How to Make the Upgrades That Matter
Riders love to upgrade their bikes. It’s part of the fun of being into mountain biking. It’s a gear-intensive sport, but when it comes to upgrading, it’s easy to spend money that won’t yield much of a return. We’re here to tell you when you should spend your hard-earned cash and when your Benjamins would be better tossed off a cliff. Here is our list of dos and don’ts.
DO go for the right bike the first time. We recommend determining your budget for a new bike and then saving your pennies for a bit longer to buy the next model up in the line. It’s frustrating to suffer multiple broken parts simply because you didn’t buy the bike you needed in the first place.
DON’T try to upgrade your old bike to make it “like new” again. Major upgrades, such as suspension forks, better drivetrains or carbon wheels, are awesome if you already have a good chassis to work with. But, if you’re trying to revive a tired, old steed with some fancy new parts you’re going to regret not saving those dollars for a new bike, which you will need a couple months down the line anyway.
DO replace your chain and suspension fluids at least every season, and more often if you ride in rough conditions. This little bit of preventive maintenance will save you money in the long run.
DON’T expect any upgrade to work on a bike that’s more than a couple of years old. Standards have changed so much in the past few years that things like wheel swaps or fork upgrades, which used to be simple, now require more parts to actually work. For example, you might find a good deal on a new fork, but then realize it comes with Boost spacing, which may require a new axle size and wheel. Then that wheel may come with a CenterLock brake mount, which will require a new rotor. Then that brake mount may be designed for a specific-size rotor, so you will need an adapter. Don’t even get us started on headsets.
DO keep your bike clean without going crazy. A clean bike runs better than a dirty one, and the cleaning process gives you a chance to look over your frame and components to spot issues before they become ride-ending failures.
DON’T try to “upgrade” your bike with a custom paint job. Not only does this not increase the value of your bike, but it could actually destroy it. Painting a bike is a very difficult process that requires expert knowledge on how to mask and protect threads and bearing surfaces. If you take your bike to a local powder-coater or painter, you’re more likely to come away with a useless piece of wall art than a dialed, custom-looking bike.
DO look for parts online once in a while. While we love to advocate using the local bike shop, we know there can be deals out there on both new and used parts from online retailers. When you go this route, be sure to know your bike inside and out to keep from buying something that is not compatible with your bike.
DON’T expect your local bike shop to give you any kind of discount or freebie labor on a part you bought online. In fact, if you need help installing that part you just scored a screaming deal on, expect to give at least part of the money you saved back to your local shop mechanic who will have to bolt it on.
DO upgrade your wheels. Things like lightweight tires and tubes or a fresh tubeless setup can make a big difference in how your bike handles. Not only does fresh rubber give you more traction, reducing the rotating mass of any wheel makes your bike feel much faster. By dropping weight from the wheels, you’re not only reducing the total mass but also the amount you have to accelerate and decelerate while riding.
DON’T upgrade components that are not worn out. Sure, it may look cool to have an XTR or XX1 rear derailleur bolted to your bike, but it’s not going to make your bike shift even marginally better than the XT or X01 version you pulled off. We’re willing to bet that if blindfolded, most riders would not be able to tell the difference between the shifting performance of either of those drivetrains. Save your money for when the component actually wears out.
DO replace your shifter cables and housing. If you’ve used them more than a year, this will make a bigger difference than any upgraded derailleur.
DON’T try to revive a bike that’s more than a few years old. Technology simply moves too fast to make this feasible. If your bike is more than a few seasons old, it likely makes more sense to upgrade to something new that will offer better suspension performance, more current standards and bigger wheels.
DO turn your old bike into a commuter when it’s finally time to retire it. If your bike isn’t worth much on the open market, when it’s finally time to put it out to pasture, throw some cheap flat pedals on it and turn it into a grocery-getter.