Most of us mountain bikers take part in the sport just for the fun of it. The wind on our faces, the trees whooshing as we fly by, the adrenaline, the mental and physical acuity. But like everything else, it gets easy to get competitive – to work to get better than our friends. Which makes sense – a little friendly competition is good for us. While it might be tempting to try and gain advantages with upgrades to your mountain bike such as carbon wheels and top-of-the-line forks, these items can be expensive. There are other cheap, simple, and clever ways to go faster on the trail without breaking the bank. Below are our six favorite ways to upgrade your mountain bike.
Tune Those Tires To The Trail
It wouldn’t make much sense to outfit a Ferrari with a set of used tires from the corner shop, and the same applies to your mountain bike. All your bike’s great qualities—and your fitness—are useless if you can’t get them to the ground. While it’s important to go fast, and a hard or overinflated tire will certainly do that, you’ll need to make certain tradeoffs if you want to maintain your speed over a tough or cross country course.
For instance, triple-compound tires offer a fast center line and good edge grip, while aggressive tread patterns minimize front-end drag. In other words, there are MTB tires designed for downhill trails and MTB tires designed for cross-country riding.
Air pressure is also important; on rough ground, a lower pressure gives greater stability but can reduce speed potential. Conversely, with an overinflated tire, the surface area is typically reduced and can provide a speed boost.
Tuning the tires to the terrain is an art form, and if you’re in the sport long enough, you’ll learn how.
Customize Your Cockpit
You’re at your top speed when you’re barely noticing the bike beneath you, and to achieve that goal, you’ll need a properly fitted bike.
Other than buying the right size bike, and adjusting your seat to a comfortable height, the quickest path to a proper fit (and quicker finish times) is to make minor adjustments to your handlebar and stem dimensions. Wider bars provide more leverage without an increase in frontal area, and varying stem lengths are a worthy consideration as well, depending on your riding style. For instance, a lower stem and wider bar is perfect for stability while you’re hovering low on your bike on a steep downhill. However, on cross-country trails, it will feel much more natural to be up a bit with a more narrow width between your hands.
All to say, a mountain bike’s original stems and bars tend to be heavy, and swapping them for lighter-weight models will bring tremendous benefits without the huge investment.
Treat Your Hands to Better Grips
Probably the cheapest upgrades you can make to your bike, grips are mostly about comfort. Obviously look for a smaller diameter grip if you have smaller hands and vice versa. Softer grips will be better if you like riding without gloves, but they tend to not last as long as the harder rubber compound grips.
Lock-on grips now come standard on most If you ride in wet or muddy terrain – or just ride hard – you may want to consider lock-on grips. These have a vice grip system that locks onto your bar to ensure NO movement of your grips during your ride, or over time.
For the purposes of this guide, we’re focusing primarily on easy, inexpensive upgrades. However, there’s no getting past it: new wheels can be a huge difference maker to upgrade your mountain bike. Lighter, faster wheels can often be the only thing keeping a good bike from being a great bike. It makes sense to start with the best set you can afford, but you shouldn’t break the bank on a set of carbon rims. Wide aluminum wheels create larger volume and increased stability in existing tires, while lateral stiffness improves handling and cornering. Cartridge hubs are typically easier to work on than cup-and-cone types, and again, OEM versions are usually heavy.
Modify Your Suspension
Shocks and forks are high-ticket items, and upgrades certainly pay off. However, servicing and tuning are beneficial as well. A mid-grade fork can be renewed with advanced dampers or spring curve changes, and the parts and labor are only a fraction of the cost of a new unit. To save money, modify your current suspension to work to the best of its ability, your riding style, and your weight.
Be Smart About How You Upgrade Your Mountain Bike
Mountain biking is a physically demanding but richly rewarding sport, and having the right setup will make it even more fun. By focusing on these budget-friendly upgrades, you’re sure to get the most benefit from your existing equipment and the most enjoyment possible from each ride. Still, it’s important to be smart about your mountain bike upgrades. Price things out. Often it is WAY more expensive to upgrade every element of your bike than it is to simply invest in a new one with better components. However you choose to upgrade your mountain bike, happy riding!