Can an MTB be used on gravel? (Explained For Beginners)

You decided to get a bicycle that allows you to ride off-road so that you can enjoy the beauty of your surroundings, getting the right bike is crucial because it will be very costly to remediate a wrong choice.

So if you get a mountain bike can you ride it on gravel?

You can definitely ride a mountain bike on gravel in fact mountain bikes are designed to handle much rougher terrains than gravel and due to the wide knobby tires, tough frames and components, and suspensions, they are the best choice for off-road riding.

In this article, I will tell you what are the advantages and disadvantages of using a mountain bike as a gravel bike and I will give you some basic tips for riding a mountain bike on gravel, so keep reading!

Is A Gravel Bike A Mountain Bike?

A gravel bike is not a mountain bike, it is a bike designed to be fast on smoother off-road conditions, on gravel, and on the tarmac. You can comfortably ride a gravel bike on a multitude of different surfaces and they offer you the possibility to tote extra biking gear and accessories (can be used for touring).

There are similarities between mountain bikes and gravel bikes but they are two different types of bikes that are designed for different types of riding.

Mountain bikes are designed with toughness and reliability in mind because the purpose of a mountain bike is to be able to conquer even the roughest of terranes, like forest trails, mountain trails, and rocky hills.

Can A Mountain Bike Be Used As A Gravel Bike?

Mountain biker on gravel
Mountain biker on gravel

Yes, a mountain bike can be used as a gravel bike but it will not have the same performance when riding on the road and uphill, they don’t offer you the same options for storage and you won’t have the possibility to change the type of grip on the handlebars on longer rides.

Because gravel bikes are equipped with thinner tires and are lighter than mountain bikes they are faster when riding uphill but are slower on the downhill portion of your ride.

One of the biggest differences between the two bikes are the handlebars, mountain bikes need to be maneuverable on tight mounted trails and need to be able to handle very tight corners without losing stability while gravel bikes are equipped with drop handlebars so you can change hands position on longer rides, this helps with the preventions of feeling sore hands after your ride.

Advantages of using a mountain bike as a gravel bike

Now let us explore the advantages that you will have if you use a mountain bike instead of a gravel bike to ride on gravel roads:

  • Traction: you will have better traction due to the wider tires.
  • Stability: the bike will feel more stable because you have wider tires and suspensions.
  • More comfort: your ride will be more comfortable because the suspensions will make it feel you are riding on a smooth surface.
  • Versatility: you can easily deviate from your gravel road to any trail needed by and there the bike’s maneuverability will make you conquer any obstacle.
  • More speed on descents: due to the bike suspension your wheels will not lose contact with the ground when you ride over uneven terrain so you will maintain more speed on descents.

All these advantages are great but in my opinion, the greatest advantage in using a mountain bike is that you have a bike that can do it all, you can ride it on gravel, on the road, and tackle the more technical mountain trails.

Disadvantages of using a mountain bike as a gravel bike

Using a mountain bike as a gravel bike has its drawbacks and I will tell you what they are:

  • Harder to ride uphill: gravel bikes are lighter and have no suspensions and these make them far better at riding uphill than mountain bikes and let us not forget that they are faster when riding uphill two.
  • Fewer storage options: gravel bikes are designed so that you can feat almost any bike storage accessory on the market (bike trunk, bags, etc.), when you are on trails you don’t need all these options and so mountain bikes aren’t designed with all these options in mind (for example: on full-suspension MTBs you cant mount a bike trunk).
  • Costlier to maintain: the suspensions on mountain bikes need regular maintenance to properly work, and this maintenance isn’t cheap.
  • Fewer handlebars grip options: gravel bikes are equipped with drop bards which allow you to change the type of grip on longer rides, being able to change the handlebars grip type will reduce the chance that you experience hand numbness after a ride.
  • Less speed on the road: because gravel bikes have no suspensions and thinner tires they are faster than mountain bikes on the road.

As you may probably know by now but still it’s worth mentioning that gravel bikes would be the best choice if the main reason why you want to buy a bicycle is to commute to work, and if you have many uphill portions on your commute then the choice can’t be more obvious.

But if you enjoy pushing yourself and you gain satisfaction in improving your skills then a mountain bike will give you the possibility to conquer the roughest of mountain trails.

How do you ride loose gravel on a mountain bike?

The main problem when you ride on loose gravel is the cornering and especially when you pick up some speed.

The most important factor here is body position and you really need to develop a feeling fortis, keep in mind that even the most experienced riders have moments when they lose traction on the front or on the rear wheel when cornering on loose gravel.

In these situations, it is very important to move your weight forward if you lose traction on the front wheel or backward if you lose traction on the back wheel.

It is important to let your bike be looser than when you are on dirt, don’t put force on your handlebars, and keep your body loose (don’t be stiff), keep your hips and shoulders looser so you can easily move from side to side.

One more important thing is not to pull the breaks hard, just feather them if needed, reduce the speed before you are cornering.

It is really hard to explain the correct body position in words so I encourage you to watch the video below, it is really good.

Ride loose turns


In the end, if you want to know which of the two types of bikes is for you it really comes down to personal preference because you can easily ride any type of terrain with a mountain bike.

But if you need a bike for touring or commuting longer distances then you may be better off with a gravel bike.

I started mountain biking many years ago to improve my overall health state. After my first ride, I fell in love with the sport. Now I spend dozens of hours a week researching and training to compete in local XC and Enduro events.