All these upgrades cost less than £100, but each one will significantly improve your riding experience.
If your pride and joy has lost its lustre, don’t start yearning after a new whip. With a handful of carefully-chosen budget upgrades, you can give your ride a high performance makeover without spending a fortune.
1. Fit a dropper post
Our first upgrade might not apply to everyone reading, but if you have an older mountain bike, or you’ve just bought an entry-level hardtail or budget full-suspension bike, then it might have a fixed post. Fixed posts are also still commonplace on XC race bikes. So if your bike falls into any of these categories In either case, the first thing we’d recommend investing in is a decent dropper post.
These game-changing inventions let you raise and lower your saddle without having to stop and get a tool out. So you can drop your saddle out of the way for confident descending, and elevate it again for efficient climbing, all by pressing a lever on the handlebars. Few components have had such a profound effect on the flow of a ride and your confidence as a rider.
Normally the cheapest options cost over £100, but at the moment there are deals out there for good quality posts that start at around £80.
2. Grab some grippier tyres
If you’ve already got a dropper post, the next area we’d be focussing our money and attention are the wheels and tyres. Of those, the priority for any upgrades are your tyres. They are the only contact with the ground, and provide your grip when cornering, braking, climbing, and accelerating.
So their role in inspiring grip and control cannot be overstated. But it’s a minefield of tread patterns, rubber compounds and sidewall casings out there. Our comprehensive buyer’s guide, packed with reviews of the best tyres on the market, is a great place to start your search. And if you want a quick and dirty recommendation that works for a wide variety of trail riding, then look no further than the Specialized Butcher T9 and Eliminator T7.
The Butcher is a great aggressive front tyre, while the Eliminator is fast rolling and offers good traction when climbing and braking. They’re both tubeless-ready, and the best part is, a pair of tyres will set you back under £85.
3. Convert your tyres to tubeless
Talking of tubeless, if you’re still running inner tubes in your tyres, now is the time to ditch them. While there are some frustrating exceptions, converting your wheels and tyres to tubeless is largely simple and stress-free these days. Most wheels and tyres are tubeless-ready, so all you need to do is buy valves and sealant and away you go. The benefits being that you’ll save around 100g per wheel by ditching the inner tube, there’s a much lower risk of pinch flats, and you’re less likely to get a puncture if you run over a thorn.
4. Use a pressure gauge before every ride
The last upgrade we’d recommend getting hold of when it comes to tyres is an accurate pressure gauge. Something like the super accurate SKS Airchecker 2 only costs around £20, but it means you can make sure your bike handles consistently on every ride. Check the pressures before you set out and top them up as necessary, tuning the pressure depending on the temperature, the time of year, and the trails you’re riding.
With your tyres sorted, now it’s time to turn our attention to your contact points. These are the interfaces with the bike. They are how we interact with it and control it. So, if your grips, pedals, and saddle are uncomfortable then you’re never going to be able to extract the most out of your bike.
5. Install more comfortable grips
For £20 there are loads of excellent grips out there that offer excellent comfort and control. Look for a single-ended lock-on design. Thick for big hands and cushioning. Thin for small hands and fingertip control.
We love the DMR Deathgrip, Ergon GE1 Evo, and Burgtec Bartender Pro.
6. Enjoy a nicer saddle
The next contact point on the list is the saddle. If your current saddle is not comfortable, then look into a new one. Sadly it’s not possible to try out saddles before you buy, so the best option is to sit on a few different ones on your mate’s bikes, and take advantage of saddle fit centres run by brands such as Specialized and SQLab.
Some of our recommended saddles are the SDG Bel Air 3.0, the Specialized Bridge Comp with Mimic, and the WTB Volt Race.
7. Pick up some more robust pedals
And to round things off, we get to the pedals. If you run flats, we’d look into investing in a pair of the best nylon pedal options. These are virtually indestructible, come in a rainbow of colours, offer superb grip, and generally cost around £40. So you won’t be throwing away a load of money every time you crash and break the cage or bend the axle.
Our go-to option is the Burgtec Mk4 Composite.
8. Power-up your brakes
It’s possible to increase the power and durability of your current brakes with a couple of low-cost upgrades. First off, swapping the organic brake pads that a lot of entry-level bikes come with, for sintered metal versions, will improve the lifespan of your pads considerably. For riding in the UK we wouldn’t run anything else.
To improve the power of your brakes you can either fit larger rotors, or thicker rotors. Larger rotors have more leverage, and a bigger surface area to reduce overheating, but they’re more vulnerable to damage and you’ll also need to buy new adaptors.
Another option is to go for something like SRAM’s HS2 rotors. These are thicker and offer better heat dissipation. Which should give more consistent braking on long descents. SRAM claims they help improve braking power too. So you can keep your rotor sizes the same and improve your braking performance.
9. Sweeten your suspension with a service
While a suspension service costs around £250 for a fork and shock, you can do the basics yourself at home for a fraction of that price. If you haven’t had your suspension serviced for a year or more, you’ll be amazed at the difference a simple lower leg and air can service makes. All you need are some basic tools, a clear workspace, some suspension fluid and a bit of patience.
There are loads of video guides online, including on our YouTube channel, so make a brew, get comfortable, and take your time, and in a few hours you’ll have sumptuously supple suspension again.
10. Splash out on a front mudguard
Last but not least, a quality front mudguard is a must for all UK riders. As well as helping to keep your vision clear, the best options also prevent mud from building up around your fork seals. Which helps your fork stay in tip top condition.
We love the SKS Mudrocker, but there are other great options from RRP, Mucky Nutz and Crud. We reckon it’s worth going for a full length model for the ultimate protection. Remember to shield the legs of your fork from scuffing with some clear tape, and don’t forget to wear glasses or goggles as well, to keep muck and debris out of your eyes.