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Five Mountain Bike Upgrades Under $50 That Will Improve Performance
This article, the sole purpose is to provide you with a variety of gear under 50$ that actually has a benefit. There are a ton of gimmicks in the world of mountain biking, that claim to help improve performance, speed or handling, however most are just that, gimmicks. If you want some cheap upgrades or even if you have a decent setup already and are just looking for a little tweak or adding a bit of custom feel to your bike I'll review several products that are cheap, slick, and can actually help you out.
1. ODI / Lock-On Grips
ODI and lock-on style grips might seem like a gimmick. Yet, they are actually a great feature for your bike. They don't slip, because they are clamped to the handlebars. The clamps mean they are easily removed with and allen wrench or bike tool to change grip style to meet your needs when the terrain, or weather changes. Easy removal also means that you can access your brakes and shifters to change or repair them without spending the time to yank or cut off the standard style of grips. I waited a long time to change over to lock-on grips, and I will never go back to standard style, the performance of this product for usually under $25 is just unbeatable.
2. Basic Chain Guide / Stop / Tensioner
There are some elaborate chain guides out there that can run well over a hundred dollars, however, if you are not running a guide or a chain stop and have occasional problems dropping your chain, you may want to looking into an inexpensive version. A few examples of quality products are the N-Gear Jump Stop, The K-Edge MTB Dirt 3 Chain Catcher, The Blackspire Stinger Chain Tensioner, K-Edge MTB Dirt ACS Antichainsuck Guide, and the MRP 1.X Guide.
These inexpensive guides are not necessarily for bombing downhill trails, but will serve the purpose of keeping your chain on over rough spots, moderate jumps and gaps. They mount easily to your bottom bracket or frame and add a custom look to your bike. If you race XC these are invaluable little things, that are well worth the investment. Make sure to get the product that fits your bike, some are designed to suit single front ring drivetrains, while others are meant for multi-ring drivetrains.
Attaching a new stem to your bike can drastically change the handling even if it is only lengthening or shortening the cockpit a few millimeters. You can also find a way to save weight and change the look of your bike. There are plenty of stems that run upwards of $100 and have some slick looks to them. For the most part however you can likely find a sweet upgrade for under $50.
In general a shorter stem will make your bike more agile and aids in better steering and makes it easier to perform manuals and lift yourself over obstacles. It also allows for you to get more weight over the front tire on the corners keeping you on track. The downside is that with a shorter stem you lose some climbing prowess. A lot of it comes down to comfort, but if you are having issues getting up the hills putting your stem a few millimeters out further may help a bit, likewise if you can't quite cut through the obstacles on the downhills as quickly as you wold like, shortening it up a bit will make a world of difference.
4. Cable Housing and Cables
Cables and housing are put on most stock bikes with out a second thought to their quality. Shops replace cables and housing during tune-ups the same way. The idea is to put the cheap stuff on to save some cash and make a few bucks off of tune-ups. This is an undersell that many owners should take a look at. Replacing the cheap cables and housing means less cable stretch, easier shifting (or braking), less clunks in and out of gear, and a longer life. I personally recommend Jagwire cable kits as they have served me very well. Pre-stretched or coated cables are also a must buy if you choose to replace.
Teflon treated cables and housing create super smooth shifting and braking and it means they don't rust or stiffen up. There are dozens of kits and options on the market, so its worth some time to look around and find a deal. SOme kits are a bit pricy but you should be able to upgrade your derailleurs or brakes (if they use mechanical cables) from the factory option for under 50$. It might even be worth it if you purchase a new bike from a local bike store to ask for an upgrade in cables, to save you the hassle of fitting them yourself.
A bash guard is a simple idea. You put a piece of material you don't care about on the outside of your crankset so that when you smash your bike into something, it doesn't damage the part you do care about. You really should get one of these unless you are riding on smooth rolling trails or plan dirt. These things will save your chainrings, and keep you riding. Lets face it you are going to dump the bike at some point, if your riding aggressively, you might as well put a bash guard on to keep your cranks in working condition. I don't really have a preference for any type or make of bash guard, but I will make a few observations. A plastic guard is going to be less durable than an aluminum one (wow incredible!) if you dump hard or often go aluminum. Make sure the guard you get comes with bolts!. You will need slightly longer bolts and having them included when you purchase a guard can save you some cash / time.