24th April 2017. For adrenaline junkies and fitness lovers alike, nothing presents quite the same challenge as mountain biking. Whether you're travelling off-road or tackling seriously rough terrain to challenge your body, the bike you ride determines a great deal about the experience you have. Everything from the pedals to the saddle can have an impact on your riding experience. Over time, you may come to feel that your current mountain bicycle isn't doing the job well enough anymore. It might be because you've improved your skills, or because you want to change up the type of terrain you ride. Either way, you're now faced with a question many bike owners struggle with every year: should I buy a new mountain bike, or try upgrading the one I have now?
With no end to the industry for aftermarket bicycle parts, upgrading is a feasible option for many individuals. After all, there are readily available parts, and you may even know how to install them yourself. Upgrading also allows for a huge amount of potential customisation. On the other hand, buying a new bike is simpler, faster, and puts new features in your hands sooner. Which option is the best one for you? To find out, we've created the following guide to understanding mountain bike upgrades. Let's start by considering the reasons to upgrade over buying a new bike first.
Reasons to consider updating
If you've ever looked at the cost of new mountain bikes out of curiosity, you know that they can be pricey. That is one big reason to consider upgrades when possible: it spares you from a significant expense. While some upgrades can be very expensive on their own, it's worth considering what you want to change about the bike. Why did you want to upgrade in the first place? Is it because you don't like the way the bike handles, or do you need more speed and control over the gear ratios? If you only want to change a few fundamental things about the bike, an upgrade is the better option ? both regarding cost and practicality. Think it over: a brand-new bike may have the new feature you want, but lack features of your current bike that you enjoy. That can be frustrating.
Upgrading allows you to change your bike to suit your needs as they evolve. Buying a new model is no guarantee that you'll like everything about what it offers. Sometimes, you won't find bikes with the upgrades you want. For example, you may want a particular style of handlebar, more powerful brakes, or a specific type of tyre. The new bikes you can purchase will still need upgrades to change them away from standard stock parts. Therefore, if your interest lies primarily in making many minor (or a few major) changes, modifying the components of your bicycle is the better idea. Is it always that way, though?
The pros and cons of buying a new bike
If you don't enjoy fiddling with your toolkit more than necessary, buying a bike fresh from manufacturing might already have some serious appeal to you. However, like everything, there are ups and downs to the proposition. Understanding them thoroughly will prepare you to make an informed decision, especially on such a large purchase. First, what are positive aspects of buying a new bike? When you're currently riding a timeworn frame, its age could show in more ways than one. How much time do you spend doing repairs on its various components? If the ride you desire requires changing multiple major systems, like the drivetrain, the budget necessary could put you in range of a newer model instead.
Think of this option as a way to start fresh with a blank slate. If it's possible in your budget, you could even purchase a higher-end bike for a head start. Now you can upgrade this one as your needs demand while gaining a more enjoyable experience immediately. Regarding drawbacks, though, there are several. The price point is one we've already discussed. Similarly, there is no guarantee you'll love your new bike. When possible, test ride bikes for short distances before making a purchase. Making the move to too advanced a frame could also provide problems ? some bikes require more skill than others to ride. When you're already dealing with treacherous terrain, you don't have time to re-learn how to take sharp corners or hop over obstacles. Sometimes it's better to stick with what you know by upgrading your current frame.
What kinds of upgrades are out there?
When you do decide to perform a major overhaul on your bike frame, you'll want to know what's available. There are three major upgrades that every mountain bike owner can consider as an alternative to a new bike. Though costly, they unlock a world of new function. First up: wheels. We'll talk about tyres in a moment, but for now, think about the wheelset. Do you want to ride harder without worrying about damaging the bike? Invest in a more versatile set of wheels designed to withstand high impacts. For speed, wheels designed for cross-country travel will suit your needs better. There are many options here, and specific customisation options are up to you.
Next: the suspension. The suspension can be an expensive upgrade, but for some older bikes, it's cost-effective versus a tune-up. That's not always the case, so ask your local repair shop what the best approach will be for you. More than anything else, a new suspension can change the way your bike feels and handles. A stiffer frame will let you gain speed at the expense of impact resistance, while a bouncier frame is ideal for those who love overgrown natural paths. Finally, of course, you can upgrade the drivetrain. To add performance, though, you'll need to add weight. You can compensate by changing other components. However, if your drivetrain has worn out, consider a replacement bike instead ? it's likely that the rest of your bike is in poor shape, too.
Choosing quality upgrades that won't break the bank
Upgrading your bike to enhance its functionality doesn't have to take the form of one of the major changes above, though. In fact, many smaller upgrades can change the way you approach mountain biking in a positive way. These could deliver the function you need without moving to a newer model. First, look at your tyres. Try varying the width and thickness of the tyre as well as the air pressure you use. Experimenting with and mixing up these factors can help create a more comfortable, controlled ride out on the trails.
Try changing your pedals, too. Don't go for clipless pedals, as they can make it difficult to bail off your bike in a dicey situation. However, you can choose flats that provide better grip for your shoes in muddy or slick conditions. What about your saddle? It's a good idea to consider replacing your saddle every so often anyway. Over time, it loses its supportive ability. After replacement, you might realise it was a major reason why you wanted a new bike. It can do wonders for your comfort and control. When was the last time you replaced the brake pads or changed your gear cables? If you can't remember, it's time to do so ? and to look at installing higher quality parts, too. Again, changing these small items can be an upgrade on its own. Look for better functionality at a lower price. Of course, if your bike needs tonnes of maintenance at this level, it may require replacement.
Which choice will be the right one for you?
Clearly, there is a lot of information to take in and think about when you're considering the future of your mountain bike. Adding lots of smaller upgrades for a more comfortable ride is possible ? but so is installing an upgrade worth more than an entirely new bike! Ultimately, it comes down to your budget and your style of riding. Where will the balance lie for you? If you're feeling completely stumped about what to do, don't forget that you probably have access to some helpful resources. Local bike enthusiasts and repair shops can point you in the right direction, whether you're after a new ride or not. Regardless, prioritise your comfort and safety in the saddle to maximise both your fun and your fitness. Follow @SportNessUK