Gravel Bike or XC MTB

Trying to decide my next bike. Not being able to apply the N+1, because in my case N+1=D (D being divorce).

So I am trying to decide between a Gravel bike and a XC MTB. Where I live there’s not a ton of MTB trails that are not over 1h drive, but we do have Gravel roads into the western Sierras (around Sequoia National Park or Yosemite). I also like the idea of the gravel ride scene that seems to be popping everywhere.

Even If I bought a XC bike I doubt that I would be doing more than just easy trails and mostly gravel/fire roads. But I could enter Xterras or easier MTB races.

With that in mind, what bike would you rather have? more versatile XC but also limiting when doing “faster” gravel events? or just man up on the Gravel bike on those easier single tracks?


@Upanddown480 Personally, I would go with an XC bike if you don’t feel like you are going to be doing strictly gravel just because of the versatility. If you are limited on the number of bikes you can have, a versatile bikes is the way to go. Nate has actually put gravel tires on his XC MTB for certain gravel events as well so that’s always an option if you do a gravel event.

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You should also consider what type of riding you have around your area. Is there good single track that you can ride through most of the year? Are there great gravel roads to ride?

I’m biased towards an XC bike as I long riding single track. It’s great to get away from cars and traffic and relax with a long ride on the trails. I also like the interval aspect of XC mountain biking that contrasts nicely with my long road rides.

Do you have any interest in long endurance mountain bike events in the future like Leadville? Perhaps another argument for an XC bike.

Check out the Salsa Cutthroat. It’s a cross between a gravel bike and an XC Mountain bike, and would allow you to ride gravel roads and also light MTB trails.

Drop bars, can fit 2.4” tires on 29” wheels, can add a 100mm front suspension fork.


There’s some single track around, or I could drive, to SLO and have plenty to choose from. Not sure I would take advantage of more than an XC. Tops I could see myself riding something like Carson City off road. I guess you can always do a gravel race on a XC but not the other way around.

The next step would be deciding between a HT or FS Xc.

PS: sucks having to decide… every cyclist should be allowed to have 1 of each!

If you want to do an xterra, you cannot ride a bike with drop bars so consider that if you want to go that direction.

A hardtail 29er is still going to be able to make it through some rather rough terrain, but you have to work a bit more for it. The benefit of going HT if you do decide… maintenance costs, and you can get a bike with better components and or better frame/components for the same price.

:rofl: Made my day.

So what I read is that you have a lot of gravel near you that you could ride frequently, and you’re interested in joining the local gravel scene. The closest MTB trails are an hour away, you don’t think you would make that drive very often, and even if you did, it would be to ride light singletrack and fire roads. I don’t understand why this is even a question. You basically want to be a gravel rider and not a mtb’er, right?

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Pretty much. I.just wonder if an XC bike would be more versatile. But thinking about it I could get a gravel bike at a fairly good price and then a more fun orientated $2k level trail MTB (and be ok with the time penalty on the once a year Xterra)

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If you want a 1 bike does it all bike, Gravel 100%, i bought a gravel bike 2 months ago and haven’t touched my aero bike since!! brilliant on the road, doing my club rides on it, still fast, yes i maybe working slightly harder than the rest, but I’m much more comfortable. Off road they are amazing, much more proficient then you would think, takes me back to my early MTB days when they were fully rigid, but technology has moved on so much they handle single track like on old suspension bike.

I had the same choice and went hardtail MTB. More capable, more versatile, and with fast tires the same speed on gravel.

On the other hand…if it’s easy trails, gravel, and some road riding especially in groups then put me in the “gravel bike” group!

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For sure!

I have a full suspension MTB, and a “road” bike that I can ride on maintained gravel - can fit 35-37mm tires rear-front.

But I need an in-between bike also - so looking at either the Salsa Cutthroat or Warbird (or similar). That way I’ve got pretty much everything covered with three bikes - road, gravel, jeep roads, MTB trails. And also my fat bike for snow :snowflake:

Since nobody has mentioned it, a rigid 29er MTB is a good option for gravel/trail use. A suspension fork is overkill for gravel and mellow trails, and adds unnecessary cost and weight. A rigid MTB is very weight competitive with a gravel bike. There are plenty of very fast 29er tires, and you could of course run any gravel tire you wish. The main downside for gravel use is the lack of the drop bars for the aero position.

Unless you are skilled, I’d recommend a flat bar on any real trails.

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Reviving this thread in lieu of starting a new one… is it common that folks ride MTBs on gravel roads as opposed to a gravel bike? Midwest has loads of gravel roads but most around here tend to be straight shots and kind of boring compared to riding faster on a paved road where the scenary and such is the same. Currently have an alloy gravel bike but considering a lower end carbon MTB to replace it and pair with my road bike (yeah I know, n+1 but apartments have limited space…) and not sure if it’s ridiculous to ride MTBs around on gravel or even occasionally on the road…

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Totally fine and may make more sense for plenty of riders. Tire choice can help a lot, especially if you plan to stay away from “true MTB” and focus more on gravel and road.

  • Potential issues or limits of MTB are less hand positions than drop bars (good to consider TOGS or simple reposition of hands along flats),
  • Limits of gearing (may want to setup for larger chainring to handle faster road and gravel speed, as well as consider cassette options that may offer less range via non-Eagle, but closer steps).

There are possibly others, but I know several around here who prefer MTB for this use.


I’ve had no problem riding over 60 miles of gravel on a hardtail. That being said I feel that even with the hardtail locked out, and fast rolling tires I still feel a proper gravel bike with drops is quite a bit faster. I don’t know if the position they’re in just gives you more aero, or more power producing. But that’s just my experience is that you’ll go a little faster on a gravel bike. Especially over longer distances. Having more places to put your hands helps as well on longer rides. If I had no mountain bike trails near me I’d own a gravel bike, and I’m 100% a mountain biker, that just rides gravel for fitness/base rides. This is just my experience and is in no way scientific.


Agree. I ride a 2019 Scott Scale with a Niner RDO fork. It’s plenty good for light XC/Trail with 2.3” tyres, and it’s killer as a gravel with fast-rolling 2” tyres. Bar ends make for a versatile hand position, or simply go with a some wider Ergon type gripes. Geo is also somewhere between a progressive gravel and progressive XC bike. Also having not only a flat-bar but also a proper MTB frame, gives plenty of confidence. A small tip: avoid super stiff carbon wheels (they would only beat you up) and even save some money by investing in a light hight end alloy wheelset, and you are going to be king of the fire roads and other light single-tracks!:smiley:

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I agree with the others, a hardtail will be more versatile. You may just have to work harder to keep up in gravel group rides, but if you primarily ride for yourself, I don’t think it matters much — unless you feel its slower speed limits your reach, e. g. if you want to ride gravel to a trail head, ride some trails and then go back.

You may also want to consider sticking wider rubber on your road bike, something like 30 or 32 mm Schwalbe G-One Speed or G-One Allround, in case your frame has sufficient clearance.