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Gravel Bike v Mountain Bike - which is better.

A Warsash Cycles investigation...

Gravel biking is becoming huge in the U.K. but isn’t that just mountain biking with dropped bars. What is the difference and which is really better?

The bikes:

Gravel Bike: Ribble CGR SL - carbon frame, no suspension with 1x11 SRAM, and 650b wheels with 47mm tyres - RRP £2800

Mountain Bike. Lapierre Zesty - carbon frame, full suspension, 1x11 SRAM and 650b wheel set with 50mm tyres - RRP £5200

The riders.

Gravel Bike: Simon - 53 year old bike nut who runs Warsash Cycles - Experience: Took a MTB to 5400m in the Himalayas and tens of thousands of off road and road miles.

MTB: Matt - 52 year old super fit trail runner who rides both road and off road - Experience: Ridden the Old Ghost Road in New Zealand, London to Paris, Coast to Coast and much more.

The route: Basingstoke to Warsash via Alresford, Cheriton, Warnford and Wickham. 90% off road inc. forest tracks, bridleways, farm tracks, byways and asphalt.

So, a train to Basingstoke, masks and then through the town centre and on the road out and over the M3.

The off road route starts with a restricted byway. It’s a bumpy up & down rutted track. The mountain bike excels, the gravel bike suffers. Simon decides the tyre pressures are to great. Having 650b x 47mm tyres the pressures can be run fairly low so a drop to about 20 psi improves things dramatically.

A quick but narrow up hill bridleway shows the Ribble in its true glory, loosing the Lapierre on acceleration quite dramatically. However the next down hill section was won again by the MTB.

We hit some farm tracks and the gravel bike comes alive again. Fast smooth and enormous fun especially with the lower pressures but every time the going gets tough the Frenchman takes over.

Hitting Alresford, we’re on the road for a short period which is where the MTB struggles. But soon it’s back in the tracks and trails and it’s the same cat and mouse of uphill Ribble king and down hill Lapierre dictatorship.

After a stint on the South Downs Way that is fun on both bikes we hit the Wickham railway line. Here the Ribble dominates. It’s fast, easy, comfortable and just works.

Wickham for a pint and then some road, tracks and “trails to Warsash”

So what have we concluded for our experiment? These trips are great fun and a gravel bike or MTB will suffice. The MTB copes with everything but doesn’t like the road. The gravel bike doesn’t like the down hill and even though Simon has ridden a MTB through the Himalayas, the Ribble, with no suspension, did not like rough down hill terrain, however, it trumped most other surfaces. Matt and Simon discusses their experience in depth over a few pints at the Nook and Cranny after the ride and the real conclusion was that both are great in equal measures but on different terrain and on this trip, they held their own against each other. Add more hills such as the Sussex part of the South Downs and the MTB wins. Add more hard pack, smooth up hills such as the New Forest and the gravel bike wins. So in this test, it is a even draw.

Warsash Cycles - Bringing the adventure to you - Available for servicing, repairs and parts -

Call Simon on 07565 996846

Thanks to Matt for joining in my stupid adventures. Keep an eye out for our “Trails to Warsash”

series on Facebook.

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