Note: We’ve updated our list of upgrades for any budget, which now includes even more killer gear that will help you improve your ride! There’s still plenty of time to ride this year before winter hits in full force, so keep putting in those miles. And make sure you’re geared up to rock.
Did you find $50 in your ski jacket from last year? Get a bonus from a project at work? Win the lottery? Whatever the reason, if you have some extra cash, you can upgrade your mountain bike to improve your ride. Here are 19 upgrades you can make, from $8 all the way up to $1,100. Check them out, and share your favorite Mountain Bike Upgrades in the comments below!
Chain slap will destroy your chainstay—and while it won’t reduce the quality of your ride, it sure looks bad. The Lizard Skins Jumbo Chainstay Protector’s neoprene will keep your chain from tearing up the paint on your frame, and make it look like you know what you’re doing.
If you’re doing any autumn or winter riding, there’s a good chance you’ll be hitting mud, slush, snow, or standing water . . . which means you’re going to get really dirty. Most of the time, that isn’t a problem, because we’re mountain bikers—we live to get dirty! But if you want to minimize the amount of spray, grab the Grunge Board. It’s easy to put on your bike and will help you stay cleaner. A little, anyway.
$20: Wheels Mfg. Derailleur Hanger
Have you ever broken a derailleur hanger in the middle of a ride? Trust me: it really sucks. Dropping $20 to buy a new one and keeping it in your pack will give you a little insurance against a major breakdown on the trail. If your derailleur hanger goes, you’re going to be walking, and if you’re more than a couple miles out from the trailhead, you could be out there a long time. Don’t leave unprepared. While you’re at it, pick up an extra bolt or two for your saddle clamp. Breaking one of those and riding home standing up is no fun either.
Every bike has its own derailleur hanger, so you’ll have to find the one that works with your make and model.
$26: ODI Ruffian Grips
How long has it been since you replaced your grips? Don’t know? Then it’s definitely been too long. Your grips are a really important interface between you and your bike, and they need to be totally solid. The ODI Ruffian is a low-profile grip that locks onto your handlebar so it won’t twist when you’re really cranking it. They even come in a SRAM version for locking onto twist shifters.
Let’s face it: the seatpost clamp that came with your bike probably sucks. The one that Giant included with mine had a tiny metal shim between the lever and the clamp that got bent out of shape and made it really hard to make adjustments. A more solid seatclamp will make adjustments easier, hold your seatpost more securely, and add a nice accent touch to your bike.
You probably don’t think about your cables and housing very often. When was the last time you replaced them? Don’t remember? That’s not a good sign. This set from Jagwire will upgrade you to compressionless housing, a lubricated liner, and Teflon-coated cables. Minimizing friction with this kit will give you smoother, crisper shifting. And it comes in eight colors, so you can get the housing that matches (or contrasts with) your bike.
If you want a quick way to improve your ride, think about upgrading your pedals, especially if you’re still using an OEM set. The Candy pedals are great because they combine the four-sided entry of the Egg Beater, making it easy to get clipped in, with the larger platform of a flat pedal, so you can generate enough force to get started even if you can’t quite get clipped in. You’ll appreciate it next time you need to get restarted while you’re going up hill.
It’s tough to get a saddle from a manufacturer as venerable as Selle Italia for $75, but the Nekkar Plus (and it’s cut-out cousin, the Nekkar Plus Flow) is a great compromise between quality and price. The microfiber cover, extra padding, and narrow shape make it a very comfortable saddle that’ll help you stay seated on an hours-long epic.
No matter how good your setup is, if you’re riding in sub-par shorts, you’re going to be uncomfortable. There’s a reason why people spend hundreds of dollars on cycling clothes, even though they’re not technically part of the bike. The Ion shorts are a good mid-range short with ripstop fabric and a removable, lightly padded liner, giving you added padding without being overly bulky. There might not be a more notable way to improve your ride with $100.
$120: Fi’zik Gobi Saddle
I absolutely love this saddle. I’ve been riding mine for over five years now, and I haven’t thought about switching it out even once. It’s flexible, good for riders who like longer saddles, and almost completely flat. Combine that with serious durability, and you have a winner. You’re going to be spending a lot of hours on your saddle, so making an investment in a good one will definitely be worth your while!
$130: Garmin Edge 20 GPS
Bet you didn’t think you could get a bike GPS for $130, did you? Garmin’s smallest GPS, the Edge 20, is great for getting detailed stats on a budget. Get your current, max, and average speed, along with distance and satellite-based elevation, from this tiny computer, and upload your stats to your PC to get more information. It’s tough to beat all that for less than $150.
If your shoes aren’t making you more efficient, they’re holding you back. The Kestrel hides a carbon shank spanning the midfoot of the shoe, helping create what Five Ten says is its stiffest sole. The stiffer the sole, the more power you’re moving from your legs to your pedals, and the less you’re losing to sole flex. And with super-cool styling, you’ll want to be seen in this awesome clipless speedster, which will motivate you to get out riding more (or wear the shoe to work, which is also cool).
Chris King parts are legendary for their lightweight smoothness; there’s nothing quite like spinning a crankset or a wheel with Chris King bearings in them. And the ceramic bearings in this bottom bracket are absolutely top of the line. Completely engineered and manufactured in Oregon, you’ll be supporting an American company while getting a crazy smooth, crazy light bottom bracket. Your riding buddies will be jealous.
Fogged sunglasses are the worst. Solve the problem once and for all with the Racing Jacket’s vented lenses, which keep air moving over the inside of the lens and prevent fog. If you can see the trail, you’ll ride better, and you’ll enjoy it more. It might seem crazy to spend this much on sunglasses, but a good pair will last you a super long time (I had a pair of Oakleys fall off the top of my truck at 30 mph, and they’re still in pristine condition, four years later). It’s worth it.
$300: Fox DOSS Dropper Post
Image credit: blog.goo.ne.jp.
A dropper post can really change how you ride—no more getting off the bike to adjust your saddle height; just flick the lever and you’re ready to descend. The DOSS is a three-position post, letting you easily switch between Climb, Trail, and Descend modes. And with 4 inches of drop, you can be confident that your saddle will be out of the way when you need to crush a big descent. The Doss also packs a dual-cam anti-rotation system, helping eliminate play in the seatpost head.
$455: Shimano 1×11 Upgrade Set
1×11 is the way to go. It minimizes maintenance and weight, but gives you the gear range of a 10-speed double or triple crank setup. By buying a Race Face Aeffect crankset ($179), XT M8000 derailleur ($100), XT M8000 cassette ($96), XT SL-M8000 shifter ($65), and SRAM PC1110 chain ($14), you’ll be able to convert your existing 10-speed setup to a 1×11. You’ll want to talk to a mechanic to make sure this will work on your bike, and see if you’ll need any little parts to make it work, but it should work without much trouble or additional replacements.
XTR is the gold standard of mountain bike equipment, and this crankset is no exception. The triple chainring gives you super low gears for getting up the steepest climbs you can find, and the HollowTech aluminum crankarms maintain stiffness without adding too much weight. The extra crankarm reinforcement on the Trail model as well as the titanium chainring teeth make this crankset a bombproof, enduro-friendly, trail-crushing necessity.
The suspension in your fork saves your hands, arms, and back from taking a serious beating when you’re out riding, and an upgrade in your fork can make a big difference to the overall feel of your bike. The RockShox Pike sacrifices a little bit of customizability for smoother operation and less maintenance, and will keep you on the trail longer before you need service. And that means more riding.
$1,100: SRAM Roam 50 Wheelset
Want to drop a thousand bucks and make a huge difference in your riding? New wheels is definitely the way to go. SRAM’s Roam 50 will appeal to a wide variety of riders—almost as light as cross-country hoops but strong enough to stand up to trail riding, the Roam 50 is an all-around wheel that won’t break the bank like SRAM’s super-high-end offerings. Tapered and asymmetrical construction to add strength while reducing weight, and a wide-angle rim for wider tires combine to make a wheel that’ll give you at least $1000 worth of performance at a non-totally-unreasonable price point.
What’s Your Next Upgrade?
Whether you’re spending $10 or $1,000, we want to hear about it. What will you be upgrading your bike with next? Which upgrades have made the most different in your riding? Share your thoughts below!