GT forged its reputation in BMX and mountain biking in the 1970s and 80s, a reputation it keeps up today with its sponsorship of the all-conquering off-roading Atherton family. The Californian brand has also produced Olympic track bikes, though, and it sponsored the Lotto and Saturn road teams – and it’s going big on the road for 2015…
Highs: A wonderfully accomplished ride – whatever the surface
Lows: Mountain bike-style frame won’t appeal to all
Buy if: You want a unique bike with a real performance advantage
The Grade is arguably the most innovative bike in GT’s expanded line-up, and some of that innovation is well concealed. Kicked-up chainstays and curved and super-skinny seatstays – both designed for comfort – aren’t especially unusual, though here they end in GT’s signature ‘triple triangle’. But those seatstays are made from a solid glass fiber core wrapped in a layer of carbon fiber. GT’s tech-speak calls this ‘Dual Fiber Dynamic technology’ and claims that it is both strong and, naturally, ‘vertically compliant’. Comfortable, then.
GT’s skinny seatstays have a solid glass fibre core wrapped in a layer of carbon: Robert Smith
GT’s skinny seatstays have a solid glass fiber core wrapped in a layer of carbon
The Grade is designed for versatility and long-distance, all-day comfort. GT believes the term ‘gravel racer’ is too niche, claiming the bike can tackle gran fondos, pavement and gravel with equal aplomb.
Its slightly slackened head angle and heightened head tube are there for comfort, and the frame is designed to accommodate wheels shod in rubber up to 35mm wide to increase its go-anywhere potential. The fork has a 15mm thru-axle for steering precision and to cope with the extra forces generated by hydraulic disc braking.
You could cyclocross on the Grade, and even if its 52/36 chainset and 11-32 cassette might offend ’cross purists, the wide gear range makes it more versatile. We rode the Grade on gravel tracks and singletrack and found that GT’s ambitions for the bike have been realised. It could handled pretty much anything we threw it at, which is no surprise from a company with so much off-road heritage.
…but managing to pull off this level smooth, speedy agility on tarmac in the same machine is impressive: Robert Smith
The Grade’s smooth, speedy agility on tarmac is seriously impressive
But the big revelation is how good it feels on the road. Add a little pressure to the fat tires and it’s a real shock just how quickly the Grade will shift – yet all that rapidity is balanced with a smoothness and comfort on a par with Cannondale’s Synapse. That rear end, with its wide-spaced stays, has an almost softtail-like nature that makes this one of the most comfortable bikes we’ve tried. The ’cross-style flared bar gives confidence when riding in the drops off-road too.
The wheels are tough, and its gearing and handling make the Grade a genuine all-rounder. (Our test bike came with Ultegra Di2; production models will have mechanical Ultegra and Shimano’s hydraulic R685 brakes.) Gravel, dirt, mud, tarmac, gran fondos and big road rides are all within its compass. If you only have room for one bike it’s a serious contender.