Gravel Bike Vs Mountain Bike: Understanding the Difference

If you’re not a cyclist, you might find it hard to understand the difference between a gravel bike vs mountain bike as they share features. However, a gravel bike doesn’t look like a mountain bike and is meant to work on different trails.

Gravel Bike Vs Mountain Bike

A gravel bike best suits soft off-roading, but you can also use it on city roads. Mountain bikes are for dirty gravel roads on technical trails. Their tire sizes, weight, handlebars, and gear range are the main difference. A gravel bike weighs between 17-22 pounds, has drop bars, and 36-45mm tires. On the other hand, a mountain bike has flat handlebars, weighs 20-25 pounds, and has a 53–61-inch wheel.

If you want to buy the best bike between the two, this guide will make it easier to settle for the right one that meets your needs after an in-depth comparison.

Gravel Bike

Initially, many people didn’t see the potential of a gravel bike, and it was used as a road bike. This is despite it having wider tire clearance and a stronger fork. The bike’s popularity grew in 2021 when more cyclists desired the best bike for an off-road bike for a better experience.

What Is a Gravel Bike

The gravel bikes allow riders to explore different types of terrain without the challenges. The gravel bikes manage to move on this road because of their tire’s great rolling resistance. What makes a gravel bike an ideal pick is its flexibility which prevents you from a route monotony that leads to mental fatigue.

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Features Of Gravel Bike

You should know the features of this bicycle to help you understand the difference between a gravel bike vs mountain bike with ease. The features are;

Frame

The frame of a gravel bike is lightweight and enables you to ride in an aerodynamic position. Unlike when using a road bike, you will be more upright riding this bike because of the longer head tube and the slack angle. The wheelbase is also longer, allowing you to control the steering better. The frames are made of carbon fiber or aluminum which determines their prices.

Wheels

Gravel wheels are mainly size 29 but with different tire widths. The wheels are tubeless, which reduces the chances of getting punctures. Depending on your choice, you can get a tire width of 35mm to 40mm. But the wider the tires, the less challenges you’ll get on off-road trails. If the tire is thinner, you’ll be able to move faster on flat surfaces.

Gears

A gravel bike has several gears on a single setup, allowing you to cycle faster on a flat road or inclined trail without spinning out. The gears make the bike move faster than a mountain bike.

Brakes

Most gravel bikes have disc brakes that can work very well in any weather condition. They are also easy to control and don’t make your fingers strain when used.

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What Is a Mountain Bike?

If you love off-roading, then a mountain bike is the best bicycle you should opt for. It works well on both mild and challenging singletrack trails, attributed to the wider tire size. It’s a more durable bike than the other types of bicycles.

Mountain Bike
Mountain Bike

It has stronger wheels, frames, brakes and adjustable suspension. The mountain bikes also have straight handlebars, which is why it’s more durable. Mountain bikes are classified into hardtail and full-suspension bikes according to the type of suspension each has.

Features Of a Mountain Bike

If you want to have an easy time differentiating between a gravel bike vs mountain bike, it’s best to understand each of their features. The characteristics of a mountain bike which sets it apart include;

Frame

The mountain bike’s frame is stronger to withstand the challenging trail where it is used. Mountain bike’s frame geometry enables you to ride in an upright posture which is more comfortable and gives you more control over the bike.

Wheel/ Tire

Mountain bike tires have different treads, which enable them to perform better. The front and rear tires have extra treads, allowing the bike to move with less challenges on the tough terrain. The tire sizing also varies from size 27.5 inches to 29 inches.

Gearing

The gearing of the mountain bike is the 1x setup with one chainring at the front. But it has 12 blades at the rear.

Handlebars

Mountain bike handlebars are flat with some curves in the middle. These handlebars are wider, but you can reduce them when necessary.

Brakes 

Mountain bikes use disc brakes to control the speed of the bike. These brakes are reliable, easy to use, and don’t require much force on the fingers.

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Understanding The Difference Between Gravel Bike Vs Mountain Bike

Before we delve deeper into the differences between a gravel bike vs mountain bike, it’s best to know that a gravel bike suits all types of riding. You can use it for off-road, dirty trails, gravel roads, tarmac roads and any trail. However, a mountain bike works best for off-roading or cross-country races because of its features. Besides that, the other difference lies on;

Gears and Brakes

You might have challenges spotting the difference between the gearing and brakes of a gravel bike vs a mountain bike. They are similar to the recently produced gravel bikes that have incorporated mountain bike technology like the 1x drivetrains.

However, there are areas where they differ. For example, a gravel bike can have either a 1x or 2x setup, allowing you to go for what suits your riding trail. A 1x layout best works on flat areas, while a 2x setup is ideal for gravel climbs. On the other hand, mountain bikes have only the 1x setup but with a bigger cassette range that provides you with the best gear.

The two bikes use disc brakes, enabling cyclists to control the bike better and prevent their fingers from straining. You can opt for hydraulic disc brakes for your off-road motorcycle, which are powerful, durable and protects the braking surface from dirt and grime.

The Wheel and Tires

Another notable difference between a gravel bike vs mountain bike is the wheels and tires. A gravel bike has a bigger tire clearance, allowing you to use a wheel of up to 50mm. The clearance also gives you room to use various types of tires like knobby tires, file treads, or slicks. This gives pro gravel racers a chance to change the bike’s tire depending on the trail and the technicality of the race.

However, a mountain bike has better tires than gravel bikes, enabling it to concur bumpy trails with the ruts and roots. Their tires are also wider, measuring about 2.2 inches, and have more treads to handle the rugged terrain and improve the traction on a muddy road. A mountain bike also has thicker tires, with some having puncture-protected walls making them durable.

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The Frame Geometry

The frame geometry is where another difference between a gravel bike vs mountain bike is. The gravel bike allows you to maintain a comfortable, aerodynamic riding position. The bike’s frame does not make you sit upright or bend like on a trial bike. This is because the frame is short with a slacker head angle plus a longer wheelbase. The relaxed geometry increases your stability and control over the bike and offers you the opportunity to go for long rides.

However, mountain bike frames are designed to overcome the tough trail with tight corners and steep descents. This makes them have a longer frame, making you bend to reach the handlebars, but it helps maintain stability and speed on the rugged trail. It also has a slacker head angle that makes you maintain the center of gravity when moving downhill. Additionally, the short stems and wider handlebars increase the grip and how you handle the bike.

Suspension

The real gravel bikes don’t have suspension. However, some manufacturers have incorporated suspension on the gravel bikes, which gives lower travel than the mountain bike. Such gravel bikes have about20-30mm of travel against 100-170mm of a mountain bike. But those gravel bikes without suspension are lightweight, making it easier when going uphill.

A mountain bike has two types of suspension, full suspension and hardtail suspension. The hardtail mountain bikes have suspension at the front, and they’re cheaper and easy to maintain. They are also lightweight due to the light frames, making them a good pick for cross country.

The full suspension mountain bikes have front and rear suspensions. This makes them comfortable to use on bumpy terrain as the suspension acts as cushioning. The full suspension bikes are more expensive than the hardtail mountain bike, and they are also heavier.

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Riding Position

You will have many riding options when using a gravel bike with drop bars. You can ride on the hoods, which allows you to stay comfortable and aerodynamic as it forms a relaxed angle. Gravel bikes enable riders to maintain a comfortable riding position, allowing them to pedal effectively without bending too much towards the front.

When you feel like riding in an aggressive posture, you can adjust to the drops, giving you better control of the bike. But you’re prone to strain your back and neck while riding on drops. Most people don’t prefer riding on top as the distance between brake levers and where your hands sit is longer. Tops are ideal when you want to relax your hands when tired or uncomfortable on your back.

When riding a mountain bike, the position you’ll be seated in will not be the same as that of a gravel bike. This is because of the flat handlebars and the frame’s geometry. The flat handlebars are wider, measuring about 78cm, requiring your elbows to stick out with your arms on the sides.

The mountain bikes enable you to ride wide upright, making it easy when cornering and controlling the bike. Since the position is higher and the handlebars are flat, you can’t ride faster, but it improves your center of gravity.

Handlebars

The handlebars also contribute to the difference between a gravel bike vs mountain bike. The handlebars are the most notable feature you can use to differentiate the two bicycles. A gravel bike has drop bars, while mountain bikes have flat handlebars.

The drop-bar on a gravel bike creates a similar feel to a road bike, affecting your riding posture and comfort on long rides. The gravel handlebars give riders the opportunity to choose the best position to handle the bike. You can go for hoods, drops or tops. Most cyclists prefer hoods to reach the brakes and shifters easily.

However, you can also opt for tops that let your hands be far from the brakes and shifters, requiring you to keep changing your hands to shift or a brake. Drops will enable you to have a better hand position and easily access the levers while letting you ride in an aerodynamic/aggressive posture.

On the other hand, a mountain bike has flat handlebars that run from left to right on a straight line or with a slight curve. This makes you have one handling position that requires you to put your hands wider to have a grip of the wide length to better control. Most pro riders know how to narrow their shoulders by having their hands closer to the stem, which helps them ride in an aerodynamic position.

Which Is the Best Between Gravel and Mountain Bike?

If you want to choose the best bicycle between a gravel bike vs mountain bike, consider your driving trail. A gravel bike will enable you to have fun on city roads, challenging roads or off-roads, while a mountain bike best works for off-roading only. Another thing you need to bear in mind is the frame and gearing, plus the tires. A lightweight gravel bike has 1x and2x gear range setups, and the frames enable you to ride in an aerodynamic position. A mountain bike has a 1x setup, longer wheelbase, wider tires, and a frame, making you ride in a comfortable upright posture.

Bottom Line about Gravel Bike vs Mountain Bike

Both gravel and mountain bikes work on off roads and have almost similar features. However, there are distinct differences between a gravel bike vs mountain bike, which you should be keen on when choosing the best bicycle. 

Look at the gearing, tires, frame and riding position to have an easy time settling for one that meets your needs. But you need to know that a gravel bike has drop bars, no suspension, bigger tire clearance, and is lightweight, while a mountain bike is weightier, with wider tires and flat handlebars. 

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