"Gravel bikes are just 90s MTBs"

Yup. I definitely overshot you there.

‘Don’t worry little guy, you’ll get there’ - I must harden up… :muscle:

Is this a bicycle “connoisseurs” discussion?


Anyone who calls themselves a “connoisseur” of anything is automatically banned from gravel riding.

Besides which, connoisseur denotes having knowledge of a subject, and we’re all more clueless about gravel biking having read this thread than we were before.


I thought mountain bikes grew out of modified cruisers (hence the 26" wheel) and then touring bikes (cantilever brakes)? Mountain bikes in the 90’s all had rack and fender mounts, sometimes even the racing models - a nod from touring bikes.

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Does it all matter?

90s MTB’s are not available in stores anymore. But people currently have a need for such bikes, or see something in it.

And now the industry is giving people again what they want. (Of course, with all marketing blah-blah included, and with neglecting other segments, but that’s how it goes.)

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That’s a name I’ve not heard in a while! #nostagliaisn’twhatitusedtobe

Good to see you here, Ben. :rofl:

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Its funny to see this topic in seemingly every forum.

I don’t view my gravel bike as a 90s mtb. I chose a frame that would get close to the geometey of my most often used road bike, but fit wider tires.

Gravel roads are still roads, so a wider tire road bike works great.

Others use their gravel bike as an underbike option on singletrack so cool- that may be an example where some gravel bike geometry is similar to 90s mtb.

Actually, your post makes me think the bike marketing companies have maybe missed a trick here; only a couple of companies have really “leaned in” to the whole “gravel bike = 90s MTB” idea (Specialized retro-painted some Diverges for Unbound and… that’s it…?) so it’s a bit of a surprise that more of them haven’t tried to jump on the Retro bandwagon with some 90s paint jobs and resurrecting some old model lines.

I think a lot of people’s issues seem to stem from the term ‘gravel bikes’. How many people regularly ride their MOUNTAIN bikes on actual mountains (I’m aware some do), maybe a more descriptive term would be ‘Big hill bike’. Either way, it’s just a catch-all description that doesn’t actually make any difference to how or where you ride.

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I don’t think I agree that gravel bikes are “just 90s MTBs”, but I never seriously rode a 90s MTB, so I don’t want to press the point. I can definitely agree with the bit I quoted. You can definitely classify bikes this way. The phrase “all road” bike may originate with Jan Heine, who certainly marches to his own drummer, but it does seem to be getting more widespread. When someone says “all road”, I tend to think of tarmac, dirt roads, and dirt roads with light gravel. I’m thinking mostly up to grade 3 in the Cyclingtips classification, maybe with a few short sectors of grade 4.

I was using the term back in the late 90’s (at least internally). I kept talking / half-joking about doing an “all road” or “free road” bike when “all mountain” and “Freeride” bikes were the rage in MTB.

Take a CX bike, slap a Rock Shox Ruby fork on it, and add a suspension seatpost. If there had been a canti brake option for the Ruby, I probably would have done it, but it was caliper brake only.

I was a man ahead of my time. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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Drop bars and road-ish geometry (and better everything, from gears, brakes, tires, saddles, wheels, everything really compared to the 90ties) make all the difference for me.

While road is my primary affliction, my gravel bike is sexy in a way 90ties MTBs just aren’t. That said, I did build it on a cross bike frame to get a more road-like geometry than the typical gravel bike. It opens up a lot of offroad routes which aren’t technically challenging MTB terrain in a road bike like package and that’s the selling point for me.

Plus, I built mine for commuting and the like, saves wear on the road bike and no need to carry road shoes in my backpack.

About a year ago I observed pretty much the same thing you did, although I substituted old touring bike instead 90s MTB. There were also some who adamantly disagreed.

Now, I have both a 700c 80s Tourer and a 90s 26’er and, guess what, they do pretty much all that modern gravel bikes do. That is, they comfortably take you where modern gravel grinders go with their fatter tires and slack geometry. Do they do it is as my modern hardtail equipped with a dropper post and hydraulic brakes? No. But the difference is one of degree not kind.

Which is to say the modern gravel grinder is a contrived category. These days, the profit imperative, abetted by marketing departments, is really subdividing the experience of cycling thinly. We have cyclocross, gravel grinder, hybrids, urban hybrids, performance hybrids, etc. etc. Often the only difference is a couple of degrees of head-tube and a flat bar.

So when I pack up the bike and head down a gravel path for the horizon I’m still apt to be riding a thirty year old bike and not missing anything by it.

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Yeah, all those evil marketers giving people bikes they want to ride.




I think the French expression “Velo Tout Terrain” is a more accurate name for what Anglophones call a Mountain Bike, and thus, an “All-Road Bike” is probably a better description for what we call a gravel bike, being a transitional step between Road and Off-Road.

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Yeah I agree. I know there’s a few UK manufacturers (mason, Reilly) who tend to avoid using the term ‘gravel’ when describing their bikes - probably also result of the lack of actual gravel over here.

Appreciate I’m being pedantic here but if people are going get so hung up on labels…

The wildest thing about this thread is how many people apparently never rode a 90’s MTB… or a modern gravel bike.

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I don’t think most people make the 90s comparison unless you start talking about flat bar gravel bikes. As others have said, the bike industry likes to pump a lot of hyperbole so I’m sure that a lot of the negative reaction is more due to the industry seemingly trying to make flat bar gravel its own distinct thing wherein they seem to be mostly longer versions of hybrids with better tire clearance. Not inherently a bad thing but to me if I’m going to sacrifice the position, aerodynamics, and on road feel of a drop bar gravel bike because I want something better off-road then I think I’d just use a light hard tail XC MTB. I’ve seen guys who are way way better bike handlers than I using their gravel bikes on the MTB trails that I float down on a XC bike with a slack HT angle and yeah they can do it but it always looks like a lot of work with not that much fun. I’ve raced CX and ridden gravel on my HT and whilst not as fast and at times feeling a bit agricultural as long as you have the saddle in a good position and you’ve got enough chainring you can still have a lot of smiles and go quite quickly (my club used to have a cat 1 XC racer that would very often do the 70 mile B ride on his FS race bike sans issue granted we lived in a flat area).

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