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Cyclocross and Gravelbiking (Recreational) This has to be the most physically intense sport ever invented. It's high speed bicycle racing on a short off road course or riding the off pavement rides on gravel like : "Unbound Gravel". We also have a dedicated Racing forum for the Cyclocross Hard Core Racers.

Gravel or Mountain bike?

Old 08-26-17, 12:36 PM
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Gravel or Mountain bike?

I upgraded my 20 year old steel hybrid to a Trek FX3 and what a world it's opened up! Better gearing, much lighter and quicker handling bike, etc. FX3 is a flat bar bike, and I added bar ends. Tires are 32 wide and are really road tires (pretty slick).

I tried to go on a rail trail today, and in the packed portion I was fine, but when I got to more of a gravel area, I was really not comfortable. I also hit some sandy areas, and again, was not comfortable.

It could be the tires. I can't take any wider than 32 IIRC, but they are pretty slick. Here's my question:

If you wanted both a good road bike and to go a bit more off road, would you:
  • Get a Gravel bike and have the all-in-one? Can the gravel bike really work as a road bike? I'd like to get to 50-11 as my top gear (sitting on 48-11 right now). I would probably have to change tires or have another set of wheels, though, depending on where I would want to ride?
  • Keep the FX3 and put on better tires for off-road (but can't get much thicker than 32) and treat the FX3 like a gravel (albeit flat bar) bit, and get a Trek Domane (road bike)
  • Keep the FX3 with road tires, and get a MTB

Last edited by WT21; 08-26-17 at 12:45 PM.
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Old 08-26-17, 12:55 PM
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My opinion. When riding through unstable surfaces like thicker chunky gravel or sand. The type of tread is not the major factor, the width is. You are not in a "traction" limited situation there, a smaller tire is just trying to find solid ground. That being said... It comes down to YOUR comfort level. Others may ride though those same areas with a 28 and feel comfortable.

I have 40c on my gravel bike and do 90 miles a week on the road. Doesn't bother me any.

Last edited by u235; 08-26-17 at 12:59 PM.
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Old 08-26-17, 12:58 PM
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Originally Posted by u235
My opinion. When riding through unstable surfaces like thicker chunky gravel or sand. The type of tread is not really the factor, the width is. You are not in a "traction" limited situation there where the tread makes a major difference, a smaller tire is just trying to find solid ground. That being said... It comes down to YOUR comfort level. Others may ride though those same areas with a 28 and feel comfortable.

I have 40c on my gravel bike and do 90 miles a week on the road. Doesn't bother me any.
Thanks. Appreciate the input. All opinions welcomed!

I was just thinking too, that I am still getting used to clipless and that was likely a big part of it.
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Old 08-26-17, 01:09 PM
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Right or wrong, good or bad, I also have a dedicated road bike with 23c tires that is 4lbs less than my gravel bike. I never ride it. I just don't like small tires or the stance or the lack of utility. To each his own.
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Old 08-26-17, 01:23 PM
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Originally Posted by u235
My opinion. When riding through unstable surfaces like thicker chunky gravel or sand. The type of tread is not the major factor, the width is. You are not in a "traction" limited situation there, a smaller tire is just trying to find solid ground. That being said... It comes down to YOUR comfort level. Others may ride though those same areas with a 28 and feel comfortable.

I have 40c on my gravel bike and do 90 miles a week on the road. Doesn't bother me any.
+1

OP- are you sure your bike is limited to 32c tires? Even 35-36c tires could make a substantial difference. I'm willing to bet you have more room in there.
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Old 08-26-17, 01:23 PM
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My gravel bike with 47c Trigger Sport tires IS my road bike anymore.

But then I dont mind going a bit slower on average.
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Old 08-26-17, 01:47 PM
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Originally Posted by shoota
+1

OP- are you sure your bike is limited to 32c tires? Even 35-36c tires could make a substantial difference. I'm willing to bet you have more room in there.
I think maybe I was thinking about the Domane

The fx2 indeed has 35 tires, so while getting a different tread, I could go up in tire size, too
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Old 08-26-17, 02:28 PM
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Originally Posted by WT21
I think maybe I was thinking about the Domane

The fx2 indeed has 35 tires, so while getting a different tread, I could go up in tire size, too
Yup, and that will make a big difference I think. Even 38s, if you can fit them, especially tubeless, will make a big difference.
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Old 08-27-17, 04:10 PM
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Originally Posted by WT21
I think maybe I was thinking about the Domane

The fx2 indeed has 35 tires, so while getting a different tread, I could go up in tire size, too
Like someone else pointed out, tread is not that critical, but tire width is, particularly if you take advantage of it to run lower pressures.

And with a smooth tread, you are not giving up much to a narrow pavement tire.

I run Compass Bon Jon Pass tires (listed as 35mm, measure more like 37mm), and I never regret them on pavement. They have a fine file-like tread, and are great on dirt and gravel roads. The only time I wish for a knobby tread is in mud, but that is rare, and I am not willing to sacrifice the rolling resistance.
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Old 08-29-17, 03:45 AM
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If you bought a dedicated mountain bike, would it also allow you to ride more areas/trails than you're currently riding? If so, and that interests you, I'd say get a mountain bike. They're fun and allow you to get away from the paved world. Just don't get an inexpensive full-suspension rig (ugggh). You can get an aluminum hard tail with a suspension fork (lots of used options, btw), or forego suspension altogether with something like a Surly Karate Monkey 27.5+ or Kona Unit X (or Surly Krampus if you're tall/powerful). Then your second bike can be a fast asphalt-oriented machine with drop bars. Perfect complement.

Or you could go the "two sets of wheels" route that's becoming a more popular option (choice of 700 road tires or 27.5 mountain tires) like the Diamondback Haanjo EXP. But a wheel swap doesn't turn a road bike into a mountain bike. The "one bike" marketing is just that. IMO...
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Old 08-29-17, 06:18 AM
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Despite the flat bars, your current bike is more like a gravel bike than a mountain bike in terms of capability. The gravel bike will be faster, but it will not be more capable of handling different terrain (aside from tire clearance options on some bikes perhaps). As folks said, you can improve your bikes capability with different tires.

I'm a huge fan of mountain bikes with air sprung forks and disc brakes and modern geometry. They are super capable, go anywhere machines.
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Old 08-29-17, 06:34 AM
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Originally Posted by ATPAH
Despite the flat bars, your current bike is more like a gravel bike than a mountain bike in terms of capability. The gravel bike will be faster, but it will not be more capable of handling different terrain (aside from tire clearance options on some bikes perhaps). As folks said, you can improve your bikes capability with different tires.

I'm a huge fan of mountain bikes with air sprung forks and disc brakes and modern geometry. They are super capable, go anywhere machines.
Other than the fact that they weigh a ton compared to gravel/cyclocross bikes.
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Old 08-29-17, 11:32 AM
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Your bike is fine for gravel.
As I recall, you can put something close to 45mm on that bike. Take out the ruler, and see what she says. 40mm should work easily. Personally, 40mm is fine for anything that isn’t a fast downhill single-track with rocks and roots. There are lots of gravel options in the 35-40mm range.

I have the specialized version of that bike in my stable. It basically has mountain bike geometry, but isn’t quite as overbuilt as a mountain bike (and won’t take 60mm wide tires). That style is more of a gravel or a mountain bike than a road bike.

Tires are big factor. If you can go tubeless and get down to around 30psi (40mm tires) you should be fine on any rail trail.
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