How to Upgrade Your New Mountain Bike

trek 6700

Did you just buy your first mountain bike so you can get into XC racing?

Chances are you bought something like the Trek 6700, Giant XTC 1, Cannondale F4, or Specialized Rockhopper Expert. These are roughly $1100-1300 bikes, which is not cheap, but you still might want to upgrade some parts and add accessories to decrease the weight and improve the performance.

Here is what I would do to make your bike race-ready without spending too much money:

Day of Purchase

The first upgrade you need to make is going to clipless pedals. You should do this immediately, because it’s a huge performance upgrade!

Most bikes in this price range either have flat pedals, no pedals at all, or maybe the basic Shimano SPD pedals. (If they do come with a pedal like the Shimano M520, you can use that to start, but be prepared to upgrade eventually, as these pedals don’t always work well.)

If the bike comes without clipless pedals, I would recommend looking at nicer pedals from Shimano, Time, and Crank Brothers. Popular models are the Shimano M770, Time ATAC XS Carbon, Crank Bros Eggbeater SL, and Crank Bros Candy SL.

You will also need special shoes to go with the clipless pedals. Take a look at models from Shimano, Sidi, Northwave, Specialized, Bontrager, Diadora, and Pearl Izumi. (Consider some more cycling clothing while you’re at it.)

Next, look at the saddle. There’s a chance you’ll like the saddle that comes on the bike. If so, great.

You won’t be doing too many long rides where you sit the whole time (unlike on a road bike,) so the saddle won’t be as big of a deal. But if you hate the saddle, switch it! I’m a big fan of Fizik and WTB saddles for mountain bike use.

After A Few Rides

After a few rides, consider getting some new rubber. AKA, grips and tires.

If the stock grips are comfy, go ahead and stick with them. But if they suck (as a lot of grips do,) upgrade them. I think the Oury grips and ESI grips are good, but also try out the Ergon grips if you have had any hand discomfort with regular grips.

Next, tires. Even if you got decent tires on your bike, mountain bike racing calls for more than one pair of tires. That’s because you need at least two sets of tires – one for dry conditions and one for wet, muddy conditions.

Some tires I like include the IRC Serac XC, Maxxis Crossmark, Maxxis Monorail, Hutchinson Python, and Kenda Nevegal. But there are many tires out there, and you need the ones that match your typical riding conditions. (Someone in the Arizona desert needs different tires than someone riding technical East Coast singletrack.)

Ask the local bike shop or your fellow racers for tire recommendations for your area.

New Wheels, Go Tubeless

As you start thinking about new tires, also think about going tubeless. Switching to tubeless tires is a huge performance upgrade! (First priority for performance is clipless pedals and shoes, but a close second is tubeless tires.)

There are two ways to accomplish this – buy UST wheels, or use a Stan’s NoTubes conversion kit.

On a budget:

If you’re on a budget, go for the Stans NoTubes conversion, which will convert your existing wheels and tires to tubeless for just about $55.

Also, if your standard wheels are good quality and you don’t want to spend $650 on new ones, the Stan’s conversion kit is for you.

With a little work, you’ll turn your regular wheels into a sweet set of tubeless wheels! It is so worth it! (It takes some work though, so don’t expect it to be easy.)

If you can afford new wheels:

If you have the money, spring for some new wheels. These are typically called UST tubeless wheels, and two popular options are Mavic Crossmax SL and Stan’s Olympic Disc wheels.

Both wheelsets are fairly expensive (around $650-900,) but they are lightweight and don’t require fussing around to get them working without tubes.

Important Components to Upgrade

Here are some good ideas if you still have more money than you know what to do with:

Brakes

Your brakes get a lot of use when mountain biking! These days, bikes in this price range come equipped with decent hydraulic disc brakes. These should work great for years to come, so don’t be in a hurry to upgrade.

On the other hand, if you have V-brakes, I’d swap those out ASAP. Disc brakes work so much better, especially in wet conditions, so it’s worth the investment.

But let’s say you have some basic hydraulic discs like the Avid Juicy 3 or Shimano Deore. They’re alright, but if you want better performance (nicer levers, better modulation, more power, etc.), you can upgrade your brakes because they are so important.

A popular option is the Avid Juicy Ultimate, but there are also nice brakes from Shimano XTR, Hayes, Hope, and Magura.

Suspension fork

Another expensive upgrade, a nice fork could cost more than your wheels. (I feel wheels are much more important, and brakes a little more important than this upgrade, but a good fork is nice to have.)

The real key is to have a fork with a lockout. These days, virtually every fork is going to have a lockout, so your current fork is probably fine.

But you can save some serious weight and get a better feel with a nicer fork. The RockShox SID and Fox F100 forks are popular options.

The Drivetrain

A good drivetrain is essential to performance, but a basic drivetrain consisting of Shimano Deore and/or SLX parts (or SRAM X.7 or X.9 components) should deliver solid performance. (If your drivetrain isn’t performing well, consider adjusting it properly or working on your shifting technique.)

Considering the likelihood of damaging derailleurs while riding, I would just wait and replace them when necessary. (If you must upgrade, I’d stick with Shimano XT, as XTR is super expensive.)

As for the rest of the drivetrain, just replace it as necessary. When they need replacement, a good chain and cassette will improve performance and save weight. Your bike probably came with a cheap, heavy cassette. (That’s the #1 priority for upgrading if you upgrade anything in the drivetrain.)

Just remember that you’ll go through at least a couple chains each year, and the cassette will need changed every so often.

Other Bicycle Components

If you’ve made it this far, your bike is probably very nice. There’s not much left to upgrade, but here are a couple ideas:

To save weight, consider a carbon seatpost. You could also choose a carbon handlebar to save more weight and possibly increase your comfort.

But the seatpost, stem, and handlebar are probably the last parts I’d upgrade.

Final Thoughts on Upgrading Components

Upgrading components can be fun and exciting, but buying purely on emotion will burn through your money real fast. You should first upgrade the parts that will give you the most bang for your buck, and then move on to the other parts. And don’t forget that many parts will wear out and need replaced, so you want to have some money saved for that!

In any case, it’s your bike, so have fun with it!

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10 Comments so far

  1. Anthony C. Wallace on March 2nd, 2010

    I’m buying a new Montague Paratrooper folding tactical mountain bike. I am going to up grade everything on it.

    What dimensions do I need to know when ordering a new fork, new crank and bottom bracket, and a new seat post? I want to start ordering parts now so when the bike gets here in a week or two the new components will be on their way.

  2. Levi on March 2nd, 2010

    @Anthony

    For the fork, you would need to know the wheel size (probably 26″) and the headset type (probably a 1 1/8″ threadless headset.) You would also want the same travel (probably 80mm.)

    For the crank and BB, you’ll need to know crank length (probably 175mm, but it’s personal preference) and BB type.

    For the seatpost, you would need to know the diameter (which might be 27.2mm.)

    If the bike doesn’t come with a manual and the parts aren’t labeled clearly, I’d get a bike shop to make sure you’re getting compatible replacement parts.

  3. Scott Harriger on October 28th, 2010

    Why don’t you just get a frame? Or a build kit? If you are just going to take everything off right away and put on all new parts, what is the point of buying a whole bike? Isn’t that a waste of money?

  4. Levi on October 29th, 2010

    @Scott

    This article is meant for someone buying a $1200 mountain bike and then upgrading parts and/or replacing broken parts over the next five years or so.

    Buying a frame and nice parts to build up from the start would be nice, but not everyone has $5000 to do that.

    Now, if you’re talking to Anthony above, then yes, it does seem odd to buy a complete bike with plans to upgrade every single part before you even get the bike! I would consider that a waste of money for sure. But who knows, maybe the bike isn’t available as a frame-only deal?

  5. Derp on March 11th, 2011

    I do believe that the Montague Paratrooper isn’t offered frame only. Got a used one though, and am currently in the process of changing things out for a touring setup.

  6. Phillip on September 11th, 2011

    I bought a standard bike for upgrade, ibought RST Shcok and gear,what more doi need to upgrade its parts?

  7. Phillip on September 11th, 2011

    Im new to biking, i dnt know how to upgrade with parts which im not familiar with.so first u bought a shock and adjust gear, but my chain just got stcuked last night. WHAT SHOULD I REPLACE? my Back gear cant change to 6 and it sucks!WHAT SHOULD I UPGRADE FIRST? AFTER THE SHOCK AND GEAR CHANGER? Reply pls tHANKS! :)

  8. Levi on September 12th, 2011

    @Phillip

    First I would suggest getting your bike fixed at a shop if something isn’t working. Then learn how to work on your bike yourself, and only after that, worry about doing any upgrades.

  9. Phillip on September 18th, 2011

    Thanks,Myt bikes not working well with the shifters, so i bought one like Shimano,I dont know what kind of shimano was that.sometimes when i ride my gear changer juist adjust by itself. hahahah i hate it./ next time i will upgrade it with the latest shimano gear changer

  10. Phillip on September 18th, 2011

    My downhill bike was awsome. but it sounds funnywhen i change its gear by 6 xd..what should i replace?.. that bike is just alright but the sound when i turn up to 6.i hate it it disturbs me

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