Gravel Bike VS Hardtail Mountain Bike

At Westbrook Cycles, we have seen an incredible increase in the numbers of people enquiring, buying and enjoying riding Gravel Bikes. Bikes such as the Topstone have done an incredible amount for this category of bike, with clever features such as dual suspension and electric Topstone variants.

In this post, we look at Gravel Bikes in further detail - as well as listing some of what we see as the pros and cons of buying and riding a gravel bike, and whether a gravel bike belongs in your collection, or whether you are best off just sticking with a hardtail mountain bike. Occasionally, there are a few jokes in the office about gravel bikes just being revised versions of old mountain bikes. In this post, we also consider whether or not the best gravel bike is actually a hardtail mountain bike, or a specific gravel bike.

Drop Handlebars VS Flat Handlebars

One of the most obvious differences between a gravel bike and a mountain bike, is the distinction between drop handlebars, which are found and used on gravel bikes - VS flat handlebars which are used on mountain bikes. Although it’s possible to cross these handlebars over, it’s unusual.

Drop handlebars are used on gravel bikes, because gravel bikes are designed to travel on smoother surfaces at higher speeds. They provide more hand positions, which means a more comfortable, and a more aerodynamic choice for gravel bike riders. Drop Handlebars also make the bike more versatile, with different riding positions suiting both on road and off road cycling.

These handlebars are also narrower than flat handlebars, useful for races and competitions. Flat handlebars, found on mountain bikes for example, provide different levels of performance. Flat Bars are wider to provide more stability across off road terrain, and this wider position makes it easier for mountain bikes to navigate rough terrain and downhill trails. This also gives a more upright riding position, which is a disadvantage for those looking for a sleek riding position for maximum attack on smooth surfaces.

Tyre Clearance

Gravel Bikes have wider tyres than road bikes, as well as cyclocross bikes. Wide tyres are needed for gravel performance, and some of the most recent gravel bikes rolling off production can accommodate tyres up to 50mm, these wider and larger tyres provide comfort and traction across a range of off road terrain.

Although these tyres are wider than ever before, gravel bike tyres are still narrower than mountain bike tyres - with mountain bike tyres having more weight and rolling resistance, but also the highest possible levels of comfort and grip. Gravel Bike Tyres provide a blend of off road and on road performance, whilst mountain bike tyres specialise in handling tricky and rough terrain.

Gravel Bike VS MTB Suspension

Suspension has become a defining feature of the modern mountain bike, with front forks and rear shocks being fitted to full suspension mountain bikes, and just front forks being fitted to hardtail mountain bikes. Suspension is used for a variety of purposes, on big hitting full suspension downhill bikes - which need suspension to smooth out jumps and obstacles on a track, across to suspension forks on hardtail mountain bikes which are there to make a ride more supple and comfortable.

Gravel Bikes have rigid forks, although some gravel bike forks do have a small amount of suspension travel, to iron out bumps and rough terrain.


It’s no surprise to learn that gravel bikes have gearing that allows the rider to travel for longer distances, at higher speeds whereas mountain bikes have easier gearing which is designed for ascents and descents. You can customise your gearing and chainsets around your exact requirements, but most needs are catered for when bikes are purchased ‘out of the box’.

Gravel Bike VS MTB Comfort

Although it’s easy to attribute the comfort of a mountain bike to the tyres used on the bike, most of the comfort when travelling on fire roads and gravel tracks, comes from the tyres on the bike. This means that the larger tyres on a mountain bike are more comfortable when crossing terrain over gravel tyres. That being said, gravel tyres provide ample levels of comfort for their light off road use, but if you are travelling across roots and obstacles - you would be best off with a mountain bike. Gravel bikes offer pretty comfortable ergonomics, although the more upright position of a mountain bike is hard to beat for comfort levels.

Gravel Bike VS MTB Speed

Speed is a difficult one to measure these bikes on, because both excel in different areas - gravel bikes are faster across smoother terrain, whilst a hardtail mountain bike will be quicker across more challenging terrain. It’s safe to say though, that gravel bikes will always get up to speed, and maintain speed quicker than a mountain biker - they are lighter, more aerodynamic and have less rolling resistance.

Choosing between Gravel Bike & MTB

Choosing between the two depends on a number of factors, and most of the time - this depends upon exactly what terrain you have around you. If you have several miles of fire roads and paved roads - a gravel bike is perfect, especially if you ride along country roads as well. If you want to ride hard off road, especially with a group of other riders on mountain bikers, you will find yourself very quickly outclassed by mountain bikes as soon as the trails become technical, so we would recommend choosing a MTB. Of course, the best option is to own both!