Best Mountain Bike Upgrades

Mountain Biking
©Beth Puliti

Congratulations on buying a mountain bike! Let me guess, you’re already looking to upgrade. It’s completely natural to want to swap out parts to suit your personal riding style. But don’t shell out cash to simply save weight. Saving a few grams won’t make a whole lot of difference on a bike that is so much lighter weight than you are. Instead, think about upgrading parts based on comfort and performance.

After emptying your wallet on a brand-new bike, expensive upgrades might not be in your budget. That’s OK. Big benefits don’t have to come from big money. Consider the following areas of your bike when looking to upgrade:

1. Saddle

First things first, take a handful of long rides with your new bike and saddle. A few lengthy rides will help break it in. Sometimes discomfort can stem from the angle of the saddle on the seat post, which can be adjusted. If, after a couple long rides and adjustments, your saddle still feels uncomfortable, swap it out. Saddles come in all different designs and can be heavily padded, super lightweight, firm, etc. Hop on a few of your friends' bikes to get a feel for your preference, and talk to your local bike shop before you commit to buying one.

2. Handlebars

When it comes to handlebars, various shapes and materials can affect your riding performance. Consider what type of riding you’ll be doing: downhill, cross country, tight and twisty, etc. These days, many mountain bikes that are designed for cross-country riding come with narrower handlebars. When considering an upgrade, keep in mind width (if you ride a lot of downhill, you may prefer wider bars for more leverage) and shape (you’ll want a handlebar shape that makes you feel the most comfortable).

3. Tires

Before you make the decision to upgrade your mountain bike tires, play around with volume and pressure to see if you notice a difference for the better. Keep in mind that the tires your mountain bike came with might not be best-suited for the type of riding you will be doing. Some bikes come with cheaper all-around, off-road tires that aren’t as grippy as those bought aftermarket. When looking for an upgrade, consider the type of riding you do, what the terrain is like on your most-frequented trails and how durable you'd like the tires to be.

4. Pedals

If your mountain bike came with flat pedals, and you are looking to improve your efficiency, consider upgrading to clipless pedals. One of the most important connections between you and your bike, clipless pedals can make a drastic difference in the way you ride. With a bit of practice, snapping your foot into the pedal and rotating it out will become second nature. Clipless pedals allow you to push down and also pull up on your pedals during steep climbs and over rough terrain. It’s also much easier to hop over obstacles when your feet are attached to the pedal. If you choose this upgrade, you’ll need to wear a special type of cycling shoe that is compatible with these pedals.

5. Fork

Though this area requires quite a bit more money to upgrade, a new fork can make a world of difference in your performance. If you have your heart set on it and have access to the funds, there is nothing stopping you from having the ​suspension you desire. Before you splurge, ask yourself the following questions: How much money am I willing to spend? Will the fork fit my bike? How much travel am I looking for? Is the fork compatible with my braking system? To narrow down your options, start by figuring out what will actually fit on the bike you have. (Consider your headset, steerer length and travel.) After that, consider your options: coil or air; rebound, lockout, compression and travel adjustment; brakes; wheel compatibility; and cost.