In its long and illustrious history, GT's Zaskar has been pretty much everything a hardtail could be. Starting as the attitude laden, tough as nails but not too heavy anodised frame to be seen on in the early '90s, it became the first true do-it-all hardtail, as Zaskars everywhere sprouted chain devices and chunky forks. Once everyone else had cottoned on and caught up though, it disappeared into the background as suspension hogged the limelight.
Now hardtails are back on the accepted substances list, it's back with a vengeance, with one of its most aggressively race-orientated but still fun-packed and price-light guises to date.
While the layout and design are definitely classic GT, the tubework is taken care of by premium alloy alchemists, Kinesis.
Cue a thinwall internal bearing headset, big hydroformed down tube gusset, kinky fluted far ends on both main tubes and a ring-reinforced bottom bracket shell. They keep the well-known GT 'Triple Triangle' cluster with its seat stays overshot on to the top tube, while the seat tube is also extended enough to get a front slot that'll keep rear wheel spray out.
Slim oval-to-round chainstays finish at neatly curved cold forged dropouts, with junctions that look like they've been built round Hula Hoops. A-stay braces leave enough mud room for winter, and the whole frame is disc specific for clean looks. Top tube cable routing makes it lovely and comfy to shoulder if your route or race includes some hike-a-bike sections, too. Real weight fanatic racers will ditch the convenience of the QR seat collar for a lighter bolted piece, though.
One look at the fork means there's absolutely no doubting that high speed race work is the primary intent of this bike. RockShox's Reba is a tough all-rounder - with up to 115mm travel in some versions - but the SL here is a low-slung 85mm travel version and comes complete with top cap lockout for smooth sections and sprints.
The Kenda Karma tyres are definitely chosen for their summer speed too, because while the tall, round carcass floats really nicely over hard summer trails, you'll spend most of your time spinning or going sideways if it's even slightly wet. The 'stop and go' spec is more straightforward, with a complete Shimano XT set providing proven performance throughout.
You'll probably have to replace chainrings and brake pads before many winter training miles have passed, but we have to say that the hubs and gears are a benchmark for bombproof and weather resistant longevity. Truvativ's XR kit has a similar reputation on the finishing kit front and SDG's Bel Air saddle is another well-proven classic, with a high swept back for bracing yourself against on those grinding climbs.
Given that the whole bike comes in at just over 24lbs - despite the steel saddle rails and purposeful, rather than gram-obsessive, finishing kit and transmission - shows just how light the frame is, though.
There's certainly no shortage of potential to create a truly featherweight race bike from the base chassis. It shapes up for this perfectly too, with a super long top tube (59.7cm, even on the medium) mated to a mid-length stem for a classic head down, arse up position. It's not an easy setup to get much lift or flight time out of, but it's perfect for piling on the speed with your wheels firmly on the ground.
It keeps its nose nailed down on steep technical climbs too, which combines with its light weight to make it a truly phenomenal ascender on straight or sketchy sections. Well balanced weight distribution and rapid shorter stem reactions mean it was able to deftly manage the massive sideways slides and counter steering chaos the tyres were launching us into as soon as things got wet.
The slim stays and sucked in midship main tube sections add more subtle flex and shock absorbtion than you'd expect from a race bike, too. It's far more direct than, say, a Genesis Altitude, but there's just enough suction to enhance traction noticeably over a total race nail though, and we wouldn't be scared of riding it all day long, either. Although we do suspect that it wouldn't be our first choice for meat heads or masochists who just want the most painfully solid pedal-to-wheel feel possible.
To summarise then, the Zaskar Pro is exactly what it looks like - a totally modern execution of an old-skool flat out racer that's bred for serious speed and altitude gain. There are two bonus surprises though. Given the price and the workmanlike - rather than weight weenie kit - we're astonished at the overall mass, which is a good pound under what we'd expect.
The relative subtlety of the back end is also a real boon, considering the current fashion for longer marathon or even multi-day races. All in all, the Zaskar is a great value, really rideable race or mile-eating rig, with no obvious flaws that our extensive test ride managed to uncover.