Are you a mountain or road biker who is thinking of getting into gravel riding? A common question we are often asked is, “What makes a gravel bike so different from a road bike or XC mountain bike?” Well, to answer that question for you, we invited Niner athlete Dylan Johnson to enlighten us with some expertise on the topic.
Hey Dylan, thanks for helping us today with this question! First off, how is a gravel bike different in comparison to an XC or road bike? Wouldn’t it just be a CX bike?
Gravel bikes are not the same as cyclocross bikes. CX bikes are designed for cyclocross racing with steeper angles and higher bottom brackets. The geometry of a gravel bike is designed for stability and comfort on gravel roads so they're generally longer and a bit slacker. Since gravel rides and races can also turn into all-day or even multi-day adventures gravel bikes often come equipped with mounting options for extra bottles, fenders, racks, lights, etc. making them extremely versatile.
That makes sense! How does a gravel bike ride versus a road bike?
A gravel bike is far more forgiving over rough roads or gravel than a traditional road bike. While you can ride a road bike on gravel after a couple of miles you'll probably start to regret the decision as you get constantly jarred by the uneven surface. All of that vibration may make you feel like you are riding fast but in actuality, smoother is usually faster, you shouldn't be able to feel every minute bump in the road. Gravel bikes are not only more comfortable over gravel but also generally more comfortable over long distances.
Gotcha. Do you think gravel riding is really that different?
Gravel riding isn't terribly different to road riding but there are some key things to be aware of. Tire selection and tire pressure become much more important while riding gravel. For example, the RLT9 RDO comes with clearance for up to 50mm tires with 700c wheels and up to 2.0s with 650b wheels. This is important because you're going to want much wider tires than you would typically run for road. Bike handling skills do become more important on gravel but it doesn't take too long to get used to the feeling of riding on gravel. Gravel races tend to have a different atmosphere to most road races in that they are often longer and have fewer categories (open as opposed to cat 5-1) so the races are much more about reaching a personal goal or achievement than beating the riders around you. Even if you don't race, gravel riding is often more about the adventure and finding new areas to ride that you may have never known existed.
That’s pretty cool! Seems like it can cater to both road and mountain riders. Would you say a gravel bike can lead to more types of adventures?
Absolutely, you can take a gravel bike on anything from a road ride to light mountain biking opening you up to a wider range of rides. You can ride on the road to the trailhead and then do a quick mountain bike loop, you can explore new gravel roads, or you can just stick to the pavement all on the same bike. The different mounting options means that you can easily set your gravel bike up for all-day riding and touring.
Seems like gravel riding is here to stay! So, why do you ride Niner gravel bikes and what makes them special?
Niner nails everything that I talked about in the previous answers. The RLT9 and MCR9 have gravel-specific geometry that's a little longer and slacker and come with seemingly endless mounting options so that you can configure their gravel bikes how you want. You also have the option to run 700c wheels or 650b wheels with wider tires. From a versatility standpoint, you can't beat it. If you are a gravel racer, then the RLT9 RDO is Niner's lightweight carbon offering perfect for tackling races like Dirty Kanza, Mid South, Steamboat gravel, or whatever other gravel events you have on your calendar. The MCR9 RDO bridges the gap between mountain and gravel bikes offering front and rear suspension for particularly rough gravel or hitting single track.
Great points, thanks for talking with us today, Dylan!
You can follow Dylan’s adventures on Instagram @dylanjawnson and on his YouTube channel, Dylan Johnson!