Occupying a slot in the middle of Ghost’s Kato full-suspension trail bike range, the FS 5 is the kind of bike that should have broad appeal. With 120mm (4.7in) of rear and 130mm (5.1in) of front wheel travel, Fox Float CTD air springs at both ends and a kit list that majors on Shimano Deore but throws in a smattering of XT stardust for good measure, it’ll tick a lot of boxes on a lot of riders’ wishlists.
The question is, does the experience live up to the spec?
Frame and equipment: quick-release niggles mar an impressive build
Ghost hasn’t tried to reinvent the wheel – or even the full-suspension trail bike – with the Kato, which marries elegantly curved hydroformed tubes to a classic four-bar rear end. The low pivot point, Horst Link style chainstay pivots and rocker-driven, vertically-mounted shock are all straight out of the How To Build a Full-Suspension Bike book. It’s a tried, tested and trusted system that’s been around, in one form or another, for more than 20 years now.
Neat touches include pivot bolts with visible torque settings and that Fox Float CTD rear shock – a comparatively rare sight on a full-susser at this price. Even though most riders will probably leave the shock’s CTD lever in the ‘trail’ setting most of the time, it’s good to have the option of adding more low-speed compression damping for non-technical climbs and road sections (‘climb’), or running the shock fully open for the downhills (‘descend’).
We’d prefer to see a shorter stem and wider handlebar on the Kato FS 5 to make the most of the relaxed head angle and 130mm fork
Plugged into the chunky, tapered head tube up front is a matching Fox 32 Float CTD fork. Aside from the novelty of finding a paired Fox set-up at this price, there are no surprises here in terms of performance. What is a surprise is Ghost’s choice of a standard quick-release axle at both ends. We’re used to seeing a 135mm axle at the rear at this price in a nod to cost cutting, but a 130mm fork with tapered steerer but no 15mm axle is an anachronism. The improved torsional rigidity of the steerer is pretty much cancelled out by the flexy noodliness of the QR axle – it’s a bit like locking the front door but leaving the back door wide open to all and sundry.
Elsewhere, full Shimano Deore stop-go bits, with a crowd-pleasing upgrade to an XT rear derailleir, make for a good looking, slick operating set of controls that should provide many, many miles of trouble free service. Schwalbe’s ubiquitous Nobby Nic treads work reasonably well in any conditions you care to throw at them too, while the own-brand finishing kit gets on with the job in hand – although by current standards the 700mm bar is a bit narrow and the 80mm stem a tad long.
Ride and handling: appealingly lively but less capable when the going gets rough
With an all-up weight (13.4kg/29.5lb) that puts the Kato at the lighter end of its mid-travel, full-sus peer group, you’d expect a lively ride. You won’t be disappointed. Grippy tyres on reasonably light wheels hook up well and accelerate quickly, giving the Ghost a hint of XC racing inspired eagerness that’s lacking from a lot of trail full-bouncers at this price. It’s still nudging the psychological 30lb barrier, but the Kato can be hussled along a trail in a way that some of the heavier competition struggles to match.
It’s unusual to see a pair of Fox CTD shocks at this price, but a shame that Ghost couldn’t spec the fork with a 15mm axle
Backing up this get-up-and-go liveliness is a rear end that walks the fine line between responsiveness and comfort. The conventional four-bar suspension configuration paired with the CTD shock in ‘trail’ mode delivers a fairly firm feel that some riders will love, taking the edge off hits without ever descending into wallowy mushiness. The downside to this firm connectedness is the need for more rider input on slower, more technical lines – the Ghost isn’t a bike that you can simply sit down and pedal up a rocky, steppy climb on.
It’s as the pace picks up and the trail gets trickier that the Kato begins to come unstuck. Despite a fashionably relaxed head angle, the combination of a comparatively short wheelbase with a long stem, narrow handlebar and noodly fork makes for a squirelly handful on fast, steep or rocky descents.
The rear end’s 120mm of travel doesn’t have the bottomless feel of some of the competition, but the fork would easily handle more if only it were possible to keep it pointing in the right direction. Some of the nervousness could be tamed by fitting a slightly shorter stem and wider bar, but what the Ghost really needs is what most mid-travel full-sussers have had for a while – a 15mm thru-axle holding the front wheel in the end of the fork. And that’s not an easy or cheap upgrade to make.