Face-Off: Gravel vs. Mountain Biking

Face Off gravel vs. mountain biking

Pedaling for the top track.

The bicycle is arguably one of the most influential inventions of all time, opening up a vast realm of access to adventure. And since its inception, the bike’s basic design hasn’t changed much: two wheels, a frame, and a set of cranks. However, modern bikes certainly have a few more bells, whistles, and specialized uses than their archaic ancestors. Among the various permutations are gravel bikes and mountain bikes. Today, these two classes are more at odds with each other than ever before, as their features and applications continue to chasm. So grab your lube and your rubbers as we settle on the better bike, once and for all.

As mechanics and components keep improving, both gravel and mountain bikes are becoming far more capable. A gravel bike propels you over long distances on pavement, dirt roads, and even moderate singletrack. It also makes a great commuter bike for Bozeman, where bike lanes (the few that exist) are usually covered in gravel, bits of glass, and car parts. However, a mountain bike can do all that and more, from the smoothest roads to the roughest trails.
Edge: Mountain

In a place where folks like to push themselves to the edge, challenge and fun go hand-in-hand. Mountain bikers handle technical, rocky climbs with ease as they maneuver up gnarly trails. In the same way, gravel bikers handle corners and long hauls by harnessing a sharp attention to detail with body position and weight distribution. But let’s face it: there’s nothing more exciting than a rowdy, party-lap descent on a mountain bike with the crew.
Edge: Mountain

We have a joke for you: two douchebags walk into a bar. One rides a mountain bike and the other rides a gravel bike. Get it? They’re both douchebags (cue rimshot sound). In both cases, the most “radical” of each group ruin it for everyone. And the worst part is that both actually think they look cool doing it. Skin-tight race suits and the fastest pair of shades on the market, or body armor head-to-toe and a full-face cherry on top: pick your poison.
Edge: Tie

Bikes and bike parts can easily turn into a spiral of spending, quickly burning a hole in your pocket. On the upper end, gravel bikes take the cake with $10k rigs becoming standard amongst competitive riders. But for the average joe, $1,000 can get you a brand-new mid-level bike. On the mountain side of things, a grand hardly buys you a front fork anymore. And when you throw in suspension maintenance and hospital bills, the grand total really adds up.
Edge: Gravel

This one is really no contest. With the power transfer, lightweight components, and body positioning on a gravel bike, it’s a recipe for efficiency. A mountain bike’s flat pedals and squishy suspension flounder like a fish out of water here. Sure, some folks ride hardtails, lock out their suspensions on climbs, and slap on clipless pedals, but they’re still working much harder to move the same distance than they would on a gravel bike.
Edge: Gravel

Oh, the places you’ll go! For either party, constituents will surely argue the superiority of their vantage point. On one hand, gravel bikers cover more ground across the vast, open landscape. On the other hand, mountain bikers are able to get much further off the beaten path—deep into the canyons and crests of their surroundings. Each comes with its own unique version of solitude and exploration.
Edge: Tie

When the mountain bike trails are finally clear in late spring, you can sense a feeling of excitement in the air. It’s finally time! Well, gravel bikers have already been riding the roads for months. And by the same logic, every road becomes an opportunity for new routes, while mountain bikes are confined to the same limited number of trails. With a longer season and more riding options, gravel biking comes out on top in this category. Throw in the lower pricepoint for folks on a budget, and gavel biking really rides away with it. Let’s end this before things get ugly.
Edge: Gravel

Score: 3-2
Winner: Gravel

In true face-off fashion, this one was a nail-biter. Though each discipline has its merits, gravel biking may just be the more well-rounded of the two... on paper, at least. This fall, while our mountain bikes are in the shop and our bruised ribs are healing, look for us on the dirt roads. Until our dual-suspension steeds are back up and running, that is.