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How to Make a Mountain Bike Faster

cyclist riding the fastest mountain bike

Riding a mountain bike is great fun but riding a fast mountain bike is very exciting. We all want to be faster, and although a lot of it can come down to fitness, you can get the edge over your competitors by having a quicker bike. If there’s one thing pretty much every cyclist wants, it is to be quicker, and in this article, we’re going to tell you how to make a mountain bike faster.

What Makes a Mountain Bike Faster

cyclist doing a jump using the fastest mountain bike
Photo by Carter Moorse on Unsplash

Before we start, it’s vital to understand what makes a mountain bike faster. Most mountain bikes come relatively quick as standard, but there’s always a way to make them quicker. What defines a mountain bike’s speed?

Rider

Obviously, the rider’s fitness is a very big governing point of how quickly the bike will be, but where do you turn if you can’t get any fitter.

Weight

The bike’s weight is vital. We want the bike to be as light as possible to go up hills easier and is much more straightforward to control. A lot of making a mountain bike faster comes down to making it lighter. One thing we have to be careful of is making sure if we do make it lighter, it still has the capabilities. For example, we can’t take the suspension forks out and replace them with rigid forks because then it will be slower off-road and less capable.

Aerodynamics

Although many people look past aerodynamics for mountain bikes, it is a straightforward way to make your bike much faster with little to no cost. You can make your bike much quicker just by moving parts around.

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What Can We Do to Make a Mountain Bike Faster?

fast mountain bike with a lighter frame
Image by mountainmaurice on Pixabay

Let’s break the bike down into sections and speak about how we can make it faster. We will talk about changing parts and also how you can modify the parts to make them quicker.

Lighter frame

Changing your frame is a big job but it can change a lot of characteristics of a bike and make you much faster. This isn’t an upgrade many people make as the cost is very high, but it’s worth speaking about.

Frame Material

One way you can go is to lighten your frame. It’s a massive upgrade to make but can save you about a kg in weight. Frames typically come in aluminum, carbon, steel, and titanium. Carbon is the light material, closely followed by titanium. Having a light frame material can shave loads of weight off the bike.

Frame geometry

You can also get more aggressive frames that typically are much more aerodynamic, they may not be as comfortable, but they will be much quicker. Typically enduro and downhill bikes will be very aggressive, but they are not always lighter as they need to be built for rougher terrain.

What style of mountain bike

The lightest frames are usually cross country carbon frames, and you can get these in a reasonably aggressive geometry, make sure though, if you change your frame, all your parts are able to go across to the new one and are capable of working.

Lighter Wheels

cyclist riding a mountain bike with lighter wheels
Photo by Axel Brunst on Unsplash

Wheels are a fantastic upgrade when it comes to making your mountain bike quicker. What’s unique about wheels is that they spin and move inside the frame. Unlike the frame itself, they are moving much more than other parts. Having lighter wheels is a better upgrade than upgrading your frame and will give you much more speed for less money.

Wheel Material

As you can imagine, having lighter wheels will make your bike much faster. Wheels like frames come in different materials. Most wheels are aluminum, but going for a carbon fiber wheelset will save you about 600g, which on wheels will make a mountain bike faster, and those trails fly by much quicker.

Tires

Since we have just spoken about wheels, it’s essential that we now talk about bike tires. Although tires may not seem like the most significant upgrade to make your mountain bike quicker, they are an incredible upgrade that will make mountain biking much faster for you.

What tires

The first thing is having the right tires for the job. If you are on roads for light trails, then tires with less and smoother tread will be much faster as they have much less rolling resistance. Smoother tires are commonly referred to as slick tires in mountain biking. If you are on really rough technical trails, you will want those big bumpy tires as they will make a massive difference to how much grip you have and will help you get to the end of the course much faster.

Tubeless

A very cheap and good value upgrade is converting your bike to running a tubeless setup. This is where your wheels don’t have inner tubes as most bikes do, but they have just the tire and a liquid sealant. It means the whole wheel set up is lighter, and also, if you get a puncture, the sealant fills the hole, and it can self-repair while you’re riding.

Tire Pressure

Also, getting the tire pressure is a vital part of making your mountain bike faster. If you are on significantly smoother terrain running at a higher pressure will be more beneficial. If you are on very rough terrain running a lower pressure is much more practical. Using a bike pump with a tire gauge, you can find the tire pressure and adjust it accordingly.

Better Gearing

mountain bike groupset

You can also look to your gearing for extra speed if you want to get faster. By changing your gear ratios, you will be able to get up a steeper hill or go downhill faster. You can also save weight from the bike.

Changing the groupset

Many cyclists choose to change their groupset to have a lighter groupset. A lot of people go from a 3X to a 1X. This means you don’t require a front derailleur, and the crankset is much lighter. It gives you fewer gearing options and can limit the groupsets’ ability.

Changing the gear ratios

Many people say you can change the rear cassette on your gears to be quicker, but this will only give you lower gears, so unless you’re on a course where you need to jump off your bike and walk it, it won’t make you faster.

Better Suspension

If you were to upgrade your suspension, it would make you faster. Going for better forks will be lighter, bounce better, and providing have the same travel as the last fork, perform better on a more technical course.

Many riders take the forks out altogether and have what they call a rigid bike. This is where you remove the suspension and put a rigid fork on the front with no suspension like what you would get on a road bike. It will be lighter and faster on the road, but you won’t get much from it off road.

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Keep Your Bike Clean and Efficient

clean and efficient mountain bikes ready for downhill biking
Photo by Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash

Many cyclists remarkably overlook this. Having a clean bike will naturally be a lot quicker. Dirt in the drive train will lose you watts and just won’t work as effectively as a clean drive train. Also, if your bike is caked in mud, this adds weight to it. It may seem like a small amount of weight, but it all adds up. A fast mountain bike is a clean mountain bike.

Clipless pedals

This is a significant upgrade to get you going much faster while on your mountain bike. It is the first this I used to tell people when they came into the bike shop that I worked at. Clipless pedals lock the user’s feet in place. This means you can transmit much more power through the pedals without worrying that your feet may slip. They will help you ride fast and improve the bike flow.

It does have its drawbacks, as you might find on very short technical courses that you will struggle to unclip in time if you are going to slow and lose your balance. We have all seen the videos of people not being able to unclip their pedals on road bikes especially.

Brakes

Upgrading your brakes won’t make you faster accelerating, but it will make you much more efficient stopping, and when on a mountain bike, that matters. Buying more expensive brakes and uprated brake pads are not always lighter, but they will be much more powerful, and on big heavy descents, they won’t overheat like cheaper brakes. Today’s hydraulic disc brakes are excellent, and what your bike comes with will typically be ideal to start with.

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Bike fit

mountain bike is fit to the riders
Image by ar-li on Pixabay

The best value for money upgrade you can make to make your mountain bike faster is, in my opinion, to get a bike fit. A bike fit is where an expert will adjust all the settings on the bike, so you are in an optimum position.

This will help you ride further distances pain free, and it will put you in a better position to drive power into the pedals, and also, you can make yourself more aerodynamic. You can take these measurements across to other bikes you own, and it will be the best thing you can do for your riding.

Conclusion

Ultimately it mainly comes down to fitness before anything, and that will be the best upgrade you can ever make is on yourself. If you are looking for some instant speed without having to up or change your training, you will have to make some bike upgrades.

How to make a mountain bike faster with upgrades? In my opinion, the best way to increase your mountain bike’s speed is to get a bike fit, then change your wheels, get the right bike tires for the riding you’re doing, the correct pressure in them, go tubeless.

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Robbie Ferri

Robbie Ferri

Robbie Ferri is a cyclist living in Norfolk in the UK. From breaking World Records to competing in some of the hardest Bikepacking races in the world he is not shy of riding the miles. He has been lucky enough to work at some amazing shops and with some big cycling brands. Alongside this he even had input in designing bikes and has also been a tester for unreleased products. He absolutely loves cycling and believes everyone should have a bike.