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For Commute: Gravel or MTB?

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View Poll Results: For my commute: Gravel, MTB, stick with what you have
MTB Hardtail
Gravel Bike
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For Commute: Gravel or MTB?

Old 08-16-19, 11:32 AM
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For Commute: Gravel or MTB?


My Question: MTB or Gravel?

My Profile:

  • Daily Commute 15 miles one way, bit hill, no long climb or descend, little traffic, 97% paved (smooth and rough), 3% gravel. Takes 1h with Singlespeed, want to reduce by 5-10 minutes, losing time on descends and flat parts.
  • Weekend rides ~30 miles by myself: currently road only (Singlespeed road bike), would like more variety and options (gravel, flow trails, single trails), ~10 miles with family, easy terrain, some gravel.
  • Planned Bike packing easy terrain (Netherlands) starting next year with Family, then starting more challenging stuff
  • Would love to do flow trails and single tracks but only if not too much compromise with commuting pace (see above)
  • To consider: Nice to have more flex with (Hardtail) MTB. Is Gravel Bike really much faster on paved road than Hardtail MTB, considering my commuting profile?

Long Story:

Iím about to purchase a new bike and I will need an allrounder. Since gravel bikes became popular a few years ago but also MTB technology has made leaps forward in the last decade, Iím not sure what would be the better choice for my profile:

My main use of the bike is commuting. Itís a 15 miles commute with 590ft down and 300ft up on the way to work and obviously the other way round back home. The commute us 97% paved with different quality, some rough, some smooth parts and maybe 3% gravel road. The whole commute takes around 1h both ways (5-10mins more home), traffic is not too much of an issue since I can use mostly side streets or paved farm tracks (which we have a lot in Germany). Itís a bit hilly but no major ascends or descends, but I do spin out on descends and flats with my Singlespeed at around 20 mph.

My goal is now to bring down the riding time by a good 5-10 Minutes. I suspect Iím mainly losing time on the descends and flat parts. Ascends are just right, donít want to get a bigger front chain ring.

My second goal is to have more options and versatility on weekend-tours. Some I do by myself (~30-50 miles, currently mostly paved roads), some with my family. The family rides are not really fast since my kids are 9 and 7. Weíre building up though to do some bike packing starting next year - starting easy in the Netherlands, which is what I want to use my bike for as well. We then want to go into tougher terrain the following years.

I live close to a mid-size mountain range with a couple of nice flow-trails and single-track sections, nothing too difficult but no piece of cake either. Iíve not done that before but I would love to be able to do those as well, though my commute requirements are more important.

So Iím currently deciding between a Hardtail MTB (Canyon Exceed CF SL 8.0 Pro Race - 21,82 lb) or a Gravel Bike (Cannondale Topstone Carbon 105 - 19.29lb). I would be able to fit road tires on both for the commute and keep the original set for the rougher terrains/winter.

Whatís your experiences? Can I get the MTB with road tires for the commute to be almost as fast as the Gravel Bike with road tires? Would the disadvantage of a MTB in commuting speed be relatively small but the gain in versatility make up for the small disadvantage? Or could I make the gravel bike into a real commuter racer and be much faster than with the Hardtail MTB?

Sorry for the long first post, I hope you donít mind too much...
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Old 08-18-19, 12:12 PM
Drew Eckhardt 
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Gravel, although for commuting I'd ensure I had rack eyelets and consider longer chain stays for pannier heel clearance.

A drop bar bike will be more aerodynamic (the bars are narrower even if you don't sit lower) and comfortable on road rides, and you can get faster tires in 700C.

The double gravel bike you're looking will have much more appropriate gearing for road riding, especially if you run a smaller cassette. Many if not most road riders don't like a two tooth cog gap until the 17=19 spread and a few of us like an 18 in the middle there. A single chain ring is not conducive to running a crank like that.

Last edited by Drew Eckhardt; 08-18-19 at 04:19 PM.
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Old 08-18-19, 01:16 PM
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If your goal is to knock time off of your commute, then I donít think the mtb makes a lot of sense.

Bottom line is that what works best on single-track and what works best on the road are very different and largely at odds with each other.

A gravel or ďall roadĒ bike will work very well for your commute (especially if it has rack/fender mounts), and will handle dirt paths OK. But actual single track? Youíll survive, but it is really out of its element.

I think you are going to have to choose which end of things is more important, your road/gravel commute and smooth pathways, or singletrack. Seeing as you are spending 30 miles a day on the road, it seems to me like a gravel bike (with some large slicks), is the way to go.
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Old 08-18-19, 01:41 PM
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Hi. I'll just leave the poll question to those who know more about the differences between the two bikes.

I just wanted to wish you good luck, for your Netherlands trip, next year. I've heard other cyclists say that they enjoyed cycling, there.
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Old 08-18-19, 01:47 PM
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A Gravel bike seems the best option. The flow trails will have to wait until you can get two bikes.
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Old 08-18-19, 02:23 PM
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Thanks so far for your responses. I've done some more research in the meantime and of course tried out a few different options. For what my main focus is, it makes most sense to get a gravel bike with an additional set of slicks right now. I will spend most of the time on that bike commuting and doing some family trips on the week-end. Singletrail is nice to imagine, but I actually have no experience with that and I guess it's more the idea of being able to do it. But who knows if I would actually love it.

We do have a vast network of forrest gravel roads in Germany which is where I can do a lot of riding away from busy streets on the gravel bike. If in a couple of years my kids are a bit older and we all feel like going all MTB, I can still probably get a decent beginner's MTB and then start to look into it while I will use my gravel bike as my main commuter and Tour bike for the time being.

I've been seeing so many people in the last couple of days riding their high-end mountain bikes on gravel roads and paved streets but almost none on real single-trails. I would probably end up doing the same.

So I guess I will go with the Cannondale Topstone Carbon 105, of course I will report back in once I have it and hopefully be able to put together a little review.
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Old 08-18-19, 02:35 PM
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That is about my commute, too. Get the gravel bike. You won't regret it.
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Old 08-18-19, 02:56 PM
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Gravel bike. The Cannondale has a 46/30 crankset, so it will go low combined with the 11-34 cassette. You won't be flying on it, but I don't think that will be much of an issue.

Where in Germany are you? I was in Garmisch for five weeks this April and I loved biking around the area.
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Old 08-18-19, 08:16 PM
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I would pick a rigid fork steel framed 29'er MTB with braze ons for racks and fenders.
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Old 08-18-19, 08:25 PM
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I chose gravel, but don't see much difference in function given your needs. Buy which one makes you the happiest and provides the most utility for ALL your riding, including potential future uses.
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Old 08-18-19, 11:05 PM
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Originally Posted by guachi View Post
Where in Germany are you? I was in Garmisch for five weeks this April and I loved biking around the area.
I'm in the Frankfurt area. The Taunus is great for riding around here.
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Old 08-19-19, 12:55 AM
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I have a plus tire front suspension mountain bike with some packing pretensions. Itís a great all around bike. I commute on it... 5km. I canít imagine trying to go faster than a single speed for 24km on it ten times a week. That would be exhausting. Get the drop bar bike with the smooth tires.

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