6/4/21 Canyon.com
6/4/21 Canyon.com

Gravel Bike vs. Mountain Bike

Based on their intended use, mountain bikes and gravel bikes have very different strengths. However, they also have a few things in common.

Gravel Bike vs. Mountain Bike

Mountain bikes are at home on rough terrain, whether you’re looking for a relaxed day in the woods or a technical challenge on difficult trails covered in roots and boulders. If you’d rather ride on gravel paths and woodland roads or do some light off-roading without sacrificing the performance of a road bike, our gravel bikes will take your breath away.

What is the advantage of a mountain bike?

Mountain bikes are designed for off-road use. Forests, hills, and mountains are their ideal environment. It’s all about making the ascent using your own muscle power and rewarding yourself on the way down – ideally on narrow paths referred to in the scene as ‘singletrack’. Of course, there is a wide variety of different mountain bikes, each optimised for a particular ride style. Our range of mountain bikes covers the entire spectrum.

Whatever your skill level, wherever you want to ride, we have the right bike for you, whether you are looking for a hardtail or full suspension, an enduro bike or a downhill machine. Hardtails like our Grand Canyon have a suspension fork but no rear suspension, for greater pedalling efficiency and lower weight an equivalent price point. In turn, trail bikes are more versatile: their full suspension is perfect for a relaxed ride in the evening as well as extended trail adventures in the mountains. Are you looking for your next adrenaline kick at the bike park? That is where our freeride and downhill bikes Torque and Sender are in their element.

They can take a beating and really come into their own on those big jumps and difficult downhill routes, where you can typically rely on a gondola or chairlift to get to the top. If your rides also include a lot of uphill sections and you enjoy taking on challenging technical descents, a fast and rugged enduro bike could be your ideal partner. The Strive’s unique Shapeshifter technology is taking the enduro world by storm and has already proven its worth in the world’s most demanding races. Now it’s up to you to decide which ride style suits you best. That will determine the right bike for you.

Canyon Grand Canyon Canyon Grand Canyon

What are gravel bikes?

At first glance, gravel bikes and road bikes look almost identical. But while the latter are designed exclusively for use on smooth asphalt roads and paths, a gravel bike like the Canyon Grail is the key to a different world altogether: its wider, grippier tyres are equally suited for gravel tracks and logging trails and can even handle the odd forest path. Rest assured, once you’ve had a taste, you won’t be able to get enough of it.

As a bridge between road cycling and hardtail mountain biking, gravel bikes have evolved into their own category. Gravel bikes are great for people who want to ride mixed terrain. Gravel roads and tracks offer traffic-free riding in places abundant in nature. It’s the best of both worlds.

Gravel bikes and mountain bikes compared

We’ve discussed the differing abilities of mountain bikes and gravel bikes, but how do they compare in terms of features?

Gravel vs MTB frame geometry

Gravel bikes tend to mimic road bike geometry, but with a slightly longer wheelbase and wider handlebars to help you control the bike on rough terrain. Gravel riding often features stretches of tarmac, so it’s important to maintain speed and aerodynamics on smooth asphalt. A long top tube with low stack helps with this.

Mountain bike geometry is completely different to gravel bike geometry. A bike like the Canyon Lux, is designed for pedalling efficiency when climbing and confident descending on fast, technical trails.

As the terrain gets gnarlier, the wheelbase and suspension travel both increase to compensate. This often means the bike is harder to pedal uphill. Our race-winning enduro bike, the Strive, has a unique Shapeshifter to help the bike confidently climb and descend.

Gravel vs MTB riding position

With its drop handlebars, a gravel bike has a more aggressive riding position. Though similar to a road bike riding position, you’ll be more upright on a gravel bike to help with control and comfort.

Mountain biking involves a lot of out-the-saddle descending, so it’s important you can easily get your weight over the back wheel. A wide, flat handlebar helps control the bike on rocky, muddy terrain.

Gravel vs MTB tyre width and size

Gravel bikes have narrower tyres than mountain bikes. This is because gravel bikes designed to be ridden on mixed terrain that isn’t too rocky. Mountain bikes require more grip and cushioning owing to the gnarly trails they frequent.

Gravel bikes come with 700c or 650B wheels. Tyres tend to be 40 to 50 mm wide depending on tyre clearance and personal preference. A big wheel with these tyres offers a fast ride with a relatively grippy tyre.

Mountain bikes home with 29 inch or 27.5 inch wheels (and even a mixture of the two, called a Mullet MTB). These wheels have wide rims capable of rolling wide, knobbly tyres.

Canyon Grail Canyon Grail

Gravel vs MTB front suspension travel

Suspension forks helps absorb the shock of rocky trails making them easier to ride.

When they first appeared on the scene, the idea of a suspension fork on a gravel bike was an alien concept. Fast-forward to today and a short travel fork is not unheard of.

Mountain bikes have been specced with suspension forks since the mid-90s. RockShox offered the first commercially available suspension fork and they’ve been a staple feature since.

The travel on a gravel bike fork tends to have 30 to 60 mm of travel. This helps increase comfort on more technical trails.

Mountain bikes have much longer travel by comparison. Cross-country bikes start at 100 mm of travel, while a downhill bike will have anything from 180 to 200 mm owning to steep, technical trails in race situations.

Generally, the more travel a suspension fork has, the heavier it will be. Though it’s less of an issue on mountain bikes, you might want to consider the weight penalty if you’re thinking of speccing your gravel bike with a suspension fork.

Gravel vs MTB cockpit

Gravel bikes have a drop handlebar setup to help with faster speeds and aerodynamics. A typical bar width is around 440 mm. Bikepacking adventures are often long and tiresome, so the multiple hand positions offered on a drop handlebar help alleviate pressure points.

The Gen 1 Grail featured a double-decker handlebar which improved comfort with a flexible upper deck. The innovative design divided opinion which resulted in the Gen 2 Grail going back to basics.

Mountain bikes on the other hand have wide (typically 760 mm or wider for downhill models) flat handlebars. Navigating tricky trails is much easier if your arms are wider apart. A narrow handlebar results in twitchy handling which can be dangerous on gnarlier MTB trails.

The Spectral K.I.S. (Keep It Stable) trail bike features technology that helps to keep the handlebar aligned and your steering more stabilised. The mechanism is hidden in the top tube but it’s the cockpit that benefits most.

Gravel vs MTB gearing

The Venn diagram of gravel and MTB gearing has a big overlap. The key difference is the chainring specification. Gravel bikes often feature two chainrings to help with speed on faster roads and tracks. MTBs are almost always 1-by (one chainring). A single chainring means less chance of the chain dropping when you’re negotiating a rough sector of trail. It also means less maintenance due to the absence of a front derailleur.

Cassettes on gravel bikes offer a wider range of gears compared to their road counterparts. This is necessary due to typically steeper terrain and slower speeds.

Mountain bikes have very easy gears to help climbing on steep, rocky trails. Since they generally use gravity to help with descending, a small sprocket becomes somewhat redundant. High tyre rolling resistance means harder work when the trails are smooth anyway, and that’s much less taxing with a nice easy gear.

Canyon Gravel bikes Canyon Gravel bikes

Is there a speed difference between a mountain bike and gravel bike?

Like for like, a gravel bike will travel faster than a mountain bike. This is because a gravel bike has faster rolling tyres, a lighter overall weight, and more aerodynamic riding position.

In practice, a gravel bike may climb faster than a mountain bike in certain conditions. A mountain bike may be faster on the descent due to better capabilities on a more technical trail.

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