10 mountain bike upgrades under $100

We throw a lot of virtual ink around about the latest-and-greatest mountain bikes and components, many of them measured in the thousands of dollars. And while I personally love awesome, new components and blingy carbon wheels, the facts of life usually mean that I can’t buy those types of components every day… or even every year.

Even if you or I can’t afford to drop over a grand on the latest and greatest drivetrain, that doesn’t mean there aren’t affordable upgrades available that will improve the way our bikes ride! Sometimes, paying attention to the small things can turn a worn-out bike on its last legs into the perfect steed for years to come. These 10 upgrades, each for $100 or less, are all guaranteed to have a massive impact on your bike’s performance: 

1. New Mountain Bike Tires

Oftentimes, I think we take our tires for granted. Yeah, all mountain bikes have tires, my bike’s always had tires on it… I’ve never ridden a bike without tires. But since tires are the only part of the bike that touch the ground, the tires you run can make a massive difference in the way your bike performs!

There are two issues that could prompt you to buy new mountain bike tires:

1) You could have the wrong tires for your local trails and the conditions you ride. Oftentimes, the tires that come stock on a mountain bike are cheap (lower cost for the bike company) and are halfway decent for average trail conditions. However, there’s really no such thing as “average” trails: soil composition, moisture level, and many other variables vary wildly from place to place. Maybe your stock mountain bike tires will work well for you, but maybe they won’t. If you don’t have the right tread and rubber compounds for your area, it’s time to upgrade.

2) You could have worn down your tread significantly. Many times, I don’t really realize how worn my tread actually is; it’s not like it changes rapidly enough to notice it. However, when you place a worn mountain bike tire next to a brand new tire, you’ll see the wear… and when you finally get new rubber on your steed, you’ll notice the performance improvement!

Note: you can easily spend more than $100 on a pair of mountain bike tires, but if you shop closeouts online and aren’t committed to buying the lightest tires, you should be able to re-shoe your bike for less than 100 bones.

Shop: Mountain Bike Tires

2. Go Tubeless

Photo: dgaddis.

I fought going tubeless for the longest time, but after moving to Colorado I had little choice: the combination of goat heads, cacti, and sharp rocks is lethal to tubes. However, after a relatively quick, painless, and affordable transition, I haven’t had a single flat with my new tubeless setup! Also, the traction benefits from lower pressure as well as the overall weight reduction are reason enough to switch. Yeah, I’m a believer. For those on a budget, be sure to check out dgaddis’s Ghetto Tubeless How-To article.


3. New Mountain Bike Grips

Oury Lock On Grips. Photo by Greg Heil

As a general rule, some of the most important components on your mountain bike are the contact points–IE, where your body contacts the bike. Also, the tires mentioned in #1 and #2 contact the ground, so they’re vitally important as well. However, these contact points are often overlooked when shopping for and upgrading a bike, even though they aren’t expensive.

The right pair of grips for your hands and your riding style can make a world of difference. Often this comes down to personal preference, so I recommend you try out a few different types, but at roughly $30 for even really nice grips, this is a pretty affordable upgrade.

For cross country riders, I personally recommend Ergon grips for weight distribution and comfort. However, if you’re into technical descending, a round grip is better–Oury grips offer great padding in a round form, but they’re definitely thick. Thinner round grips are plentiful. Im adding this


4. New Mountain Bike Pedals and/or Cleats

Photo by Brian Gerow

Whether you ride clipless or flats, mountain bike pedals, like any other part of the bike, can wear out. As a contact point, they are very important, but are again often overlooked. However, you can easily get caught spending more than $100 on your new pedals, but if you’re willing to sacrifice a few grams, you can score new ones for well under $100. Be sure to check out the Shimano Saint MX80 Reviews.

If you buy new clipless pedals, cleats will be included, so be sure to replace the ones on your shoes. However, sometimes all that’s required to make a set of old pedals feel new is simply replacing your worn-out cleats.

Shop: Mountain Bike Pedals

5. New Mountain Bike Saddle

WTB Volt. Photo: Matt Miller

Saddles are a very personal component–the saddle that came stock on your mountain bike might fit you perfectly, it might fit you reasonably well, or it may just not be the right size/shape for your anatomy. Finding a saddle that fits properly can make a world of difference, and if you’re willing to buy the budget-friendly model that’s a few grams heavier, many comfortable saddles can be had for less than $100. Check out the WTB Volt Race Saddle reviews.

Buy It: from Amazon
Shop: WTB Bolt Race Saddles

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# Comments

  • maddslacker

    I love the wide bar, short stem setup and have done it to my fat bike as well as my daughter’s “trail” Giant Trance. The Spank items pictured are on sale over at Jenson USA for under $70 each. So technically, under a hundred per component. 😀

  • dgaddis

    Tires certainly should be #1 on the list. Go to something lower profile and fastering rolling to get some free speed without the hassle of training and eating less, or go fatter and knobbier for more shreddage.

  • Tim Kremer

    Thanks for the articles! Couldn’t agree more. It is nice to see some articles for people those who aren’t sponsored, it is why I like you guys!

    • Greg Heil

      Thanks Tim, I’m stoked you enjoyed the article!

  • skibum

    Being a Clyde, I found the larger front rotor to be a huge improvement.

  • Fat_Polly

    I recommend the Easton 35mm handlebar/stem combo. Slightly more than $100 but it made a huge difference in my comfort and confidence. I was skeptical at first but wide bars and short stem are the way to go for trail riding.

    • OKI

      Careful with the 35mm’s, be sure to check the stem length against the forward position of the axle.
      35mm is on the dot with mine, and although dropping the length brought all the improvements..40mm was the way to go.
      Also check some of the cheaper brands from places like Korea, mid level prices with top level components is hard to knock.

  • Gdb49

    Great list, have done all but 7&8. These all do wonders for your ride and at less than a $100 you can’t go wrong. Little twist to it- good shoes, my 5/10’s were $80 and made a huge difference.

  • jwood94

    lol I just did 5 of these. I recommend upgrading the front rotor I have a 8 inch on my and love it

  • phil05

    Tires… Ive spent countless hours searching the web and reading reviews looking for THE right tire. Here in Québec the conditions can vary from very muddy to ultra dry tarmac, so its better to have at least to sets of tires.

    My Wet combo is 2,3 weirwolf front and 2,3 bronson rear.
    My dry combo is 2,3 weirwolf front and 2,1 monorail rear.

    All great tires that i would buy again. I might be looking for a rear racing tire that can handle both dry and wet conditions

  • Jared13

    Nice recommendations!

    I’ve done all but #5 (love my stock saddle though) and the bike came with 7, 8, and 9.

    Getting new tires/going tubeless was nice, but I think the new stem/wider handlebars made the bike feel way more lively!

  • delphinide

    Excellent, practical, well minded article. I agree with Corey and John: you can’t go wrong with a wider bar, shorter stem, and better tires that you convert to tubeless. I rented a bike recently that had the opposite of all that, and although the bike was solid, it rode like crap.

  • LF12

    Speaking of matching tires to the terrain…I’m riding Moab, UT and Sedona, AZ for the first time later this year. Any good recommendations for choice of tires? Running tubeless Schwalbe Racing Ralphs currently but I’ve been advised to go with tires with a thicker sidewall to avoid punctures from the cacti. Recommended so far is Schwalbe Racing Ralph Snakeskin on the front and a Schwalbe Nobby Nic Snakeskin for the rear. Thoughts?

    • J W

      I live in Fruita and ride both Sedona and moab often.The go to tread for most of us is Conti Trail Kings. The UST are a little heavy, but the sidewalls are tough and the grip is incredible.

  • Bubblehead10MM

    Gr8 list. Still need most of them, to one extent our another.
    I’d like roo give honorable mention to dropper posts. Mine was$138 ks budget model from Arts’. 100 mm drop and infinite variable, that’s a huge deal to me for short$

    • Tim Kremer

      Yep! I’m running the KS eTen as well. Love that little post! It’s a bit heavy, but well worth it. I was lucky enough to get mine for under $100.

  • Henrik Sylvester Pedersen

    Be careful about the front rotor upgrade, and read exactly how much your front fork can handle (in diameter) before buying one. Otherwise you might BREAK the front fork, like this:

    I have 180 mm front brakes and haven’t found them to be a problem personally, but I guess you might want 200+ if you are riding long DH tracks. But in that case you should really be careful not to break the fork, so yeah, read up on it.

  • Plusbike Nerd

    If you’re still using high-pressure narrow tires, try buying the widest tires your frame and fork will fit and then reduce the tire pressures as much as is reasonable. You might enjoy the benefits of higher-volume lower-pressure rubber and especially if you set them up tubeless.

  • cbarth

    Check out the iOS and Android app called ‘Shockpro’ for an easy to use app for reminding you to do periodic component maintenance & record various bike set-up settings like fork/shock pressures, rebound settings, etc. It’s worth the $0.99 to remind yourself to service your suspension along.

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