Gravel racing on MTB

Get yourself some inner bar ends. More hand positions and helps you be more aero. As a roadie, it will feel more comfortable as it mimics having your hands on the hoods of a your road bike. Since I put some on my trek supercaliber, I rarely take my trek boone out for gravel rides anymore.

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Can confirm.


You can definately race competetively with an xc-rig but you need to be mindful with your positioning in the peloton. There is notable aero penalty compared to drop bars. On the other hand, you are way more comfortable in the technical sections which benefits you greatly in such a long event. 10 hour race is some serious distance and accumulated fatigue from rough terrain plays surprisingly big role in the end.

I personally like to use bar-ends in the middle of the bar. This offers a drop bar -like hand position which is fairly aero and comfortable. I’d also try to lower the handlebar as far down as possible.

Tyre-wise, Vittoria terreno xc’s could be a fast option. Semi-slick in the centre with some shoulder knobs for more aggressive cornering.

I think you’ll do fine no matter what. Proper execution is still the most important part anyways.

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Interesting to see this thread resurrected after a couple years of gravel bike evolution. With folks talking more about drop bar XC bikes for gravel and gravel bikes running 2.2+ MTB tires with proper front suspension forks, the line is getting very blurry.

The biggest reasons I didn’t continue racing on my XC bike and try adding some drop bars was gearing and lack of a good location to put my lockout and dropper controls on the bars. It’s still in the back of my mind any time I’d doing a gravel race with significant chunk or technical descending involved.

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I thought I would bring this back to life, simply as I got myself a Canyon Lux WC and wanted to get the most out of it. A friend rides gravel a lot on his gravel bike, and as I only have a road & XC I was looking at ways to use the XC and ride on events with him and treat them as an XCM event.

So far I am thinking, of upgrading to a 36t ring (max the Lux can take) and putting on some Vittoria Terreno XC Race OR the new Peyote XC Race (as they’re larger for better rolling resistance) for the gravel events. Then just use the last aero position shown in the video above when I need to put down the power on the flats.

The Terreno XC Race is a fairly slow tire. It has minimal knobbing in the center but the tread is very thick. It’s slower than both the Mezcal and Barzo IME.

Check out what a lot of people do for Leadville and their bike setups (minus the chainring) it’s pretty much this. Conti Race King is probably one of the best tires, lots of people using center bar tape, and if you’re not constrained by rules you could do some of the mini MTB Aero-bar setups (which they outlawed at Leadville starting last year). Basically, MTB is still fastest, but plenty of fast flat gravel and pavement sections.

I did a local gravel race / ride on my Oiz recently, and was pretty competitive, even being able to pace-line on the road sections without getting dropped with a 34t. I personally haven’t found gearing to be a huge limiter yet in terms of top speed, but I’m comfortable at a high cadence and do a lot of 110-125 rpm VO2 work in the winter, and have been known to take my MTB out for a century ride on the road for training.

I’m curious how pros manage to routinely exceed the stated max chainring on their MTBs. It seems like Keegan is running a 38 or even a 40 on his Blur, and the listed max chainring for that frame is a 36. Does the Transmission chainline help? Is he using a non-standard spindle or bb spacer setup?

Super blurry.

I occasionally ride with a casual local gravel/mtb group. Certainly definition of party pacers. I’d side a hardtail would be more than comfortable for the vast majority of their rides. But plenty have very nice gravel bikes.

I think a lot in the group start out with a gravel bike then end up wanting to do some mtb so end up purchasing a mtb.

But nothing wrong with n+1

Blurry enough that I keep having “bad” thoughts about a new hardtail XC to fit between my Checkpoint and my Fuel. Or even something like a Supercaliber or Epic WC.

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Supercaliber would be my choice i reckon if money was no object and I didn’t have my Lux

Only problem I have is the Supercaliber and Specialized WC is heavy for what you get…

Yeah, 24lbs for the 9.8 XT. So, ~6lbs more than my gravel bike. But also ~4lbs less than my FS mountain bike (and way faster on anything not technical).

If I didn’t have an irrational dislike of aluminum, I’d just grab a Chisel frame to build. But, I do, so I keep looking at custom/semi-custom steel from Manzanita and Neuhaus and similar.

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Just wanted to chime in and resurrect this thread. I have two mountainous gravel races on the docket this year - Bighorn in Gypsum, CO and Ned Gravel (ultra). After a horrible experience at Bighorn a few years ago on my Aspero, I’m bringing my hardtail (Ibis DV9) to both races. I just threw on some 2.1 thunderburts and a RideFarr mini aero bar and I have to say this thing rips. I’ll be waaaay happier on big dirt descents and lose nothing climbing. 34x9 top gear was plenty for a 2-3% descent at 30mph today too.

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Nice…how were the tyres? I am still deciding between 2.25 Ray/Ralph vs 2.35 or even the new 2.4 Vittoria Mezcals F/R.

Trying to replicate some Leadville type builds, but it seems Keegan Swenson used Maxxis Aspen ST tires in the 2.4” width for the 2023 Leadville. So I am undecided, I have been told 2.25 would be better but god knows. I know it’s all personal preference…

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The thunderburts (2.1 Addix) are insanely fast, seriously felt like the fastest dirt tire I’ve even been on including most gravel tires. For my application (hard pack Colorado dirt) I think they will be perfect. For looser gravel I would want more bite. For leadville I might want more volume, and I ordered some 2.35s that I may run at Ned Gravel just because I’ll be on the bike for 8 hours.
Clearly even at Keegan’s moving average the 2.4s aren’t enough of a penalty to justify going smaller.

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Easy button for Leadville type courses is still the Race King… Fast, light, more durable, and you can run a Vittoria Insert for pinch flat protection if you smack a rock hard. Ran them last year, running them again this year. They only thing that’s a pain in the a$$ is they can develop wobble because of their casing if you really wrench on it or torque it getting it on or off.

But, I am on a FS bike with lockouts, not HT (120/120 Oiz), so more volume for comfort isn’t a need for me.

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