much I couldn’t hang.
“Want to” goes a long way, baby.
To wrap this up, a good bike is worth the moola. They’re fast, quiet, sturdy and smooth. The expensive bikes absolutely ride better that their cheaper siblings and they are definitely marginally faster… and the more you spend, the better they usually are.
That said, as budgets go, I’m better off with a decent bike and a great set of wheels than a great bike with crappy wheels. So if you have to worry about a budget, remember this simple formula if you’re going to ride a lot and/or fast: Shimano 105 components or better (that’s the base race quality drivetrain), the best wheelset you can afford (and they most likely won’t come with the bike), then spend what you’ve got left on the rest of the bike.