A few weeks ago we tested GT's Grade Carbon Ultegra, and awarded it full marks. But some of the BikeRadar team were ever-so-slightly cynical about yet another species or sub-species of road bike hitting the market – it's not like there aren't plenty already – and wondered whether this more-than-a-gravel-racer machine deserved such a high accolade.
But accepting that the carbon Grade is such an impressively comfortable, versatile, high-performance bike, would that still be the case with a much cheaper model with an alloy frame?
The alloy Grade shares geometry with its carbon sibling, and GT’s instantly recognisable triple triangle, although with so much going on with the tubing around the top tube/seat tube/seatstays junction the welding is necessarily quite industrial-looking, lacking carbon’s smooth lines.
The Grade’s welding is functional rather than elegant
The groupset is based around Shimano’s 11-speed 105 – it’s superb and nearly the equal of Ultegra, and that’s pretty much all you need to know. There’s an FSA pro-compact 52/36 chainset and an 11-32 cassette, which gives you a very big top gear and a low gear that’ll haul you up most hills without knee strain.
The brakes are very, very impressive, TRP’s Hy/Rd system combining standard cable-pull levers – so you can use off-the-shelf STI units – and hydraulic disc brakes that have their own reservoir. They’re not quite on a par with full hydraulic systems, but they knock spots off most brakes at this price, and on a bike with off-road ambitions that has to be a good thing.
The Grade Alloy will make a superb commuter and, potentially, tourer – but it'll also hungily devour far rougher terrain
Although it has quite a bulky look, the Grade feels like a road bike when you’re riding on the hoods. On the home commute we averaged 20mph, and though it won’t outstrip lighter, racier machines on fast rides, it won’t hold you back hugely and its comfort is unsurpassed.
Yet there’s much more to the Grade. So, it hustles along nicely on the tarmac. You’d expect that of a bike at this price. It takes in gravel and tracks – not in itself unusual in these days of ‘gravel racers’, but just as with its more exotic Grade sibling, you can take this much further off the beaten track than virtually any other road bike.
GT’s familiar ‘triple triangle’ dates back to the late 1980s
The swept-out handlebar enables you to keep control in more challenging terrain, with the brakes allowing you to stop in an instant or scrub speed off with plenty of control. Even if you’re not planning to be quite so adventurous, the ride itself is so beguiling on the road that unless you’re looking for all-out speed over just about every other consideration – comfort, toughness, versatility – this really does make the Grade.
Although it has fender mounts, rack mounts would have been good for a bike that would make such a capable tourer, but there are aftermarket options available.