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Anyone Successfully Ride Their Gravel Bike on Single-Track?

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Cyclocross and Gravelbiking (Recreational) This has to be the most physically intense sport ever invented. It's high speed bicycle racing on a short off road course or riding the off pavement rides on gravel like :The Dirty Kanza". We also have a dedicated Racing forum for the Cyclocross Hard Core Racers.

Anyone Successfully Ride Their Gravel Bike on Single-Track?

Old 09-15-20, 07:33 PM
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DarKris
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Anyone Successfully Ride Their Gravel Bike on Single-Track?

Long story short: my dedicated MTB got stolen, so I'm back at square one riding my gravel bikes for everything. I had a few trails that I would ride that I wouldn't consider doing on my gravel bike for fear of, well falling off down a cliff and dying x_x.

After a few changes to my Giant Toughroad (wider drop bars, 29" tires, 1x10), I've been considering trying it again on some trails granted I feel like I have more confidence/experience when it comes to bike handling off-road. The trails I typically ride are rooty and steep with not a lot of jumps/drops.

I was curious to see if anyone else has used their gravel bike for singletrack and see how relatively successful you were. When I say successful I basically mean being able to complete a loop/trail without having a major mechanical or other issue that made it impossible to ride.
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Old 09-15-20, 07:39 PM
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I ride my gravel bikes (geared and singlespeed) literally everywhere I used to ride my MTB's. This is SoCal mountains--steep, rooty, rocky, gnarly.
Granted, I was coming mostly from a rigid ss mountain bike so it wasn't that big a change--picking good lines, etc. Now, if you're a full sus mountain biker and used to just plowing over everything, the learning curve will be steeper.
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Old 09-15-20, 07:47 PM
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I do the same thing on my Warbird. Regularly ride all the trails I used to ride on a MTB. It has handled all of them without issue.

Dave
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Old 09-15-20, 08:08 PM
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I sold my mtb earlier this year because I didn't use it much at all. It didn't fit great and i didnt benefit from it on the singletrack I ride.

All the singletrack near me is twisty river bottom woods. It's flat, twisty, and heavily wooded so a slack mtb with absurdly wide bars that acts like a humvee isn't what i want. I prefer a nimble gravel bike with narrower bars that dont get stuck between trees.

Admittedly, I dont roll over trail logs like i could on my mtb. I can clear some, but not the larger ones. I'm ok with that.

If I ever find an mtb frame that is for the cost I want and has geometry that isnt super slack, ill build up something for singletrack with wider tires than my gravel bike. I doubt I'll be faster or have more fun.
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Old 09-15-20, 08:19 PM
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There is certainly a lot of singletrack that I'd much rather do on a mountain bike, but only the gnarliest trails just flat-out can't be ridden on a gravel bike. Choose the right tires, the right air pressure, and the right lines!
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Old 09-16-20, 03:46 AM
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I ride my gravel bike on MTB trails on a regular basis. It makes the same old trails that I've been riding for years into a new and challenging experience again. You can't just bomb down descents, so you have to be more aware of your line choice, but my gravel bike is actually faster up most of the climbs than my MTB.

A lot of the gravel events in my area include singletrack sections to link up different gravel roads. Some of them are pretty rocky/rooty trails and it quickly becomes obvious which riders are comfortable with riding their gravel bikes in those conditions.
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Old 09-16-20, 07:35 AM
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I ride my CX bike with 35mm Gravelking SK (tubeless!) on a lot of singletrack. because it's a lot lighter than my mtb, it climbs like a rocket and FLIES when the trail is relatively straight and the dirt is hard-packed. I have to slow to a crawl to pick my way through anything twisty or rocky, so I am selective about that routes I pick when I am out on this bike. I know my local trails well enough to know what technical, chunky trails are only fun on the mountain bike, and I avoid those on the CX. if the trail gets chunky at all, I feel the need to stay in the hooks of the handlebar. that's fine for short sections, but it gets painful after a while, which is an indication that I need a higher handlebar for that sort of thing.

Here's from last night's ride: 38/16 gearing and I rode some long hills. my average speed would be a lot faster, but all the twisty singletrack I chose slows me down a lot.
I am working on replacing this bike with a something that has room for bigger tires because the "pizza cutter" wheels just don't cut it when the trail gets rocky at all. it kind of kills the fun. I am hoping for 42-45mm tires for more of a "monster cross" feel. I need a new frame for that.
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Old 09-16-20, 07:53 AM
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All the time. I actually set a couple of PR’s on my Cutthroat because I could climb so much faster.



Salsa Cutthroat on the JFA trail in upstate SC.

Canyon Grail SLX 8.0 in Pisgah National Forest, NC.
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Old 09-16-20, 08:15 AM
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All the time. Iím doing our local mtb TT series on my CX bike. I canít bomb the downhills and I have to shoulder my bike through the rock gardens but I climb faster and roll the flat hard pack.

And I take my CX up to the lake and ride single track there all the time. This the Tahoe Rim Trail portion on the northside above Tahoe City.



Last edited by caloso; 09-16-20 at 09:39 AM.
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Old 09-16-20, 09:40 AM
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I love riding singletrack. My MTB hasnít gotten much love lately.

Observations
  • Iíll ride anything that is appropriate for a fully ridged bike
  • This opens up trails to me that I havenít ridden for years because they are too ďeasyĒ for a mountain bike.
  • My bike climbs like a goat, like it has a motor compared to a mtb. Downhills need a little more care
  • Obviously not gonna get big air, although my bike was designed for small jumps (<12Ē)
  • Its no fun if your drop bars get caught in a tree or a vine. ;-)
  • Iíve gotten pinch flats on 40mm tires (this will self seal with some help from a pump). Iíll go as big as I can on the front though usually 50mm or larger for me. Allows me a little more flexibility in picking my line.
  • Iíve got a short wheelbase and steepish HTA Ė this gives me a super agile bike for the twisty technical stuff, but obviously I really have to be on my game in the fast sweeping stuff. Doing single track at race speeds at 20-25mph gets kinda sketchy! ;-)

mack_turtle Ė Iíve solved that problem on other bikes just by changing the front fork for more clearance. Going larger up front will slacken the HTA, give you more trail (~10mm), and provide a little shock absorption.
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Old 09-16-20, 10:22 AM
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Originally Posted by chas58 View Post
mack_turtle – I’ve solved that problem on other bikes just by changing the front fork for more clearance. Going larger up front will slacken the HTA, give you more trail (~10mm), and provide a little shock absorption.
I can fit a 29x2 tire in my fork, but that's of no use when there's a limit of 35 in the rear. you could say "the front end writes checks that the back end can't cash" when you do that. personal experience with unrepairable tires in the trash can from slashes and severe pinches, always the rear, back this up. a skinny tire up front is actually preferable if I had to choose one or the other, because most of your weight is on the rear wheel and it's much easier to loft the front tire over and steer around tire-killing obstacles. the challenge is part of the fun but it stops being fun when you slice a tire wide open and have to walk 15 miles home—been there, done that. I tried modifying my frame and tried a 650b rear wheel with no luck. I am about to get a new frameset just for this reason. I enjoy riding a rigid, drop-bar bike on trails enough that it's well worth the cost at this point.

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Old 09-16-20, 01:02 PM
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I rode the local XC race series last year on my CX bike. Results were mixed: won one, had a DNF, some midpack finishes. I was planning to buy a MTB this spring just as everything shut down but I've put it off till next spring. All my buddies are telling me to get a FS, but I think a HT would be more my style.
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Old 09-16-20, 01:20 PM
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Originally Posted by DarKris View Post
I was curious to see if anyone else has used their gravel bike for singletrack and see how relatively successful you were.
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Old 09-16-20, 02:04 PM
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I can fit a 29x2 tire in my fork, but that's of no use when there's a limit of 35 in the rear. you could say "the front end writes checks that the back end can't cash" when you do that. personal experience with unrepairable tires in the trash can from slashes and severe pinches, always the rear, back this up. a skinny tire up front is actually preferable if I had to choose one or the other, because most of your weight is on the rear wheel and it's much easier to loft the front tire over and steer around tire-killing obstacles. the challenge is part of the fun but it stops being fun when you slice a tire wide open and have to walk 15 miles homeóbeen there, done that. I tried modifying my frame and tried a 650b rear wheel with no luck. I am about to get a new frameset just for this reason. I enjoy riding a rigid, drop-bar bike on trails enough that it's well worth the cost at this point.
Sounds like it wouldn't work for you, as you are probably getting those tires sliced up on the rocks around Austin.

But, it is my preferred way to ride. Did a practice race yesterday set up like that (50mm front, 38mm rear). Works great, as I can go low pressure in the front, and get all the flotation and bite and cush I need, while the low rolling resistance on the rear is giving me the lightness and speed I crave where it counts.

You are correct that there may be 50% more weight on the rear tire, so plan accordingly. That means that most of the rolling resistance is coming from the rear (especially on 1000+ watt accelerations). Personally, I have seat post & frame that are compliant enough where it does me no good to have a larger tire in the rear. Don't need it, wouldn't want it. Of course, if I hit something hard that is bigger than 40mm in size, I'm risking a pinch flat. I'd never ride a fatter tire on there rear on gravel. (although on a road bike with tires below 29mm I sometimes do for the reasons you mentioned)

Another way to look at it, is that no MTB is rigid front & sprung rear. A fat and low pressure front tire is somewhat akin to a front shock (with short travel, lol).
I'm kinda thinkin that if you are getting slashed tires, its not the size of the tire that is at fault - you need a beefier build. But if you are getting pinch flats - yeah, you need more.

Anyway, I'm just throwing an option out for people who don't feel the need to put mountain bike sized tires on front and rear.

Rear tires get the damage partially because the front throws up debris at them at awkward angles and partially because it carries more weight.
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Old 09-16-20, 06:28 PM
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Honestly, I suspect just about all of us that ride much gravel also do at least a little singletrack.
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Old 09-16-20, 07:17 PM
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Originally Posted by dwmckee View Post
Honestly, I suspect just about all of us that ride much gravel also do at least a little singletrack.
In my case, we don't really have "gravel" per se - we have rocky steep fire roads, and rockier singletrack. We go from pavement to that--one extreme to the other. I love it. I don't even own a MTB any more. I'm running 650B 47s on one bike and man, it's pretty shreddy! My other bike has 700c 40s, and that's certainly a different experience, just a different challenge. For singletrack on the gravel rig, I'm sold on 650B and as wide as I can get.

To the OP - your bike sounds dialed in - I'd say just get out there! It only took me a few rides to get used to descents in the drops. Now I really like that position for navigating down sketchy downhills. If you come upon anything too spooky just go slow, or walk that section.

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Old 09-16-20, 08:18 PM
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Originally Posted by caloso View Post
I rode the local XC race series last year on my CX bike. Results were mixed: won one, had a DNF, some midpack finishes. I was planning to buy a MTB this spring just as everything shut down but I've put it off till next spring. All my buddies are telling me to get a FS, but I think a HT would be more my style.
Trails must have been pretty buffed at the race you won. For me the main limitation when riding a cross bike on trails is you have very little margin for error in the rough stuff. Rocks or roots that would roll over without thinking about on a mountain bike can easily cause you to flat on a cross or gravel bike. Most cross-country trails are perfectly rideable on a cyclocross bike, you just have to go a lot slower and pick your lines a lot more carefully than you would on a MTB. Smooth and flowy trails are super fun on a cross or gravel bike, because you can really rip em up. Sadly, there arenít many of those in my neck of the woods.
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Old 09-17-20, 12:04 AM
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It really was. That was the least technical course of the whole season. Other weeks there were rock gardens that I just had to shoulder and run through, or rocky descents where FS bikes just bombed down while I was very slowly picking a line that wouldn’t result in a flat or me taking a header.
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Old 09-17-20, 08:12 AM
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Originally Posted by pbass View Post
In my case, we don't really have "gravel" per se - we have rocky steep fire roads, and rockier singletrack. We go from pavement to that--one extreme to the other. I love it....
Variety - we are just the opposite in the dry months (Summer/fall). Our gravel roads (during dry times of the year) are smoother than our paved roads. We chloride the sh*t out of everything around here. Unfortunately my last two rides were on roads that had just been chlorided - yuk! At least we should be good for a couple of months now...
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Old 09-17-20, 08:28 AM
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run what you brung

I like to ride to the trails, so depending on the trail and tires I have at the time.






ROTATE! I say ROTATE!!
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Old 09-17-20, 08:52 AM
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Like anything, it varies depending on terrain.
The majority of marked MTB singletrack trails around me are pretty smooth and fast, mostly flat and a ton of fun to ride on a CX bike. There are sections where I have to slow down and pick careful lines, where on an MTB I'd just bomb through, but almost everything is rideable on a rigid bike. I've never understood why people in my area ride these trails on long travel bikes. Even when I ride MTB, a 100mm XC bike is plenty.

The same cannot be said for areas out West. There are many MTB trails in Colorado, for instance, that would not be fun on a CX/Gravel bike and even an XC style MTB would be challenging.

It's also funny to think back to the late 70's, early 80's when I was a kid. I routinely rode hiking trails around my house on a 10 speed road bike. My buddies and I would build dirt jumps and practice tail whips off of them, bomb through mud and gravel, set up log jumps, etc. I remember taking my 10-speed road bike into the LBS with a taco'ed rear wheel when I was around 12-13 years old and asking the shop owner if they had any wheels that wouldn't bend when I took them off of dirt jumps. He showed me a new Specialized Rockhopper with a triple front crank and cantilever brakes, and I knew I had to have one. I came home with a repaired rear wheel and a MTB magazine, and started pestering my parents immediately for a new bike.
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Old 09-17-20, 12:23 PM
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Great thread! This really shows one of the problems discussing the gravel segment - some riders are on flat farm roads almost as smooth as pavement, and others are literally mountain biking. This is a much broader range than other cycling segments. Often people don’t stop to clarify what they’re riding before saying broadly “no one needs lower than 1:1 gearing” or “I can’t believe how few riders use dropper posts” etc.

I just rode the famous Flume Trail in Tahoe on my gravel bike and it was great. Very mild trail from a technical standpoint, with a lot of hard packed gravel road to get there, so honestly it’s perfect on a gravel bike. 100% of other bikes were MTBs, probably 80% full squish downhillers (ie LLS trail/enduro/etc). One MTBer said ‘wow bold choice” about the gravel bike, lol. I guess a lot of MTBers just live for the 1% of the ride that’s technical and just suffer on the 99% that’s spin/grind; I much prefer to enjoy the 99% and suffer or walk through the 1%. FWIW on aired-down 650x47s and dropper post, I was able to rip the downhills just fine

Of course there is plenty of singletrack that’s more like 50/50, and I’m not going anywhere near Downieville or Skeggs with the gravel bike. There is plenty of space for both
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Old 09-17-20, 03:52 PM
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Originally Posted by fourfa View Post
Great thread! This really shows one of the problems discussing the gravel segment
I agree and your Flume experience is a perfect example. Underbiking can make super boring trails more fun.

Originally Posted by fourfa View Post
I just rode the famous Flume Trail in Tahoe on my gravel bike and it was great. Very mild trail from a technical standpoint,
Yes, a gravel bike is more fun on the road climb to the Flume, the ho hum Flume itself (great views though)and on the wide loose forest road (Tunnel) back to Incline.

A gravel bike would be a lot less fun if you came in to the Flume from Mt. Rose on the TRT, if you came down Chimney Beach instead of the Flume/Tunnel, or if you skipped Tunnel and took Incline Flume to Tyrolean.

Horses for courses.
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Old 09-17-20, 04:13 PM
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Originally Posted by mrv View Post
I like to ride to the trails, so depending on the trail and tires I have at the time.
Geeze, last time I road maybury, I don't think mountain bikes had even been invented yet. I know shocks weren't...

(my first two "mountain" bikes (aka bikes with 26 x 2.125 tires) were really before mountain bikes were a thing, right msu2001la?).
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Old 09-17-20, 04:59 PM
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It's fun riding a gravel bike on singletrack. The mountain bikers wonder why we're riding road bikes LOL.

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