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Upgrade Time: The Best Niche Road Components

These niche road bike components are all deep cuts. They're exorbitantly priced, hard to get, and sometimes just plain weird. But they're sure to impress even the geekiest of bike geeks.

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Bikes

Where’s the fun in getting the same upgrades as everyone else? When I roll up to my local group ride I want my bike to stand out (in a good way). To build something that can impress the geekiest of bike geeks, outfit your bike with rare, top-quality parts that not only look good, but use innovative tech and design to outperform “regular” components. 

A lot of these upgrades are weird, hard to get, and have wallet-busting price tags. For true cycling connoisseurs, that’s part of their appeal. If you’re looking for upgrades that many want, but few have, these are the best niche road components that you can buy. 

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Lightweight wheels

Lightweight wheelsSure you could go the safe (boring) route with Zipp or ENVE, but if your goal is to soar up mountains and steal KOMs, then you need the lightest wheels. The name says it all: Lightweight wheels. Handmade in Germany, Lightweight wheels are instantly recognizable thanks to carbon bladed spokes which are molded into the hub. This makes them extremely light (tubular rim-brake models are just over 1,000 grams!) and stiff, perfect for attacking the steepest grades. Legend has it that Jan Ullrich said “auf wiedersehen” to his rivals in the ‘97 Tour de France riding a rebadged set of Lightweights. More recently, Team Ineos made headlines by swapping to Lightweight’s Meilenstein Obermayers on key climbing stages. Even Zwift riders covet Lightweights, since they’re the fastest climbing wheels and they can’t be bought in game, only won. 

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Honorable mentions:
AX lightness - Also handmade in Germany with weights comparable to Lightweight.
Berd - Specializes in ultralight, shock-absorbing polymer fiber spokes.
Spinergy - That’s right, Spinergy is still alive and kicking, now with PBO spokes.

THM Clavicula SE cranks

THM Clavicula SE Gloss cranksetIf you pick up some fancy Lightweight wheels, I’d suggest pairing them with some carbon cranks. But not all carbon cranks are made equal. Most have regular old axles and spiders made out of metal. The THM Clavicula SE cranks, on the other hand, have an integrated full-carbon axle and a beautiful carbon spider, which make them the lightest cranks you can buy today (a feathery 435 grams with 50/34 chainrings). Don’t be scared off by the weight, because they’re still impressively stiff and tough. You can even order them with THM’s ultralight 27-gram power meter, which means it will still weigh less than a comparable Dura-Ace or Red AXS crank without a power meter. 

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Honorable mentions:
3T Torno - Aero full-carbon cranks made in Italy.
Cane Creek eeWings All-Road - Indestructible full titanium cranks made in the USA.
Extralite QRC-2 - Ultra-thin cranks CNC machined in Italy.
White Industries R30 - A classy American-made alternative, but not for the weight-conscious.

Osymetric chainrings

Osymetric Chainrings Shimano Dura-AceRound chainrings are abundant and standard oval rings are getting pretty popular too. To get ahead of the pack, these crazy looking Osymetric chainrings are the ticket. Osymetric’s patented “bi-cam” shape is designed to smooth out your pedal stroke and increase power by 7-10%. It takes some tinkering to get them to shift well without dropping chains, but it’ll be worth it for those chasing marginal gains. Their effectiveness is debatable, but Bradley Wiggens and Chris Froome famously rode Osymetric chainrings to multiple Tour de France victories and Gold and Bronze in the 2012 Olympic Time Trial. 

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Honorable mentions:
Rotor Q Rings - The most popular oval road chainring with adjustable ovality. 
absoluteBLACK OVAL - CNC machined, very oval, and absolutely gorgeous. 
KCNC K5 Blade - “Rectangular” aero chainrings, similar in shape to Osymetric.

CeramicSpeed OSPW System

CeramicSpeed OSPWSpeaking of marginal gains, it doesn’t get much more marginal than oversized pulley wheels. Oversized pulleys aim to reduce friction and improve drivetrain efficiency by reducing the angle of the chain as it passes through the derailleur. CeramicSpeed’s OSPW (oversized pulley wheel) systems claim to be the fastest on the market, and you’ll see them on some pro bikes, especially in time trials where racers are battling for seconds. They really only save a few watts, but for some, that’s enough to justify their cost. Plus, adding an OSPW system to your bike is a surefire way to get it to the top of r/bikeporn

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Honorable mentions:
absoluteBLACK HOLLOWCage - Stunning hollow pulley design with a “monoplate” carbon cage. 
SLF Motion - Carbon cages plus an aero option even more efficiency gains.
Kogel Kolossos - Known for its ceramic bearings, Kogel is one of CeramicSpeed’s direct competitors. 

Cane Creek eeBrakes

Cane Creek eeBrakes g4The rim brake faithful still love the simplicity and low weight of a good set of clampers. There isn’t that much separating entry-level and high-end calipers, but the smaller manufacturers can offer something truly exotic. The Cane Creek eeBrakes are made in the USA, and became legendary thanks to a fully CNC-machined design that provides plenty of stopping power and impressively low weight. Weight weenies love them, and if you really want to stand out, they’re occasionally released in limited edition anodized colorways that will really make a bike pop. Lightweight + expensive + limited edition colors = Yahtzee! 

[product-block handle="cane-creek-eebrakes-g3-brake-caliper-side-pull-front-black-pre-owned"/]

Honorable mentions:
Ciamillo Zero Gravity - Ultralight rim brake calipers, handmade in the USA.
Paul Klamper - One of the best mechanical disc brakes, handmade in the USA.
Yokozuna Ultimo - A slim and classy mechanical/hydraulic disc brake hybrid


Gokiso Hubs

Gokiso Hubs

Photo courtesy of Gokiso.

There are plenty of decent road hubs out there, but Gokiso hubs are designed by Japanese aerospace engineers, so you know they’re good. The Kondo Machine Corporation specializes in precision metal cutting and aerospace parts, and is a leading bearing manufacturer for jet engines. The story goes that a member of the Kondo family had a conventional hub fail, so they had their engineers come up with a new hub design and launched Gokiso in 2010. Its hubs are insanely smooth, super durable, and they spin forever. The axle is suspended by a ribbed sleeve that functions as a spring, separating the axle from the influence of the rest of the wheel, keeping it perfectly straight under load. This lets the double bearings (another unique Gokiso feature) spin with the lowest amount of friction. 

Honorable mentions:
Onyx - Instant engagement and silent coasting thanks to a sprag clutch mechanism. 
Project 321 - Magnets! Uses a magnetic ratchet drive system which can be quiet or loud.

AX-Lightness bar, stem, and seatpost

AX-Lightness Handlebar and stemPhoto courtesy of AX-Lightness Composites and Beno Bike.

When it comes to carbon cockpit components, German engineers are the experts. I’ve always lusted after AX-Lightness components, which are handmade in Germany and feature low weight (obviously), high stiffness, and beautiful carbon finishes. Occasionally, when browsing pro bike checks, I’ll spot an AX-lightness stem or seatpost with the logos covered to keep sponsors happy — IYKYK. Cockpit components aren’t that complicated, but when they’re done right, I mean really right, you can tell. 

Honorable mentions:
Darimo - Italian makers of the lightest road handlebars on the market today.
MCFK - German-made carbon similar to AX-Lightness.
Schmolke - Also German-made carbon. A favorite of Dangerholm.

Berk saddles

Berk Lupina carbon saddlePhoto courtesy of Berk Composites.

I love the faces people make when they see a bare carbon saddle. But comfort is more about saddle shape than padding. I would choose AX-lightness again for saddles, but my butt prefers Berk Composites, a Slovenian company that specializes in lightweight carbon components and frames. Its svelte, feather-weight saddles come in comfy shapes (the Lupina is pictured here) that will work for a lot of riders and even offer padding options to suit your needs. But if you really want to blow minds, a bare carbon Berk is the only way to go. 

Honorable mentions:
Tune - Light, full-carbon saddles, but the shapes don’t work for me as well as Berk.
Selle SMP - Ultra-curved shapes specifically designed to prevent numbness.
Koobi - A split-nosed design with rubber bumpers for comfort.

Rotor Hydraulic groupset

Rotor 1x13 hydraulic dirvetrainPhoto courtesy of Rotor Bike Components.

There aren’t many drivetrain options outside of the big three (Shimano, SRAM, Campagnolo), so to make waves, you really need something different. That’s why Rotor made a 1x13 hydraulically actuated groupset. It can also be set up 2x, and if you don’t want to get new wheels with Rotor’s 13-speed freehub, Rotor makes compatible 12-speed cassettes too. The Rotor group is as rare as it gets. At The Pro’s Closet, I see literally hundreds of new bikes every week, and I’ve still never seen one with a Rotor drivetrain. Does it work any better than what Shimano and SRAM offer? From what I’ve heard, it’s about equal. But it’s different! 

Honorable mentions:
FSA K-Force WE - If for some reason you don’t want Di2 or AXS, FSA also makes a wireless electronic group.

Silca Mensola 

Silca Mensola Titanium Computer mountPhoto courtesy of Silca.

To me, Silca is the king of niche bike products. It has always made the best pumps in the business, but recently it’s branched out into making niche titanium accessories (like cleats), aero socks, and ultra-fast chain lubes. One of the results of their recent experiments in 3D printed titanium is the Mensola computer mount. You could show up to a group ride with every niche part on this list, and the first thing anyone will want to talk about is this mount. It seems to shock people and has spawned countless hilarious memes. If a simple computer mount is making people feel such emotion, I’d say it qualifies as pure art.

Honorable mentions:
Uh… Nah

Now, before everyone flames me in the comments, yes, I know the rider matters more than the bike. The niche components featured here definitely won’t make you a cycling superstar, but they’ll sure make you feel like one. Really, that's where their value lies. 

Of course, the cycling world is big and I can’t be aware of everything that’s out there. If there’s a cool niche component that I’ve missed, let me know in the comments. And if you have personal experience with any of the niche products I’ve picked, I’d love to hear about it!