I just got my very first bicycle. At 30years old, I never ever rode a bicycle. I walked into a Walmart, bought the nicest looking mountain bike I could find, a 26" Havoc Men's Mountain Bike.

My first week was horrible. Trying to balance on a bicycle, falling off several times etc. Second week, I would almost die of exhaustion from riding 400meters. Now, after about 6 weeks, I do about 5miles a day with ease.

I have now realized from a lot of the comments here and on YouTube that I was really using an entry level piece of metal. I have plans for a huge upgrade but while still learning to build endurance, understanding the little bits and pieces of increasing speed etc, any advice on what I can do right now to upgrade this present bicycle to make it more efficient? Anything I should consider doing?Anything I may have left out? Any helpful tips etc.

Thanks.

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    A basic speedo can increase your speed if you use it to push yourself a bit as you ride. Set a just slightly higher target speed, and try to keep to it. I use mine to try and "keep above 10km/h up hills" (Yeah, its steep). Get the most basic one with easy read numbers. – Henry Crun Jun 13 at 10:26
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    Your bike is fine. The worst issue you have is your frame might be too heavy. And the tires might not be great. But if you get new tires, your current bike should be fine. Only upgrade to a lighter frame if it really becomes an issue. – JakeGould Jun 13 at 10:50
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    Make sure your current bike is adjusted correctly as far as seat height goes. I highly doubt Wall-mart did anything close to a proper fit. Most new cyclists will end up with the seat far too low unless someone knowledgeable helps them out. Sitting over the seat, with one foot flat on a pedal that is all the way down, your leg should almost be fully extended. Make slight adjustments as needed. If your seat isn't at the right height, fixing it will probably make the biggest difference in how you ride. – Bradley Uffner Jun 13 at 11:11
  • Also I shouldn't really be promoting brands but get something called NanoProtech and put it on your chain. It's nuts. It's like the bike is self powered afterwards. – Sentinel Jun 13 at 16:16
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    Try riding other types of bikes before settling. Either ask workmates or neighbours or family. Consider buying a used bike for cheap just to experience the different styles before lashing out a lot of cash on a nicer bike. – Criggie Jun 16 at 0:26

13 Answers 13

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I am going to echo some of the current answers a bit, but I have a tiny bit to add.

First, I tend to agree with those that say, "save your money for a new bike, don't upgrade your current one".

A good bike can be bought for around $400. Maybe a bit less, maybe a bit more. It all depends. But the truth is you don't even know what you want in a bike. Take the time now to learn that.

Now I set the $400 price point based on my region obviously. But for a normal, casual rider, there comes a point of diminishing returns. Yes, a $400 bike is going to be a lot better than your $75 bike. But unless you're really serious, an $800 one is not going to feel much different than one that cost $400 (there are differences, but they usually don't matter).

When you do go to buy a bike, go to a local bike shop. They will know how to set you up (hopefully). They should measure your inseam, your arm length, and height (and maybe some other measurements), then suggest to you the right size bike.

Regardless of whether you're upgrading or buying a new bike, here are the important things to look for (for your comfort).

  • Tires: Super important. Knobby off-road tires suck on the road! Road slicks are horrid on dirt trails. Make sure to get tires that match the surface you think you are going to be riding on the most.
  • The seat: Make sure to get one that fits. It may be an awkward conversation, but your weight should be bones to seat not cheek to seat and certainly not nuts to seat.
  • The lights: Check local laws about this too, but it's a damn good idea to have proper lights if you are going to be biking at all in less then high noon light.
  • Pedals and handles: These are last on the list because they really should have been addressed when you bought the bike. Handles should be comfortable and give you a full range of movement. Pedals should match the shoes you are expecting to wear. The seat height should also be adjusted so that your legs extend almost to the point that they lock but not so far that they actually do lock. When you're at the "top" of your stroke, your legs should come up and not have to stick out.

Leave your current bike alone, save your money for the replacement bike.

To make a significant difference to the current bike you'll probably have to spend a significant fraction of the original purchase price and face major headaches figuring out compatibility of components. Leave it original and sell it when you get the new bike.

If you do want to spend some money on making cycling more pleasant, look at some clothing items or accessories.

A few updates:

One change that you might consider is replacing tires with ones more suited to the surfaces you are riding on. I.e., if you are riding on pavement or flat good quality gravel you can fit semi-slick tires. You don't have to get expensive tires, moderately priced ones will be fine.

Keep the drive train clean, lubricated and adjusted properly to extend the life of the sprockets and chain and keep it as efficient as possible.

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    Concur - ride the current bike until something significant wears out. Practice doing maintenance but don't buy "upgrades" for what we commonly call a "BSO" When you've got 6 months riding in your legs then you'll be in a better place to know what you want in a bike. Try and get some climbing in your route too, even if its just small. Consider if you will ever take your MTB off-road. – Criggie Jun 13 at 5:20
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    "until something significant wears out" If a walmart bike is like the one I bought from Kame-Apart , that'll only be weeks... – Henry Crun Jun 13 at 5:40
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    An addition to this answer that i find absolutely right, i'd recommend buying spd pedals and shoes and learning to ride them. Bicycles are never sold with such types of pedals and using them does increases the kpi of a rider – fixerlt Jun 13 at 8:59
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    @fixerIt I'm not sure there's any real evidence to support that claim, but let's not get into that... I'd say there are probably better things to focus on as a beginner, for example comfortable clothing and protection, e.g. shorts, helmet, gloves. The more comfortable you are the more enjoyable riding is and the more you will want to do it; that is what I would focus on. – T_Bacon Jun 13 at 10:46
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    @fixerlt - Mmm... for someone that is so new they are falling off learning to ride, I would very much hesitate to recommend something that locks their foot to the pedal (Even if it is easy to get out of). – JohnP Jun 13 at 18:05

All the above answers are valid and good. In addition to that, I would strongly advise focusing on what is sometimes called "rider fit". It is the position of your seat, seat post, handlebars etc. The big one will be the seat height relative to inside leg length. You may find that minor upgrades such as stem length dramatically improve bike feel. This will inform your decision making later for your new bike.

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    +1. As other answers have said, the basic kit on even the cheapest bike is very efficient. By far the biggest inefficiency is a bad fit for your body. – Graham Jun 13 at 9:07
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    +1, while shopping for a new bike at my local bike shop, I asked for a less upright riding position than the Evo hybrid (flat handlebars) I'd been trying. They set one up with the stem slammed for me. I didn't even know that was a thing you could do, but it worked: it gave me the lower riding position I wanted, more like a road bike but without the cost. (I also went for an XL frame, to maybe put the bars farther from the seat. That may not have been a great plan, not sure I like the high crossbar.) – Peter Cordes Jun 14 at 0:05
  • @PeterCordes Cool. Another great upgrade is the dropper post on the seat. I find it a bit hairy going down steep terrain with a razor sharp seat in front of the family jewels. Click on the handlebar to bump the seat away and then drop back over the rear wheel. – Sentinel Jun 14 at 6:25
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    This. The thing about the seat post height is probably the most important thing you can do, and the most frequently done wrong. It always pains me to see people standing up accelerating at the traffic lights because they do not realize that their seat is just way too low. – cmaster Jun 14 at 8:14
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    @cmaster The brutal irony is this morning woke up to find my bike stolen from the house. Looks like another good reason to wait is the rate of theft. It's going to go anyway. First post on bicycles.stackexchange in ages and my bike goes. Great. – Sentinel Jun 14 at 11:10

There is plenty of joy your new bike will give you. Wait a bit before upgrading. You need to build up experience and knowledge, and your current new bike is fine for that purpose.

This is only a supplement to other fine and reasonable answers already given. Argenti Apparatus makes a very good point that the reasonable thing to do is to replace the whole bike rather than upgrade parts of it. Henry Crun is right, your bike is fine as it is, perhaps the rough tyres need changing, the rest is fine.

Why wait?

Before you can make a qualified decision about what sort of bike works for you you yourself need to build up experience by riding your current bike around as much as possible. Do you enjoy roads more than off road riding? Do you like speedy downhill runs or the joy of getting somewhere remote solely under your own power? Do you want to carry some stuff or travel lightly? Is your back okay with a nimble hard tail bike or does your body require a full suspension frame?

Why is it so important?

No one but you can answer these questions for yourself. Before you feel you can answer these, or even better when you start asking yourself these questions, then is the right time to start researching, talking to other riders, hanging around specialized shops, and perhaps considering an upgrade. Ultimately, in a year, two or five, you buy yourself the perfect upgrade bike and right that minute you start considering and upgrade to that. Just like everybody does.

My story

I have about seven bikes (I move around regularly and keep a bike or three everywhere I have a chance to do a ride), and even the crappiest rustiest piece of crap worth no more than $6 can give me a kick when the weather is nice and I take it for a spin. Getting to buy an upgrade bike is a joy in itself, but it would be a shame should it stop you from enjoying a nice ride on whatever bike you already have!

There is really precious little difference between new bikes in terms of efficiency. Most of it is illusory. All ball bearings have low friction. All chain drives are >90% efficient. All bikes weigh so much less than your body that weight has little effect on actual trip time.

The biggy is knobbly tyres if you have them - these actually soak up a lot of energy. A road, touring or slick tread pattern is noticeably easier. It doesn't need to be slick, it just has to have a continuous centre line. If your tyres have discontinuous knobs on the centre line and sound like a jeep when you ride, they are soaking up energy.

There is a however big quality difference between the bottom level and mid level. As AA says "Leave your current bike alone, save your money for the replacement bike."

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    I agree that new bikes probably do not have much difference in terms of efficiency of the drivetrain and bearings etc. I don't agree that weight of the bike does not make much difference. A light bike is much easier to accelerate and haul up hills. – Argenti Apparatus Jun 13 at 11:46
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    Agree but caveat for thin vs. knobbly tires: Your "mountain bike" instead "touring" tires do eat a few % of your energy every single day, but they may save you a flat tire (and lateness) occasionally. For very dirty road (broken glass fragments, sharp gravel, sharp metal), "occasionally" might be over 1x per year. And if your road surface is bad (broken, cobblestones, ... ) the extra comfort of the knobbly tires may be worth it (and protect wheel rims from dents)... That said, thin anti-puncture tires (with Kevlar inside, or a liquid protector) may be a better compromise than knobbles. – user3445853 Jun 13 at 14:54
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    @user3445853: The centripetal force for turning your wheels at constant speed is provided for free by the tension in your spokes, and the tensile strength of your sprockets / chainring. A spacecraft spinning about its centre of gravity does not eventually "run out" of angular momentum and stop. The key point is that the force is perpendicular to the motion, so no work is being done. (work (energy) = force dot distance, a vector dot product). – Peter Cordes Jun 13 at 15:27
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    @DavidRicherby Acceleration time is not significant for 2 reasons. Firstly the energy put into the slower acceleration is exactly recovered at the next hill by inertia slowing the deceleration. Secondly it is insignificant as it is only 4% difference during the acceleration phase. If you are accelerating up to speed for 10% of the trip, the total effect would be 0.4% (before recovery of inertia. 0 considering the inertia is recovered. [4% cos, I'm no whippet] – Henry Crun Jun 13 at 21:35
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    @HenryCrun & et.al. With respect, but that's all academic nonsense. When your legs are killing you and you're tired and thirsty, you don't go 4% slower up that steep hill with an extra 5kg. You get off, push, sit down, curse at yourself and the world, maybe kick a couple of trees for no reason and then change your course to something a few k's shorter and flatter. If you want a practical test, put 5 kilos extra in a backpack or carry panniers and measure the time difference. Obviously terrain and manoeuverability exacerbate this exponentially. – Sentinel Jun 14 at 6:13

I would take it into a Local Bike Shop for servicing.

Unfortunately many high street companies will sell you what we call a Bike Shaped Object. These at best are barely functional assortment of parts. At their worse at literally death traps on wheels, with improperly installed parts (back to front forks anyone?).

A quick once over should ensure the bike is safe to ride. But again. There is very little worth keeping through an upgrade. You can probably pick up a second hand Giant (brand) Mountain Bike for less than the cost of a worth while upgrade.

However, don't dispair. The BSO did its job. It has improved your fitness levels, developed your skills, and fostered your enthusiasm for riding. Had you been told you need 500USD for a "cheap" road bike, I'm sure you would have balked and run the other way. To be honest it was a very good bargain for your well-being.

Make sure to keep your tires inflated to the proper pressure. Often, if the bike seems sluggish or not as fast as usual, it's because the tires are under-inflated and sapping your efficiency.

The maximum recommended pressure should be labeled on the sidewall of the tires (they might even have a recommended range). If you're riding mainly on roads and paved surfaces, you'll be fine at the maximum pressure; if you ride on bumps and dirt trails it might be more comfortable to go a little below that (maybe 5-10 psi below maximum), but not below the recommended minimum if there is one.

I'd recommend buying a pump with a pressure gauge attached, and check your tires once a week or so, depending on how much you ride. You really can't tell just by testing the tire with your hand whether it's inflated enough, so you need to check it with a gauge.

  • To put a number on that, with 35mm wide tyres, I notice an improvement with pressure up to 50psi. I inflate to 70psi, and want to refill before it gets below 50psi. Narrower tyres = more pressure needed – Henry Crun Jun 13 at 23:00

I've lived most of my life in bikeable regions --- not too hilly, not too car-fanatic locals, not too hot/wet. Especially on the flat regions you happily ride around on far worse bikes than yours, it's just transport that may get vandalized/stolen.

Wanting to travel when young, we naturally did it on bikes: Take your regular camping gear, strap it all on, save loads on train fares and hostel costs (by camping wild, which is harder by train, as it dumps you in urban areas mostly). My first major trip started with a far worse bike than yours (six gears 'mountain bike) and badly packed (rode 5 difficult miles to friend whose van would drop us 1000KM sun/southward, then dumped 10+ KG of stuff, then actually wore binbag for shirt during five rain-drenched days; wore boxershorts in jeansshorts), but pure youthful energy powered us over 2000KM and some mountains in 20days. I lost the others in the downhill bits, as I couldn't peddle above 28KMH (it just destabilized; better flatten myself) while they could speed up by lightly peddling till 35--38KMH; and in the uphill bits I suffered on my 1x6 speeds, versus their 3x7 touring or 2x8 racing bike (circa 1995): 1x6 is like 3x6 with the front one always fixed on the big gear!

It took months to recover (badly-sized bikes causing knee-pain, giant irritations from those shorts), and then the frame of the #$%! bike even tore apart while cycling --- but the next bike was a bit better and clothes more sensible etc, and each year we've been doing similar rides (shorter times but similar distances) alone or together.

So... Know yourself and find out what balance of rides you'll make: I've never had a dedicated holiday bike, so it's almost always been 'hybrid'/'tourer' bikes that I commuted with during the year --- a few were cheapest Decathlon Rockrider mountainbikes, because of daily life (bad roads = knobbly tires for comfort): It's a holiday, so 1% or 5% faster who cares. Similarly, if you're not competing against others, any reliable bike will do: Maintain it, and improve your own times if that's your mindset... [Actually, if you upgrade your bike you're cheating in the competition against your own times/distances!!].

Imagine you live next to a mountain: Riding halfway up it on a cheap unsuitable (1x6 speeds, knobbly mountain-)bike may cost exactly the same effort as all the way to the top on a great bike. So if that's your daily workout, the cheap-halfway option will work out much less than half the cost of the other (wear and tear included), and in case of breakdown you have half the walk home, plus less chance of theft etc. But going slower, you'll have less options/variations in routes: Say you live on an intersection, on a grid of roads, with all blocks 1x1 KM. Then a 2KM ride only allows you four routes (1KM away in four directions, then back), but a 4KM ride gives you more than thirty (1KM away as before then three possible turns then back home that's twelve; plus four possible blocks to go around each in two directions that's eight more; plus any two of the original routes that's sixteen more). Yes extreme example and in real life the options rarely grow that much, but they significantly do: Look on your local map, choose a A-->B route that is shortest and feasible training with a crappy bike, and now see how many paths you can follow from A to B that are no more than 2x that shortest path... If there's few new paths, maybe the fast-and-expensive option not worth it for you.

Lots of good advice here. Bicycles are like any other hardware-fitness is based on the user case.
If you're riding on unpaved, gullied tracks, you want a very different bike than if you're road-trekking.

I have a road-oriented bike that I put a big wire box on for carrying stuff-bike commuting, since that's a way to get daily physical activity. I also covered the frame with reflective tape, both for traffic safety and to 'ugly' the bike to reduce theft risk.

In the US Southwest, we have tumbleweed seeds, also known as 'goatheads' which are perfect for making holes in tires/tubes. If you have those in Nigeria, you may want Kevlar-belted tires, anti-puncture tire liners, Slime-type anti puncture goo, etc.

As others mention, getting the bike adjusted to fit you comfortably is important. Also adjusting brakes so they don't rub, lubing chain w silicone etc to prevent picking up grit, a light, helmet mirror, other gear to improve your riding are all useful. To extend the bikes' useful range, you may want to consider a gas or electric aux drive. The most efficient human powered bikes are recumbents-the bike racing authorities excluded 'bents back in the 1920s because they're too much more efficient.

Bottom line is, you can always spend more for small improvements, up to carbon fiber ultralights that cost more than a car. The question is, how well does it suit your needs? Congrats for getting on two wheels! Get out there and enjoy!

There is a story about the greatest cyclist to ever live: Eddy Merckx. He was at a kermesse race and a parent asked him what upgrades they should buy for their aspiring bike racing child. Eddy replied: "Don't buy upgrades: ride up grades."

  • While a good story, it does not fit with the language Eddy spoke at home and with the people on the Kermesse races he would have done. (French or Dutch, not much chance on English.) – Willeke Jun 17 at 11:16
  • sure :) definitely would not have been English.. he is a Walone isn't he? – Drew Johnston Jun 18 at 15:51

If you're riding on roads, a mountain bike was a strange choice. Maybe trade it in for a road bike. But don't get drawn into the 'designer bike' world. You can pay a LOT of money for only a litle extra effeciency. Anyway, half the object is to GET exercise, isn't it?

  • A mountain bike is often a mistaken choice, but it isn't a strange at all. Beginners see the suspension as an advanced and desirable feature. It's advantages (smoother ride) seem obvious, whereas its disadvantages (high weight and flexing eating power) are hard to see because it's easy to assume that your bike is tiring to ride because you're new to it. – David Richerby Jun 15 at 17:02

I made the same mistake as you did when I took up cycling about 14 months ago. What I've learned:

  1. As others have said, spend only enough on the current bike to keep it operable. Learn to do cleaning, lubrication, and adjustments so that you don't have to pay other people to do these things. Other than that, spend only to replace stuff that breaks.

  2. Don't lend your bike to anyone who doesn't have a job. They will (a) treat your bike with very little respect for the fact that it's yours and not theirs, and think that because it's a mountain bike, it can take lots of abuse. It's a Walmart bike, so this is absolutely not true.

  3. Start saving for your replacement bike now.

  4. If there is a local market in used bikes, keep an eye on it. There are internet sites that will help you with this.

  5. If there is a local bike club in your area, join them. (If they won't let you join on account of the bike you ride, find a better class of people.)

  6. Learn what kind of bike works best for the kind of riding you intend to do. I bought my Walmart MTB-style BSO for a 150-mile road ride. That was as much of a mistake as buying it from Walmart.

  7. Learn about hydration and nutrition for the kind of riding you plan to do.

  8. In time, you will have enough money saved up to get the kind of bike you really want. Buy it, take care of it, and enjoy it.

If you don't have one already, get a good air pump.

When I was a kid, we never seemed to have one for some reason, so I always ended up riding on mostly-flat tires. It was a revelation when I figured out that the tires aren't supposed to be mushy.

Keeping the pressure correct in your tires will lower the rolling resistance and make pedaling easier.

As a plus, it isn't a sunk cost in a bike that you're considering replacing in the future!

  • Fair point - a well-inflated tyre helps a lot and is often overlooked by new riders. Welcome to Bicycles.SE ! – Criggie Jul 17 at 9:41

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