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Top 5 Mountain Bike Upgrades

Joel Smith

Upgrades, upgrades, upgrades. Everyone likes upgrades for their bike, right? I certainly do, but I find that there are two kinds of upgrades: Those I want, and those I need. Since this story only lists 5 upgrades, I am going to focus on the essentials.

Without further ado, here are the Top 5 Mountain Bike Upgrades you should consider.

 

The Maxxis Assegai tire is one of our favorites.

Tires

A lot of upgrade articles suggest buying new tires, and that makes a lot of sense. There is no better way to improve the performance of your bike than new rubber. But which tires should you be upgrading is the question.

I am going to make it easy on you:

For aggressive trail riding, I suggest a Maxxis Assegai 29X2.5 up front and a Aggressor 2.5 in the rear.

If you want something faster rolling, you can try the Aggressor 29X2.3 in the rear, but I would still keep the bigger size Assegai in the front.

For normal trail riding, I suggest a Maxxis Minion DHF 29X2.3 front and the Aggressor 29X2.3 rear.

A few notes here: I am running Aggressor’s out back because they provide decent traction, roll pretty fast and are very durable. Sure, a DHF or a DHR will provide better traction in the rear, but they roll slower and don’t last as long. I have to buy my tires. I assume you do too.

2nd, depending on how rocky the terrain is, I would consider running the Double D rear tire. Yes, it weighs quite a bit more, but the extra sidewall provides both stability in corners and flat/rim protection. You could consider the Exo + tires, as well, but the weight is so close to the DD tires, I just run the DD. I also find I can run lower pressures with DD tires.

3rd, the above is my suggestions for riding in general conditions. In the winter, at my home in Santa Cruz, I usually run a Maxxis Shorty up front and a DHF in the rear. This combo works best when it’s wet and loamy and you want the tires to bite.

4th, tire pressure. Don’t be the guy who never checks his tire pressure. Before every ride, I check my tire pressure (and the lube on my chain). Up front, I am running 21psi and out back I am running 23psi. This is low enough to have good traction but high enough to avoid rim damage.

 

Food wrappers can double as tube protection if you have a sidewall tear.

Tools

Okay, so this might sound silly, but I am so surprised at how few people carry tools these days. I guess they really like me because I am the guy who will stop and work on your bike if I see you walking with some malfunction. This is what I carry.

  • Multitool with chain breaker-I am using a Wolf Tooth Encase system which fits in the handlebar. It’s pretty sano and seems to dampen some vibration in the bars.
  • Quick-link for chain-I carry a SRAM chain link, but I have found it works fine on both Shimano and SRAM 12-speed chains
  • Tube and Co2-This is a must. I can’t tell you how many times I have repair other’s flat tires.
  • Food-Okay, so this isn’t a tool, but if you eat the food, you can use the wrapper to fix a tire sidewall tear to at least get you home.

 

Shimano shifter housing and cable sets provide better function and improved durability.

Cables and Housing

Whenever my shifting starts getting fussy, the first thing I do is swap out the cables and housing. And each time I do this, I am amazed at both how much gunk is down in the housing and how much better (and easier) the bike shifts when I am done. I always, always, always use Shimano shifter cables and housing, even if I have a SRAM set up. I just find the cables and housing work well together, stretch less and function better longer.

There is nothing like a new set of bibs to improve you ride.

Chamois

I assume you are wearing a chamois under your baggy shorts? Well, I do, and I recently replaced one of my tired old chamois with a new one from Assos. From the moment my butt hit the saddle, I basically wondered what I had been doing to myself for the previous year.

The new chamois was so comfortable, with plush padding and a high level of general  freshness. And you don’t need a high-dollar Assos version either. I am running some Primal bibs under my TLD shorts and they are super nice and are a fraction of the cost.

The Giro Switchblade without the chin protector makes a perfect trail riding helmet.

Helmet

I have quite a stash of helmets at home. Some look pretty worn down and others look nice and new. But, these helmets never get placed on my head. That’s because even though they might be looking okay, I typically only ride a helmet that is less than two-years old.

Maybe I bought into the helmet-company created marketing hype of replacing old helmets (forced retirement of helmets based on age seems like a good way to sell more helmets), but I really like having good, new head protection.

And if I consider that a new set of tires costs about the same as a new helmet, well, it makes sense to me to replace them. Lastly, it seems like the helmet companies are improving the comfort, safety and functionality of helmets each year, so makes sense to keep updated. I personally use a Giro Switchblade, but I run it without the chin guard. It offers more protection down the side of my head than a normal trail helmet.

So, that’s it. Quick and dirty: 5 Top Mountain Bike Upgrades you should consider doing ASAP to improve your ride experience. I figure the max spend if you did them all would be around $500. It’s a lot for sure, but I would consider the cost versus benefit very high.

 

 

 

Alchemy’s Joel Smith has been riding mountain bikes for over 35 years. Starting out in the dirt on a converted Laguna-brand cruiser in the mid-1980s, his immediate love of the sport turned into a lifelong career. Smith raced both XC and DH in the 1990s (in the now defunct NORBA National Series) and has worked on nearly every aspect of bike development over his nearly 30-year long career.

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