Updated: Sep 14
So you may have just bought a new budget bike or you’re rocking an older model and you feel like it needs a bit of spicing up. Changing up components on your bike can significantly improve the performance and feel that you get from it. Not all components have as significant of an effect and this process is definitely not about blowing tons of cash on high-end parts but rather knowing what you want and which changes to your bike are going to be best for you.
Some components are going to be more effective than others in improving your bike’s performance and in this post, we are going to focus on those key components. We have spoken previously about which parts you should spend more on and which you should spend less on but now we want to look a bit deeper into how the important components will affect your bike's performance.
How you approach each of these component choices will vary depending on your intended use of your bike. If you want a race-ready cross country machine and your only desire is to climb faster and more efficiently, you’ll likely be hunting for the lightest parts to keep the weight down. Our main focus here will be looking at the principles of increasing your bike’s performance on technical terrain and descending, which are certainly important when we look at marathon and XC racing as well. There is always compromise and you need to decide what is best for your bike and your riding preferences.
Let’s start with the wheels. The wheelset you have will affect the bike’s performance as a result of their weight, width, and strength. Saving weight on your wheels, particularly at the rim, reduces rotational mass which can make the bike feel very lively and improve acceleration and braking but this can also make the bike feel a bit nervous in rougher terrain. More weight will offer increased stability. Stronger or stiffer wheels will give your handling a more direct feel but less compliance on the terrain. Vice versa for more flexible wheels. A balance of these characteristics is important and you, of course, need to decide what is best for you. When it comes to the internal width of the rim, 30mm internal widths are increasingly popular. They offer a more stable platform for your tire and allow you to run lower pressures resulting in improved traction.
Speaking of tires, these are also a great component of your bike to consider changing up. The combination of the tread pattern, rubber compound, and casing can have a huge effect on the feel and performance of your bike! If you’re looking for better traction on trail see what your preferred tire brand or bike shop has on offer in terms of a 2.4 or 2.5-inch tire with a more aggressive tread pattern. Look at getting a soft rubber compound for the front tire to really increase the traction and possibly a harder wearing compound at the back for faster rolling and durability. As we have said before, a stronger tire casing will not only prevent punctures better but will also better support the tire allowing for lower pressures and improved traction.
Changing up your handlebars can improve your comfort and control on the bike. If your current bars are anything narrower than 750mm, we would highly recommend you invest in a set that is in the 750 to 800mm range. This width will be dependent on how big you are and how close you get to trees when you ride. Another important factor to consider is the rise of your handlebars. We spoke in detail about that in our cockpit setup episode.
Carbon versus aluminium is a matter of preference and not a crucial upgrade to make. As with most components on the bike, you need to test and figure out which handlebars you prefer.
Our best advice for you when it comes to your seatpost is to make sure that it is a dropper post. We cannot stress this enough. The convenience and freedom of movement that comes with a dropper post is so valuable. This is especially true now that seat tube angles are getting steeper, putting the seat in a central position and very much in the way of where your body needs to be unless you can drop it down and out of the way. You don’t need a super fancy dropper post, just one that is reliable and has a suitable amount of travel for your bike and terrain. In our opinion on a trail bike, the more drop the merrier!
The performance of your brakes is one of the key factors allowing you to go fast and have control over the bike. Being able to stop effectively is of course critical. The braking performance is affected by the power of the brakes, the brake pads, and the size of the rotor. We wouldn’t recommend running rotors any smaller than 180mm on a trail bike and definitely 200mm for aggressive riders or heavier riders.
It is common to run a smaller rotor on the back of your bike but increasing rotor size at the back will actually help with heat management and consistent braking, especially given that the rear brake often gets dragged more when we are descending.
If you have large rotors and are still lacking power you could try some different brake pads. Organic brake pads will offer more bite but they perform worse in wet conditions and do not last as long as metallic pads.
You can also, of course, upgrade the actual brake levers and callipers to get more power from a more gravity oriented brake. If you’re lacking braking performance, it is worth the investment.
When you have a powerful set of brakes on your bike they will require less effort and attention to use so you can conserve energy for other aspects of riding and focus more on riding well.
Your suspension is definitely one of those bike components that seems to get a new update every other month. Indeed, suspension companies are constantly refining and enhancing their products and it is incredible how well modern suspensions systems perform. That being said, every time a new product comes out yours does not perform any worse than it did the day before but if it is getting a bit dated it could be worthwhile looking to upgrade your suspension. The first thing you can do is check to see if your current fork model will be able to receive a damper upgrade without changing the chassis. This will be much more cost-effective than buying a whole new fork and will get you the same performance as the latest models. If your fork is too dated for that, a new model will be necessary if you want to upgrade.
The shock can be a bit tricky as some manufactures have a specific tune done on the shock to suit your bike’s suspension but if you get the right sizing it is a possible upgrade that can improve your bike’s performance if your current shock is out of date. The top of the range factory suspension isn’t crucial, just an up-to-date mid-tier model will provide you with great performance for your money.
With the right component choices, you can have your bike feeling fresh and more capable than ever, this information should steer you in the right direction! As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Keep it loose, we’ll see you on the trails!