Have Your MTB Upgrades Made it Less Safe and Less Fun?

I am often amazed at the mountain bike setups I see! Great bikes, sometimes with great “upgrades” but the wrong upgrades for that rider or that rider’s purpose that day. Then when I ask why did you switch to those tires/bars/pedals etc. the answers I get crack me up! “Because Bob Bobaliny (the fastest local xc racer) was using these tires at 24  Hours in the Old Pueblo”, “I saw World Champ Greg Minnaar using these tires”, “my friend Scott said they are the best”, “I read on mtbr that these were the lightest bars made”, etc. MTB upgrades and components such as pedals, shoes, handlebars, tires, stem and wheel set can have a huge positive or negative effect on your riding! Choose the components and equipment for you, the conditions and your purpose that day.

Would you use this slick, Hookworm tire in loose conditions?


Maxxis Hookworm MTB Tire

Why can copying the World Champion’s setup sometimes do more harm than good? The World Champ had those tires on for a specific purpose (in Greg Minnaar’s case winning a downhill race with the conditions the way they are that hour of race day. The mud spike Greg used in the slick conditions at a rainy wold cup in France would be outright dangerous even in the pouring rain at a rocky hard packed place like Bootleg Canyon (in the Nevada desert). Listening to or mimicking other “experts” (in quotes because they are often not experts) can also have a negative effect on your riding and safety. One, because they might not be experts and two, because their purpose is different than yours. On a technically easy trail like the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo course a racer will be concerned more about rolling resistance than control so she runs a semi-slick tire front and rear. The same racer on a more technical course would likely run a knobbier tire that rolled a little slower but gave her more control.

Some things to look out for:

1. Light weight components, light bars, light wheel sets, light tires, light cranks etc.. Our obsession with shaving weight off our bikes needs to end. Yes, given the exact same performance I would rather have a 22 pound bike than a 32 pound bike, but right now that doesn’t exist.

First, what is your purpose? Do want a bike that handles all conditions you may encounter really well or the lightest bike on the market? Often, the two end up being at odds with each other (the lightest bars are narrow, the lightest tires are narrow and have weak sidewalls, light weight seat-posts are not height adjustable on the fly, all compromising control). If you are simply a passionate rider who wants to ride your best, focus on ride quality and control. If you are a cross county or endurance racer you need to really weigh the benefits of weight shaving vs. control, which often means different equipment for different race courses. The more technically challenging the race the more likely you would want to add a dropper post and better tires for more confidence and control. The less technical the course the more you would favor light weight and semi-slick tires.

2. Pedals. Clipless pedals are not an upgrade (see our blog posts on this topic:   http://betterride.net/blog/2010/clipped-in-vs-flat-pedals/ ,  http://betterride.net/blog/2010/interesting-info-on-pedal-stroke-efficiency/) they are simply another way of pedaling. If they cause you to lose ANY confidence on the trail, how can they be an upgrade?!

Clipless shoes, there are two main different styles of clipped in shoes, softer and wider soled shoes for wide clipless pedals (platform pedals with clipless) and super stiff and light xc racing shoes. If you are an xc racer a carbon soled shoe provides amazing power and light weight, tough to beat. If you like to explore when you ride, ride technically challenging trails and want more support and comfort for your foot the softer soled 5.10 type shoe with the platform clip-in is a better bet. For more on each of these pedal types and shoes see Andy’s post: http://betterride.net/blog/2011/betterride-mtb-skills-head-coach-andys-summary-on-pedals-shoes/

3. Seatposts. A light weight non-adjustable seatpost will definitely save a little weight but it isn’t worth it! A  “dropper post” will give you more control and allow you to descend with much more confidence, control and help you to descend faster! You CANNOT get into proper descending body position with your seat at full pedal height! So the 3-6 ounce weight penalty of a dropper post is worth it on trails that have steep descents, fast corners, drops, or technical sections! See my article on dropper posts: http://betterride.net/blog/2010/the-4th-thing-you-can-buy-that-will-instanty-improve-your-bike-handling/

My 6 year old Gravity Dropper

Tires, the sport is called mountain biking for a reason, we ride off-road! So I nice knobby tire will give you much more traction than a semi-slick or tire with minimal tread.

Nice tread for more control!

Figure out the goals for your mountain bike riding and then make sure you aren’t compromising them by using the wrong equipment for your goals! Of course the number one goal is, having fun!

13 replies
  1. Max
    Max says:

    I think also switching equipment up too often in search of that elusive “perfect” set up can be detrimental to your skill development. I know I have been guilty of this, as I love monkeying around with my bike. However it is best to find a setup that works for the vast majority of your rides and stick with it. Get to know it inside and out so you don’t have to think about it too much, and you can focus on whats important.

  2. Philip Madeley
    Philip Madeley says:

    Great article, loving riding flats.. Everyone told me to get clipless, bike store, coach… Aticles online convinced me otherwise…

    What about the upgrade to disk brakes from rim brakes?

    • Gene
      Gene says:

      Hey Philip, disk brakes are much better than rim brakes, more power, more control and less brake fade. Expensive to upgrade a non-disc bike though, often better to just wait and buy a new bike.

  3. Matt
    Matt says:

    Great article! I kept that principle in mind when buying a new bike last weekend. Yes I wanted light, but more importantly I wanted control. I bought the lightest bike I could find that did what I wanted it to do. Not the lightest bike period but the lightest bike that did what I wanted. I went for an all-purpose bike with a more slack head angle, good all around knobby tires, and wider bars for better control. I could tell that the guy selling me the bike thought I was crazy to spec a bike so light then still put on my gravity dropper seatpost. He just didn’t understand that it is more than worth every gram for the control it provides. I’ll take control and the joy it adds to the ride over a few grams shaved any day!

  4. Dan
    Dan says:

    Great points. Bike weight matters when your bike is on a scale. Bike handling is the only thing that matters when you are on the bike. This is why I end up with clunky rolling tires in most cases. I just want my tires to hook up on corners, drops, off camber stuff….. Who cares if a tire rolls fast but puts you on the ground any time it becomes a “Mt. bike trail”.

  5. Gene
    Gene says:

    Matt, I love to hear that! Many bike shop guys are great, passionate riders who “get it” and some are by the numbers kind of people who don’t understand why each individual rides. Way to do it your way!

  6. Gene
    Gene says:

    Dan, wow these two sentences sum up 70% of my post, wish I had thought of both of them. “Bike weight matters when your bike is on a scale. Bike handling is the only thing that matters when you are on the bike.” I will use those on facebook right now and while teaching our camps! Thanks!

  7. Wacek
    Wacek says:

    Yea great comment indeed! I have the same feeling about MTBers looking up to roadies and doing in depth analysis of pedalling on the trainer. Talking efficient cadencies, turning in circles, toe-tippers, even aero-dynamics. Who is able to execute such stuff on the rocky trail?

  8. Jack
    Jack says:

    my seat has been at a compromised hieght. one inch too low for best climbing.this way i can ride most stuff at this hieght.bad for knees tho and it stalls me out… so i got a kindshock lev remote on the way!. since im shorter, a 335 mm w/ 100 mm travel is perfect. tho seat was pricey its still cheaper than knee surgery and less pain full not to get racked anymore. cant wait to set it up!!!

  9. Jack
    Jack says:

    love the new ks lev seatpost but it has some weight. i dont mind the weight but a xc racer with a light bike might shy away from it.now i climb with higher seat but descend with dropped seat ..this is devine!


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