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The Best Component Upgrade for a Mountain Bike?

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3/30/2020 8:10 AM
Edited Date/Time: 6/1/2020 7:48 PM

Times may be a little tougher ahead, and the dreams of a new bike may be dashed requiring us to keep our existing bikes running longer and stronger.

Whether you have a baller build or a budget build, what's one component upgrade that has changed the way your bike performs?

My tires are sorted, my suspension is dialed and recently, I've been lucky enough to get some fast-engaging rear hubs (Race Face Vault on Turbine SL wheels for a 29er and Onyx Racing silent hubs laced to FSA Gradient hoops on a 27.5.

For the generally pedally terrain here in Idaho, these high-engagement hubs have been enlightening and going back to hubs w/ fewer contact points feels so rough anymore, so that would be my pick. I'm lucky enough to have the choice between the epic killer bee noise of the Race Face Vault Hubs (which I find can help me audibly gauge speed in sections, so I know if I'm faster or slower than normal) or the stalker-silent Onyx.

What is a surefire upgrade to make your bike perform better?

3/30/2020 8:33 AM
Edited Date/Time: 3/30/2020 8:35 AM

Oh that's a tough call... 2 years ago it was having my mind blown by dropper posts. On my most recent bike it'd be the forks (thanks to some folk here for the advice)

Damn you Spomer, I was toying with the idea of some WeAreOne rims with those hubs - such a tease!



3/30/2020 8:43 AM
Edited Date/Time: 3/30/2020 9:02 AM

I’ve said this many times...
The best thing I ever did was put DH casing tyres on my bike. I’ve tried some pretty whacky stuff, stupid head angles, fork offsets, stems, all manner of shocks and forks, bikes 2 sizes too big for me.
The only thing that I stuck with is having a nice, damped tyre on the front.
If I had to choose a second it would be steep seat angles and dipping the nose of the saddle. I pedal so much better when I’m further forward over the BB. I can get myself up the hill with less effort and get more runs in, that’s a pretty big ting imo.


3/30/2020 8:43 AM

For me it's a tie between the DSD Runt and Cush Core.


3/30/2020 8:49 AM

Generally what upgrade will have the biggest impact? impossible to answer bc you don't know what each bike has but if it doesn't have a dropper (and its not a DH bike) then a dropper.

For my bike personally that already came with a dropper, it was some air spring tuning via a Luftkappe which provided the midstroke support that was so sorely lacking from the A1 Pikes.



3/30/2020 9:10 AM

While many wouldn’t consider this an ‘upgrade’ geometry has been a massive upgrade compared to what we were riding nog to long ago


3/30/2020 9:20 AM

Depending on where you live, but my favorite used to be dropper posts and now is being approached by the timberbell. We have a ton of other trail users out and I can turn it on for the DH and most people I see are already off the trail having heard me coming long before I see them. I get 'thank yous' from people and in general, has done a ton to reduce my trail conflict in my area as they get more popular. Fight or flight is triggered when people are scared and by no longer scaring anybody on blind corners or timing of other visual obstacles, multi use trails are seeing a better atmosphere.


3/30/2020 9:21 AM

sspomer wrote: Photo
Times may be a little tougher ahead, and the dreams of a new bike may be dashed requiring us to keep our existing bikes ...more

Haha, Thanks for the love Spomer.

Honestly I think you got the number one upgrade people can do. As @daniel_layton says it is impossible to really know unless you know what bike someone is working on.

But for "cheap" on current bikes, I would say tires are the easy one, and then for the expensive one wheels. Suspension can be amazing, but i think wheels can make a bigger difference since they are such a key contact point of the bike to the dirt.

Yes, I do work for FSA, and love our product, but I think the number one thing...get a CUSTOM built wheelset by a super experienced wheel builder. And by that I don't mean just these rims on that hub. I mean a builder that will really talk with you about your riding style, maintenance style, etc. Double butted or straight spokes, alloy or brass nipples, carbon or aluminum rims, rim width, hub choice (though if you can afford it....just go onyx and stop looking at everyone else). A great builder can actually "tune" a wheel build to you and your riding style.

But just like everything, there is no magic bullet. One funny anecdote for the old school here. I ran into April Lawyer and Chris Shepherd riding trails in Bend years ago... droppers were maybe coming out, but everyone was dropping seatposts on descents anyway. We are at the bottom of Whoops trail, flowy jump trail in Bend. April and Chris come ripping out of the trail and there is Shep with his post at full height on a full XC rig. We start heckling him about it and he says he is faster with it at full height. NO ONE believes him. April chimes in "It's true, most insane thing I have ever seen. You drop his seat on him and he is useless on the bike, full height and he is ripping." (may be paraphrased as it was 10 years ago). so for Shep, a dropper is useless.

Ok enough rambling.


3/30/2020 9:22 AM

For me it was a combination of things. 4 years ago I started out with an off the shelf base specialized camber 29, a left over from 2015. 4 bikes later, and I just finished a frame up build of an S-Works Enduro 29. In racing against the top people of my age on the east coast, Ive found what I like, and what I dont like as far as components and setup. They are all well and good. Pretty much just buy the most expensive things you can and your bike will feel better. However, my biggest upgrade, at least for myself, has been from coaching sessions. I was lucky enough to get a private group session with Take Aim Cycling before the East Coast Junior MTB champs last summer. We spent two days critiquing our form, learning the stages, and adjusting our bike setup to the course conditions. Harlan is a wizard when it comes to the little things like braking points and line choice. My biggest take away from that experience was learning to let loose and focus on my hips.I used to get really tight when turning and always brake through corners. With his guidance, I was able to let the bike move under me more, and let the tires grip.
Even if you can't afford a private coaching session with a certified MTB coach, just following a faster rider or asking them how they would look at a section of trail if arguably more rewarding than bolting on a new part.


Snoopin around lookin for the best trails and sketchiest lines

3/30/2020 9:28 AM

tools and all needed for servicing your lowers regularly... and tires.. you can never have too many to have them fresh (on the front).


3/30/2020 9:42 AM

Cheap to Expensive,

I would say fork Volume Spacers are the best inexpensive upgrade. Too many riders rely on compression dampening when tuning their fork, but volume spacers are so much better for bolstering mid-stroke support and reducing bottom-out without hampering the initial stroke and small bump absorption the way that compression dampening tends to.

Buy a handful of volume spacers and experiment with different volumes.

They are like $3 each and make a huge difference. Personally I run 30% sag in my Lyrik Ultimate, with 4 bottomless tokens. But everyone will have different preferences.

Mid Level Upgrade: A good handlebar, one that doesn't ride like a 2x4 on the trail can make a world of difference

Mid Level Upgrade II: Tires, having good tires that are ideal for your terrain and riding style. Don't just keep buying what came on your bike stock, but experiment with different tires and get your ride dialed for you. 2.4", 2.5", 2.6" Tires, mixing different front and rear tires (but never brands, we aren't barbarians) Experimenting with air pressures, all of this can result in a major improvement to your bike.

Expensive Upgrade: Wheels. A lighter wheelset means reduced rotational weight and that means your bike will feel snappier and more lively. Plus as Spomer noted, a faster-engaging hub can be a significant upgrade for your bike.


3/30/2020 9:46 AM

Geometry is the #1 thing that impacts how a bike rides. I have done a bunch of swapping/upgrading (longer fork travel, DH brakes, carbon wheels), but the component that made the biggest positive difference is a Works Components -1 degree angle headset.


3/30/2020 9:54 AM

Some of these were said before, so I'll be quick.

1- Dropper post. There are lots of experienced riders on here that might take this for granted, but for your friend getting into the sport, significant other, nothing will matter more than eliminating some hesitation going down.

2- Tires. Not just DH casings, but to actually use soft, DH rubber on a trail that really points downhill is a game changer if you are actually sliding or pushing the limits.

My personal preference? SWAT tools and the like. Mostly because I hate having anything on my body/back when I ride. This truly makes my experience better, but I already have #1 and #2 covered.


I'm hungry.

3/30/2020 10:16 AM

Tires widths matched to rim width and the supportive low pressure that comes with it.
Grip. Damping. More grip. The tire activates as the suspension before the fork activates for supple suspension. Moar grip.
i30 rim + 2.35 (max tire width)
i37 rim + 2.6 (max tire width)

With 2.6 turns a whippy 130mm trail bike into an AM beast that is still whippy.


3/30/2020 10:39 AM

I'm going to leave Dropper Posts out because these are essentially a stock item for every trail or enduro bike now days and let's face it, there is alot of good options now than compared to two years ago.

1. 4 Piston Brakes
2. Double Down Casing or equivalent tires
3. Anything for vibration (Spank Vibracores or a carbon equivalent or even wheel inserts)


3/30/2020 10:44 AM

Best upgrade for most riders I'd say is a proper wheelset for their riding.

Beyond that I'd say it mostly is about preference and getting the right parts for you on your bike.


3/30/2020 10:49 AM

Sticky rubber tire compounds at low pressures.
Then you:
1. Never walk out with a stupid flat.
2. Get the best grip on every rock, root and rut no matter what the conditions without falling on your face when you least expect it


Trouble Maker. Here to spit truth in the form of sarcasm.

3/30/2020 10:53 AM

Handlebars. You cannot change a frames geometry but you can completely change it by swapping out different width and rise bars.


3/30/2020 10:59 AM

forrestdalmer wrote:

Cheap to Expensive,

I would say fork Volume Spacers are the best inexpensive upgrade. Too many riders rely on compression ...more

Volume reducers = mid stroke support reducers. If you want more support you’re best throwing them in the bin and using more spring pressure.
I actually think that damping can be overlooked these days. I also think there’s a misconception that moar spacers is moar better.
Set it hard as fuck and ride faster and faster until it feels good.


3/30/2020 11:17 AM

Tubeless tires for me


3/30/2020 12:03 PM



3/30/2020 12:11 PM

Skull valve caps. Can't afford? Dice or bullet ones are also good.


MRP - VP of Business Dev.

3/30/2020 12:11 PM

Best cheap component upgrade:

A comfortable set of grips AND a nicely setup cockpit (lever angle/ spacing etc...). I see so many people riding with wonky cockpit setups: levers at different angles, having to twist their hands in weird ways to reach the shifter/ dropper lever, etc. The bars are the most important contact point on the bike, dialing that setup to be comfortable can be huge in improving performance IMO.

Best expensive-ish upgrade:

A quality set of 4-piston brakes w/ good pads and proper rotors(180mm+). To me the feel of the brakes is the single thing I am most picky about on the bike. A good set of stoppers can improve performance hugely, and help reduce arm-pump on long stages.

Both of these are really key to me, and things I keep dialed and upgrade right away when I get a new rig.


3/30/2020 12:17 PM

Finding the perfect grips and pedals


3/30/2020 12:35 PM

For me, maybe is not a normal component, but I feel very very usefeul the Sram's Shockwiz. I've used in many bikes and always I had a better feeling than before. I know the price is hig but I can improve all my bikes with it. Honestly, I enjoy a lot tunning my suspensions with this little item...
(excuse me for my poor english...)


3/30/2020 12:40 PM

As said above, it really depends on the bike. For me it's all about having a balanced build. Putting high end stuff on a crappy bike won't help that much and in the end it will probably costs more than buying a good bike.

That being said, I think a common overlooked "upgrade" would be a good full service. Servicing your suspensions makes them so much smoother. A new cable/housing and derailleur adjustment makes your shifting so much more precise and so on.
I really find the difference between a bike that is "maintained" (aka just regularly cleaned and chain lubed) and a regularly serviced bike quite shocking.

On the same line, just learn the basics on how to adjust your suspensions and really take some time to play with pressure/knobs/spacers. And don't forget to find the right tire pressure for you before. Again the difference it makes is pretty impressive.

Speaking of "real" upgrade, I would go with the tires first and a good set of grip.


3/30/2020 12:47 PM

Expensive-ish Sram brake upgrade:

Switching stock guide r or rs levers for rsc levers. Having the pad contact adjust makes a world of difference for having your brake consistently feeling the same. Guide r-rsc's all share the same caliper so upgrading the levers is a cheaper way to get more performance.

and 200mm rotors front and rear. I'm really not sure why anyone would want smaller rotors, the rotational weight difference seems negligible. The only reason I think OE's do it is for cost savings.

Also Tires: I've been finding the tough casing high grip WTB tires to be an ideal upgrade from most stock tires


3/30/2020 12:50 PM

My last bike (2018 Firebird 27.5) only had a water bottle mount on the underside of the downtube. Not sure what Pivot was thinking, I lost at least a dozen bottles and smashed my bottle cage about once a month. New bike is a Transition Patrol and it has a bottle cage inside the triangle. Crazy innovation by the team of scientists at Transition. Huge upgrade to my riding experience.


3/30/2020 1:28 PM

For a little background I ride a heavily upgraded old school Cannondale Prophet. 1x11 XT, mt5s, 27.5 conversion with a Fox 34 factory at 150mm plus more. Why bother with an ancient frame like that? Why not? Plus I like the ride. Also I got a killer deal on the frame so there's that.

The whole build was a huge upgrade but the one that most effects my riding is the custom tuned RS Monarch RT3. I found a NOS Monarch for $100 and I sent it to to get the high compression and low rebound tune that my single pivot Prophet needs. That and the usual ride style plus rider weight tune made a massive difference. It's plush and active and i have yet to have a hard bottom out and I've tried.

When I finally find an affordable 27.2 dropper seatpost over 100mm I may change my... tune on this but I'm very happy so far.


3/30/2020 2:33 PM

For all but elite riders? Good quality coaching. Making positive changes to your riding basics and squishing bad habits will do far more to help you down every trail than any bike part could. The better a bike you already own, the more true this becomes. Never mind fancy tires, faster hubs or shock tunes, the difference between good and bad body position blows all that out of the water.

The only caveat is the upgrade is only as good as the coach.