Times are tough for practitioners of the little queen. Firstly because the shortages greatly complicate the task of those who are in the middle of thinking about their acquisition, and secondly, you will have noticed it… because a bicycle is horribly expensive! Some will say that they have become more expensive than a motorcycle, and we will gladly agree with them. So before investing, everyone weighs the pros and cons, goes through online tests, feedback, compares models, tries in store and tries to form a decisive opinion before an expensive order that they should not be regretted, whether it is done online or at a “bike shop”.
Unfortunately, manufacturers do not make it easy for cyclists to multiply varieties of bikes, in the same way that car manufacturers are multiplying bodies (SUV, coupe SUV, Crossover, raised sedan, compact, etc.).
VTC, MTB (in which we find enduro, trail, cross country, all mountain, downhill and other fun things), road, “utility” (cargo), commuter (vélotaf), cyclocross, gravel …. Phew, let’s catch our breath.
To go on an adventure by bike, the choice is therefore complex, but there are still two categories with characteristics suitable for travel. Let’s just take a look at their advantages and disadvantages, just to enlighten you before making the right choice, according to your profile, your background and your desires!
As a preamble to this comparison, be aware that the following two categories now exist at the same time in electric, and muscular (without assistance). The difference will obviously be the price, but also the weight and the constraint of recharging the battery, especially if you plan to leave for several days in relative autonomy. Be careful, therefore, to take this “detail” into account!
Adventure and bikepacking with a mountain bike
Semi-rigid (single suspension at the front) or fully suspended (rear shock absorber and suspended front fork), mountain biking is one of the sectors that has developed the most in recent years in the middle of the cycle. Born in the 1970s in California, the “mountain bike” now monopolizes colossal investments by industry giants (Giant, Trek, Specialized, Canyon, etc.), to the point that they have become true jewels of technology and of research.
And that doesn’t just benefit the wealthiest: progress trickles down to the most accessible ranges. The hydraulic disc brake, the tubeless tires, the quality suspensions, it is quite possible to afford a mountain bike that is pleasant to handle, comfortable and durable for budgets that we will describe as “relatively reasonable”.
But are they suitable for adventure, solo, with the family or as a couple? Largely, yes. Comfortable and raised position, tires generally more resistant (with the possibility of being “tubeless”, without inner tube), suspensions which absorb shocks, transmission adapted to steep climbs, the mountain bike is the ideal ally of the adventurer. But all is not rosy: the other side of the coin is greater maintenance compared to a gravel, caused in particular by the revision of the fork and the shock absorber. If you don’t feel able to do it yourself (video tutorials exist on the most famous video platform), a visit to a bike dealer or maintenance specialist will be mandatory, and the costs can quickly mount! Be careful, therefore, to take this parameter into account. Just like a distribution kit on a car, a fork overhaul must be done at certain (fortunately distant) deadlines.
The other disadvantage of mountain biking compared to gravel, is that it has no attachment points for saddlebags on the frame or the fork, and that the very design of the frame (geometry, presence of a shock absorber) limits the space available in the central triangle for board the tent, the coat, the picnic and all the equipment. There is always the possibility of adapting, but it is less practical.
Advantages of mountain biking in bikepacking
- Comfort (bigger tires, suspensions, raised position)
- Ability to drive in difficult conditions thanks to the large tire clearance
- Tires (in general) more resistant
- Easier speeds
- Particularly suitable for “mountainous” use (even if it passes very well on flat profiles)
Disadvantages of mountain biking in bikepacking
- Generally no hook up points for gear and bags
- More rigorous maintenance required, especially in full suspension (bearings, shock absorbers, etc.)
- Width of the handlebar (handlebar) which can be a problem on certain narrow trails
- Less suitable for road and rolling portions
Our selection of mountain bikes
For small budgets
Orbea Lauffey H30 (€1399) : in appearance, it is a hardtail mountain bike like any other. But you will probably have noticed the more “slopping” geometry (straight saddle, “leaning” front of the bike) which allows you to benefit from a more raised position, and to have more fork travel. The Lauffey is pretty well equipped for the price, and has 11 fairly well-spaced gears. A good ally to face any type of terrain without asking too many questions.
To have fun
Giant Trance 29 (€2,300) : Giant produces its frames in Taiwan like almost all competitors. But Giant is one of the oldest players in the field. The American firm has extensive experience, and its distributor network is widespread in France. Good point, therefore, to have your bike serviced if you don’t want to or don’t know how to do it. The Trance 29 is an excellent do-it-all mountain bike, with a rather modern geometry and proven peripherals.
To break his life insurance
Scott Spark 900 Ultimate EVO AXS : at €13,990 retail price (no, that’s not a mistake), it’s better to get what you pay for. Can’t see the damper? Normal, it is hidden in the frame! This gives a hell of a clean look to this machine made mostly of carbon. For the rest, it’s very (very) top-of-the-range for a “featherweight” full-suspension mountain bike under 11 kg… in other words, nothing at all.
Gravel adventure and bikepacking
Take a Gravel, put a flat handlebar on it, and you’ve got a mountain bike like the pioneers knew it in the 70s. We’ve come full circle! Many have actually made fun of this somewhat bizarre trend of taking a rigid “road” frame (even if, in reality, the geometries differ) and sticking it with large studded tubes, mountain bike developments (gears made for climbing trees and grind) and disc brakes, but it is clear that the mayonnaise took. Today, gravel is more than a trend, it’s a discipline in its own right that has its own official world championship, organized by the UCI (International Cycling Union).
But why this enthusiasm? Simplicity, first. A Gravel is therefore a 100% rigid frame (even if some still try to confuse us, like Canyon which recently presented a Gravel with front suspension…), a relatively narrow road bike handlebar and large volume tires . The frame is often drilled in certain places to accommodate attachment points for loading equipment.
To fully understand the difference in philosophy between Gravel and MTB, simply think of the former as a Dacia Duster 4×4, and the latter as a Suzuki Jimny. The Duster will go perfectly on the road, but will be able to manage without worry in all terrain. The Jimny will be in its element as soon as mud and fords present themselves, but on the road, you will quickly feel that, even if it can do everything to chain the kilometers, it is definitely not its thing. … both are good at everything, but with each has its preferences for an area (road, or off-road).
Advantages of Gravel in bikepacking
- Less maintenance than a mountain bike (no suspension)
- Generally lower weight (although this varies)
- Narrower hanger (handy on some trails)
- Attachment points for equipment
- More efficient than a mountain bike on the road (you will spend less energy)
Disadvantages of Gravel in bikepacking
- Less comfortable than a mountain bike (less raised position, no suspensions)
- The “road” handlebar is not for everyone
- Will quickly show its limits on rough terrain
- Narrower tires, overall less stable bike
Our selection of Gravel
For small budgets
Decathlon Triban GRVL 520 (€1000) : for several years, one of the favorite companies of the French has been putting the package on the bike. Decathlon has therefore gradually developed road and mountain bike ranges before embarking on Gravel, with a very interesting offer. If there’s a €650 entry-level model out there, we’d recommend (finances permitting) going with the GRVL 520. A very well-equipped aluminum model for its price with a Shimano 105/SRAM Apex groupset that will never fail you. A very nice frame for beginners without having to worry, with a Decathlon network that will be able to help you in the event of a problem, but also for warranty coverage.
To have fun
Canyon Grail CF (from 2500 €) : you immediately spotted the funny “biplane” hanger of this Gravel Canyon. You will like it, or not, but it would offer the advantage of greater comfort, by partially decoupling the vibrations of the wheel thanks to the “double stage”. When you put your hands on the top of the handlebar, you are less affected by them, and benefit from greater comfort than on a classic handlebar. Well, that’s the theory. In practice, it is better to try (not easy with Canyon, exclusively online), but many forums and groups will be happy to help you (to get closer to an owner).
For the rest, it’s quite simply one of the best Gravel on the market at this price range.
To break his life insurance
Specialized Turbo Creo SL Expert EVO (8499 €) : sacred beast that this “Spe”! The motor (developed in-house) and battery assembly are so discreet that it almost doesn’t feel like an electric bike. However, this machine offers up to 65 km of autonomy, and only displays a little more than 12 kg on the scale (frame, wheels and carbon crankset, among others…). Exceptional figures for a Gravel that is still comfortable thanks to a mini suspension hidden in the stem. A beast of technology and research that can go even further thanks to a funny trick: an additional battery, which takes place like a can, on the frame. Neither seen nor known…