Mountain bike upgrades or road bike upgrades can feel a constant itch that needs to be scratched. Splashing the cash on changes can feel great but are you getting your money’s worth from your spending?
There are certain areas on your bike where it’s more prudent to spend your money than others, so while it might be tempting to drop your coin on a fancy drivetrain or carbon accessories, spending it elsewhere on the bike will net you a bigger performance gain and help you have more fun on the trail, even if that means you have less blingy-gear bragging rights on the road or trail!
Using our vastly experienced team of upgrade fanatics and addicts, we’ve picked out the best places to upgrade your bike, so you can feel the biggest benefit on your next ride!
The first place you should upgrade on any bike if you have the means to do it is the wheels. As the key rotating part of your bike, going for a better set of wheels can transform your bike more than almost any other component.
Ideally, you want to go for a wheel that is lighter, has better hubs and ideally tubeless compatibility (this is detailed below!). If you can get all that, you’re in a good place, though for certain types of riding, you want to make sure you’re not losing any durability in the pursuit of lower weight; it’s no good going so light that you’re breaking rims or spokes all the time! It is also worth thinking about how aerodynamic the wheels are if you’re upgrading your road bike. For most bikes, choosing a shallow section aluminium rim or mid-section 30-45mm carbon rim would be our recommendation for all-round use. For mountain bikes, we recommend choosing a wheelset with quality, adaptable hubs and a decently wide rim for your chosen tyres.
Most wheelsets that come stock on a bike are decent but spending more here for an upgrade will make a huge difference to how the bike feels and rides. Better wheels will make the bike feel faster, livelier and can also be more reliable and easier to maintain. Stock OE (original equipment) wheels can be a nightmare to get replacement parts like freehubs for, so going for something from brands like Hope or DT Swiss will make your life easier in the long run AND make your bike ride better. Those are two things we can get on board with!
If you have the money, carbon wheels can be even smoother to ride than quality aluminium ones, but don’t be too worried if your budget doesn’t stretch that far; going for a wheelset that is lighter and tubeless is the key here and just get the best you can afford!
As the one point of contact between your bike and the ground, fitting better tyres to your bike is a relatively cheap way to boost your control, comfort and speed. A lot of bikes will come with cheaper, harder compounds as standard, which in theory, last a little bit longer. On mountain bikes, you’ll often see the tyres are quite low-profile in their tread. This makes them feel great on the pre-purchase car park test, but means they lack grip out on the trail. Swapping out the tyres for something more appropriate will make a huge difference to how the bike rides.
Going for a better tyre, you can have it all; you can still get a fast-rolling tyre but also one that grips far better than the stock tyres on the bike. It’s also a great time to go tubeless if your wheels can take it, either with the standard wheels, or if you’ve upgraded the wheels to ones that can go tubeless. These tubeless tyres will have the best rubber compounds, be lighter and faster and can be run at lower pressures for more grip, without the fear of puncturing. There’s a huge range of brands to choose from, but if you go with Maxxis, Schwalbe, Continental or Michelin, you won’t go wrong. This is another area where the wins just keep coming. It’s a great place to upgrade your bike.
Now you’re going faster with your new wheels and tyres, you’ll need to slow down better too! While a wholesale change of brakes is a drastic measure, even smaller upgrades to your brakes can make a big difference. Even a simple swap of your brake pads to a better-quality set will provide a notable increase in braking power and control.
If your bike has rim brakes, we cannot recommend SwissStop brake pads enough; they will transform your brakes instantly and give a whole lot more power, feel and control and they last incredibly well too.
For bikes with disc brakes, most will come with organic or resin pads as standard. These are okay but using a sintered or metal-based pad will help get the most from your brakes. You can also swap out your rotors for a better set too, especially if your bike comes with Shimano rotors that have “Resin-pads only” etched on them, as these limit the pads you can use and don’t provide much power. Again, SwissStop offers some excellent pads for disc brakes, while rotors like Shimano’s IceTech and SRAM’s HS2 can both make a big difference in braking performance. If you want even more power, you can also upsize to a bigger rotor if your frame and fork will allow you to do so.
Nobody enjoys riding an uncomfortable bike, so tailoring your bike with new contact points, such as grips or tape can improve your comfort levels and improves every ride!
If your bike is completely standard, it will likely come with very generic own-brand or no-name grips/bar tape and saddle. While these might work for you to a degree, swapping them out for something more suitable for your needs will make a huge difference to how your bike feels to ride and make you want to ride it more and for longer!
Starting at the front of the bike, fitting some new grips or bar tape will make a huge difference to how comfortable your hands feel during and after a ride. It’s important to think about your hand size and how much cushioning you want, as more cushioning can reduce the feeling of control. We find grips of around 31mm thick and bar tape that’s 2.5-3mm thick provides a nice middle ground for all-round usage and offers a good compromise between comfort and control for most riders and hand sizes. DMR’s Deathgrip is a hugely popular grip for all types of mountain biking, while Ergon also offers excellent grips for those looking for maximum comfort. For bar tape, we’re big fans of Lizard Skins and Fizik, who both offer a range of tapes in multiple thicknesses and some sweet colours!
Moving to the back(side), saddle choice is highly personal and what works for one rider may not work for another. The key thing to remember when choosing a saddle is that the shape is more important than the amount of padding; when it comes to padding, more doesn’t always mean better! Most brands have excellent fitting guides (we particularly like WTB’s) that will give you an idea of what measurements will work for you. Once you know what shape works for you, you can shop around and find one that fits your riding style and budget.
While it might be tempting to splash out on electronic gears, carbon bars or cranksets, you’re definitely better being a bit more pragmatic when spending your upgrade money. And if you’re currently in the market for a new bike, these upgrades can transform your current bike into a whole different beast at the fraction of the cost of buying a complete bike! Check out all the mountain bike upgrades and road bike upgrades mentioned on the website now and if you have any questions, give us a call or drop us an email, our bike specialists will be happy to help out!
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