The big-ticket items are its shock and fork. Both are
rebuildable by the factory, but you should consider sending
them to a specialist like Hippie Tech Suspension, Push
Industries or Garageworks for custom tuning, in addition
to the rebuild (shocks, $95–$125 shock; fork, $115–$260).
Wheels are always overlooked, but properly tensioned
spokes give the wheels a lively feel. Have a good shop tune
them up ($80), or consider upgrading to new hoops
Add up the averages and throw in a few bucks for labor
and miscellaneous items, and your freshened-up old friend
will cost you somewhere in the neighborhood of $1700.
Sound expensive? It is, but if you have become one with
your bike, it’s probably worth spending a little more to
increase its performance.
My style has changed: A less valid reason to upgrade is
that you want your bike to do something different. Be forewarned: You can’t turn a downhill bike into a trailbike, nor
is it possible to convert a minimal-travel trailbike into a
hard-charging gravity bike.
You can alter the handling of a mountain bike by switching key components. Choose parts that will alter the personality of the bike, not turn it into a freak. Most frames
are designed to perform within strict boundaries. Bolting a
6-inch-travel fork to a 4.5-pound cross-country racing frame
is begging for disaster.
Cross-country riders can move a 4-inch-travel racer into
a trailbike category by upgrading to wider, high-volume
tires ($95), upgrading to a fork with an inch more stroke
($400–$700) to slow down the steering and boost big-bump
performance, and opting for a slightly shorter stem
($40–$100) and a wider riser-style handlebar ($60–$150).
Fringe benefits: Unlike the treadmill that is collecting dust in your
basement, a new mountain bike is plenty of motivation to get you
on the trail, in the fresh air and expanding your horizons.
Moving a long-travel, all-mountain bike closer to the trailbike category requires the fewest changes, like switching to
lighter tires ($95); getting a carbon fiber handlebar
($60–$150); using a 90- to 100-millimeter stem ($40/$100);
and, in the case of a single-sprocket crankset, adding a
granny chainring ($24), a front derailleur ($30–$160), left-side shifter ($20–$40) and a two-chainring roller guide
Finally, we see a growing number of riders squeezing 27-
inch wheels on their 26ers. We do not recommend this,
because there are so many factors to consider, not the least of
which is clearance issues that could send you over the bars.
If your frame came with a lifetime warranty, doing most of
the above modifications will cancel it out.
UPGRADE TO NEW
If upgrading your bike doesn’t make sense, go new. Always
buy the most mountain bike you can afford. The OEM
(Original Equipment Manufacturer) cost on parts that a bike
maker pays for components is a fraction of the street value. If
you know that your aggressive riding style will require an
expensive suspension fork, or you are a dedicated racer who
must have a pro-level bike to get to the podium, don’t fool
yourself into believing that you can buy a lesser model and
The “upcharge” to buy the more-expensive downhill model
with the Fox 40 downhill fork or the Shimano Saint drivetrain will be one-third as much as what you’ll pay to buy the
same items later. You’ll pay less than a third of a component’s
retail value when you buy up to the next model to get the
If you truly need it, buy the right bike the first time and
you will save hundreds of dollars that you would probably
spend on future upgrades or a better bicycle.
Not convinced? Remember that large (unnamed) bicycle
chains often buy unsold bicycles directly from the big brands
so they can strip the parts off them and sell them separately
for a fortune. When you shop for a new mountain bike and
the maker offers the same frame at three price points, compare the upcharge of your most desired components with the
retail cost of the same items under the glass countertops and
you’ll realize that paying a little more up front is always the
cheapest route. ;
New age: If you started riding mountain bikes to race cross-country events, but later have found yourself drawn to back-country, all-day rides, the same bike won’t serve you well for
both types of riding.