Ask a Mechanic: Upgrading Your Mountain Bike

Rick wants to know, “ I want to start upgrading my mountain bike, but don’t exactly know the best place to start. Where should I be spending my money?”

When it comes time to upgrade your mountain bike, there are a few specific parts that will give you more noticeable performance gains than others. Although the suggestions we’re presenting may not be the cheapest options, they are where you will see the biggest gains in your performance.

If you don’t already have one, one of the best things you can do to upgrade your mountain bike is to add a dropper post. The dropper post is one of the most significant changes the mountain biking world has ever seen. Although this is an upgrade that will almost always add weight to the bike, a dropper post’s performance is worth its weight in gold. Once you’ve ridden with one, you’ll never go back.

When it comes to upgrading your bike, investing in a high quality wheelset will always deliver the biggest boost to speed and handling. A high quality aftermarket wheelset will be lighter, stronger, and stiffer than just about any stock wheelset that comes on a bike. The most significant difference in aftermarket wheels comes from the loss of weight, which on wheels translates to lower rotational weight. Less rotational weight means quicker acceleration, snappier performance in corners, and increased momentum. A stiffer wheelset will also track better in rock gardens and rough patches of trail.

Although suspension upgrades are definitely on the more expensive side, they deliver a very noticeable difference to the way your bike behaves on the trail. Upgraded forks and shocks are typically lighter, stiffer, and offer more adjustability. Having a stiffer fork that is set up properly will track better and offer better trail feedback. These things translate into a more predictable and capable bike and a faster you.

The next component I would look to upgrade on the bike is the crank. Cranks are a big opportunity for most people to save weight. On top of saving weight, a better crankset will also be noticeably stiffer than an entry level option, delivering more power transfer and maximizing efficiency.

Swapping handlebars is probably the most common upgrade to a mountain bike. The recent trend in mountain biking is wider bars and shorter stems; switching to a wider bar provides riders with more stability and control at speed. Upgrading to a nicer handlebar will typically save you weight and add stiffness as well. Although the weight savings is minimal, the added stiffness of a nicer bar will certainly improve your ride and give better trail feedback. Handlebars also allow you to get a little creative and add some color and customization to your bike, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Although the list of bike upgrades is literally endless, I’d suggest using this list as a starting place for what I consider to be most important upgrades to better your riding experience and make you a faster, more confident rider.