So you’ve just bought your first mountain bike and are hooked on the sport. Like many riders, you may have the urge to upgrade accessories and components. As you’re probably well aware, mountain biking can be an expensive sport, but it doesn’t always have to be. A few key upgrades have an outsized impact on the performance of your mountain bike and they don’t all have wallet-searing price tags.
Best MTB Upgrades
Saddle and Grips
Before we get into upgrades that will improve performance, you have to start with upgrades that will improve comfort. If you’re not comfortable, it’s hard to have a good time on the trails. Contact points are the first place to start when upgrading.
Related: Best Mountain Bike Saddles
If you’re experiencing numbness in your hands or rear, or feel pain from pressure points, it’s very likely that you need to invest in grips or a saddle that’s a better fit for your anatomy. Speaking of fit, while not a component upgrade per se, getting a professional bike fit is great place to start when trying to get comfortable on your new bike.
Selecting the right tires for where and how you ride will significantly improve your riding experience. Stock mountain bike tires are one place some manufacturers look to cut costs. Entry-level bikes often come harder rubber compounds that are more durable on the street, but lack traction off-road. On mid- to high-end bikes, companies generally spec tires with lighter, but less durable casings, since they reduce the overall bike weight.
Related: The Best Maxxis MTB Tires
Many riders prefer tubeless tires, which lack an inner-tube and rely on latex sealant to seal small punctures from rocks and thorns. On the plus side, tubeless tires improve flat resistance, improve traction, have less rolling resistance, and less rotational weight. On the downside, tubeless tires require more maintenance, since the sealant must be replaced every few months.
It’s also important to match up the amount of tread you need to the type of bike you ride. Of you’re riding a cross-country bike, you may want tires that prioritize speed over grip. If you’re on a trail bike, grip might be your priority. If you’re just getting started in the sport and are working on building important skills, such as cornering and descending, we suggest using tires with plenty of side knobs to inspire confidence.
Matching the proper tires to your local terrain is also a key consideration. If you’re unsure of what tires work best in your neck of the woods, don’t be afraid to reach out to fellow riders. Mtbr’s Wheel and Tire Forum is a great place to start.
Buying a new wheelset is one of the most expensive upgrades you can make to your mountain bike, but it’s also the one that can have the greatest impact on how it rides. Most stock wheelsets tend to be heavy. Reducing rotational weight will have an outsized impact on your bike’s performance. Lighter wheels will make your bike feel more responsive to rider inputs—not to mention you’ll be lugging less weight up the climbs. Carbon wheels are very popular, and if you want the best this is often the way to go.
If you’re more concerned with staying on a budget, there are a lot of quality lightweight alloy wheelsets from brands such as NoTubes that will improve the performance of your bike without costing you a fortune.
In our opinion, the dropper seatpost is the most important innovation in the history of mountain biking. It allows riders to lower their center of gravity when cornering and descending and gives new riders added confidence.
Related: Best Dropper Seatposts
There are dozens of different dropper seatposts on the market. Unlike a few short years ago, most dropper posts are pretty reliable these days. Like any good bicycle component, a quality dropper should function without you thinking about it. The best dropper post for your mountain bike is the one that performs reliably, with little to no maintenance, and balances performance with price.
Unlike road bikes and many older mountain bikes, modern mountain bikes have 1x gearing. “One-by” drivetrains have a single chainring up front paired with 10, 11, or 12 cogs on the rear wheel. For new riders, having one shift lever will make learning to shift much easier. For experienced riders, 1x drivetrains are lighter, remove clutter from the cockpit, allows you to run your dropper seatpost lever where your front shift lever once was, and greatly improves chain retention. If you’re looking to upgrade an older mountain bike that you love, a 1x drivetrain is an excellent place to start.
If you already own a mountain bike with a 1x drivetrain and find you need more range to help conquer the climbs, you should consider upgrading to SRAM or Shimano’s wide-range 1×12 drivetrains. SRAM drivetrains feature a 10-52t range, while Shimano offers a 10-51t range. This one cog difference doesn’t account for much on the trail, so choose the group that works best for you. Both companies now offer their widest-range 12-speed groups at very affordable price points.
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