Which bike to mis-use for gravel?

Signed up for my first gravel race in August, a 40-miler described as 40% gravel, 15% old asphalt, 45% chip seal. I originally planned to just ride my hardtail because, whatever, I’m just having fun and staying fit. But my competitive streak is now wondering, which bike should I really take?
(1) 2016 Fuji SL 2.3 - carbon frame, could run 25 or 28mm gravel tires, PM on this bike, crankset is 52/36, 11-30T cassette. This bike is about 19lbs in standard road setup. Can run tubeless on this bike.
(2) 2021 Trek Marlin 6 - Aluminum, about 30-32lbs. Would run 35mm Vittoria Terreno Dry tires. No PM. Currently 2x8 but need to replace the crankset since the (integral??) chainring is bent all to heck, so probably go to 1x8 or 1x11 using cheap Amazon hollowtech crankset since nothing name-brand is in stock. Probably the slower bike here, but I don’t have to fret about getting my road drivetrain all gritted up and worn (I’m kind of a neat freak/efficiency snob with my road drivetrain, far less on the MTB). Wheels are not TL compatible.

My hardtail in a sense is the “easier” option, but how much slower would it be than my road bike? I don’t really hear about folks racing 28mm tires on gravel, but I have a hard time thinking it would really be that bad given the course description.

That depends on your overall speed. Aerodynamics becomes increasingly important as you get faster.

Don’t bother with 28 mm tires on gravel, that’s the wrong tool for the job. It isn’t just about grip, but about comfort, and most of the comfort comes from your tires. So hard pass on the road bike.

So I’d go with your hard tail. The drive train is pretty meh, but I don’t see why you couldn’t use it for the event. Yes, you could upgrade it, but keep in mind that all bike components are backordered. I am not sure whether they’d arrive in time.

As far as tires go, I’d probably go for something wider, e. g. Schwalbe’s G-One (Allround or Speed depending on the type of surfaces you want to optimize for) are excellent, and I’d go for 40 mm.


I’d see if you can get the parts to fix the alloy bike and make it a gravel bike. If not, ride the hardtail. (You might find out the road bike would’ve been ok, but it’s better to make it round on the slower bike, than ride the road bike and have horrible race full of mechanicals).

As the bike is currently 2x8, you very likely can fit a 2x10, however you’ll need a new shifter. If you go 1x, make sure the frame can take a big enough chainring (it’ll sit closer to the chainstays). You’ll also need a new shifter (unless you keep it 8-speed), but you really should also get a rear derraileur with a clutch to keep the chain on.

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What if you get fast mtb tires like Continental Race King 2.2’s? The trek won’t be setting any speed records but you should be able to do the race just fine.

He already has that well covered with a very fast rolling and skinny (for MTB) option.


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I’d take the road bike, and be prepared to run a bit more than others if it got bad. But then, I’m willing to suffer for my art. I’ve seen a few folks on road setups doing “gravel” races where majority of the course is on tarmac and good roads.

Simple answer, what you optimising for, comfort or speed?

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It really comes down to what that 16mi of gravel looks like (are there big sharp gravel bits, relatively smooth tire tracks you can ride in, etc?). Riding a MTB is overkill by a lot considering only 40% of your 40mi ride is proper gravel.
Tubeless tires is #1 priority for you. Buy some ‘gravelkings’ or something like that.
Changing your drivetrain wont help you any unless its literally broken.

Ok sure. Just wants sure if the smaller diameter would affect how the bike handles.

Not enough to matter for the basic ride in question. Lower height will get the cranks and pedals close, but unless he’s cornering hard AND pedaling, or worried about pedal strikes (seem unlikely here), I see no problem with the smaller tires.

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I’d guess it depends more on the condition of the gravel than anything else. The local-to-me gravel can be as smooth as decent pavement once cars have cleared the tire tracks of stone. I don’t find riding over washboards and potholes to be much more comfortable on 38mm tires than on 28mm tires. If the gravel around y’all is rough, rutted, and only driven on by tractors the MTB is probably the way to go esp. if you’ve those vittoria tires on there already.


Thanks everyone. The route for the race won’t be posted until the week of, but the terrain in that area shouldn’t lend itself to particularly rough gravel. Also regarding my crankset on the hardtail, it is indeed busted. I was riding XC trails and got spun sideways, caught a rock with the chainring and bent the heck out of it and now it doesn’t run smooth at all. But I’ve ordered a cheap 1x 38T replacement (knock off from Amazon, I know :confused:). It should fit the frame. I think I’m gonna give it a go with the hardtail, then I don’t have to buy any new tires for the road bike and won’t have to worry about running 28s and encountering bad sections. It looks like photos of the other Texas Gravel Tour races show a few folks on hardtails as well, so I won’t be completely out of place. Also I’m fairly slow, so there’s that :joy:

What are the largest tires you can squeeze onto to the Fuji? Any chance a 30mm or 32mm gravel?

You obviously need a new bike just for this event.


Nah. If I could go 32mm on the Fuji this would probably be less of a toss up. I’ve got 25s on there now and if Fuji didn’t say 28s fit, I wouldn’t have guessed they would fit lol.

You obviously need a new bike just for this event.

Best advice in the thread! Lol

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As others have said, it’s really a function of the gravel. With only 16 miles of gravel, I’d go with the road bike if you want the fastest option and if the gravel is doable on 28’s. We have a local ~70 mile race that is mostly gravel and dirt roads, but the gravel is pretty tame and some of the dirt is smoother than pavement. I’ve done it twice on my road bike (trek madone with zipp 404’s and conti GP5000 28’s with tubes). The first time I flatted out in the first 10 miles on the chunkiest gravel section. The second time, I got away from the group and rode 60 miles solo for the win. I figured I had at least a 30 watt advantage over all the guys on gravel bikes between tires and aero. It’s a total risk/reward situation. If you do the road bike, just try to stay light and easy on the gravel. I also recommend sealant in your tubes and latex tubes if you have them. The combo of latex tubes and sealant works pretty well for sealing up small stuff. It’s not as good as real tubeless, but maybe worth it for a race. It will eventually dry out and ruin the tube, so enjoy the protection while it lasts.

If you are just looking to have a good time and sit in the draft, the MTB isn’t going to hold you back that much if you have fast tires on it. It’s just tough to get an aero positon on a MTB. I’ve done a good bit of gravel racing on my scott spark MTB and I can get a decent position with my hands together at the stem and bringing my elbows in. Drafting in a group, I can be pretty competitive on it, but it’s not ideal when you are alone in the wind.

BTW- HookEm Horns, looking forward to playing A&M now that we’ll be in the same conference again. Both of my sons are aggies, it will be so nice not having to debate theoretical game outcomes any longer.

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So I was all set to ride my hardtail but then I saw the route map and the description from the organizer and I changed plans. I slapped some tubed 28mm Gravelkings (the slick ones with very little tread) on my road bike and ran 52psi front and 54psi rear. Probably could have gone lower but I was terrified of getting a pinch flat. It was so ridiculously hot. The first 10 miles were straight into the sun and it was 97F+. At like 10 or 15 miles I could tell a migraine was coming on and then it hit me hard by mile 20. Limped to the finish and came in 22/45 overall, which I’m fairly happy with given the circumstances. Saturday was a train wreck in personal life leading up to the race too. Only managed 0.68IF because of the heat. Definitely had more in the legs and could have caught the next two people in front of me in the last 6 miles if I wasn’t trying not to throw up. But the road bike with 28s was the right call. There were a few times I fishtailed in loose stuff but I was so much faster than everyone on the paved and hard pack sections, so #worthit.


So I was all set to ride my hardtail but then I saw the route map and the description from the organizer and I changed plans. I slapped some tubed 28mm Gravelkings (the slick ones with very little tread) on my road bike and ran 52psi front and 54psi rear.

I was wondering about this. You earlier described the route as:

Signed up for my first gravel race in August, a 40-miler described as 40% gravel, 15% old asphalt, 45% chip seal.

On the sorts of routes which have this distribution of gravel to paved, I would guess the gravel is more on the smoother side. I tend to say dirt roads for a hard, non-tarmac surface with no loose gravel. To me, gravel starts when you have that surface with significant loose gravel on top. I am pretty sure this usage isn’t typical, and people in the US will tend to include dirt roads in the term gravel.

If it’s like this, I’d agree with a previous poster that a slick high-performance tire like a GP5k, at least 28mm, is fine. No time trial tires, obviously. You noted you had some loose stuff, and yep, that’s the tradeoff.

Glad you finished! And heat is a big one. I haven’t acclimated to the heat this summer. There were seasons when I could ride hard in 97F (not comfortably), but I was riding consistently from season start. I took a short break this season, and then I was having trouble getting back into the swing of things. And my apartment is poorly ventilated, so even with a fan pointing right at my face, I overheat very fast and I can’t maintain my target power indoors.

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I did the Belgian Waffle Ride two years ago on my SuperSix Evo with 28mm slicks. 40 miles of dirt riding. Only change from my preferred setup was I put on a 11-30 cassette vs 11-28. If I could go back and change anything on my setup, I wouldn’t.

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