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Top 5 Bike Mods Under $100

Upgrades For a Brand New Bike

Words by Morgan Taylor.
November 20th, 2013

You’ve got $500 to modify your completely stock bike… where’s the best place to put that cash? I’ll give you a hint: it’s probably not colour-matched handlebars.

So you’ve got a new bike. It’s awesome, but you didn’t splurge for the top shelf model and instead went for the extremely capable but less decorated version for half the price. There’s no problem with that; you still got an amazing suspension frame and a pile of parts that will do their job great – and it only weighs a couple pounds more. However, there are shortcomings. No way around it. (To be fair, there are also shortcomings on top end bikes, albeit fewer of them, in theory.)\

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$3000-3500 buys you a very capable bike these days, but corners have undoubtably been cut in getting there and it’s up to you to bring your machine up to spec for your local terrain and riding style..

While we’ve tried to keep our input to the discussion as unbiased as possible, we’ve got to admit that’s not completely attainable. Bone stock bikes usually come up short in a few key areas. Those areas change depending on your own specific needs, which are informed by geography, riding style, and where exactly your particular bike comes up short.

Given it’s unavoidable that you’ll need to change stuff out on basically every bike, we got to talking: what modifications could you not live without? What’s the best bang for the buck? And then we came to a design constraint: What’s the best way to spend $500 on a bike that just came off the showroom floor?

Top 5 Bike Mods Under $100

1. A tire, or possibly two. Tire choice is dictated by personal preference and local riding conditions. Some stock bikes come with good tires, but those are few and far between – and may not even be the right ones for you. A new front tire can work wonders for inspiring confidence on the trail. If you consider selling your brand new take-offs before riding them, you can probably upgrade your rubber at both ends for under $100.

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There’s a chance a bike will come with the perfect tires for your application, but most won’t. Expect tires to be the first thing you pull off – and it’s easier to sell brand new tires than ones you rode twice and decided you hated.

2. Suspension setup. We ride high performance machines that can be tuned to compete at the top levels of racing and jumping – and yet most people slap some air in the fork and shock, possibly adjust the rebound knob, and go riding. Having a professional set up your suspension will dial things in quickly, and ensure you spend more time having fun on the trail rather than cursing an unfamiliar setup. An hour with a pro is money well spent after you just dropped a few grand.

3. A dropper post. If your mid-spec bike already comes with a dropper post, you are in luck. If not, well, this should be a priority. $400+ for a top-line model may seem like a lot of money to spend, though their popularity would indicate otherwise – but you don’t have to blow the budget to get uppy-downy. With a bit of searching, you will easily find OEM take-off units or used but serviceable mechanical options in the $100-150 range.

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Simple mechanical dropper posts may not always be the cleanest looking thing, but they function well and can be had for a fraction of the price of an upper end unit. On top of that post has to be a saddle that fits your taint; we definitely can’t advise you which one is best.

4. Contact points. While humans are incredibly adaptable, we’re also creatures of habit and comfort. Working with your local bike shop to ensure the points of contact between you and the bicycle – grips, saddle, and possibly pedals – are as well suited to your preferences as possible can help you combine that new-bike feeling with a glove-like fit. If the stock bar on your bike isn’t to your liking, see if the shop has a take-off piece that is better suited to your tactile needs.

5. Shoes, clothing, and tools. This last point is a bit of a smorgasbord. When you’re buying a new bike, a shop will often hook you up with a discount on accessories – and here in BC, they can also pass on a 7% tax break. So, while you probably have riding gear already, now is a good time to pick up some new bits. Planning to pedal? Get yourself on some good chamois shorts and avoid the dreaded raw taint. Smelly gloves? Do us all a favour. How’s your floor pump working? Do you truly love your multi-tool? I can’t tell you exactly where the holes in your kit are, but just like the brand new bike, I know they’re there.

This is a thought experiment, and while you could miser your money and get 10 items for the $500, or blow it all on a high end dropper post, the point is still the same: where would you spend your cash upgrading a brand new bike?


Do you have anything to add? What are your must-haves?

  • DanLees

    Maybe shorter stem and a wider bar than normally spec’d on a trail bike. Though this is becoming less of a necessity.

    Also swapping out cheap Avid brakes for cheap Shimano would be something I would also consider.

    Swapping out “designed for Cali” tyres before the first ride is a given isn’t it?

  • Oldfart

    Along with having the suspension set up by a pro, getting the bike fit properly is maybe more important. I see lots of riders that throw a short stem on a bike that’s too small for them in the first place. To be fair, I think we are learning only more recently that longer bikes with a short stem work better.

    • morgman

      This is in my opinion a much bigger issue and worthy of its own article. It’s up to the shop to determine fit based on rider needs, but this is not something many shops take seriously – especially in mountain bikes. The practice of slapping a 50mm stem on every bike because it makes it descend easier is lazy, and often hides a poorly set up suspension. Before I get too far into this…

  • Jdot

    A new helmet might be on the list as well, most people wear their helmets well over the expiry date.

    • Cheez1ts

      Expiry is just after one big hit right?
      Or do you toss ‘em when they start to smell bad?

      • Jdot

        Big hit, lots of small hits, general abuse sorta thing.

  • chasecardwell

    During the winter months, a huge add on might be protection….for your bike. Im talking mud guards and chainstay protector. Wont affect your performance but it will extent the life of some components, like headsets, swingarm bearings etc…

  • dorse

    Morgan you and I are on the same page. Tires first, Then a some kind of dropper post. I can set up my own suspension. Saddle grips and pedals round it out.
    Hard to get tires and a good dropper post for $500. Your right though. It will be better to take the supplied tires off in exchange for a light rear like Schwalbe 2.35 Rocket Rons @575 grams, and a large front tire. Many choices here. For the dropper post. I’m enamored with the KS Lev, Best post out there bar non.

  • typx

    Go pick up some thin, clear, adhesive plastic cover. Any auto protection place should have it. Somewhere likes this –> http://www.autoprotectors.com/ . Apply it to all areas on your bike that see rubbing or a lot of mud. This will drastically reduce wear marks/shuttle damage/rock strikes. Sometimes puppy dog eyes will get it to you for free, sometimes not.

  • Vikb

    There is no expiry date on a helmet. You can wear it until you damage it or some part of it gives up based on wear and tear. That could be 10 days after you bought it or 5yrs.

    What you should do is inspect it once in a while to see what shape it’s in.

    • SixZeroSixOne

      There is no expiry date on a helmet. You can wear it until you damage it or some part of it gives up based on wear and tear. That could be 10 days after you bought it or 5yrs.

      What you should do is inspect it once in a while to see what shape it’s in.

      I think jdot is referring to UV damage to the shell. Probably not really a significant problem is you only ride on cloudy, tree covered North Shore trails…

  • morgman

    Great suggestions, everyone. I tried to keep this as universal as possible for varying geography, riding style, and brand preferences. It’s surely not universal to say that you should run a wide bar and short stem, though in general bars are getting wider and stems shorter even on OE spec. Brand choice is just that – but it’s worth noting that some shops will swap parts and give you credit for what came off. Just don’t expect to walk away with sticky tires and a premium saddle without dropping some extra cash.

  • Dirk

    How about “trim the extra couple of feet of housing and brake line that often seem to come on bikes in this price range”?

  • Paul Snyder

    First thing I did on my TR Bandit was to swap out the tires. Second was an upgrade from 160mm to 180mm discs. I had a dropper and saddle I could share from my Covert and had extra bars and stem lying around, but would have likely upgraded in that order if I hadn’t. It didn’t come with pedals so that was never an issue. After some time and frustration I ditched the Elixir brakes for some proper working Shimanos and replaced the budget SRAM cranks for some RF Turbines. Clearly the last two required dropping some cash and were long term upgrades. List is pretty spot on from my experience, Morgan.

  • stevens

    Great advice Morgan. One I would add personally is a narrow-wide chainring (assuming your bike doesn’t come with 1X11, at this price point probably a fair assumption). It makes your bike so much quieter, saves weight by losing front shifter and derailleur (and not replacing it with a chain device) and works way better than I ever thought it would. If, like me, you still want a bigger range and are never in a huge rush to shift your front gears, you can even leave your granny ring on and use your foot/hand to change gear. At $40-50 I think it is a solid upgrade.

    • morgman

      Hadn’t even thought about leaving the granny on – that’s an excellent suggestion and one I will probably put to use myself. While I can usually handle a single ring, there are definitely times when I want to bail out and having the option would be great.

  • cam

    Back in the day we used to do a bashguard sandwich around the larger ring and then, as Stevens suggested, do a manual change. A bonus is that you can get pretty good at downshifting with your foot.

  • Suspension Therapy

    Most of us can’t seem to fault our bikes, especially when they are new and shiny. Riders are stunned at how much better their new bike can feel after a suspension set-up, despite thinking it was already the best bike they’ve ridden!

    For trail bikes and up, tires, dropper post, and contact points are high on the list for sure. Bike fit for XC riding/racing and road, absolutely.

    In the #5 category, I’d add new shock pump. These have about a year of life in them with normal use. Start fresh with a new bike to ensure you are consistently running the desired pressure in your fork and shock.

    Make sure to not over-tighten the head of your new pump onto the valve of the fork or shock. You will end up wearing down the pump and compromising the accuracy of your reading. Only tighten the head of the pump until you see a steady reading on the gauge, not any more (needle rises to pressure reading, then stops). This will ensure that the only air you loose when removing the pump from the shock is from the hose, not the shock itself. Always listen for a brisk, short release of air. Your pump will have a much longer lifespan like this as well.

  • LostBoyScout

    Spending thousands on a bike and not spending a few extra bucks to get the suspension dialed (by the gentleman above me) is something I would never do again. Spending all that money on the technology is pointless if it’s not been optimized for you. I would recommend every rider see Arthur at least once – from there at least you have a baseline understanding.

    I agree with everything on the list. There are only a couple front tires I feel comfortable running – rear tire I barely care about. Many bikes come with too-narrow bars, and I don’t know how we rode those for all those years. My ideal width tends to be around 760mm for everything.

  • jadavis

    Dropper posts… because we all race so much haha. You could save the cash on the dropper post (loosing a few seconds at the bottom of a hill too) and put it towards good pedals. If you ask me, if a hill is short enough where you wouldn’t want to get off your bike to raise your seat then you can do it standing and if it’s so long you want to raise your seat then the dropper isn’t gaining you much.

    • morgman

      That sounds like the opinion of the non-dropper stalwart. No dropper post has two applications: bikes that are powered by gravity and never need to raise the seat; and XC bikes that never descend in technical terrain and thus never need to lower the seat.

      Another, less abrasive argument is your seat always goes right back to where you wanted it, and stays straight. As I said, with the number of people who buy in at the $400+ level, dropper posts are no flash in the pan – even for non-racers.

      • jadavis

        This is true, your seat would return to the same place each time, however, I rarely find a few millimeters makes a huge difference in how I feel about my seat.

        My personal opinion is that it isn’t worth the extra clutter on the bars. I would rather have to get off my bike and move my seat than have an extra line. That and my background tends to point me in the direction of minimizing things that can break.

  • Bli33ard

    If you have $500 to spend on your bike, use it to go to a bike park for 2-3 days and ride it! Best money ever spent “on” a bike.

    Seriously, there are people that need someone else to set up and fit their own bikes? Pansies.

  • Connor Sutherland

    This here is what I do,
    http://www.pinkbike.com/video/339367/