Gravel bikes are called adventure bikes and all-road bikes because they can handle a variety of terrain. But just how much adventure can they handle? For example, can a gravel bike handle singletrack and mountain bike trails?
Gravel bikes can handle singletrack and mountain bike trails depending on your ability and how technical the trail is. Most gravel bikes can handle most types of terrain if the cyclist has the skills.
This article will discuss whether gravel bikes can handle mountain bike trails, including singletrack. We’ll also talk about how you can make your gravel bike more like a mountain bike and make your mountain bike more like a gravel bike. But first, let’s talk about the differences between mountain bikes and gravel bikes and define what singletrack is.
Singletrack vs MTB trail
Technically speaking, singletrack is a mountain bike trail that is only wide enough for one rider. Therefore, you may not have enough room to pass another rider or someone going in the opposite direction.
There are different levels of difficulty when it comes to riding singletrack. Typically, you’ll find various features such as rock gardens, jumps, or rooty sections. However, if it’s a beginner track, there may be a ‘go around’ for rock gardens and very technical sections so that beginner riders can avoid features above their skill level.
A mountain bike trail is a little more of a general term. It certainly covers singletrack trails, but it also covers wider and easier trails and trails through the woods. Mountain bikes were designed for this type of trail, but what about gravel bikes?
What’s the Difference Between a Mountain Bike and a Gravel Bike?
|Gravel bike||Mountain Bike|
|Geometry||More agressive||More relaxed|
|Handlebars||Mostly narrow, drop bars (flat bar versions available)||Wide, flat handlebars|
|Suspension||Typically no (with exceptions)||Usually yes (front or full)|
|Drivetrain||1x or 2x||1x (some low-end models 3x)|
|Best suited for||Less demanding off-road |
mixed with pavement
A mountain bike typically has a very relaxed and long geometry with a stable frame. It will have very wide tires, wide flat bars, and a suspension system. These bikes also may have dropper posts, which drop the seat down out of the way to give you more room to weight the back of the bike. Mountain bikes tend to be very heavy.
The suspension and wide tires absorb shock and help you maintain balance over obstacles. Gravel bikes are a little bit different.
Gravel bikes have wider tires than road bikes, but the tires aren’t as wide as mountain bike tires. A gravel bike has drop bars, like a road bike, to give you more hand positions and better control descending. Gravel bikes have a more stable and upright geometry than road bikes but are generally less than mountain bikes. They don’t have dropper posts or suspension systems, making them lighter and more nimble but not quite as stable over obstacles as a mountain bike.
Mountain bikes were intended for more extreme off-road terrain, but there is some middle ground where you can ride either bike well.
So Can Gravel Bikes Go On Singletrack?
Gravel bikes can go on singletrack, within reason. It really all depends on two things: your skill level and just how technical the trail is.
GCN created a video showing just that. Blake rode the same technical course on a gravel bike that Ollie did on a mountain bike. The final result was that Blake could do jumps and complete the entire course with more speed than Ollie, proving that you can do the same terrain on a mountain bike that you can on a gravel bike if you have the skills.
(When) Can a Gravel Bike Replace Your Mountain Bike?
A gravel bike can replace your mountain bike, especially if you will be riding mixed terrain. Mountain bikes are slower on pavement, so if you’ll be mixing it up between riding on the road and riding off-road, a gravel bike is a middle ground that can be pretty capable on both.
If your skills are good, you can ride a gravel bike on basic mountain bike trails if they aren’t too technical, over roots, and through the woods. A gravel bike’s wider tires compared to road bikes and stable geometry make them well-suited to rougher terrain. Gravel bikes with a clutch will keep the chain safely in place, too, so you don’t have to worry about it bouncing off when you hit a bump.
However, you might not want to take your gravel bike over rock gardens or large jumps because it simply won’t have the suspension or tire clearance to power over the obstacles.
The key is to know your own skill level and what types of terrain you can handle with your mountain bike or your gravel bike.
Gravel Bike Setup for Mountains and Trails
If you want to take your gravel bike on trails, you can make a couple of modifications to the bike to get the best ride.
First, choose wider tires. Choose the widest tire you can fit on your gravel bike and run them with the lowest tire pressure you can without getting pinch flats.
If you have tubeless tires, you’ll be even better off because you can use lower tire pressure. In addition, these tires will give you more comfort and traction to get over rocks, roots, and bumps.
Consider a 1x drivetrain. Many gravel bikes can be set up to use either a 1x or a 2x drivetrain. A 2x drivetrain will give you much more gears to choose from, which will help you on the road. However, a 1x drivetrain has a few advantages for mountain biking.
With a 1x drivetrain, your bike will be a little bit lighter. As a result, there will be fewer moving parts to get plugged up with dirt and debris. But most importantly, there will be less risk of the chain coming off when you hit some obstacles on the trail.
You could swap out the handlebars of your gravel bike for flat bars, which would give you better steering over obstacles.
Lastly, slightly lowering your seat will give you a lower center of gravity, which will keep you more stable.
(How) Can You Convert a Mountain Bike into a Gravel Bike?
It’s possible to turn a fully rigid mountain bike, a hardtail MTB or a 90’s MTB into a gravel bike, but full-suspension MTB’s are not good candidates for this.
Here are a few things you can do to make a mountain bike ride more like a gravel bike.
Change the front suspension for a rigid fork. Most modern MTB’s have a front suspension, which adds some bulk to the front of the bike. This is typically absent in gravel bikes.
Change the tires for narrower ones. Depending on the type or terrain you’re goin to ride on, the tires can be as narrow as 32 mm or as wide as 40-50 mm. You need to take into account the width of your rims as you won’t be able to put a 32 mm wide tire on a rim that previously hosted a 50 mm wide one.
You can install drop bars on the bicylce to make it more suitable for riding at higher speeds on paved roads or light gravel. It will allow you to ride in a more aerodynamically favorable position, which makes a difference if you ride at high speeds or against strong headwinds. If you don’t want to fully commit to a narrow drop bar, you may be interested in the Surly Corner bar, which is a hybrid solution between a flat handlebar and a drop bar. It also allows you to keep your existing shifters and brake levers.