Think a basic hardtail may be the best "gravel" bike for me...sanity check requested before upgrading

I have a great Lynskey GR300 but after my experiences this year, I think a hardtail MTB might be the best option for me for hilly (1000’+ climbing per 10 miles) gravel rides. I just wanted to get a second opinion before I potentially sink more money into this…

I’m 6’5" and have a good amount of weight to lose. Gravel rides around me (New England) are often very hilly and include single track or jeep trails at times. This has proven to be a challenge for me - I typically have to walk the steeper, technical climbs and descending is terrifying because I feel very high and forward on my Lynskey. I’m not the best bike handler for sure!

I have a Trek Marlin 6 that I bought to ride around with my 6 year old. I like that it has rack mounts so we can use his Burley Piccolo tag-a-long bike. I upgraded the drivetrain to a mix of SLX/XT 1x11 (pretty cheaply too due to used items/coupons!) and it’s a fun bike to ride. If I upgrade the fork to a basic air fork (Rockshox Recon maybe), add a dropper, and switch the hubs end caps on my gravel wheels, I could have a 28 lb hardtail vs my 23 lb Lynskey.

I’m not going to be on a podium anytime soon so I can’t stress about weight and speed too much. With 32/46 gearing I should be able to climb most stuff, and the dropper will get me low to descend more confidently. Some 2.2" XC tires seem to have comparable rolling resistance to many gravel tires. Do you see many folks on MTB’s in your gravel rides? Do you think I’d lose significant speed overall? Is it crazy to sink more money into a basic $700 MTB with QR axles?

I’m thoroughly stumped so any thoughts are appreciated. Thanks!

3 Likes

Is there anything else that needs to be said?

13 Likes

I’m hesitant about dropping $700 of upgrades into a $700 bike :exploding_head: I guess.

The Marlin is a basic bike and I think looked down on often by folks with better gear. I don’t know how much of that is general bike snobbery vs actual shortcomings of the frame? For example, is there anything “wrong” with QR other than its a pain to align the discs sometimes?

Your bike is fine, better than fine really. I have been that bike snob in the past, and am sorry for ever doing it.

You be you, make your own choices that work for your priorities, budget and such, and let the rest of the world think whatever the hell they want. Like me back then, they don’t know you or your choices… and as such, are in no place to judge you or your bike. That crap is part of the cycling world that should go away, and I do my part to set people straight when I hit those stubborn old attitudes.

As to the worth on upgrading your current bike, there can be a point of no return where you are best to stall on the current bike and just save for the next one. Fork upgrades on MTB can be quite expensive and may well be the line not to cross. Depends on your preferences and such, but if you aim to make a HT your main gravel bike, you may be better to look for something like an entry level race bike down the road. Something like the Specialized Chisel, Trek Procaliber and such may be “better” gravel options with their better specs than the Marlin.

12 Likes

Thanks Chad…always a voice of reason :sunglasses:

4 Likes

I’m gonna be building a “monstercross” bike for a gravel/sometimes trail bike. Hate drop bars. Also wanna run bigger tires. Might throw my spare SID on there for some extra comfort. The frame has been sitting on one of those cargo ships off the coast of California for the last 3 months tho.

2 Likes

That gearing sounds good for gravel and if you have the right tires then why not.
It is on the heavy side and if i were you i’d have find a rigid fork for it. You can get a basic Chinese carbon fork or just find a basic steel (probably a used one at a shop) and even for the steel one you’d take a pound at least off of that thing.
As with anything on the dirt its all about the tires and putting some gravel tires on it will make it speedy and light as well. I would not put any suspension on it unless you really want to dual duty it as a MTB as well as a dropper (unless you are really feeling tippy when on the tech)
OOORR you could try to flat bar convert the Lysksey. It would be easy enough to just find a flat bar and a cheap shifter (if you have Hydros, could be a PITA) to give it a try and see how you feel. I see a lot of people feel that forward uncomfy feeling on drop bar bikes and if you are just trying to get through it all then a drop bar vs a flat bar is not going to give you that much, especially in hilly slow courses.

3 Likes

I’ve got hydro brakes on the Lynskey. It’s a great bike on the road and less intense gravel rides so I’m afraid to mess with it too much.

I think (but not sure) the too forward feeling can be mitigated a bit with a dropper so I can get lower.

Thanks for the tips!

I actually have a Marlin 6 as well that I did a 1x11 conversion on. I was going to ride it in a local gravel race, but the race surface mix was more like a “Strade Bianche” with mixed pavement and light gravel/dirt, nothing crazy and no real climbing on the gravel, so I rode my road bike instead. BUT there were a number of guys out there on MTBs too. The gravel scene seems to have a lot less gatekeeping about riding the “right” bike and having the “right” kit and so on. People just come out and have fun riding what they’ve got.

I am tempted to do a fork upgrade on the Marlin but…hard to justify the cost.

3 Likes

I’ve repeatedly raced against a local guy who shows up at rough/techy gravel races on his hardtail and slays. Ride what you like and have a blast doing it.

6 Likes

How big are the tires on the Lynskey? Are they tubeless? It says online that 2020 can fit 45mm tires. I think if you ran 45mm with low enough psi you can get the feeling you want. I wouldn’t sink another dollar into that marlin. If you prefer it, just keep riding it as is. I think your issue is too much tire pressure tho. You shouldn’t require suspension on gravel tho you may want it. Sounds nuts to spend that money on the marlin (I worked at a shop that sold many Marlins).
Marlin is a good Segway into MTB. If you got bit by the bug, save up, sell it, and buy a mid grade bike like a trek super fly 8. I have a 2015 edition that still works great (hard tail).

Buying a mid grade mtb (1500-2000) will get you all the latest tech that will work great for many years to come.

2 Likes

@KWcycling I ran tubeless 700x48 Rene Herse knobbies this year for gravel rides and did play with the pressure a bit. I still haven’t gotten to the point where I can descend a 10%+ gravel/trail route without riding the brakes and hoping i have enough life insurance. I feel very much like I’m “on” the bike instead of “in” because I’m so tall (if that makes sense).

I have Di2 on the Lynskey so it would be a pain to install a dropper, and even if I did I wouldn’t get much travel.

I’ve been looking around at bikes in the 1500-2000 range (don’t tell my wife!) and even up to 1500 or so you can end up with a lower end fork and QR in the back. The geometry is probably more progressive though.

I know you said to avoid dropping more money in the Marlin…not being argumentative but why would you say that? If I use my current sturdy gravel wheels, as a dropper and get a basic air fork, I’d have a $1500 Marlin :rofl::rofl::rofl::rofl:. In my defense, it would have 1x11 shifting that works well, features (other than geo) comparable to many new bikes in the 1500 range, and weigh in at about 28 lbs with pedals. Can you see I’ve been trying to justify this? :rofl::rofl::rofl::rofl:

I promise I’m not trying to be thick, what items are deal breakers from this frame? I know very little about MTB so I want to make sure I’m making as informed of a decision as possible.

For example, should I be looking at 4 piston brakes and 180/203 rotors? To get a comfortable reach I’m using a 110mm stem…is that too long? Are QR drop outs with good wheels a problem? The analysis paralysis continues!!!

Thanks so much for the input…I do appreciate it!

@TxAg15 My Lynskey (and bike handling skills) would be perfect for the ride you described. I’ve been lucky in my limited experience to not find to much gatekeeping, gravel or otherwise. I’m just not sure if my handlebar mustache and flannel shirt will look out of place on a MTB (I kid :rofl:)

I ride a lot of gravel. I see people on mtb’s all the time. In fact, one of the fastest guys I know regularly rides a full-sus mtb on group rides and slays. Gravel riders don’t bring the snobbery with them that roadies do (I’m a roadie, it’s not an insult, it’s a fact). It’s totally normal to be on a group ride with someone in a silly outfit or who is carrying a whiskey flask. A few years ago, it was also normal to see people on frankenbikes all the time. Low-price entry level gravel bikes have reduced the number of those, but I still see them. I will say that you almost never see suspension forks or dropper posts on gravel bikes, but they are out there and become more of a conversation piece than something people look down on.

The only concerns I would have are that 1) between you, the marlin, the fork, and the dropper, the weight is going to really add up, and 2), you’re not going to get a penny of that investment in the fork and dropper back when it comes time to sell the Marlin.

3 Likes

Thanks for this!! It’s good to get some reassurance that I won’t look like a nut if I ride the Marlin. I appreciate the concerns you raised too.

Regarding the weight, I’m working to get body weight down. The Marlin now is 30.7 lbs and I think I can get it to 28 lbs with the upgrades I’ve been tossing around. That’s 5 more than the Lynskey. I know that’s alot from a bike perspective, but smaller relative to my goal body/system weight (aiming for 200 lbs body weight at 6’5"). That means losing 50 lbs and I bet the Lynskey would feel like a brand new bike at that point!

I’ve looked a bit (for hahas) at some other “affordable” XC bikes. I didn’t see a weight listed for the Specialized Chisel, but the Canyon Exceed 5 is carbon and a medium is around 26 lbs I think (so maybe 26.5 for the XL).

1 Like

I’ll get the controversy out the way first - in my view Gravel was borne from the bike industry in an attempt to sell us something we don’t need. And it’s a euphemysm for “this ride would have been more fun on a MTB”!! (tongue firmly in cheek!!)

There’s nothing wrong with the Marlin. It’s a good entry level bike. Main down points are the QR’s, the forks and the weight. I personally wouldn’t drop that amount of money upgrading the Marlin as you’ll reach the point of diminishing returns pretty quickly. Especially if you have been looking at MTB’s in the $1500 - $2000 range. However…

If you were to stretch the budget by around $200, you could be looking at a Trek Procaliber 9.5. Stock, that bike is 11.64kg (25.66lbs). You wouldn’t need to upgrade anything on it at all, unless you wanted to. But, you’d have a really great platform for upgrades if you wanted to in the future. It’s got a nice slack head angle for a XC bike so it handles superbly. It’s a brilliantly fun bike. I’ve ridden the same trails on this hardtail with 2-pots and 100mm of front travel on the same trails I take my Fuel Ex on, and have just as much fun!

I got luck and found a used 2021 model for £995, so part exchanged my TT bike for it. I spent the change on some performance/weight saving upgrades, which has taken the weight down to 10Kg. Eventually, it’ll get down to a sub-9kg race bike.

Demand is high for used bikes, so you’d probably be able to sell the Marlin and stretch the budget on a new bike.

A word of advice, which I learned the hard way - you’re better off with a newer bike with modern geometry but lesser spec, than an older bike with outdated geometry and high spec!!

6 Likes

As someone who loves gravel, I just don’t understand the need for people to constantly act like a gravel bike is unnecessary. It’s the ultimate in “things were better back in the day”. Caley does it all the time and it drives me nuts. I’ve ridden in Boulder on their gravel many times and a road bike can’t handle the singletrack that’s often included in their routes and a mtb isn’t as fast or as comfortable on the road sections. The gravel bike is the perfect compromise. Riding gravel is ABSOLUTELY better on a bike with drop bars and wider tires. On a mtb it’s harder to hang with the group and your hands get sore faster, and on a road bike with 32s there are sections that need to be walked or beat the hell out of you. I don’t see how it’s even debatable unless you’re racing to actually podium or the type to want aero bars.

2 Likes

I recently uphraded my 2015 700€ carbon hardtail 29r to Sram NX Eagle (320€) chamaleon paintjob myself (around 150€), and all hoses, brake liquid, rear hub, wider tyres, etc. I plan to spend some more in lightweight seat and post abd handlebar.

No regreets. Looks stunning, nothing to envy to a 2021 hardtail in appearence. In hardware, obviosly I could buy top end components but not really interestrd.

Went to do some gravel with jumps and wide muddy corners and I just felt like I was doing motocross. So much much fun.

1 Like

Why would a gravel bike be any better than a cyclocross bike? I’m genuinely interested…

1 Like
  1. Much larger tire clearance in many cases. The typical CX bike is designed for 33mm tires, even though some have clearance for 38mm+. Most gravel bikes are hitting 42mm max as the “skinny gravel” option, with many in the 50mm+ range these days.

  2. More “stable” geometry via longer wheelbase, lower BB and slacker head tube angle in many cases. Geo is a very active area within the gravel spectrum, with some stuff being essentially dirt version road bike geo, while others lean heavily to the “long, low, slack” ideology we see in MTB.

Those are the two big ones, but “suspension” options are also among the differences with very specific models and/or component options (stem, seat post, fork, etc.).

Here are several random Google results as well:

4 Likes

I can see how the slacker geometry is going to help with MTB, in that an enduro/DH bike will be able to handle sections that would be next to impossible on an XC bike. But is there anything in the gravel world that a CX bike wouldn’t be able to handle? I.E why would I need a gravel bike in addition to a CX bike?

The one bike in my stable that I’ve never thought of selling is my Crux. I’ve done everything on it - raced CX, winter road group rides of 5+hr, gone out with the gravel crew, chaingang, TTT training with clip-on aerobars. The only thing I’ve not done is a road race, but I wouldn’t feel out place trying it.

What I’m trying to understand is why I would need a gravel bike in addition to a CX bike?

1 Like