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

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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  My current “XC Gravelbike” is 12 years old, totally worn out, outdated, and needs a lot of work.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


      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>

    • #425370

      Revisiting this thread since I am thinking about the potential of expanding the use of my XC bike for my son (FS 100mm front/back).   At this point he’s riding more pavement/gravel.  Thinking about getting  another set of wheels for a mix of pavement & (fine) gravel.  Any recommendations on wheel size (internal width) and tire width?  How narrow is too narrow?

    • #425371

      Bike Nerd, I can always let the air outta my Nobby Nic 3.0’s and air up my G-One 2.8’s and the Wildcat will be a Fleetwood Brougham on two wheels! I typically use the G-Ones for street on my singlespeed to preserve the dirt tires for dirtin’ but could do the gravel grind on em.

    • #426147

      For a 40mm tires, rim width is (inner width) i18-25mm – 45mm tire/ i18-30 rim – 50mm tire/i18-35mm.   I use 700×43 Panaracer Gravel King SK tires (on i18 rims) which are considered to be one of the best Gravel tires you can get even though they are quite affordable.  I bought the 43’s online for about $32 each.  They are very fast on pavement and gravel while still being surprisingly capable on singletrack and they wear well.   I’ve also used 700×50 Gravel King SK tires which are nearly as fast as the 43’s and even more capable on singletrack but also heavier.  I even tried some even wider Gravel tires but I didn’t like them.

      40-50mm width seems to be the sweet spot for gravel tires.  Narrower 40mm tires are faster on pavement but wider 50mm tires are more capable on singletrack and rougher looser gravel.  Avoid Gravel tires that look like Mountainbike tires.  You want a Gravel tire that has a fast-rolling center section but still has a bit of tread on the side.  The best Gravel tires roll fast on pavement while not being useless on singletrack.

      I’m guessing that the rims on your XC bike are i18-25.  So you could use anything from a 40-50mm tire with no problems. You probably don’t need another wheelset.   My i18 rims work just fine with 43mm and 50mm tires.  I’ve used i35 rims with 50mm tires and surprisingly, they worked fine.  I’ve also used i15 rims with 35mm tires on a Crossbike and also just fine.  Being a weight weenie, I prefer the narrower and therefore lighter rims.  For Gravel tires, it’s pretty hard to screw up rim width as long as the rims aren’t too wide.

    • #426486

      Sorry, I rambled on and didn’t answer your question.  For 38-50mm Gravel tires, I would use i18-25mm rims.

    • #433242


      Appreciate the insights.   Actually riding on i30’s since I had been using that bike for for aggressive riding and on more technical terrain before getting a trail bike.  I would have thought that 50mm tires would have been too narrow on i30 rims so I was pretty intrigued by your experience on i35 rims. Your post prompted me to do a little research and I came across the following chart which I found pretty interesting – and consistent with your experience:


      Curious whether you feel any meaningful differences with the wider rims.  (Thinking more in terms of pavement & gravel).   Also, were you riding them tubeless?  I don’t mind picking up an inexpensive set of narrower wheels as I actually find it easier to swap out the wheels than swapping out tubeless tires.

    • #434105

      A few years ago when Gravelbikes really started going mainstream, I got Gravel curious.  However,  the closest thing I had to a Gravel bike was a 29+ Hardtail with i35 rims.   Being worried about my rims being too wide for Gravel tires, I bought 2.2 xc tires, mounted them up, and I was shocked that 2.2 tires actually worked quite well with i35 rims.  The XC tires were fun on dirt but not very fast on pavement.  So I got some 50mm Gravel tires and they worked quite well with i35 rims but unlike the XC tires, they were rockets on pavement and I was hooked.  Then I remembered I had an old full-sus XC bike with i18 rims in my basement and I put the 50’s on the XC bike and having full-sus just made Gravel riding that much better.  And soon, I was putting all these different rides together involving pavement, gravel, doubletrack, and singletrack.  Places that would be slow and boring on my modern Trailbike were now fast and fun on my XC-Gravelbike.  I’m now using 43mm tires which are even faster on pavement but slightly less capable on singletrack than the 50’s.

      I think that the narrowest reasonable Gravel tire on any given rim width should be about 15mm wider than the inner width of the rim.  For an i30 rim, that would be a 45mm tire.  But, you could get away with a 43mm tire on an i30 rim.  When you put a 43mm tire on such a wide rim it is going to puff up to be about 45mm.

      The current trend in Gravelbikes is wider rims and wider tires.   A few years ago, 35-40mm tires on i18-20 rims were the norm.  But now, there are more Gravelbikes coming with 43-50mm tires on i23-27 rims.  When riding a typical full-rigid Gravelbike, using wider rims and tires at lower pressure makes for a much more comfortable ride.  However, if you’re riding a full-sus Gravelbike, I don’t think you need wider rims or tires because the suspension makes the ride more comfortable.  My i18 rims with 43mm tires are working quite well.  I used to run 2.4 tires on those rims so you can’t say they are too narrow for Gravel tires.  There is something quite wonderful about riding a 450gm rim with 450gm tire.  That wheel just winds up so fast.

      If I was building up wheels for a full-rigid Gravelbike, I would use i25-27 rims.  If I was building up wheels for a full-sus gravel Gravelbike, I would use i18-20 rims.  When it comes to tires for recreational use, I think 43-47mm is the sweet spot.  I want a tire that is lightweight and fast-rolling on pavement and hardpack while not being to narrow for singletrack and rough loose gravel.

    • #436976

      Great info.  Thx!  Are you running them with or without tubes?

    • #437506

      I did 150 miles of the green mountain gravel growler trail in Vermont on my Giant Anthem X29er XC bike.

      Locked out the back shock 90% of the ride and 1/2 locked the front. Tires were already warn down somewhat so didn’t bother changing out the treads. Still had good traction on the road, gravel, and MTB trails. Over all was very happy with its performance, though it might have been nice if it was a little slackier, head tube a little higher.

      I do like this idea of a better gravel bike. The Trek DS I have for doing rail trails (dirt and paved) with the kids just does not feel as good.

    • #438532


      I use tubes.  I seldom get flats where I live and I don’t think going tubeless is worth the expense, mess,  and hassle.  However, if I got more frequent flats, I would switch to tubeless.

    • #438631


      Instead of locking out, try increasing the air pressure, compression damping, and rebound damping.  Doing that reduces bobbing while still allowing your suspension to react to bigger bumps.

      If you put on a narrower fast-rolling Gravel tire, your bike will be faster.

      I put a shorter riser stem on my bike that bought for $20 online at ModernBike.com. That got me up and back and into a more comfortable position.

    • #483801

      Good ideas. Really thinking of getting some gravel tires. Want to easy swap out, that probably means whole need set of cogs.

    • #500778

      Ok. So after failing to seat the Gravel Kings (43mm) tubeless and then puncturing/re-ordering a couple of tubes I finally got these tires mounted on my XC bike. My son used it on a 30m road ride and loved it (although he was comparing it to a 20yo hybrid bike of mine he’s been riding). I was really intrigued by the XC bike/Gravel tire concept and wanted to try these out on singletrack. On the maiden ride, I went to a trail that is mostly hardpack and not very technical. Geared up and ready to go I have to admit I was very hesitant just looking at the narrowness of the tire and the lack of more prominent knobs (esp compared to a Maxxis DHF/Ardent combo I had been running). I went out expecting the front wheel to wash at any second. It didn’t help that I hadn’t ridden this bike in 2 months (been riding my enduro bike) so out of the gate it felt very uncomfortable and I rode much more conservatively than I usually do. But the more I rode and got my feel back for the bike I began to push it little by little. It was also confidence-inspiring that conditions were near-perfect as the dirt was nice and tacky. They handled everything really well although I really didn’t push them too hard in corners. Second ride was a different trail although almost mostly dry hardpack. I pushed the tires much more than the first time but I still held back somewhat in the corners.

      Impressions (on singletrack): I have to admit I really like this set up. I was very skeptical at first. You can really accelerate with the tires and IMO the bike holds its speed better. The grip – at least or dry or tacky hard pack – was excellent. (I would be very hesitant riding these in wet conditions). Even in corners I was surprised by how much grip I was getting with such small knobs although I refrained from really pushing them here (this was more my hesitation than the tire not biting). While you can certainly ride roots and rocks you need to be much more attuned to line choice as you just don’t have the same rollover/smoothing effect you get with greater tire width and, along those lines, I found that you can more easily get knocked off your line especially if you don’t hit things square. But I have to say I am diggin’ this set up and will be doing some additional rides with these. I want to push the tires a bit more in the corners and the loose as they’ve readily taken what I’ve dished out so far. Would love to see if I can nail a few singletrack PRs with these mounted.

    • #502127

      Update: I’ve now ridden over 150 miles with the Gravel Kings on my XC bike and thought I would update the post for those that are considering going with a similar set up. For context, the vast majority of riding (90%+) has been on dry hardpack trails (non-technical) that mostly have very good flow. There’s a good bit of rooty sections and stream crossings but few rocks. To cut to the chase: I have been very pleased as this has far exceeded my expectations. The GK’s offer a combination of quick acceleration with excellent grip. My initial concerns over the front tire washing out have proven to be largely unwarranted as I’ve been pushing these tires pretty hard. On my last ride I nailed a bunch of PRs on segments that I’ve ridden numerous times before. With that said, there is definitely less margin for error as the tires don’t provide the same degree of forgiveness as a wider tire with less pressure. So if you’re going to push these hard you really need to be on your game in terms of picking your lines, hitting things/landing square & making sure your are well-balanced on your bike esp. in corners. I have to admit, I’m a skeptic-turned-convert and I definitely will continue to run this set up for certain trails/rides. It’s like having a whole other bike in the arsenal.

    • #502565

      Really interesting reading through this thread. I’ve been asking this same question for months now. I recently got back into biking (used to mostly mountain bike, but also road bike). When I was into biking before, there was no dedicated “gravel bike” (yeah, cyclocross, but that’s not quite the same) and mountain bikes were still a fairly new thing. Other than the drop bars, gravel bikes look A LOT like those first few years of MTB.

      I have been riding my two bikes–a Trek Checkpoint gravel bike and Trek X-Caliber 9 XC mountain bike. I do ride on proper mountain bike trails with the XC, and I’ve had the Checkpoint on mountain bike trails a fair bit as well (albeit, going much slower down the trail). I’ve also ridden plenty on gravel roads and pavement with both. Over the months the question asked in this OP has been going through my head more and more. I’m in Utah and my “gravel riding” in both mountains and deserts includes everything from coarse, chunky gravel to singletrack to fire roads and old 4WD trails to occasional fields of baby heads and rock gardens to pavement. And it almost always involves some significant climbing and descending. If there were smooth gravel roads around here, what I’m going to say below would probably be different. But there really aren’t all that many smoothly graded and rolled gravel roads around here, it seems.

      What I’ve found is that although I can go faster with the gravel bike on asphalt and smooth hardpack dirt or gravel, it’s not THAT big of a difference. Anything rowdier than that and it is the XC mountain bike that gets the blue ribbon. I know this is partially due to me as a rider and my psychology as a rider. For instance, I rode a 30 mile mountain loop with about 3800 ft of vertical on both bikes. Surface is a mixture of graded gravel, graded dirt, 4WD double track, and ATV trail. There are parts of that trail where the gravel bike was certainly faster, but overall, I was over 10 minutes faster on the XC. And the portion of the trail that made the biggest difference was the last 8 mile downhill on swoopy, somewhat steep at times, gravel. Thing is, the gravel is rather chunky and I simply did not dare to open up on the gravel bike and let it go. I wasn’t comfortable with the stability. On the other hand I could just let the XC go. I was totally confident on that bike.

      Which brings up my first “issue” with my gravel bike. Yeah, it can be faster and it is funner to ride at times. But when things get a little more challenging, I just feel so much more confident and stable on the XC bike. The geometry just suits me better. On the gravel bike, you’re over the front end much more than on the XC bike (which in itself has a more aggressive riding position than say a trail bike). I like the stability of the XC over the twitchy tendencies of the gravel bike. BUT… my XC bike is 5 pounds heavier than my gravel bike. That makes a big difference with energy expended to go the same speed. Also, I do like the various hand positions on the gravel bike.

      So, I’ve come to a crossroads of sorts. I’ve decided that I’m going to replace both my gravel bike and heavy-ish hardtail XC MTB with a really light full-sus XC MTB. I honestly think it will do what I’ve been doing on my two bikes BETTER than both of them or at least as well. What I’m getting (it’s on layaway, waiting for me) is a Scott Spark RC 900. It’s slightly lighter than my gravel bike and way lighter than my XC hardtail. It has full and partial lockout on the suspension (3 modes), giving me fully rigid when I want it, “partially rigid,” and full suspension. It has 2.25 XC tires. I will keep them and get a spare wheelset with something around 1.75 for the lighter “gravel” rides on smoother surfaces.

      I’ve been mostly riding my XC hardtail for everything lately in an attempt to get used to using an MTB for all riding. It’s actually surprisingly fast on pavement with a few riding style adjustments like getting into a more “aero” position–I’ve been faking aerobar position by putting my forearms on the grips and pointing my hands forward in front of the bars (on pavement only!!!). I’ve also toyed around with holding the tops of the front shock as I saw some XC racer do one time on smooth roads. I also use bar ends for variation in hand position and climbing. I know it would be totally uncool and get some weird looks, but I think I will also try some clamp-on aerobars. No doubt that will improve the speed on asphalt because my “fake aerobar position” actually does as well. May as well make it the real thing.

      Anyway, I’m looking forward to this experiment. I’d like to enter a local gravel race of say about 50 miles and just see how a slightly modified light XC MTB stacks up in a race like that. I’m also looking forward to reading posts from others who are doing something similar. Honestly, it seems gravel bikes are evolving into light XC mountain bikes with drop bars. Look at something like the Salsa Cutthroat (very cool bike, BTW)… looks a whole lot like a mountain bike from the past with drop bars (better of course, with the newer component technology). Even the geometry is very similar.

    • #502955

      Seems the lines between XC and gravel bikes get more and more blurry. From my experiences thus far I think it comes down to the (primary) surface you’re riding and your comfort level. I’ve only done 1 true (smooth) gravel ride (50 miler) with this set up. For me, I didn’t miss the drop bars at all but I sure as sh!t missed riding clipless (I forgot to swap the pedals so I had to ride flats. Ugh!) Even with the suspension “closed” you still get a much more comfortable ride, albeit it probably comes with some loss of efficiency. And although it adds additional weight I also prefer having the dropper as you can really let loose on the downs and it’s of obvious benefit if you ride singletrack. The versatility of the XC w/ gravel tires really allows you to ride anything from pavement to (less technical) singletrack. It’s the latter that has me the most intrigued and how I’ve been riding this set up. What’s cool is that if you want to ride something more technical it’s just a quick swap of the tires.

    • #503063

      @ UVcyclist

      I think that you will really enjoy your new Scalpel.  Sometimes I ride my full-sus XC-Gravelbike on all-pavement rides and sometimes on all-singletrack rides and sometimes on all-gravel rides but frequently on a mixture of all three.  I’m still surprised at how fast it is on pavement while still being so capable on singletrack.  Sometimes I get bashing my way down some rocky singletrack and I have to slow it down so I don’t shred a tire.  It’s the tire holding me back not the bike.  I don’t think this would be true with a typical full-rigid dropbar Gravelbike.  I’ve gotten to where I ride my XC-Gravelbike as much or more than I ride my Trailbike and especially so in the winter when my local singletrack is un-rideable because of snow, ice, and mud.  You won’t regret this purchase.

      Might I suggest that you set up your bike with 700×50 Panaracer Gravel King SK tires which I think are a happy middle ground between Gravel and XC tires.   The SK’s roll much faster on pavement than XC tires but are wide enough to perform well on singletrack. There is also a more durable SK+ version. that you might want to check out.

      When you get your bike, please report back on your Scalpel “all-surface” riding experiences and impressions?!

    • #503067

      My area (north of Toronto, Canada) is mostly technical hardpack – flowy at times, but lots of roots, rocks, logs, and drops. Much of my time on the trails is spent standing, letting the bike move around beneath me, but I also typically ride ~10km along gravel and pavement to & from the trails (makes for a great warm-up and cool-down, tbh).

      My “solution” to the conundrum of a 1-size-fits-all bike for these flowy, technical, gravely rides has been to take a decent XC race bike, but Frankenbike it. I’ve ended up with a FS 29″ Scalpel Si5 (I don’t race; didn’t need the carbon, didn’t want to pay for it either!). I gave it flat pedals (perfect for confidence and really pushing the pedals!), converted it to a 1-speed using the biggest oval chainring I could find (36t Blackspire; it’s great!), flipped the stem upside down but using two spacers (hey, it’s the best fit for me!) and put on a flat bar with a good back sweep. Then I added Ergon GP2 grips to fight palm fatigue and give me the extra bar-end position, and Specialized P2 Overend Barz close to the stem for the extra little “aero” position on longer rides. My tires are 2.1 Aspen rear (19psi) and 2.0 Race TT front (18psi), converted to tubeless.

      It may seem like an odd combination (or, many odd combinations?), but it works really well for everything from black diamond trails to 50km concrete rides around the city (with sus locked out). But most important, it works for the fast, flowy technical trails that I do a few times a week. For me, it’s a dream bike! I’ve been riding single track since the late 80’s, and I absolutely think this kind of fun messing around with different set-ups is at the heart of mountain biking. Keep trying different things, and don’t worry about what the trend-setters (or racers, for that matter) do! Do your own thing and have a blast.

    • #503079

      @ rmap01

      Imagine having one of the new ultra-light modern-geo Downcountry bikes (like the Specialized Epic Evo or Transition Spur) with two wheelsets.  On the first wheelset, put i20 rims and Gravel tires (like the 700×43-50 Panaracer Gravel King SK).  On the second wheelset, put i30 rims and aggressive Trail tires (like the 29×2.4 Maxxis Dissector).   You get two bikes in one.  The first, a fast-rolling XC-Gravelbike.  The second, a super-capable XC-Trail bike.  One bike could be all you need.  It would work for me!  Great versatility!!!

    • #503189

      @Bike Nerd

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. Was checking out a few of these bikes but given the prices I’m gonna put some more miles on my Kona before considering a new rig. But thanks for posting the topic. Really makes you (at least me) re-think what a capable MTB should/could be. And the GKs you recommended have far exceeded my expectations. Happy shreddin’!

    • #504154

      @Bike Nerd


      It will actually be a Scott Spark. I had the bike shop weigh it for me and it came in at around 24.5 pounds. That’s quite light for a full sus (and almost 5 pounds lighter than my XC hardtail!). I think eventually I will get a really light hardtail XC bike as well (say in the 20 to 22 pound range), but that will come later. For now I’m going to experiment with this full sus Spark (plus it’s really pricey, so I won’t be able to afford another for awhile).

      I should have it in just a few weeks. I was actually looking at those exact tires that you mentioned in your post today: 700x50c Gravel King. The plan is to have two wheel sets–one with the typical 2.2 XC MTB tires and the other with the 700×50 tires.

    • #576619

      I have been working up a hard tail 29er for gravel grinding. Back in the day I found semi-slicks so effective on my 26er that I gave away the knobbies.

      Flat bars cause numbness in my wrists so I am using Ritchey Kyote bars with stubby barends mounted  at the bends (about where brifter hoods would be). The bars are taped inboard of the levers.

      Waiting on rim tape to come in the mail and then will mount up a pair of 700×50 GK SK+.

      I went HT over FS for two main reasons— Simplicity and Cost. I am building it up out of mostly new parts but an older frame and air fork for under $1k.

      Thanks for the great informative thread.

    • #576632

      Been riding mountain bikes on gravel, single track and no track since the late ‘80’s. HT & FS.

      Just bought an EBay project bike and a used Reba Race air fork.

      Decided against FS due to cost and complexity. Instead of droppers, going with Ritchey Kyote and stubbies mounted inboard at the bends.


    • #576674

      Nice looking ride.  HT makes a lotta sense esp. for smooth gravel.  Let us know how it handles.

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