20 CHEAP UPGRADES FOR YOUR BIKE
A Better Bike Without Breaking the Bank
It’s been said that the greatest fear of any man who rides bikes is that when he dies, his wife will sell his bikes for what he told her they cost. Mountain biking can be an expensive sport. Simply take a look at our pages and you’ll figure that out quickly. We’re testing a pair of brakes in this issue that cost more than most people would consider spending on an entire bike; however, not all upgrades have to break the bank to be worthwhile. We’ve compiled some of our favorite upgrades that won’t melt your credit card. Every upgrade here costs less than 100 bucks. Enjoy.
1. A FREE PHONE APP TO TRACK YOUR RIDE
We’ve ragged on Strava in the past for turning every trail into a makeshift enduro race, thanks to its leader boards; however, that doesn’t mean that Strava and similar smartphone apps are not useful. Used responsibly, these apps can provide helpful information. A few of our favorites in addition to Strava are Map My Ride, Bike Brain and Cyclemeter.
2. FANCY TUBELESS VALVE STEMS
Not running tubeless tires on your bike is getting harder to justify. Tires, rims and sealants work so well and are so affordable now that we can’t think of a reason why a serious rider would skip this upgrade. To go along with your tubeless setup, there are many chichi valves available that look cool and work great. Our favorites are the anodized ones from E*thirteen that come in plenty of cool colors.
3. BETTER SEALANT FOR YOUR TIRES
Tubeless tires are only as good as the sealant in them. This is no place to skimp, as inferior sealants can end a ride and leave you begging to borrow a tube to limp home. We recently tested a group of tire sealants and had the best results with Orange Seal, TruckerCo and, of course, the original Stan’s. Any of these are an upgrade if you’re not already using them.
4. SHIMANO PF CABLE HOUSING AND NEW SHIFTER CABLES
Shifter cables are not all that glamorous, blingy or noticeable as an upgrade. But what they lack in showmanship, they make up for in performance. Cables deteriorate so slowly, you’ll hardly notice their performance has degraded until you replace them. Even if you just replace your old cables with generic ones, you’ll notice a big improvement in performance. But, if you step up to our favorite cables and housing, the Shimano PF cable system, you will notice a huge difference in shifting crispness. Cables should be replaced at least once a season—and more often if you ride in muddy or harsh conditions.
5. COLORED-CABLE END CAPS
These were in style back in the ’90s when only the coolest bikes came equipped with purple-anodized peace signs as cantilever brake-cable splitters. (If you’re too young for that reference, we’re truly sorry. It was a glorious time in mountain bike history.) But, the colored end cap is still cool and will add some bling to your bike for next to nothing. Just ask your favorite bike-shop mechanic to dig in the bin till he finds one.
6. CUSTOM STICKERS
Many professional riders have their names emblazoned on their top tubes, jerseys and sometimes even their water bottles. You can have a slice of that glory, too, by ordering custom decals from a company like VC Graphix. The personalized stickers might not actually make you faster, but they will certainly make you feel faster.
7. BETTER CHAIN LUBE
Using the best chain lube for your local riding conditions is like having a secret weapon. Your drivetrain will feel more efficient. Your chain will be cleaner, and you won’t have to replace expensive parts as often. Wax-based and dry lubricants work best for the dry, desert climates where we test most. Wet lubricants are heavier and will attract more dirt and debris, but are necessary for wet and muddy conditions. No matter what lubricant you use, be sure not to over-apply, as it is simply a waste. Our favorite lubes right now are Maxima Dry, ProGold and Squirt.
8. CUSTOMIZED GRIPS
Grips are one of the main contact points between you and your bike. Replacing a worn pair of grips with a new set might make your bike feel fresher than any other upgrade. ODI made the lock-on grip stick (no pun intended) and will even laser-etch your name or any other catchphrase on a pair of its lock-on grips for an additional $3.50.
9. FRESH RIDING SHORTS
Riders spend so much time talking about the hard parts on their bikes that they often forget about their other riding gear. Most riders reading this article could probably use a fresh pair of shorts. Go ahead; check your favorite pair of shorts. We’re willing to bet that the chamois is a more desirable breeding ground for bacteria than a Petri dish at a bacteria convention. Replace it with a fresh pair at least every season.
10. A NEW FRONT TIRE
A new pair of tires will likely run more than $100. For that reason, we can’t include a new pair of tires in this article; however, the rear tire on a bike wears out much faster than the front one, so we can give one of our favorite tips for getting the most out of your rubber. Rather than buying a fresh pair of tires, simply swap the front one to the back (provided that the tread pattern is universal and not front-specific) and buy a new front tire.
11. A SHORTER STEM
We’ve complained to companies for years that their bikes still come with stems that are too long. Typically, if there is a fit issue with one of our test bikes, it’s that the stem is too long, and we solve it long before the bike ever hits the trail. If you’re riding an XC bike, any stem longer than 90 or 100 millimeters is too long. For an all-mountain or enduro bike, that number drops to 70. For downhill, you should probably be down to a 50- or 35-millimeter stem. Don’t believe us? Just try it.
12. WIDER HANDLEBARS
Nothing goes better with a short stem than a wide handlebar. It spreads your arms and chest to make for a more powerful position on the bike, and even seems to open up the lungs for better breathing. Most stock handlebars are between 680 and 750 millimeters wide. Many handlebars are available in widths up to 800 millimeters. That may not sound like much, but trust us, you will feel even a 10-millimeter change in bar width. Most of our test riders (who all ride size-large bikes) prefer bars between 760 and 780 millimeters.
13. LIGHTER FORK AXLE
Replacing your fork axle with a trick bolt-on version is a quick way to save some grams and give your bike a pro look. X-Tralite makes axles for rear wheels, and Fox makes the Kabolt for its forks. Both of these are bolt-on upgrades that will look cool and shed weight.
14. COLOR-MATCHED ZIP-TIES
Nearly every bike needs zip-ties to hold cables in place. For about two to three bucks, you can go to the electrical section of your local hardware store and pick up some zip-ties that match the color scheme of your bike. Bonus points are awarded if you clip the zip-ties with a pair of flush cuts or fingernail clippers to avoid sharp edges. Double bonus points are awarded if you face all the zip-tie heads the same direction just because.
15. MORE COMFORTABLE SADDLE YOU KNOW WILL WORK
One of the most common reasons for not riding more is an uncomfortable saddle. There are plenty of saddles out there to try, and since every rear end is different, it may take some trial and error to find the right one. Most reputable bike shops have a saddle trial period, so you can test ride a saddle for a couple rides, and if it doesn’t work, exchange it for a new one. Some saddle companies, like WTB, even have saddle demo programs where you can try several models until you find one that works.
16. A DIALED CLEANING KIT
A clean bike is a happy bike, and you need a cleaning kit to keep it that way. At a minimum, you need a bucket, degreasing soap and two brushes—one for the drivetrain and one for the rest of the bike. There are many cleaning kits available that include bike cleaners, cleansers and brushes. Most of these are dialed right out of the box, like Muc-Off’s 8-in-1 kit. You can try to get the same kit from the hardware store, but you may find yourself spending the same amount as if you’d simply bought the whole kit. Plus, the complete kits come with rags, polishes and degreasers you won’t be able to find at the store.
17. PROTECTIVE TAPE
3M’s 2228 electrical sealing tape is self-adhesive and makes the absolute best chainstay protector we know of. We’ve been saying this for years. It will save the paint on your chainstay and will deaden that annoying chain-slap noise. If you want to go a step further, you can invest in a pack of clear decals to protect all the parts of your frame, like Crankskin’s Complete Bike Protection kit. For $49, you can protect the finish on all the most vulnerable parts of your frame and bike.
18. A NEW CHAIN
The drivetrain on any bike wears as a system. If you run a chain for too long, the bushings wear out and the chain stretches. This causes the cogs and chainrings to wear prematurely, resulting in the dreaded “chain skipping” when you finally do replace the chain after it’s broken. Chains should be replaced at least every season—and more often if you ride more than a couple times a week. Don’t simply wait for your chain to break and then try to fix it. A little preventative maintenance now will prevent big costs down the road.
19. A TUNE-UP AT YOUR LOCAL BIKE SHOP
The best bike is the one that you’re riding, and it’s only at its best when it’s tuned and dialed. If you’re not an experienced mechanic, it’s best to turn to the professionals for help. For less than 100 bucks, those trained pros will take your ghost shifting, brake dragging, creaking and cracking pile of metal and turn it into a finely tuned machine. Heck, if you give them a tip, they might even teach you how to do a bit of that wizardry yourself.
20. A NEW RESERVOIR FOR YOUR HYDRATION PACK
That Petri dish you call a hydration reservoir is a harbor for bacteria. Skip the home remedies like squirting lemon juice or mouthwash in your reservoir. These techniques will only make your water taste funny and won’t solve the problem of you drinking water that’s only a step above pond scum. Do yourself a favor and replace that old reservoir with one that has a treatment to keep the water tasting fresh and keep bacteria away. Our favorite replacement reservoir is the Source WXP, which features a multi-layer polyethylene film. The film creates a glass-like surface that prevents gross build-up and makes the system virtually self-cleaning.
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