A mountain bike is the ultimate off-road bike that allows you to explore any terrain with relative ease.
However, they can be quite heavy and cumbersome, especially on flat and smooth ground, which is one very good reason why gravel bikes have started to become so popular.
A gravel bike combines the best bits of a road, cyclocross, and mountain bike to create the ultimate adventure bike.
So how does a gravel bike differ from a mountain bike? It primarily comes down to geometry, suspension, tires and handle bars. Mountain bikes tend to have straight bars, while gravel bikes have drop bars. Gravel bikes have thinner (but not road bike thin) tires, while mountain bikes have thick, knobby tires. The geometry of a mountain bike is built for off-road while gravel is meant for faster riding. Finally the last difference is the lack of suspension on a gravel bike, while mountain bikes tend to have at least front suspension.
What is a gravel bike?
Aesthetically gravel bikes look more like road bikes. However, a few subtle upgrades make them handle gravel and off-road tracks much better than road bikes.
Gravel bikes have a long wheelbase and low bottom bracket. This makes them much more stable and more comfortable to control on uneven surfaces.
They may not have suspension, but the wide tires and multiple hand positions you get from the dropped bars make them comfortable to ride, no matter how bumpy the terrain.
Thanks to the lack of suspension and the thinner frame design, gravel bikes are a lot lighter than mountain bikes. This, combined with the slightly narrower tires and dropped handlebars, makes gravel bikes faster than mountain bikes on the flat or up gentle inclines.
What is a mountain bike?
Mountain bikes come in several different shapes and sizes (The most popular types being cross-country, hardtail, enduro, downhill, or all-mountain). No matter what design you go for, they all have a few things in common.
Mountain bikes come with some form of suspension, either from shocks on the front forks, rear suspension at the back of the frame, or a combination of both. These work with you to smooth out bumpy tracks and give you a lot more confidence and control over the bike, especially on fast descents.
You also usually find that mountain bikes have flat bars. The nice wide flat bars give you increased control but restrict how many different positions you can have your hands. Mountain bikes are not necessarily built for speed.
They are there to help you conquer any terrain when no other bike is up to the challenge.
Should I buy a mountain bike or gravel bike?
There is no competition if you are looking to take your bike on serious technical trails or experience the exhilaration of downhill mountain biking. Mountain bikes are more comfortable, stable, and agile on rocky and challenging terrain.
However, if you want a bike that can hold its own off-road and be rapid on the tarmac, then you need a gravel bike in your life.
Gravel bikes are an excellent bike if you want to cycle off the beaten track without sacrificing speed on the roads.
Can I turn my mountain bike into a gravel bike?
Modern mountain bikes have changed so much over the past 20 years that it would be extremely difficult to turn them into a gravel bike. With a large suspension, more aggressive stance, and a frame that is build for impacts, it makes it difficult for a gravel bike to ever be made from a mountain bike.
That said, many people lately have been turning older 80s style mountain bikes into gravel bikes. The older frame design make a cool retro styling, but also has the similar geometry that modern gravel bikes have. You essentially will look to add a fork without suspension, upgrade the wheels to the thinner design, and add a new gear set that is more suited for on-road and gravel performance.
Can I turn my gravel bike into a mountain bike?
A gravel bike would not be able to be turned into a mountain bike. Modern gravel bikes are already built for some off-road, and even trail riding. However it would be difficult to turn it into a dedicated mountain bike, and still be able to compete with everyone else on the mountain.
With gravel bikes thinner frame and drop handle bars, you wouldn’t be able to make it a good dedicated mountain bike that could handle the rough terrain that a real mountain bike would be able to. For this one, it would be better off buying a mountain bike.
So there you have it, now you know the difference between a mountain bike and a gravel (aka adventure) bike.
The adventure bike can definitely go off-road, however it will never be able to do it as well as the mountain bike, however the mountain bike will never be as good on-road as the mountain bike.