Upgrading Your Gear

Did you just buy your first mountain bike so you can get into XC racing?

Chances are you bought something like the Trek 6700, Giant XTC 1, Cannondale F4, or Specialized Rockhopper Expert. These are roughly $1100-1300 bikes, which is not cheap, but you still might want to upgrade some parts and add accessories to decrease the weight and improve the performance.

Here is what I would do to make your bike race-ready without spending too much money:

Day of Purchase

The first upgrade you need to make is going to clipless pedals. You should do this immediately, because it’s a huge performance upgrade!

Most bikes in this price range either have flat pedals, no pedals at all, or maybe the basic Shimano SPD pedals. (If they do come with a pedal like the Shimano M520, you can use that to start, but be prepared to upgrade eventually, as these pedals don’t always work well.)

If the bike comes without clipless pedals, I would recommend looking at nicer pedals from Shimano, Time, and Crank Brothers. Popular models are the Shimano M770, Time ATAC XS Carbon, Crank Bros Eggbeater SL, and Crank Bros Candy SL.

You will also need special shoes to go with the clipless pedals. Take a look at models from Shimano, Sidi, Northwave, Specialized, Bontrager, Diadora, and Pearl Izumi. (Consider some more cycling clothing while you’re at it.)

Next, look at the saddle. There’s a chance you’ll like the saddle that comes on the bike. If so, great.

You won’t be doing too many long rides where you sit the whole time (unlike on a road bike,) so the saddle won’t be as big of a deal. But if you hate the saddle, switch it! I’m a big fan of Fizik and WTB saddles for mountain bike use.

After A Few Rides

After a few rides, consider getting some new rubber. AKA, grips and tires.

If the stock grips are comfy, go ahead and stick with them. But if they suck (as a lot of grips do,) upgrade them. I think the Oury grips and ESI grips are good, but also try out the Ergon grips if you have had any hand discomfort with regular grips.

Next, tires. Even if you got decent tires on your bike, mountain bike racing calls for more than one pair of tires. That’s because you need at least two sets of tires – one for dry conditions and one for wet, muddy conditions.

Some tires I like include the IRC Serac XC, Maxxis Crossmark, Maxxis Monorail, Hutchinson Python, and Kenda Nevegal. But there are many tires out there, and you need the ones that match your typical riding conditions. (Someone in the Arizona desert needs different tires than someone riding technical East Coast singletrack.)

Ask the local bike shop or your fellow racers for tire recommendations for your area.

New Wheels, Go Tubeless

As you start thinking about new tires, also think about going tubeless. Switching to tubeless tires is a huge performance upgrade! (First priority for performance is clipless pedals and shoes, but a close second is tubeless tires.)

There are two ways to accomplish this – buy UST wheels, or use a Stan’s NoTubes conversion kit.

On a budget:

If you’re on a budget, go for the Stans NoTubes conversion, which will convert your existing wheels and tires to tubeless for just about $55.

Also, if your standard wheels are good quality and you don’t want to spend $650 on new ones, the Stan’s conversion kit is for you.

With a little work, you’ll turn your regular wheels into a sweet set of tubeless wheels! It is so worth it! (It takes some work though, so don’t expect it to be easy.)

If you can afford new wheels:

If you have the money, spring for some new wheels. These are typically called UST tubeless wheels, and two popular options are Mavic Crossmax SL and Stan’s Olympic Disc wheels.

Both wheelsets are fairly expensive (around $650-900,) but they are lightweight and don’t require fussing around to get them working without tubes.

Important Components to Upgrade

Here are some good ideas if you still have more money than you know what to do with:


Your brakes get a lot of use when mountain biking! These days, bikes in this price range come equipped with decent hydraulic disc brakes. These should work great for years to come, so don’t be in a hurry to upgrade.

On the other hand, if you have V-brakes, I’d swap those out ASAP. Disc brakes work so much better, especially in wet conditions, so it’s worth the investment.

But let’s say you have some basic hydraulic discs like the Avid Juicy 3 or Shimano Deore. They’re alright, but if you want better performance (nicer levers, better modulation, more power, etc.), you can upgrade your brakes because they are so important.

A popular option is the Avid Juicy Ultimate, but there are also nice brakes from Shimano XTR, Hayes, Hope, and Magura.

Suspension fork

Another expensive upgrade, a nice fork could cost more than your wheels. (I feel wheels are much more important, and brakes a little more important than this upgrade, but a good fork is nice to have.)

The real key is to have a fork with a lockout. These days, virtually every fork is going to have a lockout, so your current fork is probably fine.

But you can save some serious weight and get a better feel with a nicer fork. The RockShox SID and Fox F100 forks are popular options.

The Drivetrain

A good drivetrain is essential to performance, but a basic drivetrain consisting of Shimano Deore and/or SLX parts (or SRAM X.7 or X.9 components) should deliver solid performance. (If your drivetrain isn’t performing well, consider adjusting it properly or working on your shifting technique.)

Considering the likelihood of damaging derailleurs while riding, I would just wait and replace them when necessary. (If you must upgrade, I’d stick with Shimano XT, as XTR is super expensive.)

As for the rest of the drivetrain, just replace it as necessary. When they need replacement, a good chain and cassette will improve performance and save weight. Your bike probably came with a cheap, heavy cassette. (That’s the #1 priority for upgrading if you upgrade anything in the drivetrain.)

Just remember that you’ll go through at least a couple chains each year, and the cassette will need changed every so often.

Other Bicycle Components

If you’ve made it this far, your bike is probably very nice. There’s not much left to upgrade, but here are a couple ideas:

To save weight, consider a carbon seatpost. You could also choose a carbon handlebar to save more weight and possibly increase your comfort.

But the seatpost, stem, and handlebar are probably the last parts I’d upgrade.

Final Thoughts on Upgrading Components

Upgrading components can be fun and exciting, but buying purely on emotion will burn through your money real fast. You should first upgrade the parts that will give you the most bang for your buck, and then move on to the other parts. And don’t forget that many parts will wear out and need replaced, so you want to have some money saved for that!

In any case, it’s your bike, so have fun with it!



Mountain Biking Nutrition

Nutrition for Mountain Biking
Nutrition is a very important component of a healthy, enjoyable and performance-

full biking vacation. In addition to complying with the health tips given in the last blog, this time we will give some very important tips considering nutrition for mountain bikers. Well nutrition will improve your biking performance and ability in a significant way:Begin your ride “well fueled”: It is very important to eat and drink the night before and on the morning of your ride. It’s important to eat the right things. Don’t eat heavy food such as a large meat portion – it’s better to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Don’t set out for your ride right after a meal. Let the food digest for about an hour. In Morzine, There are plenty of restaurants and hotel dining halls that offer special menus for bikers.

Keep a healthy diet also when you’re not biking. Your diet should always contain 60-70% carbohydrates, 20-30& protein and 10% fat.

Drink plenty Liquids – It’s very important to keep hydrated at all times while biking. Biking is a sport that takes from our body plenty of liquids. It’s important to drink consistently, even when your body doesn’t feel thirsty. Don’t wait for your body to tell you it needs a drink. Usually that means you are already somewhat dehydrated. To keep drinking while riding, we recommend carrying a riding pack with a hydration system that allows you to drink ‘hands free’. While riding short rides its preferable to drink water. If you are going out for one of Morzines longer trail pr singles we recommend adding a sport drink supplement to the water you will drink.

For a snack for biking don’t bring along high sugar snack. Bananas are highly recommended, as are energy bars.

Off Season Core training.

The first thing that we need to be worrying about this time of year is gaining overall core strength. We’re going to start the workout off with the Turkish Get Up, which is one of the best exercises around for building the type of core strength you need on the trail. You’re going to do 3 reps on each side but do all 3 reps on one side and then 3 on the other – make sure that you switch sides after each rep.

After some TGUs to get the body linked up and ready to go we’re going to move to the Focus Circuit. This is where we are going to put the exercises that we want to make sure get the most energy and attention, which will lead to them getting the best results. Bodyweight exercises have been effectively used for centuries to build strong, capable bodies and I like to emphasize them in an early off season program. Bodyweight exercises are great for building the body awareness, tendon and ligament strength you need to safely handle heavy weights in later workouts.

The four bodyweight exercises that we are going to focus on are the squat, push up, lying leg raise and chin up. Since they are in a circuit you will do a set of the first exercise, rest 30-60 second and then move to the next exercise in the series. Once you have finished a set of all the exercises then start over, going through the series again until you have done all the sets for each exercise.

After our Focus Circuit we’ll move to the Secondary Circuit, which is where we place the exercise we want to work on but know they won’t see the best results since we get to them when we are tired. For this workout, even though we want to emphasize bodyweight exercises we still need to use some more traditional strength training exercises where we are moving an external implement, like a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell or other tool.

The ability to control your bodyweight is one aspect of performance, your ability to apply force into an external object is the other. While bodyweight mastery is vital, nothing can replace good old fashioned strength. I love the deadlift and cheat-curl-to-press for building strength in the areas we need on the trail – the hips, lats and shoulders.

Lastly, we want to work on building come cardio capacity, specifically the energy systems that are critical to trail riding. While the aerobic energy system is important, on the trail it comes down to how well it can support the anaerobic energy system that really counts. The ability to push hard repeatedly with incomplete rest is the hallmark of a great rider and to do that you need to work on the Aerobic and Lactic Energy Systems in that way.

I like to use Cardiac Power Intervals to work on cardio endurance at this time of the year. This protocol has you power hard for a relatively long time, digging into your anaerobic Lactic Energy System before backing off and letting your heart rate drop back down to 120 beats per minute (bpm) before repeating. I recommend using an AirDyne Bike (the one with the fan for resistance) or your mountain bike on a trainer. You can do these outside but the more factors you can control the easier it is to progressively improve.

So, in a nutshell we want to emphasize core strength and bodyweight mastery, work on some basic strength and build some general Aerobic and Lactic Energy System endurance. This approach will help transition the body from the rigors of the riding season to demands of grueling off season workouts.

So, here is a routine that puts this all together for you. Click on the links to see video demos of the exercises.


Start with a warm up drill like this one – Dynamic Mobility Warm Up

Core Training
TGU X 3 reps(switch sides each rep until you have done 3 on each side)
* If you struggle with the full TGU then just work up to the point that gives you trouble. Getting strong in the earlier parts of this exercise will make the later moves much easier.

Focus Circuit
BW Squat 2 sets X 10-30 reps
Push Ups 2 sets X 5 – 20 reps
Lying Leg Raise 2 sets X 5 – 20 reps
Chin Up 2 sets X 1 – 10 reps
* Make sure that you come down to a count of 2, pause for a count of 1 and come back up to a count of 2 on all reps in this circuit. Stop with 1 or 2 reps left and don’t train to failure – form breaks down so bad when you do that you get nothing out of those crappy reps.

Secondary Circuit
Deadlift 3 sets X 8 reps
Cheat Curl to Press 3 sets X 8 reps
* Start out with a relatively light weight for the first set and try to add a little weight each set, working up to a strong effort on the 3rd set. However, don’t train to failure – it is even more important with weighted exercises that you don’t let your form break down to get a few more reps.

Cardiac Power Intervals
Work: 60 seconds – Your goal is to get your HR as high as possible on each round
Rest: HR returns to 120-130 bpm – don’t stop, keep pedaling slowly.
Start with 8 rounds and add 1 round each week.


Do this routine 2-3 times a week. Know that you won’t be able to improve every time you train but as long as the weekly trend is for you to be doing a few more reps or adding a few more pounds then you’re heading in the right direction. In fact, I’d encourage you to make every 3rd workout a “back off” workout where you purposefully do a few less reps and pounds than you know you can. Progress is never a linear path and so don’t fight this fact of life by trying to push too hard and too often.

A couple of closing thoughts. First, this is not intended to be the “best” mountain bike workout for all riders and all situations. Exercise is like a drug and you need to take the right kinds in the right dosages to see the results you need. For example, if you are World Cup Pro then this workout may not be enough for you – but then again, a rider shouldn’t be looking for free advice on the internet if their paycheck depends on their performance.

Also, I did not include several things that I would in a more comprehensive program, such as corrective exercises and single leg exercises. This workout encompasses all the major factors that should be addressed this time of year but does not represent a complete use of every tool in my toolbox.

However, the 80-20 Rule tells us that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts and I believe that a routine like this represents a good chunk of the strength and conditioning 20%. When applied with 100% focus and intensity a simple program like this can deliver some pretty amazing result for the vast majority of riders.

So there you have it, something to get the off season training ball rolling. Races are won and epic rides are prepared for now and the longer you wait or the less organized your efforts the less progress you’ll make next year.

-James Wilson-