This is a very divisive topic among cyclists. There have been a lot of advances in cycling that have allowed the sport as a whole, to get faster. But this technology is expensive. The short answer is yes, you can buy speed in the sport of cycling. However, spending a lot of money doesn't guarantee that you can rock up to any race and be competitive. Unless you're on an E-bike!
The biggest developments in cycling have been implementing aerodynamics and the use of new materials. The basics of aerodynamics involve decreasing the drag the bike generates when being ridden. For example, moving from cylinder-shaped tubes to blade-shaped tubes. Material has moved from wood to steel to aluminium to carbon fibre. The material has gotten lighter over the years and can be manufactured into more aerodynamic shapes. So, everyone should get an aero carbon bike? Not necessarily. If you're in the tour de France and looking for marginal gains, yes! But if you are just getting into the sport and want to go out and have fun with your mates at the weekend, this can be done without breaking the bank. A good comparison would be cars. If you want a fast car, you don’t get an F1 car. Because they tend to be very expensive. However, a small two-seater sports car will be a lot of fun.
There are a few ways you can be a fast cyclist without spending a lot of money. Having a consistent training program will lead to massive gains in fitness. You don’t need to be hitting big hours every week. But consistency is key if you want to see improvements. The scariest fact about fitness is you lose it 3 times fast than you gain it. Consistency is key. The second is sleep, sleep is a vital part of recovery from training. Finally, nutrition, sometimes it can be hard to eat clean healthy foods because it takes a long time to prepare, but it's important to try. Supplements are always good for supplementing your diet to ensure the body has everything it needs to recover and get ready for the next ride. Emphasis on “supplementing” the diet, taking supplements shouldn't replace a well-balanced diet.
There are so many developments in the world of cycling, that it's sometimes hard to keep up. This is far from a bad thing; the principle of trickle-down technology means when more technology gets designed the older technology becomes more affordable and widely available. This leads to some amazing technology becoming very affordable on the second-hand market, not only that but it's much better for the environment to buy second hand. For example, power meters. Back in 2015, it would be hard to find a power meter for less than £800 now they cost £300. If you are looking to get into cycling, or to upgrade your race setup, join some Facebook groups. There are hundreds of groups that are dedicated to selling old race kits, and you are guaranteed to find some bargains.
In summary, yes you can buy speed in cycling. But buying a spaceship of a bike is not the first thing you should do to be fast. In order of importance, fitness, body position, clothing, wheels, frame. To break that down, fitness will always determine the output of power. Both how much power you can generate and for how long. Body position, when cycling your bike makes up 30% of your overall drag, meaning your body makes 70% of the drag. Dialling in your body position is key for both accessing power, and being as aerodynamically efficient as possible. Clothing, the main thing to focus on is fit. If you have baggy-fitting cycling clothes it will cost you over 5 minutes over a 100-mile ride. Also, clothing can affect the riding experience, if you ride in poor quality clothing it's very easy to get cold. This can affect the mentality towards training and enjoying the sport. Wheels can account for between 10 to 15% of your overall drag. Having good quality tires can increase the efficiency of the transfer of energy to the ground. Finally, the frame accounts for 10 to 15% of your drag and yes this is defiantly significant. But if you're looking to upgrade your setup cost-effectively, it should be the last upgrade. It should also be fit for purpose, if you spend most of your time climbing hills, go for a lightweight bike. If you spend most of your time on flat roads go aero.