While it’s easy to spend lots of money on your bike to make it lighter/faster/groovier there are still only 3 main points of contact, our hands feet and bum. When we ride our MTBs then its really our hand and feet that take priority and so I would argue that one of the best upgrades you can make is to improve your pedals.
Clipless pedals (err…yes the ones that clip in) are super efficient and with a set of solid soled shoes mean you efficiently transfer your power directly to the cranks, but you know what? there is something about a set of good flat pedals that just feels so much better. You can feel more of the trail through the softer shoes and a nice wide platform means you feel really planted on the bike ready for whatever the trail throws at you. I was once told that riding flats can actually improve your riding a skills, and although I’m not 100% sure this is true, I think it does help if you want to learn how to boost yourself of jumps, drops or dips as you need to generate lift from the bike rather than just lift your feet up with clipless pedals.
I’m a fan of DMR Vault pedals with some Five Ten shoes as they feel like they were developed together. I’ve had 3 sets of DMR Vaults with the oldest now just over 5 years old and they have stood up to lots of abuse and the usual British weather. They have a good strong base and multiple sharp pins that you can adjust to give yourself the level of grip you want. I know many people will have the Five Ten Impact or Freeriders which have super sticky rubber pattern which can be so grippy it can be hard to move your foot once it’s on the pedal and therefore you might want to remove a few pins. I have the Freerider contact which has a flat rubber sole with no indentations and with the Vaults they work great however they provide great amusement to my friends as I try to walk up one of our local wet, chalky hills and do a great impression of Bambi on ice.
Regardless of the shoes I wear, the Vaults are great and make me feel like I’ve got more grip and feel from whatever bike I’m riding. So, if you want to pimp your bike, try a set of really good flat pedals and see how much better it feels.