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A Few Bike Upgrades to Consider

By Scott Schumaker

Bike Upgrades ... or Not If the people who built the Six-Million Dollar Man were real, they'd be mountain bike tech-heads because, just like Steve Austin, mountain bikes can be rebuilt. We have the technology. We have the capability to make them better...stronger...faster. All you need is money, but unless you're the government, you want this money to be well-spent. Here are three big-ticket, performance-oriented items to consider for adventure racers, off-road triathletes and endurance mountain bikers.

Disc Brakes vs. V-Brakes

Disc brakes have better stopping power than V-brakes. Today's discs are high quality, relatively light, reliable, and superior in wet or icy conditions. Why, pray tell, wouldn't you replace your V-brakes with them?

"V-brakes are still pretty damn good," says adventure racer and former off-road triathlete Michael Tobin. "They save weight on the climbs and are so simple to maintain. If you're in a foreign country for an adventure race, it's easier not to have disc brakes if anything goes wrong."

Custom wheelbuilder Dave Thomas (www.speeddream.com) adds that a front-wheel disc requires off-setting that wheel, which makes it heavier and less stiff.

Still, Xterra star and adventure racer Melissa Thomas, who says she has weak hands, thinks disc brakes are the way to go in adventure races, but unnecessary in off-road triathlons. And adventure racer and former world mountain bike champion Mike Kloser says, "Discs are the next inevitable evolution on upper-end bikes. Like old Sean Kelly with his toe clips, even he eventually gave in. Discs are like adding rear suspension, they make everything much more subtle.

Rear Suspension vs. Hardtail

Weight weenies sneer at the extra pound(s) of rear suspension -- a valid disadvantage if you're racing on a smooth course. But how often is a race on a smooth course? Candy Angle, 2002 Xterra World Champion, rode a hardtail last year. Never again. "I can definitely tell a difference with full suspension," she says. "We've got a lot of technical stuff on the East Coast, and I zoom through it. Before I'd bounce everywhere and lose energy." Tobin and Kloser add that during an adventure race, the additional weight makes up for itself by minimizing body wear and tear. If you don't have the money for a new full-suspension rig, at least consider getting a suspension seat post ($100-$160). Tobin, who likes the Cane Creek Thudbuster, prefers this approach for its weight-savings and simplicity.

Tubeless Wheels vs. Conventional Wheels

Talk about hype: tubeless wheel sets have gotten it all lately. Eliminate flats! Better climbing and descending! Smoother ride! Xterra pro Pat Brown swears by them, saying, "Until I have a bad experience with them (tubeless wheels), I won't go back to (conventional) clinchers." Tubeless allow you to run a lower psi, translating into better bite and control going up and down and a smoother ride. Yet, snag a kiave thorn at the Xterra World Championship in Maui or hit an obstacle hard enough and you're still going to flat, and tubeless tires can be more time consuming to fix. They'll also add up to a pound to your bike, with more weight added if you pour in Slime or a similar solution to address the thorn/pinch-flat problem. Going tubeless also limits the number of tread patterns to choose from.

The jury is still out on a buying a whole new tubeless setup, but you might want to consider Stan's Tubeless System (www.notubes.com) for now. Stan's allows you to convert your current wheel set to tubeless via a special liner and liquid latex solution. If you can get past the initial setup's mess and hassle, you'll actually shave a few grams off your bike.

-- Scott Schumaker

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