I can't imagine I'm the only one thinking about bike upgrades these days.
So yeah, you can buy all sorts of bike bling. There is no shortage of shiny anodized bits to spend your cash on, and sure, they look cool, but what's out there that will make you're bike work better? Here are five upgrades that, in my sort of humble, somewhat informed opinion, make a big difference.
1. Let's start with the most boring one. Change your cables and housing and bleed your brakes! I know, you bring your working, ridable bike into the bike shop, pay them a bunch of money, and nothing visibly changes. But it will work so so much better.
2. Wider Bars. Yup, the days of narrow, flat, race bars are over. New bars don't cost that much, and they'll give you more power going up and more control going down. If your bars are narrow than 700mm, consider an upgrade to something wider.
3. GET A DROPPER POST. They're expensive, finicky, somewhat unreliable, and heavier than traditional posts, but once you own one you'll never ride a normal seatpost again. Seriously, they're amazing. You'll wind up using it ALL the time, and your riding and confidence going downhill will improve for sure. Race specific hardtails are exempt. Everything else benefits from dropper posts in my opinion. I recently asked Adam Craig in an interview for MTBRacenews.com what the one component he couldn't do without was, regardless of sponsorship. His answer: dropper post.
4. Go tubeless. If you haven't done this already, get on it. Lower tire pressures, more traction and control, and fewer flats. What's not to like. The days of ghetto tubeless conversions are over. It's for real. Get some rims or rim strips from Stan's No Tubes along with some sealant and you're good to go. You'll still have to carry a tube, but you have to do that anyway.
5. Drop the big ring. Seriously, go 2x9, 2x10, or 1x if you're feeling really strong. More simplicity in your gearing is a good thing if you ask me. All you really need are two new rings (I recommend a 24-36 combo for general riding/even racing) and to re-tune your front derailleur.