If you’re anything like me then odds are good that you’ve constantly got an itch to improve your bike. Recently Pedro wrote about Kaizen and Cycling which is the mindset of constant improvement. I think that it is a perfect bridge into todays topic.
What are the Best Mountain Bike Upgrades?
We’re going to be focused on mountain bike upgrades that net the overall greatest improvement in performance. The quick changes that make the biggest difference. I’ve got 4 mountain bike upgrades listed below and the reasons that they are so effective.
A Bike Fit
Maybe not exactly an upgrade, but a performance boost none the less. Being properly fit on your bike is one of the absolute first things that you should be doing with a new bike. If you just bought your bike then hopefully your local bike shop (LBS) has helped you get setup on the bike.
A proper bike fit maximizes your efficiency while on the bike and gets you into a body position that will be comfortable over a long ride. If you race competitively a more efficient bike position could translate to a serious gain in overall time over a 1.5 hour race. Like the philosophy of Kaizen, it’s the little small improvements made consistently over time.
For a beginner rider a bike fit is even more important than for a competitive racer. Being properly fit on your bike will make you more comfortable and enhance your overall enjoyment of the ride. If you are in such a body position that it hurts to ride or is wholly uncomfortable then you’re likely not going to stick with the sport for long.
In short, being properly fit on your bike is one of the most important steps to take with a new bike. A bike fit can range from included in the cost of your new bike from the LBS to several hundred dollars for a fit from a Body Geometry certified professional.
Flats are a part of riding and converting to a tubeless setup in your wheels will keep you on the bike more often and changing tubes less. That seems like a big win for me.
But, that’s not the only benefit for a tubeless setup. You also have the ability to run lower tire pressures which increases the surface area of your tire that is in contact with the ground. This means better traction and stability in loose or dusty climbs and turns.
You can get a Stan’s NoTubes tubeless conversion kit for roughly $50 and it comes with all of the necessary parts for converting your standard tubed tires to tubeless. These kits use special liquid sealant on the inside along with rim strips that keep air from escaping through the spoke holes.
More time riding and less fixing flats is always a plus.
Upgrading your wheels can be one of the biggest improvements you will make to your bike. Standard stock wheels on a $1500-3000 bike are well made, but can be fairly heavy. This is the first place that you should look to save weight on your bike. Any weight that is saved from your wheels, tires and tubes is rotational mass that makes quick accelerations faster and easier.
Think about every time on the trail where you brake coming into the turn and then sprint or accellerate out of the other side. This becomes easier with lighter wheels with less rotational mass. In addition, your wheels are usually the second or third heaviest parts on your bike behind the frame and fork.
Take for instance my stock Giant Anthem. The combined weight of both stock wheels is roughly 2125 grams. A set of Stan’s NoTubes Arche EX 29 wheels with Hope hubs will weigh roughly 1681 grams. By upgrading my wheels I save 444 grams which is almost a full pound of rotational weight.
But, upgrading your wheels has other benefits to it as well. For instance upgrading to a wider rim allows you to increase the surface contact patch and run lower pressures, similar to the benefits you get with a tubeless setup. A wider rim also helps to prevent against tire fold when leaning further into turns as you can see below.
Other upgrades in addition to weight and tire volume/contact patch is that with some rims you are getting a tougher, reinforced wheel well that protects against damage from obstacles and also heavier riders. Take a look at the reinforced wells of the Stan’s Arch Ex and Stan’s Flow Ex in the picture below. Now consider that the Stan’s Crest wheels are only recommended for riders up to 180 pounds.
Finally, a set of wheels can greatly enhance the lateral stiffness of your bike. Having solid wheels and hubs that have little flex when turning will help you feel more confident while carving corners and sticking lines.
As much as it may seem like I am pushing Stan’s today… I’m not. I just happen to have the pictures above that do a great job of showing what I’m trying to describe.
A new set of wheels will typically cost $350 or up. Excellent wheels can be found from companies like Stan’s NoTubes, Easton, Crankbrothers, DT Swiss, Mavic and a large assortment of other brands.
Mountain Bike Brake Upgrades
If we didn’t talk enough about brakes and their importance in the big brake post recently, here is your chance to be reminded.
Your brakes are one of the most frequently used items on your bike. Powerful, effective and reliable brakes will allow you to brake before corners more effectively and efficiently. Because you can hold your speed longer before braking your overall time will be reduced.
Think about how many times on a ride you use your brakes. I mean really think about it. You probably use your brakes over 200 times per ride whether for a small speed check or scrubbing down to 6 mph before a turn. While every one of those turns is negligible when you look at it alone, over the course of 200 repeats you begin seeing significant seconds added to your time by having less than ideal brakes.
Learning to use your brakes more efficiently or less through corners will ultimately net you a large return in overall saved time. Having a set of brakes that work consistently and reliably is one of the first steps.
A set of Shimano SLX hydraulic brakes can cost around $200-250. Check out The mountain bike disc brakes post for more ideas on great brakes from Magura, Formula, Hope and Shimano.
Worst Mountain Bike Upgrades
I’m going to spend just a second on this as well. Glen talked recently about Carbon Fiber and whether or not it was worth the cost. My personal feelings on this is that anything that solely has the benefit of being lighter weight is about one of the worst mountain bike upgrades that you can make.
Yes, there are weight weenies out there who will be offended and guffaw at what I just said. Frankly, I don’t care.
Spend wisely. Look for upgrades that give you some sort of performance increase and not just a small weight savings. You can lose far more weight by riding your bike and shedding that beer belly than by spending $1000. The wheels, tubeless setup and brakes that I suggest all have intrinsic benefits to them, not purely weight savings. You will see these benefits in areas much further than your bike scale.
Just like everything else on this site. This is all what I have found to workand be effective. It’s not a golden rule, but I stand by it 100%. Finding out what works for you is half the fun of mountain biking. So get out there, experiment and enjoy the ride.