GT don’t make a big fuss about their three-bike Karakoram range being 29ers, because big wheelers have become normal for mid-range hardtails in the United States. We’ve seen better equipped and lighter 26ers for £800 though, so the main issue here is whether the smoother roll of the ride is going to make up for that.
Ride & handling: Relaxed under pressure
Despite its 13.6kg (30lb) weight, which you do notice on long climbs, the Karakoram is an agile ride once you’ve got it up to speed. Acceleration and climbing is helped by fast tyres, which have a fat enough profile to offer a comfort boost on rough terrain and a tread pattern that grips well when you’re carving singletrack.
The fork is a limiting factor on rough descents, with hard edged bumps and heavy braking causing enough flex to create a handling challenge. You do learn how to deal with it but it’s a reminder that the 32mm stanchions on more costly RockShox XC 32s are for good reason.
Still, a relaxed head angle stops handling under pressure from becoming a big issue and the mix of a long top tube and inline post sits you dead centre on the bike where you feel the full advantage of the smooth rolling rhythm and confident momentum of the big wheels.
Frame & equipment: Fast, fat tyres help make up for heft
The frame is a chunky affair, with a low top tube and the triple triangle design that sets GTs apart. The compact triangles make for a stiff frame, emphasised by the radically shaped top and down tubes and short reinforced head tube, so you may want to run the rear tyre a bit softer than usual.
Precise tracking also relies on the fork and wheel build – 29in wheels are more flexy than 26in wheels and the RockShox XC 28 fork isn’t as direct in tracking under heavy loads as a fatter stanchioned fork. The rebound damping is adjustable and the lockout dial leaves a tiny amount of compression, but the plastic preload dial broke the first time we used it.
Other details worth mentioning include a forward-facing seat bolt, two sets of bottle bosses, rack mounts and an integrated headset that allows a low handlebar position.
The 3x9 drivetrain is average at this price. Shimano’s Alivio shifters and front mech are upgraded to Deore out back, but the square taper bottom bracket is a downgrade compared to other £800 bike setups. Still, function was precise through the test period and there are enough gear options for all types of terrain.
The performance of Tektro’s Draco brakes was great – they offered a good modulation feel and very little trail time was needed for bedding in the pads. The wheels were well built, with long spoke nipples to help with overall stiffness, Alex TD24 rims, All Terra hubs and Maxxis fast-rolling shallow treaded Aspen 2.1in tyres, fine for all but very wet trails.
All the finishing kit was good stuff, but WTB’s Silverado saddle is a racy choice for a mid-range bike, and something that offers a bit more comfort would do a better job of smoothing the stiff back end.