It’s very easy to spend a lot of money on upgrading mountain bikes, but are there still affordable, low budget mountain bike upgrades which can be made? The answer is yes. All of the below upgrades can be implemented for less than £100, and whilst regrettably they do not include upgrading mountain bike forks or a new set of ultra-lightweight wheels, these upgrades can still make a big difference to your everyday riding.
Upgrading Mountain Bike Tyres
The importance of mountain bike tyres is underscored by the fact that the tyres are the only part of your bike that should be in contact with the ground. Whilst many riders do not think about them too much, upgrading your mountain bike tyres to a set which suits your style of riding more can make a huge difference. Installing cheap tyres on your mountain bike is a common practice of bike manufacturers in order to save money on the bike build, as tyre choice is a very personal thing.
Cheap bike tyres will typically be constructed from a hard rubber compound, meaning grip and braking efficiency are reduced. Fitting some high quality tyres - which often use a mix of different rubber compounds - not only increases grip and braking performance, but also reduces rolling resistance, helping you travel faster. More expensive mountain bike tyres make a big difference, especially in wet weather conditions.
Tubeless MTB Tyre Upgrade
If you are upgrading your mountain bike tyres, it makes complete sense to convert them to tubeless mountain bike tyres. Tubeless tyres help prevent a massive number of punctures - not only allowing you to ride without interruption and stopping to repair your tyres, but also in allowing you to ride using lower tyre pressures, enjoying greater levels of traction.
A lot of mountain bikes are now sold with tubeless compatible tyres and rims - which means all you have to do is buy tubeless sealant and valves. Tyres and bikes which are not setup for tubeless tyres, can be converted using rimstrips to create a seal over spoke holes. This is another cheap, fantastic upgrade to make.
Bars & Stem
Many riders find the width of mountain bike handlebars from the factory too narrow for proper control. These narrow bars coupled with a long stem, can make for an uncomfortable riding position, with a lack of feel and control that many want - especially for riding technical trails. A wider bar coupled with a shorter handlebar stem improves handling, especially for those tackling the rough stuff. We recommend buying the widest bars you can, 740-760mm is good for trail bikes, and run up to 800mm for downhill riding. Remember, bars can always be shortened with a hacksaw - but can not be lengthened.
Choosing a shorter stem is also a great way to improve handling, allowing you to have your weight further back on the bike. Aluminium stems and bars can be picked up at a relatively low price point, and make a big difference.
Service the Bike
Although this may not seem like too much of an upgrade, a decent bike service can transform the way the bike feels and performs, especially if servicing a mountain bike with full suspension. Although you may be able to tell what needs replacing on some items, such as the drivetrain of the bike and the chain - it’s more difficult to notice a slow decline in performance from some parts, such as your suspension forks or shock. A complete overhaul and service can cost around £100 and is a small price to pay to get your bike running and feeling great again.
Upgrading mountain bike brakes can either mean replacing your worn out braking system with new parts, bringing back fresh out the box performance, or increasing the size and in turn, power of your brakes. Most mountain bikes arrive from the factory with 160mm rotors, which can be upgraded to rotors up to 200mm, increasing the stopping performance and control of your bike. Switching these rotors over is usually pretty simple, and you would need to order a new disc brake mount, as well as the rotor. These new brakes can take a little while to get used to, with grabbier performance noticeable initially. Aftermarket pads are also recommended, with heavier duty sintered pads providing the best performance, over the long term.
At Westbrook Cycles, we enjoy replacing grips - but mainly because of new colours and patterns which become available. What we have noticed though, almost by accident is the amount of difference and improvement which can be felt in the comfort levels between cheap grips and high quality grips. Push fit grips are standard on most bikes, but can move around - so look to replace them with lock on grips for improved control. The rest is personal preference, and some riders prefer slimmer grips or chunkier grips.
Although a saddle is not necessarily a performance upgrade on a bike, a new saddle - which increases comfort levels - can make a massive difference to how you enjoy riding and how long you can ride for - improving your cycling fitness and skills, as you ride for longer. Different saddles suit different people, and it’s possible to get a decent saddle with massively increased levels of comfort for not a lot of money.