Gravel Bike vs Mountain Bike
Recently, our Content Lead, Chris, made the bold claim that gravel bikes might just be the best bikepacking bikes. Alice, who you will likely have spoken to if you’ve contacted our customer service team recently, disagrees and has taken over the Journal to explain why she’ll always pick a mountain bike over a gravel bike for bikepacking.
Originally from the Lake District, Alice grew up surrounded by arguably the most stunning mountain ranges in England and mountain biking was an obvious and natural progression of cycling. Being a keen explorer, she spent every opportunity searching for new adventures and bikes brought greater horizons. Her recent move to London has led to her discovering the joys of riding fixed in the city and exploring further afield by both road and gravel – but for bikepacking, her mountain bike will always be her first choice.
I don’t think of myself as a mountain biker. I’m a cyclist and I love every type of cycling. Force me to choose one bike for the rest of my life though and I’ll go straight back to my mountain biking roots – that irreplaceable feeling of shredding my favourite trails will always pull me back. Mountain biking is the ultimate adventure and expression of freedom that no other type of biking can give. You’re out there alone on your bike in the mountains with just your thoughts and endless singletrack to explore.
In every other form of cycling, it’s so easy to get caught up in the numbers. How far you’ve been. How fast you rode and how much power you put out that day. But with mountain biking, you’re liberated from the hold of performance data, it’s all about the experience in the moment. Dropping into gnarly descents, releasing the brakes and being rewarded with that loose back wheel. You don’t need to know how long you were descending for because that moment was worth it whether it was 100 metres or a mile. On a mountain bike, you leave everything else behind and with every second you experience something new, challenging and adventurous.
Chris argued that gravel bikes are about versatility. I argue that you should totally surrender yourself to the trail. Why compromise on that section of road where you just wish you had your road bike. Or that section of singletrack where you wish you had your slack geometry and long suspension. Versatility is functional and boring – and stops just short of what I crave: full submersion and freedom.
Mountain biking really is the art of being free. Every single ride is different. Each sharp steep climb, each rock, each root, all depends on which line you hit. I love being able to find new places and try new things that I didn’t expect to encounter. Like the rides where my hard grind up the hill leads to a hidden technical descent. Here I can reap the rewards and lean into the corners, hit send and get ready for the rush of adrenaline that’ll fuel the next uphill effort.
When I plan a trip, I never know what the trail might hold. All I know is that each pedal stroke will leave the chaos of the world further behind. Every trail is different for every person that rides it and every season can further change the trail’s very nature irrevocably. One day you can be fighting through a mud bath and the next you could be flicking up dust and floating over roots.
When I pack my bags ready to go on an adventure, I reach for my mountain bike. I don’t want to be distracted by the numbers on my road bike or have to turn back from a gnarly descent on my gravel bike. I want to seek that thrill of getting to the bottom of a descent and wondering how I’m still in one piece. I want to chase the feeling of reaching the top of an unrideable hill with legs like jelly. I want to roost on a berm whilst chasing the sunset. I want to discover that hidden bivvy spot, tucked away on the highest summit.
I’ll never look back on the rides I do on my mountain bike with regret about how I could have done better or tried harder because I will always get lost in the moment. And that is why any time I’m ready for an escape, I grab my mountain bike. It’s about the experience, not the numbers.