When my husband’s mountain bike was stolen from our garage, we encountered a problem we’d never expected: No bike store in our region had a bike he could buy to replace it. Bike shops all over the state were selling out of bicycles!
One of the windfalls of 2020 was that many of us discovered – or rediscovered – a love of biking. Motivated by the dual requirements of escaping our respective lockdowns while staying physically distant from others, biking – and many other outdoor pursuits – offered a respite from the Coronavirus pandemic.
If 2020 was the year of getting acquainted with the sport of mountain biking (or rekindling an old flame), then 2021 will be the year to take the love of cycling to the next level! Here, we offer 21 mountain bike upgrades that are easy to do yourself and will improve your experience or performance. Unless specifically noted, you can undertake our upgrades in any order you choose, one at a time or all at once. Most are affordable and universally-beneficial, but we included a range of upgrades for higher budgets and higher performing cyclists. Tackle these improvements at your own pace – you’ve got a whole year! But we promise, you’ll appreciate the difference.
|🔧 This signifies how difficult the upgrade is.||Here you’ll see a comment about difficulty.|
|💲 Provides an estimated cost||General price range to DIY.|
|🚵♂️ Gives a product worth considering||You’ll see a possible product here.|
A note about this list: The criteria for inclusion are simple: The Upgrades are relatively easy to perform yourself and will make a drastic improvement for your mountain biking experience. We’ll note the ease of installation and also how the upgrade will improve mountain biking. Any links included are for reference only, NOT specific purchase recommendations. Finally, the upgrades are listed in random order, not in order of value or importance.
1. Mountain Bike Seat or Saddle – Comfort First!
|🔧Ease of Upgrade||Easy. No specialized tools or skills required.|
|💲 Estimated expense||$35-$120 Depending on brand|
|🚵♂️ Product worth considering on Amazon||WTB Volt Saddle|
Whether it’s the first ride of the year that does a number on your nether-region or the cumulative toll of multiple rides, having a comfortable seat will help you enjoy your mountain bike rides much more. Meanwhile, having a lighter saddle (in addition to an overall prioritizing of lightweight bike frames and components) will make riding easier and faster.
Now, everyone’s definition of “comfortable” is different. Some people like the pressure relief cutout; some don’t. Some mountain bikers want “squishy” because of an injury, though “firm” makes for more efficient riding. But one thing is universal: the seat that comes on a bike from the factory is made to be generic and cheap, neither of which makes for a fabulous experience. In fact, some manufacturers don’t even include a bike saddle for bike builds, recognizing that most riders will replace it immediately anyway.
Mountain bike comfort at touch points is what will allow you to ride longer. The WTB Volt Saddle (Amazon Link) is a great balance between weight, durability and comfort.
A little self-knowledge (of your body and your preferences) goes a long way. Also advisable: talk to other riders with similar body types and riding interests as you and see what they recommend. There’s a huge range of prices in mountain bike saddles. Feel free to spend $300 if you want. Whether cheap or spendy, just make sure what you find something that’s comfortable to you.
2. Mountain Bike Pedals – Push Some Power
|🔧Ease of Upgrade||Moderately easy – with these step by step instructions to install bike pedals|
|💲 Estimated expense||$35 to $190 Lots of styles and brands to choose|
|🚵♂️ Product worth considering on Amazon||Shimano PD-M9120 XTR|
Your choice of mountain bike pedals is going to be dictated by the type of pedal clip system you prefer. I’m not going to advise one system of mountain bike clip-in pedals over another (read more about choosing the right mountain bike pedal system), what I will say is your chosen pedal upgrade should be A) durable and B) reliable.
Mountain bike pedals take a lot of wear and tear and abuse. And not only during mountain bike rides. If your bike gets knocked over, what’s it going to land on? The pedal! If you bump into something while transporting it, what part of the bike is most likely going to hit? The pedal! While a sensitive release mechanism is preferable during bike rides, the pedal technology can’t be so sensitive as to break or be thrown out of adjustment with every bump or tumble.
A solid choice is the Shimano PD-M9120 XTR (link to Amazon for price and reviews)
Conversely, there’s nothing more frustrating than the falls and injuries sustained because of a pedal system that doesn’t let you clip in or out fast enough. This is why pedal reliability is so important – for your speed, your physical safety and your confidence.
3. Lights for Night Mountain Bike Riding
|🔧Ease of Upgrade||Super Easy – often no tools required|
|💲 Estimated expense||$15 to $280 Price is related to output power|
|🚵♂️ Product worth considering on Amazon||Super Bike Headlight from Victagen|
Open up a whole new world of mountain biking opportunities with a bike-specific headlamp or headlight – or, more accurately, open up 8 to 12 new hours to do your favorite thing! However, joking aside, night riding truly does provide a unique mountain biking experience. Less crowds, a surreal landscape, different opportunities for wildlife sightings – in addition to after-work or after school rides that ordinarily aren’t possible – are just some of the advantages.
Super Bike Headlight from Victagen is a great value if your looking for a light with a USB rechargeable external battery.
There exists a range of styles and prices for Mountain Bike Lights (link to Amazon) ranging roughly from $25-$50. Consider whether you prefer rechargeable batteries, a handlebar mounting system or helmet mount.
While a light is an extremely affordable upgrade for your mountain bike, I’d suggest against buying the cheapest option, however appealing it seems. Look for mountain bike lights with lifetime guarantees and good product reviews for reliability / longevity. A light that fizzles out on a night ride isn’t just an inconvenience, it’s extremely dangerous.
4. MTB Frame Protection – Wrap Your MTB with Love
|🔧Ease of Upgrade||Super Easy – often no tools required|
|💲 Estimated expense||Cheap think $3 to $40|
|🚵♂️ Product worth considering on Amazon||All Mountain Style AMS Frame Guard|
Most of us like the paint job on our mountain bike. In fact, some of us even choose our mountain bike – at least partially – based on the paint job, no matter how hard we try to use more substantial criteria. But, even those mountain bikers who don’t love their bike’s aesthetics probably don’t want it to get dinged and scratched and looking like the spoon that fell in the garbage disposal.
This is an upgrade that protects and adds personal style. The All Mountain Style AMS Frame Guard Kit (Link to Amazon for prices and color options)
Frame protection is easy with adhesive, universal, highly-durable frame guard. They are waaaaaay cheaper than a new paint job ($30 plus or minus) and easy to install. Though uninstalling them is another story… Plus, the huge variety of colors and designs available makes them as attractive as the bike frame you’re trying to protect!
5. Chainstay Protector – Stops Nasty Scratches
|🔧Ease of Upgrade||Super Easy – often no tools required|
|💲 Estimated expense||$3 to $20 Lots of styles to choose from|
|🚵♂️ Product worth considering on Amazon||Lizard Skins Neoprene|
On a similar note as the previous item, a chainstay protector, or “chain slap protector,” helps protect your paint job. No matter how careful you are with your bike, there is one place on the frame that will pretty much always show aesthetic damage: the rear triangle of the frame where a loose chain – or chain in the process of being shifted – will slap.
Some frame protection kits will include a protector that you can use here, or you may choose to purchase a chainstay protector like Lizard Skins that’s created specifically for this purpose. Either way, this purchase will go a long way toward maintaining the resale value of your bike.
5. Chainring Protector – Called Bash Guards
|🔧Ease of Upgrade||Moderate – Tools and some time are needed but DIY|
|💲 Estimated expense||Depending on type $10 to $50|
|🚵♂️ Product worth considering on Amazon||Funn Zippa Lite Bash Guard|
Why stop when you’re on a roll? Unlike the other protectors listed among the upgrades, a chain ring protector, or chain guard, is not to protect the aesthetics of your beloved mountain bike, but serves a functional purpose and prevents having to do more expensive repairs.
The teeth of a bicycle chain ring are very easy to bend or break. Climbing a rock in the in the trail – an impact that doesn’t even knock your bike over – can at times damage your chain ring. Ranging from a simple, $13 cover to extremely durable, $40 technology, a chain guard of some sort is a must! Saving you the time and expense of repairing or replacing damaged chain rings is well worth the cost.
One caveat: Installing a chainring protector is not nearly as easy as the majority of the other upgrades we’ve covered, so you might want to combine it with other mountain bike repairs that require removing the front crank arm and/or removing chainrings.
6. Crank Arm Protector – A Glove for the Crank
|🔧Ease of Upgrade||Easy – Remove pedal and slip on|
|💲 Estimated expense||Depending on type $5 to $25|
|🚵♂️ Product worth considering on Amazon||RaceFace Crank Boot|
Technically, a crank arm protector serves the same purpose as the other, previously listed, types of bike guards: to protect against scratches and dents. However, this upgrade serves just as much to protect your shins from a freewheeling crank arm.
My crank is beat up from rocks and obstacles. I wish I would have found out about these little boots a long time ago. The RaceFace Crank Boots (check out all the colors on Amazon) are a simple affective way to stop tearing up your crank.
Also called “crank boots,” crank arm protectors generally slip on (with the pedal removed), so they don’t take specialized skills or tools to install, but they may take a significant amount of muscle!
7. MTB Seatpost Dropper – Allows Full Body Movement
|🔧Ease of Upgrade||Moderate depending on if wired or wireless – still DIY|
|💲 Estimated expense||Anywhere from $65 to $800 depending on type|
|🚵♂️ Product worth considering on Amazon||Fox Racing Shox Transfer Performance Elite Dropper|
Technically, not every rider needs a dropper post. Though most riders will benefit from having a seatpost dropper, the ones who will see the most benefit are crosscountry racers and riders who like doing descents aggressively OR any mountain bike rider whose anatomy is outside the “model measurements” used for determining bike geometry. This means many even non-competitive and non-aggressive riders may benefit from a seatpost dropper.
For example, my torso is roughly equal in length to my legs. I can drop my seat on a descent, or not, and it doesn’t make much difference. Meanwhile, my husband has legs that are extremely long for his height, and before he got a seatpost dropper, he was stopping at every descent – either to readjust his seatpost height or just to drive me crazy!
A dropper raises or lowers the seat to pre-set heights with a single push of a button. It will save you the time and “stuttering” of frequent stops that keep you from getting into your flow. For more information about seatpost dropper posts, read this article from resident DIY pro cyclist Hannah Finchamp.
9. Mountain Bike Frame-Mount Tire Pump – A Blessing When Needed
|🔧Ease of Upgrade||So Easy they almost mount themselves|
|💲 Estimated expense||$12 to $35 depending on brand|
|🚵♂️ Product worth considering on Amazon||PRO BIKE TOOL mini bike pump|
If you don’t have a portable tire pump for your mountain bike, there are two things I can tell you:
1) you obviously have never had to push your bike three miles back to the trailhead because of an easy-to-rectify problem like a flat tire.
2) Get a frame-mount bike pump! (So you don’t have to push your bike three miles back to the trailhead because of an easy-to-rectify problem like a flat tire.
A solid choice is the PRO BIKE TOOL model (link to Amazon for latest price) The metal body is durable, the hose stores inside the pump body and it fits both schrader and presta valves.
Frame-Mount Bike Pumps (Links to a bunch so you can compare) are small, cheap, fairly light and will save you a significant amount of foiled-ride-angst. Plus, they’re a snap to install. There are numerous sizes and price ranges, but even the worst portable pump is better than no pump at all!
10. Mountain Bike Water Bottle Holder
|🔧Ease of Upgrade||Easy just a couple bolts|
|💲 Estimated expense||$10 to $45 depending on options|
|🚵♂️ Product worth considering on Amazon||Pro Bike Tool Bike Water Bottle Holder|
Many mountain bikers don’t like backpack hydration systems for a variety of reasons. But even those who do opt for some kind of bladder-and-hose hydration system often want a water bottle holder, or water bottle cage, mounted on their bike frame as well.
I’ve purchase 2 PRO BIKE TOOL WATER BOTTLE HOLDERS for my kids. What I like is that they’re metal, but still light weight. If you get the Pro Bike Tool Bottle it fits like a glove. You can get the “kit” at Amazon with this Link: Pro Bike Tool Water Bottle Bundle
While there are super light, even high-tech versions of water bottle holders available, even the more expensive ones are still fairly inexpensive but if you’d like to compare a bunch – check out this comparison link on Amazon – Mountain Bike Water Bottle Holders
11. Bluetooth Speakers – Rocking on Your MTB
|🔧Ease of Upgrade||As easy as twisting a thumb screw|
|💲 Estimated expense||$20 to $50 some have lights and connection to phone|
|🚵♂️ Product worth considering on Amazon||Olafus Bluetooth Bike Speaker|
While it’s easily doable (for a DIY mountain biker) to attach portable speakers to your bike using zipties, duct tape or bungee cord, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not advisable. Being waterproof and shockproof are huge advantages when it comes to mountain bike accessories.
Though a speaker is hardly a necessity for mountain biking, the low cost of mountain bike specific speakers makes buying the right product for the right purpose the smart choice. It just might save your relationship with your roommate! But that’s a story for another time… If a speaker is going to keep you exercising – GO FOR IT – The Olafus Bluetooth Bike Speaker (Link to Amazon to check prices and ratings) is a highly rated
In addition to being waterproof and shockproof, the benefits of upgrading to a mountain bike specific speaker, include a detachable bike mount. Though no technology is truly “crashproof,” just having the right mounting system may save you from a broken speaker.
12. Upgrading Mountain Bike Tires – Get a GRIP
|🔧Ease of Upgrade||You’ve been changing tires since you were 10 – easy|
|💲 Estimated expense||$20 to $120 depending on what you want|
|🚵♂️ Product worth considering on Amazon||A proven selection – MAXXIS MINION|
Let’s talk about tires. This isn’t as straightforward as some of our other upgrade ideas. While upgrading your tires certainly means buying more durable and high-quality tires (with intelligent tread design) than the low-quality rubber that came on the bike, which is definitely a worthwhile upgrade. It can mean something else as well: having multiple sets of tires.
This blog is full of Mountain Bike Tire Recommendations – From a PRO Rider! Check them out!
- Are you riding in lots of sand? Read – Best Mountain Bike Tires for Sand
- Do you live in the mud? Find out what tires are best – Best Mountain Bike Tires for Mud
- Do you call home slick rock and boulders? Best Mountain Bike Tires for Rocky Terrain
- Are your MTB rides a little bit of road and trail? Best Mountain Bike Tires for Street and Trail
While many of us gravitate to “all-season” or “all-condition” tires, the truth is that there are optimal tread patterns for different riding and different conditions. Having multiple sets of quality tires may seem like an expensive luxury for some of us, but for mountain bikers who ride diverse trail conditions, this upgrade will truly improve your riding and your enjoyment.
13. A Professional Bike Fit Consultation
|🔧Ease of Upgrade||The Local Bike Shop Does the Work|
|💲 Estimated expense||Free with a High End Bike or less than $120|
|🚵♂️ Product worth considering on Amazon||I guess you could buy this book – Bike Fits for Everyone|
Since we’re on the subject of things that could be considered a “luxury,” I’m just going to go ahead and throw this one out there. Whether you label it as a luxury or not, a bike fit session with a professional will definitely improve your riding. Since we’re talking about upgrades, not purchasing a whole new bike based on fit recommendations, you’ll want to find someone who can perform the service knowing that your goal is to adjust your existing bike to fit you better.
While most of us assume that professional bike fitting is for professional riders – or at least “more serious riders than me” – there’s also the issue of injury. Any movement we do repetitively carries the risk of overuse injuries, and mountain biking also includes the risk of crash. A proper bike fit can protect against both.
14. Mountain Bike Computer – Get Data to Go Faster
|🔧Ease of Upgrade||Some can be difficult, most are a couple screws – Easy|
|💲 Estimated expense||$12 to $400 really depends on how sophisticated (GPS & Watts)|
|🚵♂️ Product worth considering on Amazon||Wahoo Element Bolt with GPS|
At its most basic, a mountain bike computer measures miles ridden, speed and probably RPMs, and can cost as little as $12. When you add in features like GPS and touchscreen, the price rockets upward by a couple hundred bucks. Additionally features can include fitness training specifics like training load, heat and altitude acclimatization and the technological advancements will be reflected in the price.
In short, you can get as advanced as you like with your bike computer if you’re willing to pay the price. I will add that, even for the riders with minimal technological demands, you shouldn’t bargain-hunt on quality. I’ve never had a cheap bicycle computer last more than a year and definitely nowhere near the lifetime of my bike purchase.
15. Mountain Bike Fenders – Mud on the Ground, Not on You
|🔧Ease of Upgrade||Easy – Zip Ties|
|💲 Estimated expense||Usually about $15|
|🚵♂️ Product worth considering on Amazon||All Mountain Style AMS Front Mudguard|
No, they’re not just for our commuter bikes to keep our work clothes dry. And, no, they aren’t all ungainly, tubular monstrosities that constantly rattle or break loose. Call them a “mud guard” if that makes it easier, but some type of fender is an advisable upgrade for anyone who rides in wet regions. A front fender, in particular, is a safety upgrade to keep water and mud out of the rider’s eyes. (Incidentally, they’re not usually awkward and ungainly but compact, lightweight and have cool styling!)
16. Upgrade Your MTB Handlebar Grips: Locking Grips or Ergonomic Grips
|🔧Ease of Upgrade||Usually it takes longer to pull off the old – EASY|
|💲 Estimated expense||$5 to $80 depending on brands|
|🚵♂️ Product worth considering on Amazon||Ergon GP1 Ergonomic Grips|
If your grips are spinning on the handlebar, you definitely want to consider locking mountain bike grips. They’ll give you more security and confidence instead of replacing your grips with the barebones foam grips that come on bike purchases.
I believe in making the rider contact points as comfortable as possible. [Feet, Bottom and Hands] For a long time my hands hurt when riding. Years ago I switched to ERGON GP1 Ergonomic Lock-on Handle Bar Grips (link to Amazon to check out the 1000s of reviews) I absolutely endorse these grips and I don’t use anything else.
If you’re having pain and discomfort in your wrists, an upgrade to a therapeutic, ergonomic design will increase your enjoyment and maybe even extend your longevity. This $30 upgrade helped me completely eliminate wrist pain and fend off developing arthritis!
17. Mountain Bike Phone Holder – GPS and More Available
|🔧Ease of Upgrade||Easy – most use one bolt or Velcro|
|💲 Estimated expense||Usually less than $25|
|🚵♂️ Product worth considering on Amazon||Mountain Bike Phone Holder|
Have you ever stopped to wonder how much time you’d save if you didn’t have to stop your ride and fish your phone out of your backpack every time you needed it? I have, because none of my bike clothes have pockets and I’m always checking my phone.
If you want t learn about all the ways to carry a phone on your MTB – How to Carry a Phone on a Mountain Bike
A simple handlebar-mounted cell phone holder can solve this problem and save you a lot of hassle. Phone holders for mountain bikes can range in style and compatibility with different phone types, but most are fairly inexpensive. I’d suggest selecting one that is extremely secure but also allows easy release so you can snap pictures quickly.
Remember: If monkeying around on your phone while driving is a bad idea, so is doing it while biking! A phone holder does make it easier to use fitness apps and music on your ride, but remember to do it safely!
18. Mountain Bike Front Fork or Front Shock
|🔧Ease of Upgrade||Difficult and maybe beyond a DIYer|
|💲 Estimated expense||Hundreds for a good Fork|
|🚵♂️ Product worth considering on Amazon||Fox|
If you have a rigid front fork on a fairly lightweight, quality frame – upgrading to a fork with a shock will offer better riding than a new, heavy, low-end mountain bike for the same amount of money. A front shock gives you more comfort and more control riding across obstacles.
Similarly, if you already have front suspension, upgrading to a nicer, lighter front shock is a way to improve your cycling that is cheaper than completely replacing your bike for the higher-performance model.
If your ready for this job I’d recommend the Fox 36
Having a front shock with lockout capability gives you the best of both worlds: a rigid fork for speed on smooth surfaces with the ability to turn on the suspension when you need it. So, regardless of what counts as an “upgrade” to you, make sure your front shock has a lockout.
19. Frame-Mounted Tool Bag / Saddlebag
|🔧Ease of Upgrade||Easy – most Velcro on|
|💲 Estimated expense||Usually less than $25|
|🚵♂️ Product worth considering on Amazon||BV Bike Strap-On Saddle Bag|
It will save you a huge amount of irritation and wasted time to carry a few tools on mountain bike rides. The type of specialized tools will depend on your comfort level performing basic repairs – and your willingness to do them on the side of the trail. But, at minimum, you’ll want tire levers and an extra tube (if you don’t have tubeless tires) and a multi-tool of some sort. So, where are you going to keep those essential tools?
Why, in your saddlebag, of course! There are a variety of styles, from true saddlebags that hang below the seat, to triangular bags attached to the bike frame, to handlebar bags that also include a clear top pocket for your cell phone. That would cover #17 and #19! So, take your pick, but don’t leave home without your tools!
The last two items on our list are true “luxuries,” that definitely depend on having a high dedication to this sport and/or some discretionary income. But, hey, a mountain biker can dream, right?
20.Mountain Bike Wheel Hub Upgrade
|🔧Ease of Upgrade||Difficult but possible DIY if handy|
|💲 Estimated expense||Good Hubs Cost Hundreds|
|🚵♂️ Product worth considering on Amazon||Industry Nine Hydra|
Upgrading to a lightweight hub with a low degree of engagement will make your riding easier and faster. Some even come in a range of cool colors, just in case you – or anyone else on the trail – might miss the fact that you have $500 riding around in each wheel. Lest this upgrade come across as being too gratuitous, I’ll add that models like the Industry Nine Hydra are designed to be serviced without special tools or a hub overall, which really will save you some money in service and repairs.
21. Remote Lockout for MTB Rear Shock
Locking and unlocking the rear shock is the bane of my personal mountain biking existence. OK, one of a handful of personal banes. To unlock my rear shock, my bike’s design requires me to reach low on my frame between my legs almost to the rear triangle – all while beginning a descent one-handed! (Seriously? I’m a mountain biker not one of those acrobats who stands on a pole-on-a-ball on one hand.)
Keep Cranking with DIY MTB Upgrades
Since a new mountain bike is out of the question given my budget and my satisfaction with every other aspect of my fairly new bike, the best option would be to buy a remote lockout upgrade kit, which is applicable on certain models of rear shock plus an upgrade kit for the button or lever. This is an expensive upgrade (over $500), and the complexity of the installation is more than I’m willing to DIY in my garage. While you might find this upgrade useful and within your reach, I’ll be putting this one off til for a year or so!
Professional writer Kat Jahnigen was 2 miles from the nearest village – and roughly 2,310 miles – from the nearest English-speaking town – when her bike tire burst. At that time, she was a college student on a bike trip across the desolate, rocky island of Crete. It suddenly occurred to her that it would’ve been good to learn some basic bike repairs before setting off on a solo bike trip.
Check out Kat’s website WriteHire at writehire.net.