Well, after reading around here I'm starting to feel the need to make a post and get a few answers that I'm sure apply to me.
I have a 2004 Specialized Hardrock, which I've been putting quite a few trail miles on this year. My friend and riding partner continues to be about 1-2 min quicker than me on our local 7mi trail despite my best efforts. I'm putting in the saddle time to get the important things improved (namely my conditioning and technique), but I think it's time to open the wallet for some equipment upgrades.
1) Clip In Pedals
2) Better Wheel/Tire Combo
The Questions (yes, I have enough to use outline format)
a) Any healthy advice on making the switch from platform to clip-in pedals? I'd like to minimize the number of accidents while I get used to them.
b) Is there any brand that easier to clip in/out of?
c) Any other features to look for in the pedal/shoe? I'll just have to go to the LBS to try shoes on.
2) Wheel/Tire Combo - I'm looking for something upper/mid range...basicly a good price point before massive diminishing returns start, but a big enough upgrade to notice. Vague..I know.
a) For mostly hardpack trail with some sand and small jumps, what tire do you recommend?
b) What sort of weight should I be looking for as a good upper-mid range wheelset?
c) Will most wheels fit my bike (Hardrock with wheel brakes).
Any other educated buying advice is welcomed. for as much riding as I've done I'm wishing I was more educated on the market.