This week we’ve asked Matt Gilliver, our staff trainer and in-house bike geek what are those easy wins you should consider when you want to upgrade your mountain bike, what gets the most bang for your buck.
The words ‘mountain’ and ‘bike’ when placed together always bring a smile to my face at any time of the day, so when I was asked to compile an upgrade list, I just jumped at the chance. For me, riding mountain bikes is about fun with my friends on a hot dry sunny day in the North Downs, the thought of dry dusty trails makes the hair on my neck stand on end. Anyway, enough of dreaming about summer when it’s a fair way off, and more of the upgrades list…
For mountain bikers, tyres are a good upgrade at all times of the year. You will find that tyres don’t last as long as you might expect. Tyre damage is unavoidable and is due to trail conditions, and gradual wear caused by breaking and powering up and down the hills.
Part of the joy of mountain biking is the obstacles like roots and rocks that don’t move when you ride over them. That’s all good fun, however, over time, edges of the tyre tread start to wear and become rounded off. This will affect the grip you have – and thus affect your ride – so replacing your tyres every so often is a must.
When purchasing a new set of tyres you will want to consider cost, weight, style and rubber compound. Getting this right will lead to a better ride and performance. Having low weight tyres that are pumped up to the correct pressure results in fast rolling resistance and better performance.
Most tyres today are a multi compound rubber. The rubber in the centre of the tyres is normally harder, because most of the time you’re riding upright. The harder rubber helps to slow down wear, and the rubber on the sides of the tyre are normally softer for better grip.
Which brand and style to go for is down to what bike and discipline you ride. There are loads of brands and they all offer a good selection of tyres and sizes. I have tested quite a few general, hard, cross-country and trail riding tyres over the years. My favourites are the Maxxis High Roller 2.35. The tyre offers very good grip in all weather conditions. I also like the Schwalbe nobby nic tyres in size 2.30 – this tyre is fast rolling, lightweight and fast around corners, and I would go as far as saying that the nobby nic offer slightly better performance than the Maxxis tyre.
Pedals are one of the main contact points for the rider and your pedals should offer good grip and stability at all times. If you are racing or riding long cross country rides and you don’t need to put your feet down on the ground, my recommendation would be a set of Shimano XT clipless pedals. You will be clipped into the pedals and will therefore gain better stability throughout your ride.
Better stability will boost your performance, by giving you confidence and improving your bike handling. You can adjust how tight you are clipped into the pedal on the pedal by a screw, and the Shimano XTs are great because they are also very lightweight. This will result in a better ride, and of course fun with friends and stories down the pub of how you rode better than ever.
However, riding with flat pedals has always been my favourite style of riding. I normally throw the bike around a fair bit on the trails, so when I am going around tight twisty corners I like to sometimes take my foot off the pedal. This results in better balance and weight distribution, and also means I can slide the back end of the bike around the corner. I am going to hedge my bets with the choice of pedal, as I have used them for many years now and I’m sure that I am not alone on this choice of flat pedal… The DMR v12 or vault has proved to be the mountain bikers’ favour choice over the years. These pedals they offer excellent grip in all conditions when riding at all speed on most terrain.
Handlebar & stem
Upgrading the handlebar and stem which initially came with the bike can revolutionise your ride completely if you get it right.
Generally, the standard stem will be around about 80-100mm in length and will have a few degrees of rise. The handlebar is usually a midrise bar, an average width and fairly low weight. The major companies that most mountain bikers will choice is either Thomson or Easton, and they are regarded as a popular choice.
By upgrading the handlebar to a low rise bar, it will give you a little more confidence and will also move your weight over the front end of the bike, in turn resulting in better cornering. The wider the handlebar, the more leverage you will get through your arms and this will also result in better cornering and ride position.
You may want to opt for a slightly shorter stem than the standard length. Doing this it will move the handlebars back towards you a very small amount, but in most cases will probably alter the ride position for the better. Bear in mind that some stems nowadays can be flipped upside down, so the stem will point upwards or downwards, either raising or lowering the handle bars.
Dropper seat post
I have been riding mountain bikes for about 30 years now and in that time I’ve seen a lot of changes – but I have to say that the dropper seat post is up there with my all-time favourite gadgets. These gems are worth every penny that they cost.
A ‘dropper post’ is a seatpost that allows you to alter your saddle height whilst riding, meaning that you don’t have to get on and off as the terrain changes.
With the saddle dropped as low as possible you have more control descending at speed, but when you’re climbing you will want it higher. By having a dropper post you can use a remote lever on the handle bar to operate the saddle. This can save time on an average ride, and prevents you (or your riding buddies) getting cold whilst you fiddle with the seat clamp.
I have owned a Rockshox Reverb for over a year now on my mountain bike; it has been faultless all year round in all conditions from snow to thick mud, freezing cold to roast hot temperatures.
I have to say that I left the best product till last on the upgrade list, but if you own a mountain bike and want to upgrade then any of the above could be the key to a better ride.