GT Grade Carbon Pro first ride review

We take a ride on GT's new and updated gravel endurance Grade in the hills of Girona

First things first, I was a big fan of the original Grade, it was way ahead of the curve when it came to all-road endurance bikes — never a hardcore off-road beast just a much more versatile bike that could handle both road and dirt with ease.

That said, it wasn’t without its foibles. The tyre clearance was a little meagre, the lack of a thru-axle at the rear caused concern for some (though I never had any issues with it) and it was a little tall up front.

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So, when I heard that GT was updating its Grade my fear was that it’d become something more dirt focussed, more ‘extreme’, more ‘adrenaline’, well I guess a bit more GT.

Thankfully, that’s not the case. What GT has done is refine a winning formula; its ride position is more roadie than mountain bike, the frame is even cleverer than the original, and for those tinkerers out there the flip-chip fork leaves room for experimentation on the bike’s handling.

The range topping Pro
The range topping Pro at £3,500 gets lighter WTB wheels and Shimano Ultegra Di2
GT

My first ride on the bike was a few hours exploring the brilliant network of gravel roads, trails and singletrack surrounding Girona — who knew a road cycling hotbed like Girona had so much more to offer.

The first few kms of the ride to get beyond the city are, as you’d expect, on tarmac, and the new Grade felt great: smooth, quick to pick-up pace, and a real pedal-spinning friendly machine with its smaller adventure style 2×11 gearing (46/30, 11-34).

The smoothness of the Grade’s supple frame design makes you think you're riding much fatter rubber without the weight and sluggish downsides of plus-sized tyres

Once out of the urban sprawl it was straight onto a combination of slick, sodden, chalky, clay roads that bisect through the surrounding woods, and this lumpy choppy terrain is where the Grade’s smart chassis really came to the fore.

That, and the excellent WTB Riddler tyres, which don’t feel too compromised on tarmac and grip tenaciously on everything else — save for super sloppy mud, which thankfully we had little of.

GT Grade 2020
GT’s new Grade may look outwardly similar to the previous generation, but there are lots of improvements and changes
Warren Rossiter/Immediate media

I did have a few issues though with the Riddlers seating properly on the matched WTB rims, leading to a few stops to push more air into the tyres throughout the day.

The back end of this new Grade flexes and complies with ease, and exerts more movement than the new Roubaix I recently tested.

It feels much more akin to Trek’s Isospeed-equipped Domane, which is a much more complex method of ‘decoupling’ the seatstays from the seat tube than the Grade’s simple but very smart solution.

The Grade's seatstays
The Grade’s seatstays are made with a combination of a carbon skin and a solid fibre-glass core that allows for much more flex than standard carbon
Warren Rossiter/Immediate Media

First ride impressions

Grade being ridden up woodland track
On trail, singletrack or tarmac we came away impressed by the revamped Grade
GT Bicycles

Up front the lower, longer ride position and wide flared bar instil confidence in the Grade’s handling chops — which it has aplenty.

Descending on choppy, rooty singletrack and running into dusty fire roads as the ride trailed on and the heat rose was a huge highlight on my first outing on the new Grade.

My overriding feeling from the few hours spent on the bike was that the Grade’s chassis gives you the impression that you’re running much bigger volume rubber than the 37c’s it comes with, such is its smoothness on tarmac and its vibration smoothing performance on dirt, gravel and rooty singletrack.

That’s all the feel without the downside of heavier, wider tyres that also bring more sluggish acceleration and speed on real roads.

Grade being ridden in the woods
The compliance built into the frame makes the Grade a really capable all road machine
GT Bicycles

I also like that GT’s flagship bike seems sensibly put together; the equipment is all decent quality, the Di2 drivetrain does what Ultegra does, works without fuss or drama, and the FSA chainset is a great match. The gearing felt spot on for the terrain I was riding, but it’ll be interesting to see if GT goes the full Shimano GRX route on the Grade at a later date.

The new Grade takes what made the original great and amplifies it to one of the real highlights of the year so far

It’s also been a long time since I’ve been at a launch for a brand’s new flagship bike and it retails for the much more achievable price of £3,500. You couldn’t imagine that GT’s rivals, such as Cannondale, Specialized, Trek or Giant would launch a new bike and cap the top model at this price.

GT Grade Pro overall

Fork mounts
The fork gets a full complement of mounts for racks, bottle cages, and guards too
Warren Rossiter/Immediate media

Overall, my impressions from a few hours riding are that GT has hit the high-mark again.

It’s a smart piece of engineering that champions the original’s successes and raises the performance from an endurance bike with off-road chops to a great endurance bike that could easily be a serious machine for those looking to take their gravel riding to a higher, racier level.

In fact, there will be a few new Grades lining up on the start line of this year’s Dirty Kanza and that’s not something I’d expect to have seen with the previous Grade.

I can’t really score the Grade based on just a few hours riding, but my order is in with GT already for a test bike asap. The bikes will be available mid-June and I’m itching to get back out on it as soon as I can.

Tyre clearance
Tyre clearance is up all round, in 700c guise it’s got clearance for 42c tyres
Warren Rossiter/Immediate media

We’ve already seen plenty of new and exciting bikes launched this year from the likes of Specialized, Wilier, Look, et al, with many more to come, but GT may just have the surprise hit of the summer on its hands.

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GT Grade Carbon Pro specification

  • Size tested: 58cm/L
  • Frame: Grade carbon
  • Fork: Flip-chip carbon
  • Gears: Shimano Ultegra Di2 (46/30, 11-34)
  • Brakes: Shimano Ultegra hydraulic with 160mm rotors
  • Wheels: WTB KOM Light i23 TCS on Formula centrelock hubs
  • Finishing kit: FSA Energy adventure chainset with 46/30 chainrings, WTB Riddler TCS Light 37c tubeless tyres, GT Droptune super light 16-degree flare bar, GT 3D forged stem, GT carbon post, Fabric scoop shallow elite saddle
  • Price: £3,500 / $3,900 / €3,799