Words by Cat Crimmins
It’s a popular scenario; you started mountain biking and got very excited when you purchased a brand new (to you) lovely mountain bike. It felt amazing and you learnt your trade on it. However, recently you have been having a little bit of bike envy, be it one of your riding buddy’s bike or by looking at bikes online… everything looks so gorgeous!
You want something new but can’t justify the cost of a new mountain bike just yet. Then what about upgrading your bike? Admittedly, these parts cost £££s, but it’s a lot cheaper than buying a new bike, plus you can transfer them over to the new stead when that day finally arrives.
Thankfully gone are the days when bikes come with 100+mm stems and narrow 680mm bars finished with comedy bar ends. Shorter stems and wider bars allow the rider to be more aggressive and have more control on the techy trails (plus way more comfy to ride too). Bar lengths have gone a bit bonkers recently with 800mm being popular, however, most females would find 740-760mm bars more than wide enough paired with a 50mm stem.
Aluminium bars and stem cost around £130 with a carbon bar alternative costing closer to £200. However, with stem/bar sizes being a personal choice, there are plenty of nearly new ones on the second-hand market, so a bargain is easy to be had!
This is arguably the single best thing you will do to improve your riding and to make your bike feel fabulous to ride! If you have never ridden a bike with an adjustable seat post then you probably won’t really understand the fuss about them. If your bike has one then you will probably wholeheartedly admit that you will never again own a bike without one! The industry agrees as most mid to high end priced bikes come with one as standard.
Alas, not cheap but unless you know the person selling you the dropper post then buying second hand is not recommended as the warranty would not be valid. Crankbrothers Highline seat post has a remarkably long warranty of 3 years! The RockShox Reverb Stealth seat posts are the most popular, whilst the Fox Transfer Factory seat post is sublime.
Pedals (and shoes)
Bikes tend to get sold either with cheap plastic pedals or none at all. You will discover quick enough that buying the cheapest pair is a recipe for disaster and you are likely to come a cropper at some point due to rubbish pedals.
Decent pedals can come in as low as £35 and are super easy to fit onto your bike. Coupled with bike specific shoes (like the iconic Five Ten) it will enable you to tackle more technical terrain with confidence and minimise the ‘feet-slipping-and-pedal-smacking-into-my-shin’ scenario. Brings tears to my eyes just thinking of it.
Saddle (and padded shorts)
Getting a sore bum whilst riding is all consuming, you will think of nothing else and it takes all the enjoyment out of the ride. Essentially most of your weight is on that small triangular shape so comfiness is key. That doesn’t mean that you should go for a wide cushion type gel saddle, just get one that suits you. Check with your local bike shop as many offer demo saddles, and don’t just purchase a saddle if you read a good review or because it costs a lot of money, neither of these factors will guarantee a good fit. It truly is a case of trial and error, but once you find one. Then buy multiples!
Some women I ride with don’t wear padded shorts, the thought of which gives me an involuntary spasm of my pelvic floor. I couldn’t imagine riding any more than 30 minutes without a padded short. Again, fit and comfiness is such personal choice, however, there are two essential pointers to wearing padded shorts; don’t wear underwear underneath them and wash after every use.
Tyres suitable for the terrain are the difference between swooping down the hill, sliding out and leaving a layer of skin on the ground or swooping down the hill with confidence and a smile. Some people (mainly men) go crazy and have numerous sets for a variety of conditions and terrains, and whilst that could be considered a little extreme, having a few sets will ensure you have the confidence in your bike year round.
Schwalbe (like the Magic Mary and Hans Dampf) and Maxxis (like the Minion and High Roller) are popular for a reason, however, they are not cheap, and it’s not uncommon to spend £65 on a decent tyre. However, don’t dismiss the cheaper brands like Specialized (like the fabulously named Butcher and Slaughter) that retail for £35 or under!) and have had great reviews from journos and riders alike.
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