Home » Bikes » Gravel Bike vs. Mountain Bike: Understanding the Differences

Bike A Ton is reader-supported. When you buy via the links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Feel free to click away.

gravel bike vs mountain bike

Gravel Bike vs. Mountain Bike: Understanding the Differences

Though most of us prefer mountain bikes, we understand that many riders are still on the fence about what type of bike is right for them.

In this article, we will explore the key differences between gravel bikes and mountain bikes – two types of bicycles that are often confused for one another. So if you’re thinking about making a switch, or just want to learn more about what’s out there, read on!

What is the difference between a gravel bike and a mountain bike?

Gravel Bike

A gravel bike is a bicycle designed for riding on gravel roads or dirt trails. They are typically outfitted with wider tires than a traditional road bike, and they often have disc brakes instead of the caliper brakes found on most road bikes.

Gravel bikes also tend to have a lower gear range than road bikes, better suited for climbing hills. And because they are designed for off-road riding, gravel bikes typically have a more relaxed geometry than road bikes, making them more comfortable to ride on rough terrain.

Mountain Bike

Mountain bikes, on the other hand, are designed for riding on off-road trails. They have wider tires and suspension forks that help absorb bumps and protect are intended for riding on off-road trails. They typically have wider tires and suspension forks to absorb impact. 

In general, gravel bikes are rigid, having no suspension fork. This provides them with great efficiency while driving on unpaved roads and gravel and dirt paths. Mountain bikes have an impact-absorbing suspension fork and, in some cases, a rear shock to minimize trail impacts.

FeaturesGravel BikeXC Mountain Bike
Wheels and tires36-45 mm (1.4-1.8 inches)53-61 mm (2.1-2.4 inches)
GearsSimilar to road bike gears;Cassette: 10-42t to 10-52t Chainring: 40-46t, singleCassette: 10-50t to 10-52tChainring: 30-36t, single
BrakesRim/disc brakesDisc brakes
SuspensionNone30-40mm suspension fork in some casesFront: 100-120 mmRear, if any: 90-120 mm
Frame GeometryShorterLonger
Weight18-30 lbs28-33 lbs
HandlebarsDrop barsRiser or flat bars

Wheels and tires

Gravel bike tires tend to be 36-45mm wide, while mountain bike tires are usually 53-61mm (2.1” – 2.4”) wide. Narrower gravel bike tires provide less rolling resistance on paved roads, while wider mountain bike tires offer more grip and stability on loose terrain.

Gravel bike wheels are typically 700c in diameter, while mountain bike wheels are 26”, 27.5” (650b), or 29″ in diameter. The larger gravel bike wheels offer more speed on paved roads, while the smaller mountain bike wheels provide better maneuverability on tight, singletrack trails.

Mountain bikes typically have wider rims than gravel bikes, which helps to support the wider tires. Gravel bike rims generally are between 17-19mm wide, while mountain bike rims can be as wide as 25mm. Wider rims help to improve stability and traction, especially when riding in wet or muddy conditions.

Mountain bike tires are thicker than gravel bike tires, which helps to protect the rims from impact damage.

Gears

Gravel bikes typically have a wider gear range than mountain bikes, better suited for climbing hills. Mountain bikes typically have a narrower gear range, better for climbing steep, technical trails.

Mountain bikes typically have a 1x (single chainring) drivetrain, while gravel bikes have a 1x or 2x (double chainring) drivetrain. The single chainring on a mountain bike helps keep the chain from falling off when riding over rough terrain, while the dual chainring on a gravel bike provides more gear options for climbing hills.

Brakes

Mountain bikes typically have disc brakes, while gravel bikes have disc or rim brakes. Disc brakes provide more stopping power than rim brakes, making them better suited for riding in wet or muddy conditions.

Rim brakes are typically lighter than disc brakes, making them a good choice for gravel bikes ridden mainly on paved roads.

Frame geometry

Gravel bike frames have a more relaxed geometry than road bikes, making them more comfortable riding on rough terrain. Mountain bike frames have a more upright geometry, which helps to improve stability and control when riding on off-road trails.

Mountain bikes are designed for technical terrain and have greater head angles, reach values, and wheelbases than traditional bicycles. Gravel bikes have a slacker head angle, shorter reach values, and longer wheelbase. Longer wheelbase bikes are more stable at high speeds, while shorter wheelbase bikes are more maneuverable.

Suspension

Gravel bikes typically have no suspension. This helps keep the bike light and fast while still providing some comfort on rough terrain.

Mountain bikes have suspension forks and, in some cases, rear shocks. This helps absorb impact when riding on rough terrain and provides a more comfortable ride.

Handlebars

Gravel bikes are shorter and have drop handlebars, having a closer relationship to the road and touring bicycles. In comparison, mountain bikes have a flat or riser handlebar and are longer.

The drop handlebars on gravel bikes allow for a more aerodynamic riding position. In contrast, the flat or riser handlebars on mountain bikes provide more control and stability when riding on off-road trails.

Saddle

Gravel bikes have a road-style saddle that is typically narrower and harder than a mountain bike saddle. This helps keep the rider from slipping forward when riding on rough terrain.

A mountain bike saddle is typically wider and softer than a gravel bike saddle. This helps to provide more comfort when riding on off-road trails.

Riding position

Gravel bikes have a more upright riding position than road bikes but are less upright than mountain bikes. This helps to improve visibility and makes it easier to ride on off-road trails.

On the hand, mountain bikes have a more upright riding position, which helps improve stability and control when riding.

Riding Characteristics

Gravel Bike

Comfort and fit

Comfort and fit are the two main differences you’ll notice when riding a gravel bike vs a mountain bike.

Gravel bikes are designed for comfort, with a more upright riding position and narrower tires. This makes them ideal for long rides on gravel roads or off-road trails.

On the one hand, mountain bikes are designed for performance, with a more aggressive riding position and wider tires. This makes them better suited for riding on technical terrain or race conditions.

Confidence and capability

Gravel bikes are designed to be ridden on various surfaces, from gravel roads to off-road trails. They’re versatile and capable bikes that can be ridden confidently in a wide range of conditions.

Mountain bikes are designed for riding on more extreme off-road trails. They’re capable bikes that can handle technical terrain.

Speed and efficiency

Gravel bikes are fast and efficient bikes well suited for long rides on gravel roads or off-road trails. Mountain bikes are not as fast or efficient as gravel bikes.

How to choose between a gravel bike and a mountain bike?

Mountain Bike

Both gravel bikes and mountain bikes can be used for commuting, touring, and racing. It is important to choose the right bike for the type of riding you plan.

If you’re looking for a bike to ride on gravel roads or off-road trails, then a gravel bike is a good choice. If you’re looking for a bike to ride on extreme off-road trails, then a mountain bike is better.

It’s important to choose the right bike for your intended use. If you choose a gravel bike for riding on extreme off-road trails, you may be disappointed with its performance. Similarly, if you choose a mountain bike for riding on gravel roads, you may find it difficult to control and uncomfortable to ride.


Related Posts


Scroll to Top