Will these five bike upgrades make you able to roost like Cody Kelley? Only time will tell. Max Ritter photo.
When it comes to mountain biking, there exists a seemingly endless flow of new gear coming out day after day. Everyone’s telling you that this dropper, that drivetrain, or this new bike gizmo is going to make your day on the trail better than the last. Sure, that might be true for many of the products out there, but which ones actually make sense for the average rider who doesn’t have and endless supply of cash to spend?
These days, most complete bikes you can buy are fully-capable rigs that will outperform you on the trail. However, there are many small details that big brands often overlook, whether it’s in the name of price point or brand affiliation, and it’s up to us – the riders – to remedy those shortcomings. Those upgrades can be as small as a new bottle cage, as invisible as new hub internals, or as obvious as a new set of tires, but small things can make a huge difference.
Many of us here at TGR like to spend our summer days on our bikes, whether it’s pedaling long days into the mountains around town, or shuttling the downhill trails right behind our office. Case in point, we ride hard and our bikes take a beating, so we’re always on the look for components that make our rides more comfortable and fun without having to shell out loads of cash every time something breaks. The following pieces of gear are a selection of stuff ranging from true performance upgrades to fun things with a bling factor that we think are worthy upgrades to any rig and will quickly make an already awesome bike feel like dream ride on the trail.
TRP's Quadiem brakes will only slow you down. And that's a good thing. Max Ritter photo.
Brakes – TRP Quadiem DH Brakes
Brakes only slow you down, right? Well, yes, but a pair of powerful and consistent brakes will likely make you faster. A pair of anchors like TRP’s budget-friendly Quadiem DH (it’s the same brake as the bling G-Spec DH brake with a less expensive paint job) will have you waiting longer to pull those levers as you enter corners or rough sections, and will offer longer-lasting performance than the competition.
TRP might be a lesser-known name in the bike world compared to Shimano or SRAM, but their brakes appear on the bikes of the fastest in the world. Hey, Aaron Gwin himself helped design these stoppers, and we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to bike tech. Running off mineral oil, they are easy to set up and bleed, and with four pistons and integrated cooling fins in the caliper, they take much longer to fade on never-ending descents. We tested these compared to a set of SRAM Guide RS brakes and a pair of Shimano XTs and will say that TRP’s option outperformed both. They offer great modulation (the ability to slowly apply brake pressure) and phenomenal stopping power, perfect for everything from a featherweight trail bike to a heavy DH rig. Our one qualm is that they don’t play nice with SRAM shifters and Matchmaker clamps on your handlebars. TRP uses the same fittings as Shimano I-Spec A, so mating with Shimano shifters is no problem. But, if you ride hard, value performance, and don’t like bleeding your brakes after every ride, TRP’s Quadiem brakes are one of the best options out there.
Schwalbe's Pro Core inserts allow for worry-free riding through the chunkiest, sharpest rock gardens. Max Ritter photos.
Tire Inserts - Schwalbe Pro Core
If you ride rocky trails aggressively and don’t want to flat every ride, tire inserts are your new best friend. Think of these as an extra buffer that sits inside your tubeless tire, allowing you run lower pressures without burping your tire or denting your rim. With half a dozen worthy insert options out there, Schwalbe’s Pro Core system takes a slightly different approach. Essentially a road bike tube and tire inside your regular mountain bike tire, the Pro Core system has a valve that separately inflates the inner and outer chamber, locking the bead of your tire firmly onto the rim.
We’ve run these for an entire season of pass laps and racing, and never burped a tire or flatted, even while running sub-20psi pressures through evil-looking rock gardens. Pair ProCore with a set of Schwalbe Magic Mary and Hans Dampf Tires and say goodbye to trailside tire problems. One thing to note – they are a bit of a pain to install and remove, so swapping tires is a long process with the system installed.
The two silver rings on the left will make any trail ride that much better. DT Swiss photos.
Hub Stuff - DT Swiss 54T Star Ratchet Upgrade
Hub engagement is a topic most beginner to intermediate riders have probably never thought about – cheaper hubs tend to have worse engagement. What’s engagement? It’s how far your cranks have to turn before your drivetrain engages the rear wheel. Don’t think it matters? Try a bike with better engagement and prepare to have your mind changed. Better engagement means a more responsive bike, especially on technical climbs where you need short bursts of power to hop up rocks and roots.
If you run a DT Swiss hub, or any brand’s hub with DT Swiss internals, the 54-tooth Star Ratchet Upgrade is a quick and easy way to improve the performance of your bike. Most low-end DT Swiss hubs come installed with the 18-tooth ratchet, which in our opinion has no place in a mountain bike drivetrain. These little magic rings take about 10 minutes to install into your existing rear hub with no tools required and make an immediately noticeable difference on the trail. Beats dropping a fat wad of cash on new wheels.
All Mountain Style's frame guards give you bike a little bling, and protect the exposed bits at the same time. Max Ritter photos.
Frame Protection – All Mountain Style Honeycomb Frame Guards
Mountain bikes are expensive, especially when they’re made of carbon fiber. While carbon might be the go-to material for bike manufacturers these days due to its light weight and high strength, it is not immune to damage from foreign objects. Think rock strikes on the trail, your friends pedal in the back of a shuttle rig, or even your brake lines rubbing the head tube. Luckily, a simple fix comes in the form of All Mountain Style’s Honeycomb Frame Guards. These nifty plastic stickers will extend the life of your frame by taking the damage from rocks, pedals, and cable rub.
The Barcelona, Spain-based brand creates pre-cut frame guards made of semi-rigid PVC plastic. A kit includes enough parts to cover all the important parts of your bike: downtube, top tube, chainstay, and seattube areas. The stickers are easy to install and come in dozens of different color and design options. Ever wanted cheetah print or a grizzly bear on your bike? You’ve got it.
When marmots go on bike rides... Max Ritter photo.
Fender - Groundkeeper Customs
Lightweight plastic fenders seem to be all the rage on mountain bikes these days, and for good reason. Strap one to your fork, and say goodbye to mud, dirt, and pebbles flying up and hitting you in the face, or denting your downtube. Better yet, these thin plastic guys actually protect your fork stanchions and seals from getting super gross in all sorts of conditions. Your mechanic will thank you.
Bellingham’s Groundkeeper Fenders offers a fun take on the typical black plastic fender, with dozens of bright colors and patterns and the option to design your own in their online builder. Pop one on your bike and get ready to answer lots of questions every time you hit the trail.
After a multi-year hiatus, The Mountain Gazette is back under the leadership of none other than Mike Rogge. Mountain Gazette photo. For many of us, the words “adventure journalism” conjure up notions of classic writers like Edward Abbey, Yvon Chouinard, and Dolores LaChapelle waxing poetic about the nuances of mountain culture. Forging a life in the mountains, whether it’s on the glaciated peaks of Alaska, or simply in the notorious bars of a town like Jackson Hole is a complicated
A clean bike is a happy bike. Max Ritter photo. There’s just something about a clean bike that makes you want to ride faster and push harder on the trail. Maybe it’s a placebo, or maybe it’s the fact that a clean bike typically means everything is working well, your drivetrain isn’t creaking, and your suspension is as active as it can be. Even if you only ride in dry conditions, cleaning your bike frequently will keep it happy and make all those expensive parts work better and last
Casey Brown rocking her new signature jersey, just one of the many women's kits we tested this summer. Scott Robb photo. The other day I was riding with a few of my girlfriends, and this woman in a really cute pair of bike shorts passed us on the trail. Intrigued, we tried guessing the brand and began naming off all the mountain bike apparel companies we knew: Wild Rye, Shredly, Dakine, Sombrio, Mons Royale, and the list kept going. I couldn’t help but laugh because five years ago we