So you’ve bought your first bike and tried out mountain biking. You got to experience the trails, learned to climb and descend, and had the time of your life with your new found buddies on that astig gnarly killer epic bike ride to some never before explored majestic waterfalls and carinderia and bulalohan in the middle of nowhere.
But regretfully, you also caught that debilitating biker’s disease called upgraditis. You look at your bike, shake your head, and feel something just ain’t right. You visit bike shops and leave drool puddles on the floor while looking at that shiny new groupset, those blinged out wheels that sound mayaman, and that fork with those golden stanchions costing half your son’s pang-tuition. You are certain that if only you could have them, the magic will return.
And since you’re not exactly a porked-up senator or Janet Napoles with bathtubs full of filthy cash, you need to decide which part (or parts) of your bike make the upgrade shortlist. So here are a few tips to consider before you go to the bike shop and part with your hard-earned cash.
First you need to decide on what you’re after. Is it Performance? Comfort? Or Blingsthetics? (Sorry for that crude portmanteau, but you get what I mean.)
You got a calendar marked with racing events and you gnash your teeth when you don’t make a podium finish. You want the lightest and fastest components. But you’re not willing to rob a bank or become a stripper just to support your addiction. (And dude, racing really is an addiction.) Here are a few things to consider when upgrading.
(The prices listed here are based on those currently posted on the FB Page of Glorious Ride Bikeshop, a popular LBS in the UP Sikatuna Area, and from Sulit.com.)
Tires are often overlooked in the upgrade shortlist, but they can make or break a race, depending on what race you take part in. XC racers usually prefer narrower tires that roll fast but still have enough grip. I use the WTB Nano Race 29×2.1 tires. These affordable tires roll fast on fireroads and hardpacked trails thanks to their closely spaced mid-height treads. However, these features also make them less grippy on roots and babyhead rocks. Semplang is a real possibility. If you like to race on trails with lots of roots, rocks, loose gravel and mud, fatter tires with bigger knobs are in order. But check with your mechanic first if your frame can accommodate that 2.4 or 2.5 tire. Fatter tires also work better with wider rims, but that’s another story.
- WTB Nano Race 29×2.1: Php 1,700 (Glorious Ride)
- Geax Saguaro 29×2.2: Php 1,800./each (Glorious Ride)
- Schwalbe Big Betty 26×2.40: Php 2,600/each (Glorious Ride)
- Maxxis Wetscream 26×2.50: Php 1,850 /each (Glorious Ride)
A good fork will soak up the bumps, so your elbows and knees get some respite. A good fork will also have a quick lockout option for the climbs so you don’t waste precious energy bobbing up and down while grinding on the ascents. Carlo Clemente of Glorious Ride recommends Suntour Epicon forks for budget conscious upgraders. They perform reliably well without breaking the bank. My first fork was an XCR, then I upgraded to an Epicon. Aggressive XC racers generally go for 80mm forks since these guys know kung fu with their bike handling. Normal people are fine with 100mm or 120mm forks (if their frame allows it). If your type of riding makes you want to go for a 140mm fork, you probably need to change your frame too, but that’s another story.
- Suntour Epicon 26er 100mm: Php 9,000 (Glorious Ride)
- Manitou Tower Pro 29er 120mm: Php 17,500 (Glorious Ride)
- Marzocchi 44 Micro Ti 29er 120mm: Php 29,000 (Glorious Ride)
- Fox 32-K Float 29er 100mm CTD 15Q: Php 40,500 (Glorious Ride)
Clipless Pedals and Shoes
People keep swearing by the efficiency of clipless gear. Most podium finishing XC racers use clipless so I guess there’s something to it. Of course, you can’t buy clipless pedals without also buying clipless shoes, so this is one purchase you need to really think about if you’re on a tight budget.
Personally, I prefer platform pedals with studs for a good shoe grip. Since I sometimes also do some trail running after biking, wearing dedicated biking shoes just doesn’t cut it for me. But that’s just me.
- Shimano PD-M505 pedals: Php 900 (Glorious Ride)
- Crank Brothers Eggbeater: Php 2,600 (Glorious Ride)
- Serfas Trax Bike & Hike: Php 1,900 (Glorious Ride)
- Shimano MT43: Php 3,450 (Glorious Ride)
Casual bikers can get away with a Shimano Acera or Alivio groupset. But serious racers will have nothing less than Deore. And if they can afford it, XTR.
But don’t lose sleep if you’re racing on Alivios. I’ve finished two races already on Alivio, and apart from the occassional mis-shift, they were pretty adequate. Personally, I think the differences between Alivio and Deore are not that significant, but I recently upgraded to Deore anyway, just to get this demon out of the way. I have to admit, the clutch mechanism on the 2014 Deore rear derailleur is very good. It’s kept the chain slap to a minimum and prevented the chain from dropping off.
- 2014 Alivio Hydraulic: Php 8000 (Sulit)
- 2014 Acera Hydraulic: Php 6800 (Sulit)
- 2014 Deore: Php 11,000-13,000 (Sulit)
- 2014 XTR: Php 51,000 (Sulit)
It’s hard to recommend bang for the buck wheelsets these days because wheelset upgrades that really make a difference are ridiculously expensive. But if you’re a hardcore racer, a set of lighter, stronger wheels should be in your upgrade list.
- On One Reet’ard Trail 29er: Php 12,500 (Glorious Ride)
- Crank Brothers Cobalt 2 26er: Php 28,000 (Glorious Ride)
- Reynolds Carbon 29er MTN: Php 59,500 (Glorious Ride)
- Easton Wheels EC70 Trail Carbon 29er: P78,000 (Glorious Ride)
This is one upgrade I think every mountain biker needs to save for. If you like riding trails that are a bit on the wild side, a dropper seatpost will do you tons of good. You can instantly raise your seat height to climb more efficiently, and drop it with the flick of a switch for the descents so you can lower your body or lean back and have better control. No more dismounting to fiddle with the seatpost clamp.
- TMARS: Php 2,950 (an online seller on Philmofo)
- FOX D.O.S.S. : Php 14,490 (Glorious Ride)
- X Fusion HILO SL: Php 16,000 (Glorious Ride)
And finally, your body…
What’s the point of spending 50k on components that bring down the bike’s weight by 5 or 7 pounds (2.3 – 3.2 kgs) when you’re 25 pounds overweight? It’s cheaper to just lose weight. Although, I have to admit, foregoing all those donuts and lechon will be quite painful.
Maybe you got into biking because you like fresh scenery and the joy of long leisurely rides. Perhaps you don’t care for being the fastest guy/girl on the trail and would rather be comfortable instead. If a pleasurable ride is your priority, here are a few upgrades to consider.
The first thing you need to look at is your saddle. If it’s too hard, get one with more cushioning in it. If you’re a guy who cares about his family jewels, you should get a saddle that’s got a hole or relief depression in the middle. Your soft parts will thank you for it.
Last year I upgraded to the Velo Plush comfort saddle and it made a world of difference in my riding. It was like sitting on a sofa king. I could stay longer in the saddle, and could even remain seated despite the bumpiness of the trail. It was sofa king great.
- Strace Reef: Php 990 (Glorious Ride)
- Selle Italia X1 Flow: Php 1,000 (Glorious Ride)
- Velo Plush 3256: Php 1,200 (Glorious Ride)
- Selle Italia Max Flite Gel Flow: 5,250 (Glorious Ride)
Bike Shorts and Jersey
Not exactly bike parts, but these can make a world of difference in terms of comfort. Proper bike shorts have sufficient padding to shield your delicate parts from the tremors of the trail. A good jersey will wick away sweat from your body and cool you down instead of marinating you in your own perspiration.
There are cheap knockoff jerseys and shorts available in tiangges for 300-500 pesos. But if you really want comfort, I’d recommend getting cycling shorts and jerseys from Spyder. These are real bang for the buck gear. I use their cycling shorts on almost every ride, often under my technical shorts for extra padding.
I especially like the Spyder Recharge jersey. It not only looks cool, but it also keeps you cool. The fabric is very efficient at wicking away sweat. The fabric at the back is made of much thinner material which effectively acts like an air vent. You can also zip the front all the way down to suck in as much ventilation into your torso for those unli-uphill climbing sessions.
- Spyder Cycling Shorts: Around Php 1,000 I think
- Spyder Recharge Jersey: Php 1,690
Bling + Aesthetics
In this category go the carbon seatposts, carbon handlebars, carbon water bottle cages, CNC’d stems, and a lot of other stuff. Performace gains and weight savings are minimal, but I have to admit they look damn good.
I’d lump cyclometers in this category too, because the advent of smartphones and apps like Endomondo, Strava and MapMyRide have pretty much rendered cyclocomputers redundant. Of course, everything that improves performance (and costs an arm and leg) like new forks, wheelsets, groupsets, etc can also be considered bling. If you’re in the market for bling, just follow your heart, but keep it safely within the bounds of your credit limit.
To summarize: If you want performance gains in upgrading from your entry-level components, consider buying 1) better tires, 2) a better fork, 3) clipless pedals, 4) a higher groupset, and 5) a better wheelset, in that order as your bank balance or credit limit permits. I put the wheelset last because that’s the one most likely to break the bank.
If you want a more comfortable ride, upgrade your 1) saddle, 2) fork and 3) biking apparel also in that order and according to your credit limit.
If you’re out for bling, a set of platinum bar ends with Swarovsky crystals never fails to get envious looks fromfellow hardcore bikers. It might even make Jeanne Napoles jealous! Ooh yeah.
If you’re gravitating (pun intended) towards Enduros and DH events, upgrading your entry level XC setup probably won’t work, and you’ll need an entirely new bike. If you’re switching to a 29er or a 650b/27.5er you will need a new frame, fork and wheelset. But you could also experiment with a 69er bike, which would look weird but cool at the same time.
PS. These tips are just that–tips. Don’t mistake them for sacrosanct truths that are inviolable. If you have other ideas about how to upgrade an entry level bike (and who doesn’t?) no one is stopping you from doing what you like.
I’d like to thank Carlo Clemente of Glorious Ride Bike Shop for his help in coming up with some of these tips. Despite years of mountain biking, gear choices still perplex me. I guess I’ll be a noob forever, but thanks to Carlo I was able to sort through the confusion. Do check out Glorious Ride, it’s got lots of awesome stuff.
Here are other bikers chipping in on what sort of upgrades are most essential.
- The best mountain bike upgrades bar none
- Best Mountain Bike Upgrades
- Five Low cost Upgrades for Better Trail Riding
Sorry guys, I’ll have to close the comments section on this post. It’s getting too long and unwieldy. If you have any questions, please feel free to PM me on the outsideslacker FB page. Thanks!