Gravel bike Vs XC mountain bike: Which is finest?

Gravel bikes are making inroads onto mountain bike trails everywhere in the nation, it’s time to shave our legs, pull on a tattoo sleeve and provide our completely unbiased opinion

Till very just lately, gravel was one thing you shovelled onto the driveway. Now although, and in case you’ve been burying your head in a pile of it just lately, it’s a type of using. One which blurs the traces between XC mountain biking, cyclocross, and street using. Gravel using proponents (they usually now embrace as soon as mtb-only stalwarts like Kona, Evil, and most just lately, YT Industries) boast it delivers the type of pace over the bottom thrills of a street bike, over pure terrain and flowy singletrack. The detractors have it the opposite manner; they’re street bikes out of their aspect, and one of the best ways to spoil a great mountain bike experience. What you need is among the finest XC full-suspension or hardtail bikes as a substitute. 

XC Vs gravel bike

The 2 factions would possibly share frequent floor with regards to trails, however their chosen instruments for the job couldn’t be extra totally different

So who has it proper? Time for us to step in, and ship a verdict on gravel using… completely unbiased in fact, by no means thoughts the very fact our identify is Mountain Bike Rider.

XC Vs gravel bike

Specialised’s Diverge faces off towards the Epic hardtail, however which is quicker, and extra importantly, which is extra enjoyable?

Gravel’s excessive floor

Let’s get critical for a second although, and think about whether or not there really could possibly be some benefits to using a gravel bike on sure trails. We frequently hear how mountain bikes are so good now they dumb down trails that had been as soon as troublesome or thrilling. Might gravel bikes fill that area, delivering a fair sooner and extra thrilling experience than the perfect XC bikes, masking extra floor and with much less effort?

XC Vs gravel bike

Jamie nervously eyes up a small pebble within the nook, whereas Al on the hardtail buzzes his again wheel

Bike firms are sensible too, it’s not a coincidence that gravel bikes now have a number of the parts that make mountain bikes nice. Suspension, disc brakes, squidgy tyres. We’ll get to that subsequent, however we wouldn’t be shocked if the hole between the 2 disciplines was smaller than we first thought.

Gravel using can be one of many greatest progress markets for bike gross sales in Europe. Bucking the pattern of declining gross sales following the post-Covid slowdown, gravel bike volumes had been up 8% in 2022 from the earlier 12 months, in keeping with the Bicycle Affiliation. And so they’re up an enormous 59% since 2019. This prompts the query, is there one thing we’re lacking out on?

XC Vs gravel bike

Drop bars are nice for aerodynamics and masking 100 miles within the saddle, however they will’t compete with a large, flat bar for steering management off-road

The bikes

Step ahead two bikes from Specialised, designed to cowl floor as rapidly as attainable however with barely other ways of going about it. 

Each use a full carbon body, however the Diverge STR Professional hase one thing Spesh calls Future Shock delivering 30mm of rear journey and 30mm on the entrance. Suspension then, however nothing like on a mountain bike, the place the wheels are suspended from the body – right here it’s the rear triangle that strikes, that means you’ll solely get the rear-wheel benefit when sat on the saddle.

XC Vs gravel bike

The Diverge gives some rear suspension, so long as you’re sitting down

The Epic Hardtail Comp in the meantime has a traditional suspension fork within the form of the RockShox Reba RL, and a hard and fast rear finish. It’s additionally utilizing a full-carbon body. When it comes to geometry the Epic has a slacker head angle and an extended wheelbase, which ought to assist it out when descending. It’s heavier too, however not by a lot, however with its heavier wheels and larger quantity tyres it’s sure to go slower on the climbs.

XC Vs gravel bike

Related diameter wheels, however the mtb has double the tyre width

Each bikes have disc brakes with 160mm rotors, besides the Epic’s entrance wheel which will get a 180mm disc. The bikes have knobbly tyres, the distinction being the Diverge makes use of a 700×42 tyre and the Epic 29×2.35in – identical circumference then, however the gravel bike’s rubber is lower than half the width.

The stats

Epic Hardtail Comp (Massive) Diverge STR Professional (56cm)
Head angle 68.5° 72.0°
Seat angle 73.1° 72.6°
Efficient SA @770mm 75.1° 68.0°
BB peak 307mm 269mm
Chainstay 428mm 421mm
Entrance centre 722mm 628mm
Wheelbase 1140mm 1049mm
Down tube 720mm 627mm
Attain 455mm 392mm
Weight 10.62kg 9.94kg
XC Vs gravel bike

The gravel bike had a transparent benefit on the climb, however the {smooth} floor and gradual gradient performed in its favour

The check

I selected the mellowest path I might consider, with mostly-smooth terrain and a gradual gradient solely damaged by a small climb within the center. It’s precisely the path we had been using 20 years in the past on bikes most likely shorter, steeper and better than the gravel bike right here right now. On this manner I’d hoped to tilt the check within the gravel bike’s favour, and thereby overcome my pure bias in the direction of MTBs. Getting again up was through a gradual fireroad climb, I metered my efforts right here to maintain issues honest by sticking to a 140-bpm coronary heart fee. I used an A-B-A testing sample, with two runs on the Diverge, 4 on the Epic, then two extra on the gravel bike.

As anticipated, the Diverge constantly beat the Epic on the climbs, letting me pedal up 6% sooner and shaving 30 seconds off the time. Descending was much more fascinating although, the Epic eviscerated the Diverge’s instances by a median of 9% sooner, or 20 seconds.

XC Vs gravel bike

On the descents it was the hardtail WAY out in entrance, being a lot sooner AND rather more enjoyable and confidence-inspiring

Rider impressions

Each bikes felt actually adept on the climbs and carried nice momentum. The gravel bike felt the perfect, with a stretched out however comfy seated place, and the Specialised design really cossetted you higher than the Epic’s fastened again finish. In distinction the Epic tended to bounce when pedalled onerous by rocks or bumpy elements.

The Diverge felt lighter and rolled extra simply, and when the Epic’s flip got here spherical this made us inadvertently push more durable, most likely to match the pace of the Diverge. I used to be always having to verify my coronary heart fee and tone it down. The gravel bike was barely over geared although, with a 40t chainring a little bit of a stretch on the steepest a part of the climb, to the Epic’s 34t.

Happening was a unique story, the Epic felt rather more steady, simpler to take care of momentum and push for pace. Most significantly, I might pump the bike into the path free of charge pace, bunnyhop over obstacles extra successfully, and take extra abuse with out being shaken off. In distinction the Diverge will get attached on all the things going, stalls on all however the flattest sections of path. It feels quick however actually that’s as a result of there’s simply a lot occurring.

XC Vs gravel bike

No prizes for guessing who’s having essentially the most enjoyable right here

What we came upon

The very first thing to notice is simply how onerous it’s to regulate a motorbike when you possibly can’t get your saddle out the way in which and distribute your weight correctly. This is applicable to each bikes in fact, which each have fastened saddle heights, however the gravel bike is doubly affected as a result of the slender bar means you possibly can’t transfer your weight round on the entrance both. This was one of many greatest differentiators between the bikes, and which in the end meant I might descend sooner on the Epic.

Using a gravel bike is a nervous expertise, and I don’t simply imply for me as a relative beginner to the concept. Trip the bike downhill together with your fingers on the hoods and it looks like one sudden root or rock might snatch the bars out of your fingers. Switching to the drops means you received’t lose your handhold, however with its tiny attain your weight is just too far over the entrance and going over the bars is feels a definite risk. The intelligent rear suspension is rendered ineffective while you’re stood up and descending too.

XC Vs gravel bike

The gravel bike was a white knuckle experience when the path was remotely technical

The mountain bike felt a lot sooner, and naturally it proved so too. The mixture of larger quantity tyres, a suspension fork with superior damping and higher geometry and parts designed for using within the assault place made the distinction.


The decision then is that the Diverge is nice for hearth roads and proved sooner and (surprisingly) extra comfy than the Epic when climbing. It’s additionally higher and sooner than anticipated on {smooth} and gradual singletrack descents, placing in respectable instances. Quick it may be, nevertheless it’s a white knuckle experience and I felt manner out of my consolation zone. Something greater than the smoothest of mellow trails, and the Epic eats its lunch, as anticipated.

There are some actually essential takeaways from this little check then. First is that it’s so essential to get the correct bike for the paths you experience. An all hearth street experience would have seen the Diverge ace the check, whereas chunkier singletrack would have confounded each bikes. Second, bike setup is as essential because it’s ever been, and getting the correct tyre stress and saddle peak made a world of distinction to how each bikes rode. Lastly, and irrefutably, mountain bikes are higher than gravel bikes. The tip.