5 Best MTB Upgrades

These are the upgrades that will make the most impact on your mountain bike

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These are the 5 key upgrades for your mountain bike that will make a noticeable difference in performance.

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.

Related: 5 things you need to know when buying your first mountain bike

Best MTB Upgrades

Saddle and Grips

Best MTB Upgrades: Saddles

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.


Tires

Best MTB Upgrades: Tires

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.


Wheels

Best MTB Upgrades: Wheels

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.


Dropper Seatpost

Best MTB upgrades: Dropper Seatpost

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.


1x Drivetrain

Best MTB Upgrades: 1x drivetrain

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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About the author: Mtbr

Mtbr.com is a site by mountain bikers for mountain bikers. We are the best online resource for information for mountain bikers of all abilities, ages and interests.



Comments:

  • Phorest Bateson says:

    It seems important to point out that “the best seat dropper” also needs to fit your specific frame and seat height, and that, generally speaking, you’ll want the most drop that fits.

    • Francis Cebedo says:

      Absolutely! Maximize the drop!

      Good news is the PNW and OneUp droppers have adjustable drop travel that can be limited by shims. thus if the saddle is too high at the fully extended height, the user can install shims to limit the travel and top out at the desired height of the rider.

    • Paulo Gerbalin says:

      I agree. I almost bought a dropper post with the wrong diameter. I only realized because a friend pointed it out to me

  • Dave says:

    I upgraded the drivetrain on my RM7 to 1×11 and upgraded the suspension, almost like a new bike. I need to add a dropper post and wish I could find some wheels. 26’s are hard to find.

  • Francis Cebedo says:

    And with new bikes in such short supply these days, these tips can help freshen up that old bike of yours and really give it that essential performance that is meaningful to your style of riding.

    And you can choose which part to optimize.

  • John G Rabara says:

    I’d argue that an air front fork with dampen and rebound control would come before a dropper or wheels. Most “first” mountain bikes that people buy entering the sport typically have spring front forks. Such an injustice but definitely understandable. The “wow, this is a totally different bike” came when I replaced the fork, followed closely by the 1x, tires, dropper, and wheels (in that order)

  • Steve Doyle says:

    If you have an older (or dare i say) a cheaper mtb the first upgrade in my mind would be a 1x set up, after all it’s not a racing bike!. Followed by forks, wheels and then then a dropper post for out of the saddle riding.

  • Wander Jolly says:

    Amazing piece of information. Also take a look at Best Mountain Bike – Entry Level Bikes For Beginners: 2020 Edition. https://bikesreviewed.com/mountain/best-beginner-entry-level-bike/

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