Upgrading your mountain bike with custom parts is a great way to improve your riding experience. A customized bike can provide better performance and fit your personal riding style. With so many components to pick from, it can be tough to know where to start. This guide will walk through the key parts of a mountain bike and popular customization options.
The frame is the foundation of your bike. Materials like aluminum, carbon fiber, titanium and steel each offer different ride characteristics. Once you select a frame material, you can choose custom geometry to dial in the handling, weight distribution and fit. For example, downhill bikes have longer top tubes for stability at speed, while cross country bikes are designed to climb efficiently. If you want the ultimate custom frame, a builder can fully tailor the tubes and geometry to your body measurements and riding preferences. This offers the best fit and performance, but at the highest cost.
Some riders opt for custom paint or decals to personalize their frame’s appearance. You can match team colors, display your name or represent your hometown. If the stock bike color schemes don’t excite you, a custom paint job lets you stand out from the crowd on the trails. Custom finishes can also help protect the frame from damage over time. A quality powder coat or anodized finish improves durability against rock strikes, brush scratches and general trail abuse.
Dialing in your bike’s suspension is one of the best ways to improve comfort and control on rough terrain. Most mountain bikes have front suspension called a fork. Butte many also have rear suspension built into the frame. The amount of suspension travel, adjustment settings and damper technology all impact how your bike handles bumps and jumps. More travel allows your wheels to better track over rugged terrain. The rebound and compression damper settings let you tune the suspension response for your weight and riding type. Faster, more aggressive riders generally use firmer settings to maintain pedaling efficiency and prevent suspension movement while pedaling. Heavier riders require softer damping and more air pressure to properly absorb impacts. Advanced rear shocks also have features like lockouts for improved pedaling efficiency on smooth climbs.
Upgrading to a higher quality fork and rear shock offers better durability, adjustability and performance. Popular upgrades are moving to air springs from coil springs and selecting components made from carbon fiber or titanium. These changes decrease weight and improve small bump sensitivity. Race-ready builds might use electronic suspension that lets you adjust settings on the fly as trail conditions change. Protecting your investment with custom tuning from a certified suspension shop can take your suspension performance to the next level.
The drivetrain includes your bike’s cranks, chain, cassette, derailleurs and shifters. These parts transfer your pedal stroke into forward motion to propel the bike. Moving to higher end drivetrain components significantly reduces weight and improves shifting precision. Common upgrades are fitting lighter cranks, cassettes with wider gearing range, smooth rolling chains and carbon fiber derailleurs. Higher model Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo groupsets offer crisp, reliable shifting even under heavy pedaling loads on steep mountain climbs.
Customization also includes dialing in the gear ratios to match your fitness level and local trails. Some riders may prefer lower climbing gears for ultimate slow speed crawling up long ascents. Competitive racers often choose higher top gears for maximum speed on fire road descents and long flats. An experienced bike shop can help identify the optimal gearing setup for the types of trails you like to ride. You can also upgrade to high-tech electronic shifting for lightning fast gear changes at the push of a button. While expensive, electronic groups offer unmatched shift speed and consistency lap after lap.
Confidence inspiring brakes give you control to push your limits on rowdy descents. Powerful stopping power brings peace of mind in fast and loose terrain. All mountain bikes have disc brakes, either mechanical or hydraulic. Mechanical brakes use steel brake cables and calipers to slow the bike. Hydraulic brakes use brake fluid running through hoses to brake pads pressing on the rotor. Hydraulic brakes offer more power, better modulation and less hand fatigue over long descents. Popular upgrades are swapping lighter weight rotors, installing larger rotors, upgrading brake calipers and bleeding brake lines.
High-end framesets often allow fitting bigger rotors to further increase brake bite. Downhill racers may upgrade to heavy duty Saint or Zee brake components to combat fade on long alpine runs. Adding heat sinks, metallic brake pads and cooling fins are other customizations to handle extreme terrain. Fine tuning your brakes’ contact point, leverage and free stroke takes your power and modulation to the next level. Don’t overlook your brake setup when considering bike upgrades.
Dialing in the fit and control of your bike’s cockpit is crucial for comfort, efficiency and handling. The cockpit includes the handlebars, stem, seat post, saddle and pedals you directly interface with. Wide, low rise carbon fiber bars paired with a short stem offers responsive steering and aggression rider control preferred by gravity and enduro riders. In contrast, cross country racers tend to use lower, lighter weight carbon bars with longer stems for a stretched out, aerodynamic position. The optimal handlebar width and stem length combination caters to your flexibility, arm span and handling preference.
Upgrading your seat post and saddle also enhances comfort and control. Seat posts with extra flex or suspension take the sting out of rough trails to reduce fatigue. This lets you stay stronger deeper into long rides. Mountain bike saddles range from minimally padded models for XC efficiency to full cushion models for trail comfort. Consider a new saddle with better support, optimized padding placement and ideal shape for your sit bones. Dialing in saddle setback and tilt relative to your handlebars is key for power and comfort. Don’t forget pedals, a bike’s sole connection to transmit every watt. Pedals run the gamut from ultralight XC race models to enduro and downhill pedals with adjustable pins for traction and concave platforms to centrally place feet on pedal spindles. Finding the right cocktail of cockpit components tailored to your body and riding style takes your bike’s ergonomics and control to the next level.
Wheels & Tires
Wheels and tires interface with the ground below, making component choice critical for traction,impact absorption and ride quality. Racers obsess over gram counting, running the lightest wheel and tire combinations that offer enough strength and puncture resistance for their trails. Common upgrades are swapping stock aluminum rims for carbon fiber wheels to save rotational weight and accelerate faster. Some riders also relace hubs with exotic spokes using titanium and carbon fiber for further gains. Tubeless tires set up without inner tubes provide better traction, prevent pinch flats and enable lower tire pressures for increased grip and comfort. Racing oriented tires narrow down to just 2 inches wide, while aggressive trail and downhill tires balloon up to 2.6 or even 3 inches wide. Soft rubber compounds deliver tremendous grip at the cost of quicker wearing tread. Tire choice directly impacts ride quality and handling based on your terrain and riding style.
Matching the right tires size, tread pattern and rubber compound to local soil conditions provides the best performance. Hard packed dirt favors tightly spaced knobs for consistent contact patches. Loose over hardpack trails require taller, more openly spaced knobs that penetrate dusty corners while also gripping harder base layers. Downhill courses demand heavy duty casings and puncture protection technology to withstand rock garden abuse at speed. Once you narrow down your wheel and tire choices, further customization through tubeless setups, sealants, tire pressure fine tuning and even tire inserts tailors traction, handling and ride feel even further. Don’t underestimate the impact your bike’s contact patches have on performance.
Riding aggressive trails demands protective equipment to keep you safe when things get rowdy. Body armor, pads and guards prevent painful impacts that can cut ride days short. Full face helmets offer critical protection for downhill and bike park laps. Lightweight open face trail helmets balance protection for all mountain adventures with increased airflow for pedaling climbs. Matching your helmet style to typical ride terrain and aggression level reduces risk. Other protection options are removable chin guards converting trail lids into quasi full face protection for sketchier situations. Lightweight knee pads safeguard joints when bailing rough rock gardens and steep chutes at speed. Flexible options stay put while pedaling without restriction. Sturdy elbow and shoulder pads withstand heavy hits andrugged high speed crashes. Back protectors and padded shorts safeguard hips and tail bones when pushing the edge of traction downhill. Dialing in the right protection package balanced with pedaling airflow keeps you safe without excess bulk on all day adventures. Don’t take unnecessary risks due to lack of protection when charging steep lines.
Modern mountain bike accessories incorporate helpful electronics to enhance the riding experience. Devices like dropper seat posts, electronic drivetrains and suspension components integrate microprocessors and sensors to react in real time as you ride. GPS computers and power meters quantify your efforts uploading key ride metrics for analysis. LED lighting systems let you extend rides into nighttime keeping hands safely on the bars. Integrated stem and bar mounted displays provide terrain maps, fitness data and critical bike system information without diverting attention from the trail ahead. Some electronic drivetrain systems even sense upcoming gear changes to perfectly time rapid fire shifts before you reach tricky trail sections.