6. New Mountain Bike Stem
If you thought mountain bike stems were just for bike-fitting purposes, think again. A shorter mountain bike stem brings down your overall reach so that you’re able to get quicker response and better control over the front end of the bike. Many downhill bikes will have a super short 40-50mm stem and mountain bike stems on trail bikes often range between 60-80mm; cross-country bikes typically have stems in the 100-120mm range. Depending what kind of riding you do, you should have no problem finding the right length stem under $100 but expect to pay more for carbon (as usual!). Check out the Thompson Elite X4 stem reviews for yourself!
Shop: Thomson Elite X4 Stem
7. New Mountain Bike Handlebars
Just like changing out your stock stem, replacing your stock bars can also affect the control and maneuverability of your mountain bike. Some handlebars are better suited for riding disciplines so aside from price, you’ll want to consider things like bar width, clamp diameter, rise and sweep. For specific mountain bike handlebar recommendations, check out our list of the top-rated handlebars.
Shop: Rental Fatbar 35 Riser Bar
8. Mountain Bike Chainguide
Do you really need a chainguide? Not necessarily, but if you find yourself constantly stopping trailside to fiddle with your dropped chain… again… then this small contraption could save you a lot of frustration. Try a handy low profile, direct mount chainguide like this one from Oneup Components and say goodbye to dropped chains.
With a variety of options, you can shop for chain guides and check out reviews to find the best one for you.
Shop: Chain Guides
9. Larger Front Rotor
I’ve often been discouraged by the stopping power of stock cross country bikes. What’s the issue? Do I need to buy a new set of brakes? New pads? What? Well, I’ve found that a simple increase in the size of the front rotor is an affordable, yet very effective, way to increase stopping power. If you buy a cheap rotor and spacer kit, this instantaneous power upgrade is well under $100.
Shop: Shimano front rotor
10. Get a Tune Up
There are so many ways that a mountain bike can deteriorate that it’s a little depressing, but if you’re truly addicted, what can you do? Well, one of the best ways you can invest your money is to keep on top of standard mountain bike maintenance.
In addition to getting a full-blown tune up by a professional (which may be under $100, or may not), here are different components where a little maintenance can mean a big change in performance:
-Cables and Cable Housing: This seems to be a common story with me: I’ll be riding along, wondering why my bike shifts like crap, and I’ll realize that I haven’t had the cables and housing replaced in maybe two years. After a quick trip to the shop and about $30, my bike is shifting and riding like new! Don’t overestimate the value of a smooth-shifting bike
-Brakes: A quick brake bleed can sometimes do wonders for your brake performance! Also, a new set of pads can sometime make a big difference.
-Suspension: Make sure to keep up with the regular maintenance on your fork and shock (if applicable). If you neglect that maintenance and are wondering why your suspension feels like crap… that’s probably the reason.
-Bottom Bracket: Bottom brackets need to be cleaned and greased on a regular basis, and if you neglect that maintenance, you’ll soon be able to tell from the grinding and groaning every time you pedal.
These are just a few suggestions for affordable upgrades that can really improve in how your mountain bike performs. What low-cost upgrades are you a fan of?
Being a Clyde, I found the larger front rotor to be a huge improvement.
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.
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!
Thanks Tim, I’m stoked you enjoyed the article!
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
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.
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.
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!
lol I just did 5 of these. I recommend upgrading the front rotor I have a 8 inch on my and love it
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.
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?
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.
Gr8 list. Still need most of them, to one extent our another.
I’d like roo give honorable mention to dropper posts. Mine was$138 ks budget model from Arts’. 100 mm drop and infinite variable, that’s a huge deal to me for short$
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.
Black friday. Got number 6 exactly for 104 online
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.
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.
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. 😀
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.
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.