Why a full-sus XC Mountainbike might be a better GravelBike?

Forums Mountain Bike Forum Why a full-sus XC Mountainbike might be a better GravelBike?


This topic contains 21 replies, has 11 voices, and was last updated by  Downhill Mike 2 weeks, 3 days ago.

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  • #264955

    First, a bit about Gravel tires.  Unlike a Road tire that is designed to roll fast on pavement or a Mountain tire that is designed to get maximum traction on dirt, a great Gravel tire tries to do both well—roll fast on pavement and hook up on dirt.  And really, it’s the Gravel tire that defines the Gravelbike.  Currently,  modern Gravelbikes are essentially just wide tire Roadbikes.  However, I think that there is room for another type of Gravelbike which I think of as a narrow tire Mountainbike or an XC bike with Gravel tires.

    Essentially, I’m a Mountain biker at heart.  I like Trailbikes with flat bars, progessive geomety, 2.6-2.8 Plus tires, 1×12 wide range drivetrains, and full-suspension.  I’ve owned Roadbikes and Crossbikes and I’ve found them sketchy, twitchy, stiff, uncomfortable, and I absolutely hate dropbars.  However, I think a bike that rolls fast on pavement but is still capable on dirt roads and singletrack makes a lot of sense.  But, I couldn’t see buying a Roadbike like Gravelbike.   So, I started experimenting.

    First, I mounted up a set of 50mm(2.0in) Gravel tires onto an old 29er Hardtail and I road that bike for a few months.  It was a hoot!   So much faster than my full-sus Plus Trailbike on dirt and paved roads.  However, being a Hardtail, the rear end could still give you a beating.

    Next, I mounted those same Gravel tires on to my old full-sus 29er XC bike with 100mm front/rear travel and I’ve been testing that for a while.  I had to make a few tweeks to the XC bike by shortening the handlebars to 26in and stiffening the suspension by increasing compression, rebound, and shock/fork pressure to get the right fit and feel for Gravel riding.   The bikes a rocket on pavement and gravel while still sucking up broken pavement, washboard, and technical singletrack, it pedals very efficiently and it’s also quite comfortable.  I’ve found my “XC Gravelbike” nirvana—a Gravelbike for a Mountain biker?  Who’d a thunk that a full-sus XC bike with Gravel tires would make such a great Gravelbike.   I like it so much that I am actually considering buying a new full-sus XC bike and mounting Gravel tires.  My current “XC Gravelbike” is 12 years old, totally worn out, outdated, and needs a lot of work.  The newer XC bikes pedal so much more effeciently and are so much tighter.  Before you buy a traditonal, (Roadbike like) Gravelbike, maybe you should consider an XC bike with Gravel tires.

    Have you tried putting Gravel tires on your Mountainbike?

    Would you consider buying an “XC Gravelbike”?

    I would love to hear your opinions?


  • #264964

    Seems like you are on to something.  Tires really do make a huge difference. I decided to get better tires for my bike going from essentially a gravel tire that came with it to a trail tire. I found a good deal on On-One Chunky Monkeys and the picture looked like they would be a step in the right direction. They have way bigger knobs than I anticipated.

    I didn’t really buy the whole slower tire thing. How much difference could it really make? As far as i can tell it makes a huge difference. I feel so slow this season and I think I am in as good of shape as last year. At least I am uninjured. They do look cool though.

    • #265025

      I’ve noticed that I ride 1 or 2 gears higher using the 50mm gravel tires over using 2.2in XC tires.  Of course, this means I’m going faster.  The 50mm gravel tires are narrower, lighter,  have less tread and are therefore, faster.  Makes me wonder what a 42mm gravel tire would be like?

  • #264965

    I generally agree with your findings. I currently ride a FS XC bike with 2.3 tires and can transition between road, gravel and hard pack trails with minimal loss of capabilities. I have been using this set up in the summer, when it is dry here, for the last 3 years and it works for me and the terrain I ride in.

  • #264970

    I’ve wondered about the practical difference between a gravel bike and an xc bike with fast tires for a little while now (other than the drop bars of course). Last week I saw and ad for a full -suspension gravel bike and now I’m questioning everything…

    Is it just me or does it seem like gravel bikes are slowly morphing from the “less racing inspired, more comfort oriented road bikes capable of being ridden on dirt roads” toward traditional cross country bikes with drop bars? I mean, all of this feels oddly familiar…

  • #264972

    Niner is thinking along these lines with its NINER MCR 9

    Niner MCR 9 RDO Full-Suspension Gravel Bike

    For me my “gravel” riding usually includes 40-50% asphalt. And the gravel sections are usually jeep trails or fire access roads so FS is not a huge issue.

    My new Warbird seems well suited for this environment, but of course, a moderate or large pothole or divot on gravel (or asphalt) is to be avoided.

    I thought about using my XC bike as a gravel grinder but confess I never put gravel tires on her. ….though it is hard to imagine she’d be a “rocket” on asphalt, that simply is not her strong suit. Then again, I ain’t racing so being a “rocket” is not a priority.

    Check out the MCR 9

    • #264982

      Robert Dobbs; thats the one I saw! To each their own and Niner obviously sees a potential market, but my first thought was of Tomac’s drop bar race bikes from the early 90’s.

    • #265031

      If and when the MCR9 comes out, I would sure like to take it for a test ride.  However, I would prefer my version to come with flatbars.  But wait, isn’t that an XC bike!

    • #265094

      I know! It’s almost like watching the evolution of old-school XC bike’s all over again…   Did everyone forget that XC bikes used to have 23 mm rims and sub 2” tires used to be the norm?

  • #264983

    vapidoscar, tires make a MASSIVE difference. For instance, I did the Love Valley Roubaix (49mi mostly gravel back country NC mountain/logging road) race two years in a row. First year, I did it on my 29er hardtail (carbon, 21 pounds) with 2.1″ tires. Finished just above five hours. Year 2, I did it on 38c gravel tires, and finished in just UNDER four hours, similar conditions to the first round.

    I agree with OP, that just putting skinnier tires on a MTB and using that for gravel is all well and good….but I’ve found that riding 50 miles, I want to be able to shift around a little bit and remain in control (hand positioning), which is something that flat bars can’t really do, and converting a MTB to drop bars COULD be just as expensive as getting a cheap gravel bike. (Converting means you’re screwing with the fit dimensions, buying tons of extra components, etc…).

    Don’t get me wrong, a hardtail is great for long distance, but the issue with gravel/road riding is you’re in the saddle  almost 100% of the time, whereas on the trail my buttocks are an inch or two above my saddle as I’m going over bumpy sections or cornering, or over the back wheel when descending. I physically move my positioning a lot more, whereas that doesn’t really happen on gravel track.

    • #265035

      Lael Wilcox (who holds the womens record for the Tour Divide) rides a Specialized Sequoia Gravelbike with a flatbar.  Her flatbar has barends inside of the grips and the inside of the bar has bar tape.  This gives her 3 different hand positions.  Check out her bike out at TheRadivist.com.  It doesn’t take much to give a flatbar more hand positions.  I’ve been thinking of doing the same to my XC-Gravelbike.

    • #265044

      Oops!  Brain fart!  I should have said Sarah Swallows Specialized Sequoia at TheRadavist.com.

    • #277870

      The problem with flat bars is that you can only break from one position. Sure you can put one of those old school “mountain bike drops” that we used to put on our mountain bikes on the ends of handle bars or those “arm rests”that people put closer to the stem but the problem with that is you can’t use them on the fast section because you wont be able to reach your breaks  from them. When using the drops your index fingers are always on the break leavers and you are much more air dynamic then on the flats so that’s why most road-gravel riders prefer riding with drop bars. Sarah swallows bike wasn’t built for full on gravel ride. I am pretty sure she road alot of singletrack.

  • #265046

    Depends on how I feel, if I know I’m going to be on the roads at all before and/or after I get to gravel I take my Niner BSB 9 RDO out.  I have Continental Grad Prix 4 Seasons in 32mm width on them and I LOVE them.  I find that bike is comfortable to ride and is FAST.  I’m hoping Continental releases an updated 4 season in a tubeless version since they have been updating the Grand Prix line.


    If I’m going to be off the roads entirely, I may take my Niner Air 9 RDO XC bike. It is more comfortable in the sense that it has larger tires (2.4″ Ardents) and front suspension.  I’m planning on putting faster and less aggressive Rekon Race tires on it soon. But in many ways, I find my drop bars so much better for long term comfort…


    Unless I expect the “gravel” to get rough, I would almost ALWAYS reach for my BSB 9.  It’s just faster and I find it to be more comfortable when I’m just grinding out miles and not moving around or in and out of the saddle a lot.  I get the appeal of more aggressive tires than my 4 Seasons when the going gets tough, but I just find the 4 Seasons to be SO MUCH faster and handle better on stretches of road and fairly descent gravel roads that I just don’t want to put them on.

  • #277874

    My old knees and back constantly tell me FS is better for any kind of riding.

  • #279792

    Cannondale dropbar  gravelbike for road and gravel get the long rides in. Trek  midfat hardtail gets the roughest of trails and climbs in. Two completely different bikes that can do both types of riding. The tiny gravel bike tires really make ya think and make sure line choice is  perfect on trails.The change up on type of bikes keeps it interesting and the skills sharp. After riding these types of bikes ya learn to be very light on the bike. Full sus someday will be like riding on a cloud.

  • #289803

    JMZGranny Gear

    When I was a kid every bike was a gravel bike.

    There is nothing more comfy than a XC bike with smooth tires for a gravel bike.  However, the guys that race the 100 milers ride the dedicated gravel bikes.  I assume they know what they’re doing.  As Vapidoscar said above, pretty much everything I ever said “doesn’t matter” turned out to make a difference the more experience I got.  The gravel bike puts the rider in a more aero position.  Most accommodate luggage better than XC bikes.  Probably starts to matter about mile 40.  For me, I’ll still go with full suspension ride and two sets of tires, cuz nothing beats comfort.

  • #289830

    Since I started this forum, I’ve gotten more and more into Gravel biking.  I now use my XC-Gravelbike almost as much as I use my Mountainbike.  I’m now using 700×43 Panaracer Gravel King SK tires.   My full-sus 29+ Trailbike is still the king of technical singletrack.  But for everything else, pavement, gravel, and easy singletrack the XC-Gravelbike rules.   For me, this makes for the perfect two bike stable.

    I whole-heartedly endorse riding Gravelbikes.   However, it doesn’t have to be a typical Gravelbike.  Short-travel full-sus Mountainbikes and Hardtails with Gravel tires also make great Gravelbikes.

  • #289835

    I took an entry level FS frame and built a gravel/mud/XC bike with 2.1 aggressive tires, single chainring/10 speed drive train, hydraulic disk brakes, firm front and rear long range suspension and, longer riser handlebars with a shorter stem. I happen to love it for gravel and mud if that is your fit. So, I totally agree that an FS bike is a better gravel bike that what is current being marketed, if you are will to build it since they do not exit otherwise.

  • #289884

    All depends what kind of roads you have in your area. Where I live it’s mostly pretty smooth gravel roads and singletrack is also smooth. Not much rocks or roots at all. So I ride my Salsa Warbird on 42s and it feels really smooth. There is really no need for suspension. Less weight, more efficiency and less things to go wrong during the ride. Sometimes you just want to ride a simple rigid bike if the roads are smooth and have a break from full suspension.

    • #289885

      If you’re OK with dropbars and the gravel you ride could be described as flat, smooth, firm, and well maintained, then the typical full-rigid Gravelbike might be right for you.  However, I live in the Mountain-Desert West.  The gravel I ride would best be descibed as steep, rough, loose, and poorly maintained.  Many of the my gravel roads become 4WD roads the higher you go and the further you get from civilization.   In addition, I’m a pig for comfort.   I don’t enjoy the constant pounding when riding a full-rigid bike or even a hardtail.    If I didn’t have flatbars and full-sus I probably wouldn’t ride gravel at all.  However, I’m not saying that my full-sus XC-Gravelbike is the only way or even the best way to ride gravel.   Everyone needs to decide what’s best for their own conditions and their own comfort.   Dropbars or flatbars—Full-rigid, hardtail, or full-sus—It’s all a valid way to ride gravel.  Step outside of the box that Gravelbikes must have dropbars and be full-rigid.   Don’t let the mass marketing bike industry decide what bike is right for you.  Ride what you like and like what you ride.

    • #289907

      <p style=”text-align: left;”>I usually do around 1500 to 2000m in vertical elevation in a 100km ride on about ninty percent gravel  double track and the rest is mixture of tarmac and jeep roads. I dont think it would be possible to ride such a distance on flat bars because my hands would get numb after 50km. Also drop bars are alot more efficient when it comes to road riding especially on windy days. With my rigid drop bars Warbird I usually average between 24 to 26km/ h. With flat bars I would be loosing alot of speed especially on the downhills. For those who mostly ride road and more then 50km I think drop bars is the way to go. Three hand positions against one. Drop bars are much easier in the hands. I do agree that for reallly rough terrain like in Arizona or Utah gravel bike with a suspension is a must.</p>


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