The Aggressor XCR is not available in the normal UK GT range; it's a oneoff you can only buy in Halfords stores. Presumably, with Kona and other big-name brands also selling through Halfords now, this is part of the plan to move their customer base more upmarket. Like Halfords' own Carrera Fury, our test bike came with a fork that's adjustable between 85-130mm (3-5in), although the U Turn adjustment on our Rockshox Recon test model didn't work, so we ended up using the fork from the Fury to make comparisons.
You can't confuse the distinctive GT frame profile with one from any other brand. The triple triangle - where the seatstays overlap the seat tube across to the top tube - and the elongated, pierced top tube may not be the hard-sell features they once were, but they always make a GT stand out from the crowd.
The Aggressor XCR has a big, hydroformed, bi-axially ovalised down tube which, together with the rigidity of the triple triangle back end and some substantial reinforcements to the head and top tubes, makes for a noticeably rigid frame that needs the softening effect of a good fork and big tyres.
Unfortunately, the frame geometry and the canti brake bosses on the seatstays of our test bike suggest the frame was designed before long travel forks came into the equation. A 66- degree static head angle is simply too slack for good steering responses, and the seat angle sits you way back towards the rear wheel axle - not good if you're trying to get the best out of the fork. Halfords tell us that the geometry of full production bikes will be steeper. Still, the Recon has all that a demanding rider would ever need in a mid-budget fork. The compression and rebound damping controls are excellent and the lockout lever comes in useful on climbs.
It's still unusual to see an XT rear mech and Truvativ's Firex outboard-bearing cranks on a bike at this price, especially one that has a decent fork. A Deore front mech and shifters make up the drivetrain's balance, and shifts were reliably precise throughout the test period.
The Hayes Nine hydraulic discs dish out powerful stopping performance, and the wheels are middleweight affairs with Alex's TD17 rims laced with black spokes to Shimano Deore hubs. They're hooped with a Tioga tread combo with a much fatter profile than their 2.1in stated size suggests - they're grippy, fast, and add a considerable amount of comfort at the back end.
The finishing componentry is fairly basic but tough GT-branded black-coated stuff: a 26in riser bar, long seatpost, reasonably comfy saddle and file pattern grips.
While the GT Aggressor's fork is very similar in performance to the RockShox Tora on the Carrera Fury, and good value on a bike at this price, the fact remains that a big range of fork travel is wasted on a frame that's not designed to tackle fast singletrack with most of that travel, minus sag, dialled in. Our test bike was at its best with the fork set at about 100mm, but the steeper geometry of production bikes should flatter the wider travel range.
Because the U Turn travel adjustment dial wasn't working, we borrowed the Tora fork from the Carrera for the test period. Slack geometry meant that the 130mm travel setting was only really of use on steep drops, and any setting over 100mm made for ponderous steering. Even with the fork at 100mm, we had the saddle right at the front of its rails to get enough weight forward to work the fork properly. We spent a couple of weeks testing the GT thinking someone hadn't really understood the dynamics of longforked cross-country hardtails, then Halfords told us that production bikes would have steeper geometry.
Weighing in at 13.7kg (30.25lb), the Aggressor is a bit of a bruiser. The frame is a pretty bombproof offering and the wheels, tyres and finishing parts can take a hammering without flinching. Steep, bumpy downhills are a breeze and the only time when the slack geometry has purpose, but the climbs are hard work; you'll be glad of a lockout lever on the fork. It's a pity our frame and fork didn't gel better, but at least it sounds like Halfords have got that sorted now.