Upgrading an older mountain bike can be very tricky because it is very easy to overspend and you end up with a bike that is valuable only for you on the second-hand market you won’t get a decent price when you decide to sell it.
Upgrading some components on an old MTB if you plan to ride it for at least a couple more years is totally worth it but trying to make it like new will be a big waste of money and you won’t get a decent price when you decide to sell it. Some upgrades are cheap and will make your MTB much more fun to ride.
If you are trying to decide if / when it is worth it to upgrade your old MTB and you want to know which parts are worth upgrading then you are in luck because this entire article is about that, so stick around!
The Main Drawbacks of Upgrading an Older Mtb
Of course, upgrading an older mountain bike will allow you to get some extra value from your old bike or you can get a cheaper used MTB and upgrade it, saving some extra money this way but it is very important to know what are the real drawbacks.
The biggest drawback of upgrading an older MTB is that you will invest in a mountain bike with outdated geometry, modern MTBs come with a longer wheelbase so you will have more stability when riding at higher speeds.
The geometry of the bike is very important because you can’t upgrade it without buying a brand-new MTB, but you need to be careful about the amounts of upgrades that the bike needs.
Trying to make an old bike feel more modern or upgrading it to match the performance of newer bikes is a big waste of money, parts sold separately are more expensive than those sold on a bike and you will never get an old MTB to the level of newer ones that are in the same price bracket.
One more important drawback is the obvious one, regardless of the fact that you change a component or two you will still ride an old bike with beat-up components.
So to recap the biggest drawbacks of upgrading an older mountain bike are:
- Old geometry: doesn’t matter how much money you spend, your bike will not handle like the new ones with improved geometry.
- Value: even if you upgrade some components you still end up with a used bike that has lots of components that will underperform, so you aren’t getting the same value as on a new bike.
- Price of components: components will cost you more money if you buy them separately so if the bike will need a lot of upgrades you will be better off just buying one already built.
When Is It Worth Upgrading Your Older MTB?
In some situations upgrading an older mountain bike would be a complete waste of money but there are still cases when you will be better off upgrading your older MTB than spending a fortune for a new one.
Now let us see when it makes sense to upgrade the old MTB:
- Small budget: if your budget doesn’t allow you to buy a new bike in the new future and the upgrade to the old bike is below 40% of a new bike then the upgrade is totally worth it.
- The old bike was expensive: if your 5 to 7 years old MTB was expensive then most surely an upgrade would be worth it, the mountain bike most probably is still a capable bike.
- The upgrade is inexpensive: many upgrades are fairly inexpensive but will still enhance your ride experience.
- You hold your MTB a long time: if you plan to ride the upgraded mountain bike for at least 4 years then most surely upgrading is the right choice.
- Diversification: if your budget allows it you can upgrade your older MTB and use it as a second bike, and ride it when you just want a different experience ( it can be really fun).
You need to be aware that many upgrades will not rise that much the price of the bike on the second-hand market so upgrade only if you think that this will be valuable to you.
What Should I Upgrade on My Old Mountain Bike?
There are many upgrades that will not make a ton of difference on an old bike but still, there are a few that will enhance the quality of your rides, so let’s get to the point.
1. Cables and Cable Housings
This is a very inexpensive upgrade but it will have a big impact on how your shifter and breaks (if they aren’t hydraulic) work and feel.
So replace your cables and get better cable housings, believe me, it matters more than you think, and if your bike has some years of use then most surely it needs it.
2. MTB Grips
Most often grips are overlooked but they can greatly increase the comfort of your rides and can even help with hand soreness.
3. MTB Pedals
If your MTB is equipped with old pedals upgrading to newer models will give more grip and pedaling power but if you have decent pedals with pins or clipless pedals then upgrading them isn’t that important.
4. Shorter Stem
Stems aren’t going to break your bank but will influence the handling of your bike, you will have an easier time taking those tight turns on the trails.
5. Better Tires
Most low to mid-end mountain bikes will come with tires that are suited for cross-country riding and will have a profile that will not be suited to riding in muddy conditions.
Get proper tires for your riding style, it will make a big difference.
6. Dropper Post
If your MTB has a normal seat post then the upgrade to a dropper post wood makes your technical descends much more pleasant and this will end up being the best upgrade you can do to an older MTB.
Many older MTBs have V-breaks or mechanical disk ones, upgrading to hydraulic breaks will make a ton of difference, you will be able to better control your descent and your bike will have much more stopping power.
This upgrade can get costly but it doesn’t have to be, even the most entry-level hydraulic breaks from Shimano or SRAM will be a massive improvement and well worth the effort and money.
8. The Bike’s Drivetrain
This is a more expensive upgrade but if your MTB is older it may have a 3x or a 2x drivetrain and upgrading it to a one-by-10,11,12-speed drivetrain will make a big difference.
I know that this is a 300$+ upgrade but if your budget allows you it will be worthwhile doing it.
9. Suspension Fork
If your MTB is equipped with a coil suspension fork upgrading to an air suspension fork will be a massive improvement and will make your rides much more enjoyable but the downside here is that this is a costly upgrade.
Should I Upgrade My 26″ Mountain Bike?
A 26″ mountain bike will be more playful on the trails and will have more maneuverability than a 29″ MTB but it will fall behind in the speed and comfort departments.
So if you like your 26″ bike and you aren’t planning to replace it with a 27.7″ or 29″ one any time soon then upgrading it is definitely worth it because many parts will have a massive discount on them just because they aren’t popular anymore ( wheelset, suspension fork, etc.).
I have many friends who won’t even consider going from a 26″ to a 27.5″ or 29″ MTB because they love the way the 26″ feels and handles on the trails and frankly riding a 26″ and a 29″ MTB is a totally different experience.
Be aware that some suspension forks will have massive discounts from time to time because many shops will want to get rid of parts that are specific to a 26″ mountain bike, so you can end up with a better-specked bike for less money.
So YES it is worth upgrading a 26″ mountain bike if you plan to use it for at least a couple more years.
When Should I Replace My Mountain Bike?
Upgrading to a newer mountain bike isn’t an easy decision to make because doing this will force you to reach deep into your pockets but if your budget allows it by all means do it.
Practically most people get a new bike just because they want to and not because they are forced to do it and this becomes a matter of budget and personal preferences.
All of this being said there are some situations when you need to get a new MTB and these are:
- Competing in events: if you participate in MTB races regardless of the level you will need to get a new MTB after a few years so you can compete for the top places (mounting biking is a gear-dependent sport).
- A compromised frame: if your MTB frame has cracks you may be better off getting a new bike and selling everything you can from the old one on the second-hand market (getting a new frame can be expensive and may require more components to be changed).
- Your skills have evolved: if you are an experienced rider now and your skills are pushing your current mountain bike above its limits or you just realized that your MTB isn’t the correct size for you.
- Hard to find parts for it: if your mountain bike is too outdated you will find yourself in a situation in which you can’t find spare parts or you can’t upgrade anymore, this means that it’s time for a new MTB.
Now if you don’t find yourself in one of the above situations then you don’t actually need to get a new mountain bike but you still can if you have the budget.
I think that we can easily conclude that upgrading some components on older mountain bikes is totally worth the money but only if you plan to use the bike for at least a couple more years.
Trying to make an old mountain bike feel and look like a new bike would be a great money pit and most definitely would be a passion project and nothing else.
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I started mountain biking many years ago to improve my overall health state. After my first ride, I fell in love with the sport. Now I spend dozens of hours a week researching and training to compete in local XC and Enduro events.