Gravel type bike thingy – MTB or CX base?

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  • Gravel type bike thingy – MTB or CX base?
  • Premier Icon xraymtb
    Subscriber

    Longer darker nights have got me doing the inevitable and planning routes that go way beyond the available 6 hours of daylight for the next few months. This has led to the thoughts of a ‘gravel’ bike (you know – those things that existed for the last 30 years but nobody in marketing had given them a label them yet).

    Looking at what I have, I now have a conundrum. Do I:

    (a) make the hardtail a bit more comfortable and quick – add some Jones bars, fit narrower, faster rolling, tyres, maybe lengthen the stem a bit etc. Downside being its the heavier, slower option.

    (b) make the old CX bike a bit more gnar (currently in road commute mode) – put the 35-40mm tyres back on, maybe add some flared drops, fit a lower geared cassette etc. Downside of this is its an older frame so canti’s rather than discs, and the wheels are road 20/24 spoke things.

    Plan is 2-3 day trips, some hostel/pub style, some bivi style.

    butcher
    Member

    Depends on the terrain. A gravel bike is not faster or more fun when you’re walking…

    Some stuff just begs you for a proper mountain bike with big chunky tyres and squishy forks.

    That threshold can be quite personal I guess.

    Demo a Vagabond, or similar monstercrossy bikepacking ATB thing.

    1. Sell the CX. Enjoy new monstercrossy bikepacking ATB thing.

    2. Sell new monstercrossy bikepacking ATB thing because you enjoy the hardtail more on gnarly trails, and think that if you:

    3. Sell monstercrossy thing to fund rigid 29er and loop bar for use as all-terrain doitall-ness then all must now be well until you soon

    4. Regret selling monstercrossy thing because it was just so … ‘thingy’.

    Sorry, that’s my experience wish could be more help 😎

    Premier Icon matt_outandabout
    Subscriber

    That threshold can be quite personal I guess.

    This.
    I was told that QECP was ‘dangerous’ on a cx in the carpark. It was fun 😜

    I’ve also done Comrie blue on ours, but was worried for the rims.

    I would err towards a big tyred thing if building or upgrading.

    Premier Icon dove1
    Subscriber

    N+1, innit. 😉

    Premier Icon Garry_Lager
    Subscriber

    I wouldn’t like a suspension fork for that sort of riding, but I wouldn’t like cantis either so it’s a dilemma. Whatever is more comfortable I guess – I’m ok riding my cross bike all day but some folk say they find them uncomfortable.
    Is the cx wheelset tubeless? Tubes on a cx bike over the bumps off road really suck, get a lot of punctures, so I’d avoid doing that.

    Blackflag
    Member

    Well i had a CX i made more “MTB” (45c tyres etc) and a hardtail i made more “Road” both bikes feel very similar and have so much overlap i gave the mtb to mrs blackflag for when we ride together (it was a slightly smaller frame).

    Based on the fact your CX has cantis i’d be tempted to put rigid forks and semi slicks on the mtb.

    JonEdwards
    Member

    Depends on what your local riding is like. My “gravel” bike is a hybridised 26″ MTB – rigid forks, flat bars and a pair of 650b wheels with 47mm Gravelking SKs on. Works for my local eastern Peak rubbly doubletrack/road mix without getting too out of shape when faced by the odd rock or bit of singletrack.

    Premier Icon thisisnotaspoon
    Subscriber

    Demo a Vagabond, or similar monstercrossy bikepacking ATB thing.

    1. Sell the CX. Enjoy new monstercrossy bikepacking ATB thing.

    2. Sell new monstercrossy bikepacking ATB thing because you enjoy the hardtail more on gnarly trails, and think that if you:

    3. Sell monstercrossy thing to fund rigid 29er and loop bar for use as all-terrain doitall-ness then all must now be well until you soon

    4. Regret selling monstercrossy thing because it was just so … ‘thingy’.

    Sorry, that’s my experience wish could be more help 😎

    Conversely I just didn’t get on with it.

    My “gravel” bike buying went something like:

    Rigid 29er with fast tyres, works fine apart from the hand position on long rides, even keeps up with roadies on their CX/gravel bikes with a bit of effort. Eventually swapped back to 2.3 knoblies and bought a …..
    Vagabond with fast tyres, actually felt slower than the 29er. Gave up after a group ride where I was being dropped from the off by everything, everywhere. There was no magical sweetspot of rough doubletrack where it became faster than the skinny tyres but more comfortable than the MTB, it just didn’t happen. And when the trails got a bit more Gnarly you were left with this leaden feeling bike which neither had the capability of the MTB’s or the nimbleness of the CX’s. Sold it and bought…….
    CX secondhand, then procrastinated over fixing it up as I was kinda lost interest in that sort of riding so didnt ride much and got a…
    SSCX which is a hoot and convinced me to pull my finger out and fix the CX.

    Basically if you want something lighter and faster than a ~24lb hardtail, a 30lb steel drop bar’d monster cross isn’t it. I’d still like to try something like a Slate or Topstone (650*47 or 29*42) which might do a better job of preserving what’s good about CX bikes, but the Vagabond really was slower than everything everywhere, and wasn’t even that comfortable!

    Done more miles on ‘gravel’ bikes than anything else this year. Mostly because it’s just convenient to got for 20-30 miles in the evening stinging together the local bridleways so it’s easy to end up doing far more miles than a Saturday morning’s MTB ride. As for it being “marketing”, to an extent it is, but 90% of it’s aimed towards MTBers. The roadies have been doing it on cross bikes forever.

    trumpton
    Member

    I’d say go with the mtb.

    TiRed
    Member

    I’d say go with CX.

    I ride Swinley red on my cross bike, but road on the MTB is a compromise too far. A sub 18 lb bike is always light. Personally, I like light.

    Premier Icon xraymtb
    Subscriber

    Food for thought all of this.

    The MTB won’t be going rigid – it’s my go-to outside of trail centres (natural Northumberland riding). I guess the problem with longer ‘gravel’ days is the draggy tyres and fixed hand position. Then again I don’t fancy swapping tyres and bars regularly.

    The CX sits in the garage doing nothing so maybe a cheap set of flared bars and give it a go is the starting point. It’s certainly lighter than the hardtail and the riding I’m planning doesn’t warrant suspension (and by default therefore I reckon cantis will do just fine).

    Basically if you want something lighter and faster than a ~24lb hardtail, a 30lb steel drop bar’d monster cross isn’t

    Agree with that. Vagabond is a tourer/bikepacker, bimbler. that’s obv my thing 😉

    Though I did find it massively comfortable esp with the stock 2.1 Nanos

    Premier Icon thisisnotaspoon
    Subscriber

    The CX sits in the garage doing nothing so maybe a cheap set of flared bars and give it a go is the starting point. It’s certainly lighter than the hardtail and the riding I’m planning doesn’t warrant suspension (and by default therefore I reckon cantis will do just fine).

    I wouldn’t even bother with that, just get some suitable tyres (or avoid deep mud). Flared drops have some advantages, but not a deal breaker. Personally I prefer the bars either unflared or only slightly with a decent curve on the top to give wrist clearance.

    Agree with that. Vagabond is a tourer/bikepacker, bimbler. that’s obv my thing 😉

    Though I did find it massively comfortable esp with the stock 2.1 Nanos

    I like my steel hardtails, but I think perhaps there’s a need for some zipp on a gravel bike (for me anyway). The vagabond actually felt stiff yet energy sapping, in the same way other bikes feel comfortable yet zippy?

    In the end I decided I can bimble and bikepack on the CAADX, but the Vagabond can’t do double duty on an off-road clubrun.

    We did plenty of bivi/bikepacking style riding on rigid, singlespeed CX bikes, with Cantis (actually Mini-Vs).

    Didn’t realise it was supposed to be a problem, but again it’s all about the level of gnarr you’re going to expose the bike to. On one famous excursion (with Mr Stitz actually now I recall..) we took in sections of the West Highland Way as well as the one of the lower sections of the Fort William down hill track (trying to follow the puggy line from Fersit to Ft William).

    I’d convert your CX bike, I use my Trek Superfly 29er for a lot of gravel stuff at the moment but am constantly trying to turn the flat bar setup into a drop bar setup, and it’s never quite the same. Now starting to think I should just bodge some gears onto the singlespeed CX bike instead! (or just buy a proper gravel bike…)

    Premier Icon thisisnotaspoon
    Subscriber

    (or just buy a proper gravel bike…)

    Or grow bigger legs.

    Premier Icon Rusty Spanner
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    Keep the MTB as an MTB.

    Keep the crosser as a crosser.

    Buy a nice modern tourer that can take wide tyres and you have two new bikes – a tourer with guards on and road tyres and a g****l bike with the guards off and different rubber.

    Can you still get the Pinnacle Tourer for £600 odd quid?
    Get one of those.

    Most of my riding these days is on a Surly Disk Trucker with the guards off.
    It’s made me better rider and it’s fun everywhere.

    Premier Icon Cheezpleez
    Subscriber

    Go with the crosser. I bought a canti’d Ridley X-Bow for peanuts to try out ’gravel’ and it’s great. Yes, the brakes could be better but they’ll do till you decide it’s worth investing more.

    For me, the combo of a rigid 29er with a 29+ front and a drop bar bike with 40-45mm rubber covers all this territory neatly.

    Premier Icon molgrips
    Subscriber

    I guess the problem with longer ‘gravel’ days is the draggy tyres and fixed hand position

    Racing Ralph 2.3s are not draggy on my rigid 29er. I hold road PRs on it. Hand position is sorted with a high sweep bars and ergon grips with the stubby ends. No place I’d rather sit and pedal all day.

    But as above it depends on terrain. A nice quick road bike position is no use if you’re mincing down a rocky bridleway at walking pace with screaming hands. Or walking up a similar thing because your bottom gear is 42/34.

    kerley
    Member

    Another vote for a light and quick handling bike (the CX bike). I ride a lot of gravel (every single ride is on some amount of gravel) and I have the most fun riding a 6.6kg quick handling bike.
    The type of gravel where I live is fairly hard packed and tends to be no less comfortable than riding on tarmac so I don’t even need big tyres.

    Premier Icon xraymtb
    Subscriber

    Racing Ralph 2.3s are not draggy on my rigid 29er. I hold road PRs on it. Hand position is sorted with a high sweep bars and ergon grips with the stubby ends. No place I’d rather sit and pedal all day.

    That’s true but it’s still a tyre change and a change of grips if not bars from the MTB setup to ride my usual stuff. There’s no way Racing Ralph could cope with Northumbrian mud.

    I guess my thinking after all this is that either would work, the MTB can stay ready for natural trails and rougher stuff whilst the CX with new tyres can do the less rough stuff. The experiment now will be finding out which routes are which!

    Premier Icon molgrips
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    There’s no way Racing Ralph could cope with Northumbrian mud.

    So what’re you putting on the CX bike then?

    RRs see me through all year in Cardiff, on that bike. Because I’m usually riding something with a surface, because it’s not mud slogging MTBing.

    Premier Icon xraymtb
    Subscriber

    So what’re you putting on the CX bike then?

    RRs see me through all year in Cardiff, on that bike. Because I’m usually riding something with a surface, because it’s not mud slogging MTBing.

    Reading back I perhaps wasn’t clear. My thinking now is to keep the MTB setup for natural trails, including the boggy, muddy ones we get a lot of up here, and to put something beefier on the CX to handle the better surfaced ‘gravel’ type roads.

    I could put RRs on the MTB and use it for those rides, but would then need to swap back regularly.

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