It is interesting to see how your priorities change the longer you are a cyclist. I don’t know that the priority change has anything to do with performance or what category racer you become. But more the accumulated wisdom you gather from others, and your experiences along the way.
When I first started riding I was fascinated with strong riders and high performance bikes. Because anything beyond entry level was beyond my budget it was easy to get convinced that the guys dropping me all the time were that fast because of their strength AND their bikes. It’s easy to get fixated on the gear, the helmets, the materials and performance marketing around cycling.
But what you don’t realize you aren’t considering is things like; ride comfort, cost of maintenance, durability, braking performance, cost of better nutrition, cost of coaching or training plans, hubs before rims, simply wearing things out, etc. You try to solve problems of “I keep getting dropped on group rides” with “I need a set of Zipp 404s.” You try to solve problems of “I’m a slow climber” with a bike that is 2lbs lighter and $4,000 more expensive then your aluminum road bike.
I’m not judgmental of these ideas - they are very similar to ones I’ve had myself as I’ve gotten into cycling. And it’s only been in the last year that I’ve started to try to see past them and move towards a much more practical and enjoyable stance on the line of what resources I have and how they should be invested in cycling.
I’m much more focused on what will keep me riding versus what will give me 5 second a faster time on a Strava segment. Here are some examples of recent priority changes I’ve made, not that they are perfect or “the right” way, just the point I”m at:
1. I’m seriously geeking on what makes a great every day training wheel. Aero isn’t a part of the equation. Aluminum braking surface is a must cause I want them to last a long time and I don’t want to worry when it’s rainy or foggy out if my brakes are going to work. The hubs are everything - how nice to they roll and how little maintenance do they take. I’ve not ridden every wheel out there, but from the ones I have Shimano Hubs take the cake. I’m looking at the RS81 c24 or Dura Ace C24 Tubeless wheel-set. This is in contrast to riding Specialized Roval Rapide CL40s for racing and training all year. They are a killer wheel-set for racing - I love them. Light, fast, agile - just what I want. But for an every day wheel they just aren’t the tool.
2. “Don’t buy upgrade, ride up grades.” I’m not sure the source of the quote, probably Merckx, but it’s where my head is at for cycling gear. My main budget is going towards better nutrition, supplements that help with training and recovery, compression tights/boots and coaching from Source Endurance (All of which is focused on “better” time on the bike). Any gear buys are all focused on helping me to keep riding - fall/cold weather gear, a better cycling trainer for workouts in the winter, and travel for training trips (focus is “More” time on the bike). Keeping what I have fully up to par in maintenance (cables, BBs, chains, tires, etc) and riding what I have into the group (shorts, jerseys, jackets, etc.). Any extra $$ I spend is all about making the process of pushing a pedal more likely and more effective.
3. Enabling the solo ride. Group rides are fun, addictive even. But they can be very hit/miss to get you towards training goals. They are good for easy to ride volume, but getting to the next level is about getting specific and pushing the limits. It takes a while for me to get used to - and motivated for solo training rides. Music helps but I’ve found Audiobooks from Audible to be the best. Getting lost in a good story or an industry focused book is a great way to get out on the road and pound out the miles. Better training is found in solo rides, period.
These are just some of the priority changes I’m having where I”m at in cycling. There is a lot of wisdom out there to learn from from people further down the road. If I was going to make it a simple statement I’d say, “Chase after the better experience versus the better performance.”