I am actually pretty new to the world of mountain biking. I’ve had my bike a few years but haven’t really broken it in on some more challenging trails. I typically ride with the kids on rail trails and the greenest dot trails out there. Recently, hubby has been trying to push me further out of my comfort zone into some more serious riding and I am having a blast! One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far? It’s a good idea to upgrade your bike… but let’s start small.
Let me explain myself first. Last month hubby and I had a fantastic experience when we attended NEMBAfest in Burke, VT. It was all mountain biking all weekend long at Kingdom Trails. For a beginner, it was a bit overwhelming, but it really opened my eyes to a community I was completely unfamiliar with. I still have a lot to learn about mountain bikes, trail riding, accessories, and all the fancy stuff the experts know but I can tell you all the things that I found made a difference.
I currently ride a Specialized Jett 29, a hardtail mountain bike (suspension on the front wheel) with 29” wheels (big wheels for rolling over rocks and roots) and hydraulic disc brakes (better breaking). It is a great beginner bike that has treated me well for a few years! BUT, after demoing full suspension bikes (suspension on both the front and back wheel), I’ve realized how much better a mountain bike can be! I rode a Transition Scout (starting at $2,999), a Liv Embolden (starting at $1,530), and a Rocky Mountain Instinct (starting at $3,399) and, pardon the language but, holy crap!! The trail riding was so much better with the demo bikes. The breaking was smooth, the shifting was a lot easier, and with the bikes’ full suspension I felt like I was floating over rocks and roots. FLOATING I TELL YOU! Where have these bikes been all my life?!?!
Oh, yeah, out of my price range.
Ugh. Like everything, if you want something that makes your experience 100 times better than what you’re used to, you’re going to pay for it. With prices starting at about $1,500 and going to well over $10,000, I’m not going to get my very own Transition, Santa Cruz, Liv, Rocky Mountain, or Surly bike as soon as I’d like to (ummm, tomorrow would be good). Luckily there is a BUT out there for all of us beginners! We can make small improvements on our beginner bikes to make our trail riding experiences better until we make a full bike upgrade.
- Start with your pedals. If your bike is like mine, I have the standard plastic pedals you find on most bikes sold in the big box stores. They work but my foot slips off sometimes. Okay, a lot. That’s not always good when you’re on a trail full of roots, rocks, and divots. You usually end up crashing or with a nice bruise on your shin from the pedal hitting it. Instead, upgrade to a high grip aluminum/alloy pedal. The price ranges but you can get a decent pedal between $30-$35. Your shins and riding experience will thank you!
- Grips are a nice, easy upgrade. Just like my pedals, my grips are great for casual family riding. They are “ergonomic”, which just means they’re shaped to fit into the palms of my hands. The bikes I demoed at NEMBAfest all had straight grips. They are designed to prevent hand fatigue during those longer, more difficult trail rides. The straight grips also act as an extension for the handle bars, making the handling of the bike a bit easier. Plus, you can move your arms out a little further to help with the overall position of your body on the bike. Again, this upgrade can be inexpensive, with prices ranging from $19.99 to $29.99!
- Although I don’t have much experience with saddles, I can tell you a good one will make all the difference in the world… believe me! I spent a lot of time off of my seat at Kingdom Trails because the downhills were intense so my experience with the demo bikes versus my own are a bit fuzzy. I was spending a lot of time trying not to fall. I can say that when starting out your rear end will not be used to the harder saddles of a mountain bike. Also, as a woman, your, ummm, lady parts will feel bruised at the end of the day (men, you’ll need to look for your own special saddle to prevent numbness or tingling in your parts). Replacing the standard seat on your bike will make all the difference in to world. So do your research here, maybe even consider talking to someone at your local bike shop, and then shop online for what they suggest you get. We’re all different so finding the right saddle may be slightly more difficult, and more expensive, than any of the other upgrades listed here but I think you’ll be happy you put the effort into this one.
- Lastly, tires. Just like saddles, I don’t have a whole lot to say about tires. I know the tires on the demos were big and chunky. Apparently, in addition to the full suspension, the tires on the demos helped with that floating-over-obstacles feel. Better tires have better grip. Better grip gives you a better ride. Better ride gives you better experiences. Better experiences means you’ll go out riding again. This is another upgrade that can be expensive. The price range is about $50-$200 or more but it will help you feel like your beginner bike is one of the “fancier” bikes. Just like saddles, I suggest speaking to an expert about the types of tires your bike needs, if you’re not one to do intense research. There are a lot of options out there. Are your bike wheels 26”, 27.5”, or 29”? Does tubeless work with your bike? What type of riding are you going to try?
Start here, change up your bike, and then GO RIDE! Did you notice a difference in performance and comfort? How many suggested upgrades did you make? Did you make any additional upgrades I didn’t list and how did that work for you? We would love to hear about your experience in the comments. Good luck!