The Karakoram is a good looking, well specced, smooth riding 29er at a great price. It's a little heavier than the average 26in-wheeled mountain bike at this price, and you can feel that in acceleration and on climbs. But fast tyres, a good suspension fork and some very classy finishing touches all help to boost performance in other areas. Its aesthetics also make it stand out from the crowd – important in a market where so many bikes look so similar.
Ride & handling: Easy rolling feel with comfort and stability on difficult terrain
You can’t get away from the fact that bigger wheels, a longer fork and slightly more frame metal are usually going to make a 29er a bit heavier than a 26er at about the same price. But to be honest the only time we noticed the GT's nearly 30lb (13.6kg) weight was on long climbs.
Elsewhere, the smooth-rolling confidence, stability and noticeable extra comfort of the long wheelbase and bigger wheels seemed to boost speed on most trails. Responses felt sluggish on slow technical terrain, but as speed increases, comfort and confidence get a boost and you end up throwing caution to the wind, much as you would on a short-travel suspension bike.
The high profile and easy roll of the Kenda Small Block Eight 2.1in tyres is forgiving enough to let you run them softer than you would on a 26er, with no added pinch puncture risk. The RockShox Recon Silver TK fork doesn’t offer as much bump confidence as a pricier fork like a Reba does, but it’s excellent on a bike at this price.
The Karakoram's geometry is spot on – even the small size makes a 29er option accessible to shorter riders without obvious downsides. We love its subtle looks and its easy roll, comfort and stability on difficult terrain. Overall, it's a superb introduction to big-wheelers. It’s not much heavier than an average 26er around this price and makes up for its weight by taming the trail and feeling more confident on tough terrain.
Frame: Good looking with plenty of mud room
The Karakoram’s metallic paintjob is nicely complemented with graphics that almost vanish in certain light conditions. We really like the gold parts detailing too. There are lots of interesting tube shapes here. The frame material is 6061 heat-treated aluminium and GT’s distinctive triple triangle configuration sets it apart from the rest.
The radically hydroformed top tube is effectively an ovalised triangle, the down tube is almost coffin shaped and both are biaxially ovalised at the ends to create big weld contact areas into the bottom bracket and seat tube for extra strength and rigidity. The seat tube passes through the capped end to the top tube and there’s an extra reinforcement gusset under the down tube in front of the bottom bracket shell.
A ring-reinforced head tube is short enough to stop the front end from looking lanky and the rear triangle is compact enough to feel tight under sprinting pressure while still offering lots of mud room – not something you can take for granted on a big-wheeler.
Equipment: Well specced and the RockShox Recon fork is a bargain
The RockShox Recon Silver TK fork is air-sprung, and easy to set up to produce a plush well controlled 100mm (3.9in) of travel. The rebound damping on the bottom of the right-hand leg is effective, as is the top-of-leg lockout switch, which still leaves a small amount of compression movement for unexpected bumps.
The only significant downgrade to make room for the better-than-average fork is the basic Shimano crankset and bottom bracket. It shifts as well as a more upmarket crankset but cheapens the overall appearance of the bike and adds some weight. A SRAM X7 rear mech and X5 shifters worked perfectly and the Shimano brakes performed powerfully enough after a short bedding-in period.
The wheels were nicely built, with tough Alex TD24 rims and GT own-branded hubs. The efficient quick-release skewers have gold levers to match the detail elsewhere. 2.1in Kenda Small Block Eight treads roll fast and boost comfort, but don’t expect them to be great in the mud. Most testers liked the WTB Silverado saddle, but some found it too skinny on rough terrain.
The 27.5in GT flat bar boosts control and stability in speed trail situations but without the generously angled back sweep of a typical riser bar, some riders found it awkward on low-speed technical terrain. The short stem, 72-degree static seat angle and inline GT seatpost prevent the long (23.25in) top tube from feeling too stretched.