What upgrades are worth it, if any, on my hardtail?

I’ve got a 2021 Trek Marlin 6 which I did a 1x conversion on awhile back with Shimano components. I originally bought the bike thinking that I would just putt around on local trails and save the racing for the road bike, but now I want to give XCM racing a go. I’m wondering whether I should make any or all of the following upgrades, or just save for a new bike:

  • Wheels → Hunt XC Wide ($450) [current stock wheels are having some bearing problems and aren’t great to begin with]
  • Fork → Suntour EPIXON trade-up (~$300) or similarly priced other fork
  • Dropper post ($100-200) possibly

Is any of that worth it? If I buy a new bike, I’m not going to go crazy price-wise, probably something like an X-Caliber 8 or 9, which isn’t that much ligher or higher spec’d than the finished bike above (although it’s a Boost frame). Plus I love messing around with part swapouts. Is that a total waste of time or should I go for it?

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Hunt wheels, not so much. You’d be better served with either getting your current wheels serviced, or look at some mid range offerings in aluminium from, say, WTB, Spank, Stans, etc.

Suspension fork upgrade could be well worth it. Look for some on the second hand market as there are always deals to be had. You could likely find a Fox 34 Rhythm or similar for the same or lesser price than buying brand new of lower quality. Just make sure the steerer length is the same or longer than what you have currently.

Definitely invest in a dropper post. You will not regret this upgrade.

If you haven’t done so already, go tubeless. Make sure your rims and tyres are tubeless ready / compatible. Tubeless allows you to run lower pressures which results in better traction and grip, and more trail chatter damping. You’ll also have less flat tyres (if any… going on 8 years now myself without any MTB tyre punctures, and only 2 on the road bike (which sealed after only losing a smidge of pressure))

Tyres also are a great upgrade. For XCM a low rolling resistance tyre is what you’d be after. Vittoria tyres are very good (Barzo, Mescal etc), Maxxis Icon, Scwalbe Rocket Ron or Racing Ralph. Plenty to choose from to suit your terrain.

Saddles and grips are often overlooked. Is your butt alright after 1 hour, 2? Six? Grip size can influence arm pump and hand cramp.

And of course stopping power should never be overlooked. Get them professionally bled. Change pads (and maybe rotors) from organic to metal pads, or upgrade to some aftermarket pads like Galfers. Also experiment with brake lever level and position on the bars. Bringing them more horizontal will help decrease arm pump as your hands don’t need to wrap so far around the bars when pulling on the brakes as you descend. Adjust the reach so your index finger can easily hook the lever without stretching your hand. Move the lever inboard so only your index finger touches it (you shouldn’t ever need to two finger brake)

I mention lever position as an upgrade as body position can be the best free upgrade you can give yourself. Especially if you’re looking at three, four, five, six…nine hours in the saddle on singletrack.


Or go for the new bike haha! Then slowly upgrade that :grin:

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Without looking up the spec of the Marlin, I’m going to assume it’s QR. With that in mind, and assuming the X-Caliber has slightly better geo, I’d say get the new frame.

Hunt wheels are a good upgrade, a fork is worthwhile but can be hard to do in a cost effective way, and agree dropper is for sure worthwhile.

I recommend PNW. I picked up a Manitou for my Hardtail which is lovely. It’s not a race bike being a heavy Kona though. I often regret not buying a better frame to start from though.

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What’s your budget? What kind of trails you planning on riding? What races do you want to do?

Either the PWN Coast suspension dropper if you’re going bumpy trails or the Canyon/Ergon leaf spring post if you’re not doing more than 6in drops.

The PWN isn’t as easy to push down as other droppers, but the suspension feature works well. If you’re mostly peddling, it won’t as smoothly as other suspension posts because it flexes the wrong direction. If you’re pedaling, the canyon ergon leaf spring post is legit. I just moved to the ergon post because I couldn’t get the setback I wanted on a droppper.

I’d save your money. Pretty sure it’s got a straight steerer and QR wheel spacing, meaning fork upgrade and wheel upgrades are limited and not something you’ll put in a new frame later on.

You’d be better off riding the Marlin till it starts falling apart whilst saving for a new bike in my opinion.

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Yep, non-boost QR. So the wheel and fork upgrades aren’t something that would carry over to a new frame in the future unfortunately.

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I’ve got a Marlin 6 also and it’s a fun bike. I did a 1x swap and got a new fork/dropper. I got good deals on the parts so it was worth it (to me anyway) but I’d be hesitant to recommend going this route. If I could do it all over, I would have held out for a basic thru axle boost bike and then think about upgrades as needed.

Have you done any XCM races yet? I’d try a few even if the current bike wasn’t ideal just to see how much you like it. If you love it, then you can go down the new bike vs upgrade rabbit hole!


Good perspective, thanks. What would you say is the advantage of thru-axle/boost? Having never had one, I can only speculate.

As far as races, none yet. I’ve been wanting to give some a try but haven’t had a chance until hopefully this year. I’m going to do the Austin Rattler 20 miler next weekend (not really XC but will get a taste of racing off road), and then there’s a couple of XCM races this winter here in the TX hill country that I’m going to take a shot at in the next couple months. I’ll race the bike as is for a couple and see what I think.

Functionally, either should be fine for what you’re doing but a boost frame would be more future proof. Like you mentioned, if you bought wheels or a straight steerer fork now they likely won’t work with a new bike you buy as an upgrade down the road.

If you’re set on some upgrades, maybe look at road wheels with swapable endcaps…that way if you upgrade the Marlin down the line, you could use the wheels for your road bike. My last gravel bike had White Industries hubs with 12x100/12x142 thru axles, but I got parts that could easily adapt them to 9x100/10x135 QR for the Marlin. You could probably have an affordable set built with DT Swiss 350 hubs and get away with that.

I’ll be curious to hear how you make out!!

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