Is a gravel bike suitable for your winter off-road riding?
As the gravel category matured, the lines between this newcomer to the boulder and the old guard – mountain bikes – began to blur.
Gravel bikes can now be broken down into subcategories: lightweight and agile models more suited to fast trails (the Cervélo Áspero and Scott Addict Gravel) and more grizzly machines – like the aptly named Canyon Grizl or the Evil Chamois Hagar, which we recently reviewed.
These are distinguished by their “progressive geometry”, which describes trends borrowed from the ATV industry; Loose head angles, long top tubes, and stocky stems are the order of the day. These features can help less experienced off-roaders feel confident on the trails and allow experts to navigate more technical terrain on drop handlebars.
This is all very well. But if such a bike is on your shopping list, would you be better off going to the inspiration and buying a hardtail or cross country mountain bike?
After overseeing the development of Ribble’s new suped-up gravel bike, the Gravel, Jamie Burrow Ribble’s product manager is in a good position to walk us through the benefits of every rung of the scale – from “all the way”, to more complete on “all-terrain bikes.
“When we started we had the CGR, ‘Cross Gravel Road’ and that was what it was – an all-terrain bike with relaxed road geometry that could carry a rack, fenders and bigger tires.
“Whereas with the Gravel we took things longer and lower which makes it a bit more capable for a wider range of terrains. We’ve also changed the specs – of course you can still customize them online in BikeBuilder – but most of the suggested versions are 1x because it’s the best match for the ride they’re designed for.
But while the Gravel design can be borrowed from Ribble’s mountain bikes – with the shorter stem and longer top tube for faster steering and the higher rider position for a more assertive position on the bike – there is still has a chasm between that of the HT Trail 29.
On the mountain bike, the tires are noticeably bigger, while the rider’s stance is still a bit straighter and with much wider grip on the handlebars. Perhaps the biggest difference is the suspension fork, which offers 150mm of smoothing damping.
Of course, there is some overlap between the terrain you would ride the HT Trail and the Gravel on, but you can think of it as similar to the overlap between a road racing bike and a gravel bike – you wouldn’t confuse. the two.
Ian Field, five-time British cyclocross champion and director of VELD coaching, recommends going for a mountain bike if you are looking for efficiency on rough terrain and a gravel bike if you want to make non-technical terrain more difficult; it follows that those who struggle off-road might make their experience with a mountain bike easier.
“Some people complain that the trails [they’re riding] are not difficult enough, but you try to ride them on a gravel bike and you will soon discover the limits of your skills.
“If I am [riding] intending to get around as quickly as possible i would use my ATV because it’s just faster. But doing it on a gravel bike is a lot more exciting.
“It’s nice to have this freedom, I can go to more places from my front door on the gravel bike rather than doing it on a mountain bike. But then I can dive into a trail just to see where it goes without really having to worry about what I’m going to hit.
It really depends on where you want the bike to help you the most.
If you’re looking for more exercise and might need a little help on the technical sections – maybe you’re riding gravel with seasoned off-roaders – grabbing a mountain bike for these rides might be the best option.
But if you’d rather go into the woods instead of taking the car, or if your preference is to piece together a longer loop of stretches of track and disjointed trails, a beefy gravel bike will get you there faster and it’s unlikely. that he’s confused by most of what you throw at him.
The last word
Ian Champ: “With my racing background, given the choice of a XC and MTB versus just a capable gravel bike, I would prioritize specificity over versatility and getting the best time on the terrain they are suited to.”
Jamie Burrows: “I’m a bit old school. Even on the blue runs of a trail center I like to keep my skills sharp with a modern, looser gravel bike.