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Mountain Bike vs Gravel Bike

Mountain Bike vs Gravel Bike

The cycling world is ever changing, and we are constantly seeing new developments in bikes and components. A few years ago, Gravel bikes had just hit the market, and it completely altered people’s perspective on what bikes they needed in their garage. Gravel bikes were a do it all bike. They could go off road, they could ride on the streets, and they were the new go to bikes for Adventure Cycling and Bikepacking.

The questions I was getting asked a lot were, “Will my Mountain bike do the same as a Gravel bike?”, “What advantages will a Gravel bike have over a Mountain bike” and “What makes a Gravel bike and Mountain bike different?”. In this article, I want to run through the difference between Mountain bikes and Gravel bikes and give you some recommendations of great bikes for you.

What is a Mountain Bike?

What Is A Mountain Bike?
Photo by Nik Owens on Unsplash

Mountain Bikes come in many shapes and sizes. Essentially they are what they say in the name, bikes that are used to go over mountains. They make Mountain bikes for different jobs, so you will find mountain bikes come in various styles and types. The first thing you need to know is that the main difference between most Mountain bikes is The suspension setup.

Hardtail or Full Suspension

A Hardtail mountain bike is a bike with only suspension on the front fork. A full suspension will have suspension on the front fork and in the rear of the frame. Hardtails are made to handle much lighter work than full suspension, but many riders switch between the two depending on how rough the trail or road they are going on is. As for cost, hardtails are much cheaper than full suspension.

Hardtails are often lighter than full suspension bikes too. A lot of this comes down to them having fewer working parts on them. You will find full suspension bikes will give you a much better ride, and on really challenging terrain, you can be much quicker because you can get through obstacles more efficiently.

Styles of Mountain Biking

Cross Country

Cross Country Mountain biking is not too technical and can be done on hardtails or full suspension bikes. It will be fast, and the distances of these races can be short and sweet or long in distance. Bikes used for Cross Country will have suspension travel up to about 130mm, and you will want to ride a light bike for this.

All Mountain

All Mountain is very similar to Cross Country, but it will be much more technical and require the rider to have more ability. You will still see hardtails in this style but only with experienced riders, and the majority will be on full suspension bikes. The travel on the suspension of bikes used will be up to about 150mm.

Enduro

Enduro is tough riding, and you will generally see only full suspension bikes being used on races like these. There will be lots of climbing and lots of descending on very technical terrain. Bikes used for Enduro will have suspension up to 180mm, and they will have larger brakes than All Mountain and Cross Country Bikes.

Downhill

Downhill bikes are the ablest Mountain Bikes you will find on the market. They are made for challenging technical downhill descents. They will be full suspension, they won’t be as light as other mountain bikes as they have forks that travel up to 210mm, and they also have massive brakes and giant tires for grip and traction.

What characteristics make a Mountain Bike

Usually, the frame will be low slung, and it will have either one or two points of suspension. You will have large tires, and a gearing set up that will go very low in range to help you get up steep hills and mountains. They will come with flat handlebars and have accessories such as dropper posts.

Top Recommendation

1. GT Sensor Carbon Pro 29″ Bike 2020

GT Sensor Carbon Pro 29" Bike 2020

The GT Sensor Carbon Pro 29er is a force to be reckoned with. It is a Full Suspension Mountain bike 130mm travel on the rear and 140mm on the front. It has 29” wheels, all tubeless setup with Schwalbe tires. The groupset is the legendary SRAM Eagle GX12 Speed, and it is even equipped with a dropper post what’s not to like at such a low price.

What is a Gravel Bike

A Gravel bike is unique because it is like a Road Bike and a Mountain Bike spliced together. It is similar to Mountain Bikes in the fact they also come in many shapes and sizes. You get Gravel bikes which are Road Bikes with larger tires, or you get Gravel bikes in the form of a mountain bike with drop bars. In this next section, I want to explain about types of different Gravel Bikes and what fundamentally makes a Gravel bike.

In my opinion, on the market right now, you are seeing two different types of Gravel bikes. Off road focused or On road focused. You can put most Gravel bikes into either one of these categories. Not all Gravel bikes are made to do the same job, and you can end up getting the wrong Gravel bike and having an awful time when riding it, or you can get it right, and the bike will be effective where you need it.

On Road Gravel bike

An On Road Gravel bike will look like a Road bike in geometry but will have slightly larger tires. This Gravel bike will be excellent at holding speed on the road, but it will only be capable of light work Off road. A lot of riders use these Gravel bikes because they are essentially Road bikes with oversized tires. They will generally be on 700c Road wheelsets with tires from 35c to 40c.

Having larger tires on the road essentially will give you extra grip if the roads you use are in poor condition. You will also get a lot of extra comfort from larger tires, so for long distance riders, this is a significant advantage. The geometry is usually a lot less aggressive on bikes like these than on Road Racing bikes, thus making it an even sweeter ride for the user.

Off Road Gravel bike

Then you have Gravel bikes that look like Mountain bikes with drop handlebars. These are Gravel bikes made to be on trails and rough terrain. You will rarely see them on the road. These Gravel bikes are made to be off road mainly. They will have 650b mountain bike Wheelsets. 650b is a smaller wheelset compared to 700c. The smaller the wheels, the bigger the tires you can fit in the frame.

This makes it much easier to control under technically demanding terrain but harder to hold at higher speeds. The tires will be 45c up to 2.2”. Having tires this big will help with control while on technical terrain and give the user maximum comfort and grip. The geometry will be like a Mountain bike in the way the frame will be low slung to the ground, and it will be focused on giving the user more ability to move the bike around.

What Characteristics make a Gravel bike?

Best Gravel Bikes Under $2000 – Reviews & Buyers Guide
Photo by delfino corti on Unsplash

Gravel bikes are unique because they can do the job of so many different bikes and are designed for specific jobs within themselves. We expect the frame to either look like a mountain bike or road frame, and typically this will not be seen with suspension. The handlebars are usually dropped bars, but some suppliers have been known to use flat bars.

The gearing can be anything from Road bike gearing to Mountain bike gearing. Bikes designed for mainly Road use will usually see double chainrings and Road Groupsets. If they are intended to be off road, you will see them on 1x Mountain bike groupsets or gravel groupsets like the Shimano GRX.

Wheels we usually see either 700c or 650b wheelsets. Tires, we expect a minimum of 33c and a maximum of 2.2”. This is very variable, and when it comes to Gravel bikes, it is always worth checking the maximum size the frames can take before buying a bike.

Top Recommendation

2. Marin Headlands 1 Bike 2022

Marin Headlands 1 Bike 2022

The Marin Headlands is an excellent Gravel bike, and it’s ready for any adventure. A beautiful, lightweight aluminum frame with lots of mounting points, a 700c wheelset with 40c tires, and a Shimano GRX Groupset with Hydraulic brakes make this bike equipped to be efficient on the road and soak up some dust. It’s light, it’s fast, and it’s ready for action. At this price, it’s not to be missed.

Overview

What makes a Mountain bike and Gravel bike different. A Mountain bike is made for Off Road trails and lumpy work. They will have big tires, suspension, and flat bars. They will be sluggish and awful on the road but anywhere where there’s mud or rocks to go over.

They will be excellent. A Gravel bike is much more of an Adventure bike. It will be ok on the road, and it will be ok off road. Commonly it will look like a road bike with drop bars, but it will have larger tires. It’s made to do a bit of everything.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is best for all round riding? A Gravel bike or a Mountain Bike?

In my opinion, a Gravel bike. It will be capable of going on on the roads with road bikes and the odd light trail with mountain bikes. It’s the best of both worlds.

Do Gravel bikes come with suspension?

Sometimes but not as you would typically see it. They might have a suspension stem or seat post but very rarely forks.

What’s lighter, a Mountain Bike or a Gravel Bike?

Price for price, Gravel bikes usually are much lighter.

Conclusion

When it comes to getting your next bike, the key is to think about what you want it for. If you’re going to be on trails and want to be challenged technically, get a Mountain bike. If you are looking for a jack of all trades and fancy doing all kinds of riding, get a Gravel Bike.

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Robbie Ferri

Robbie Ferri

Robbie Ferri is a cyclist living in Norfolk in the UK. From breaking World Records to competing in some of the hardest Bikepacking races in the world he is not shy of riding the miles. He has been lucky enough to work at some amazing shops and with some big cycling brands. Alongside this he even had input in designing bikes and has also been a tester for unreleased products. He absolutely loves cycling and believes everyone should have a bike.