First ride: GT Grade

First taste of GT's versatile road/touring/cyclocross/commuting/gravel/bit-of-everything bike

by David Arthur   June 24, 2014  

Riding through the absolutely spectacular countryside surrounding Park City in Utah [he's showing off - Ed], along a mixture of black top and long stretches of gravelled backcountry farm roads weaving through huge agricultural pastures, it’s easy to see why gravel riding/grinding/racing is popular in some parts of the US.

This formerly underground scene has since spawned a new category of bikes by a good handful of manufacturers that blur the traditional boundaries between road and cyclo-cross bikes. While GT's brand new Grade, launched just last week, has clearly been inspired by this desire for multi-terrain capable bikes, they have actually designed a bike with so much versatility that it appeals to a wider spectrum of cyclists than just those wanting to go gravel racing.

Of course, the idea of riding a road bike across any sort of terrain, be it smoothly paved roads or rough and bumpy gravel tracks, woodland trails laced with roots or edge-of-field bridleways is nothing new really. Road cyclists have been doing it since the dawn of the bicycle. How do you think cyclo-cross was invented? GT recognise this and aren’t claiming to have pioneered a new category of bike, but they are responding to the new demands from many cyclists.

The sort of cyclists in question are less interested in chasing segments on a sub-7kg race bike or reciting some set of rules, and instead are more interested in exploring the landscape on the road and away from the traffic and congestion in the woods and on the plains.

With its long wheelbase, tall head tube, disc brakes, slacker angles, wide tyres and mounts for mudguards and racks, the Grade is as ideally suited for commuting, touring or cyclo-cross as it is for gravel grinding. One bike to rule them all, then.

How does it ride?

In a nutshell, it rides very nicely. The Grade is a fantastically fun bike to ride, no matter the surface passing under its 28mm tyres. It barrels along the road at the same sort of speeds a regular road bike achieves, yet show it some off-road trails, whether gravel covered tracks or narrow dirt singletrack paths, and it’s equally at home. It’s as adept at going off the beaten path as it is sticking to the roads.

 

For the launch we were taken on some loops that encompassed the sort of terrain you would not dare take a regular road bike on. A cyclo-cross bike: yes. A mountain bike: definitely. But here we were on road bikes not only coping just fine, but having loads of fun. And back on tarmac, the Grade reverts to riding just like a regular road bike with all the pace and verve you’d expect of a carbon-framed option.

Much of this capability is of course down to the 28mm Continental tyres, in my case inflated to about 75-80psi. Any road bike you can fit such tyres to is going to have similar capability, but most normal road bikes will struggle with anything wider than 25mm. That’s why we’ve increasingly seen cyclo-cross bikes pressed into service on the daily commute.

The Grade though, like many gravel bikes, will take wider tyres, in this case up to 35mm. GT reckon you could probably go wider with some tyre brands. The new No Tubes Grail rims the tyres are mounted to make the tyres look bloody enormous though.

It’s not just the wider tyres that make this bike, the geometry of the Grade sets it apart from regular road bikes, a key feature being the long wheelbase. It’s much longer than many ‘endurance’ bikes such as the Cannondale Synapse or Bianchi Infinito. It’s also a bit slacker with a taller head tube too - changes that lend the Grade fantastic stability at any speed, no matter the terrain. On the road the bike feels very relaxed and easy to control through the bends and in a tight peloton. I had no problem weaving through the suburbs and it didn’t feel sluggish when sprinting out of corners or on fast downhill bends.

Head off-road, as we did on our test rides on a mixture of smoothly surfaced farm tracks and much rougher and deep gravelled paths, and the Grade shows enormous capability. It never felt out of its depth, never got flustered at speed or on exceptionally rough terrain, it just hoovered it all up.

Neither does it ever feel nervous or twitchy, instead remaining resolutely solid and stable. You can hurtle along gravel tracks at road riding speeds and feel perfectly safe, with the handling showing just the right level of responsiveness.

GT have developed the frame to provide comfort, with super skinny glass-fibre seatstays that flex noticeably when you press down hard on the saddle. This, along with the seat tube and top tube ‘tuned’ to offer a claimed 11mm of deflection, certainly takes the harshness out of riding over any sort of rough road or gravel track. Rippled and corrugated dirt tracks were impressively smoothed out and some of the rougher road surfaces we encountered passed unannounced under the wheels. I can’t wait to see how the frame copes with some typical British roads, but that'll have to wait.

I loved the fit and position of the 55cm model I tested. The taller head tube places the bars a bit higher, obviously, but not too high that I felt control was compromised, and in the drops the position felt as racy as on most road bikes. The reach is good with enough stretch from the saddle to bars that I didn’t feel cramped.

Flared handlebars aren’t something I’ve much experience with, and initial skepticism was soon pushed aside when I found the extra width a bonus on off-road trails. They provide a bit more leverage and control, something that is appreciated when attempting to negotiate deep gravel that you'd never usually take a road bike through.

There are details of which I’m a fan, the external cable routing being one, with the cables and rear brake hose neatly clipped to the underside of the down tube. Full-length outers prevent dirt getting into the cables, the frame looks clean, and cable replacement is going to be far easier than with internal cable routing. A removable seatstay bridge provides a mudguard mount, a really smart solution that keeps everyone happy.

As a road bike, the Grade isn’t at all compromised in pursuit of its off-road capabilities. The frame is plenty stiff enough for sprinting and fast paced group riding, and out-of-thesaddle climbing reveals the frame to be very direct and responsive. The press-fit bottom bracket allows the down tube and chainstays to be suitably oversized - similar dimensions to many top-end road frames, in fact - contributing to the high level of stiffness.

Up front it’s all very stiff too, a result of the tapered head tube and 15mm bolt-thru front axle. There’s a lot of debate about quick release versus bolt-thru axles on the new breed of disc-equipped road bikes at present, and GT say they went for the 135mm quick release rear axle out of simplicity and not wanting to force their customers into adopting new standards.

What does it cost?

GT should be applauded for focusing on making the Grade accessible, with seven models comprising two carbon models and five aluminium bikes. The range starts at a very reasonable £699 with a Shimano Claris groupset. All bikes get disc brakes, mechanical at the more affordable end and hydraulic at the top.

The Shimano Di2-equipped model I rode wasn’t a production bike; the new R685 mechanical shift/hydraulic brake lever groupset that will feature on the range-topping £2,999 Grade Carbon Ultegra simply wasn’t available in time for this launch. The rest of the spec was the same, though, including the impressive new Stan’s No Tubes Grail rim with a 21mm internal diameter, which provides a great platform for the 28mm tyres.

Shimano's hydraulic disc brakes are a highlight of the bike. I was impressed when I rode them on the Storck TIX recently, and I've come away from the Grade with nothing but praise for them. They make a lot of sense on a bike designed for such varied riding, with huge power and fantastic modulation that makes braking fun on tricky technical off-road descents. Even on the road they make sense too; easier one finger braking is useful all of the time. You very quickly get the hang of them, get used to the extra power, and it's only when you go back to a regular road bike with caliper brakes that you realise how much of a gamechanger they really are. 

The Grade Alloy X (£1,599), combining an aluminium frame, carbon bolt-thru fork, Shimano 105 mechanical groupset and R685 hydraulic disc brakes, is my pick of the range.

First impressions

I came away impressed with the Grade. Obviously I want to get it out on more familiar roads and trails to fully assess it, which I will do when the bike lands in the UK later this year, but based on a couple of rides it’s clear GT have done their homework well.

The Grade isn’t a revolutionary design, but it’s a well thought out package that will appeal to the many riders who want one bike that is happy on the road and is capable of going off-road, and is versatile enough to be turned into a touring bike, cyclo-cross racer, mudguard-equipped commuter or regular road bike. The Grade is a chameleon of a bike.

The Grade handles any terrain with aplomb, isn’t fazed by rough terrain and whizzes along the smoother stuff as quickly as any road bike. That you can fit mudguards and racks boosts it versatility immensely, making it a bike that can comfortably replace three or four dedicated purpose bikes. It’s well suited to the recreational cyclist who cycles for fun or transportation, rather than to those who count segments.

More at www.gtbicycles.com

19 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Yeah, I'd like to know more, interesting bike. Although I'm having trouble picturing that loaded down for touring.

posted by bikebot [789 posts]
24th June 2014 - 19:40

12 Likes

Looks tempting. Any thoughts on how this compares to something like the Ti Tripster ATR as a bike for cyclocross and winter/longer rides on road?

http://road.cc/content/news/112970-just-kinesis-tripster-atr

posted by alistairgroves [5 posts]
24th June 2014 - 21:24

11 Likes

came away from reading the review wondering if this:

"The Grade Alloy X (£1,599), combining an aluminium frame, carbon bolt-thru fork, Shimano 105 mechanical groupset and R685 hydraulic disc brakes, is my pick of the range"

and this:

"GT have developed the frame to provide comfort, with super skinny glass-fibre seatstays...........Rippled and corrugated dirt tracks were impressively smoothed out"

were mutually exclusive

I find corrugations on dirt tracks on my Ali' CX very fatiguing to the point where it can just hurt
At that price the Ali' frame version with that kit is indeed attractive but would like to see if gets a similar review on how well rides when doing distance on dirt.....and certainly round my way there are plenty of people riding strava segments on gravel

antigee's picture

posted by antigee [174 posts]
24th June 2014 - 23:22

10 Likes

It's a shame Boardman aren't doing more to promote to promote their CXR range in this way. I have a CXR 9.8 built to a similar spec to above and it is the soooo much fun. Light (7.3kg), responsive, practical (mudguard and rear rack mounts), fast, comfortable, and ....did I mention fun? I'm not sure one bike is allowed to have all those diametric adjectives describe it, but there we are. Yes it has some problems (trying to get the frame grommets for a Di2 setup might be impossible) and it isn't the latest aerodynamic shape, but I just enjoy riding it
I'm guessing Boardman will be promoting it later in the year for cyclocross, but I feel they are missing out on all the guys wanting recreational riding in a range of conditions now

posted by macrophotofly [59 posts]
25th June 2014 - 3:51

14 Likes

Tempted! Looks just the thing for New Forest roads, but would it be any better than my Genesis Equilibrium which also soaks up the bumps?

New Forester

posted by Forester [101 posts]
25th June 2014 - 4:32

11 Likes

Looks nice, but not sure it can do anything my 1980 Galaxy can't do.

posted by oldstrath [208 posts]
25th June 2014 - 8:40

9 Likes

bikebot wrote:
Yeah, I'd like to know more, interesting bike. Although I'm having trouble picturing that loaded down for touring.

Maybe this photo of the bike with a pannier attached might help Bikebot?

http://s3.amazonaws.com/gtvendors/gorogue/img/grade_slide_bg_3.jpg

David Arthur's picture

posted by David Arthur [1764 posts]
25th June 2014 - 9:30

9 Likes

A problem I have with GT is their decades-long sticking with their "triple triangle" (on metal bikes, the seat stays are long, cross the seat tube and join the top tube ahead of the seat tube — they've even done it on the carbon frame being reviewed). Long, long ago they had some technical rationale for this, but that has long been disproven, but they stick with this gimmicky trademark no matter what — and that "no matter what" makes me question what goes into their overall bike designs.

Have a nice day.

DavidC's picture

posted by DavidC [77 posts]
25th June 2014 - 9:57

12 Likes

I like the sound of it, but is there a difference between this and a cx bike?

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3476 posts]
25th June 2014 - 10:31

8 Likes

oldstrath wrote:
Looks nice, but not sure it can do anything my 1980 Galaxy can't do.

No disrespect to a perfectly lovely bike but, functionally, I doubt there's anything your Dawes can do that a Penny Farthing can't - but out of that, the Galaxy and the GT I know which i'd rather take out with me for a bit of mixed surface fun.

fukawitribe's picture

posted by fukawitribe [544 posts]
25th June 2014 - 10:59

10 Likes

notfastenough wrote:
I like the sound of it, but is there a difference between this and a cx bike?

About 30 years and a plastic cover to you chief Wink

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nt5tEV9lGRQ

fukawitribe's picture

posted by fukawitribe [544 posts]
25th June 2014 - 11:09

10 Likes

David Arthur wrote:
bikebot wrote:
Yeah, I'd like to know more, interesting bike. Although I'm having trouble picturing that loaded down for touring.

Maybe this photo of the bike with a pannier attached might help Bikebot?

http://s3.amazonaws.com/gtvendors/gorogue/img/grade_slide_bg_3.jpg

That's not touring, that's commuting!

This is what a typical touring bike looks like, once you've put a full set of bags on it -

http://travellingtwo.com/gallery2/d/46343-1/somewhereonearth_org_pat_bro...

posted by bikebot [789 posts]
25th June 2014 - 11:44

8 Likes

I'd still like a triple version to get me up hills/mountains with a little luggage. Only talking saddle bag and maybe a frame bag but I am 97kg. Compact double is fine for club riding especially now we can get to 32T cassettes. For "touring" I still want a good range AND reduce jumps between sprockets.

bikeandy61's picture

posted by bikeandy61 [399 posts]
25th June 2014 - 19:25

8 Likes

92kg. Used to be 97kg and more but getting it down.

bikeandy61's picture

posted by bikeandy61 [399 posts]
25th June 2014 - 19:26

8 Likes

oldstrath wrote:
Looks nice, but not sure it can do anything my 1980 Galaxy can't do.

Stop in the wet? Wink

I'm biased but I'd like to see Volagi get more credit in this market. Disc brakes, "longbow" seat stays, tall head tubes, big tyre clearance, "all-surface" fun road bikes - pop over to the Volagi website and you'll see what I mean.

posted by Meanredspider [12 posts]
25th June 2014 - 19:55

6 Likes

DavidC wrote:
A problem I have with GT is their decades-long sticking with their "triple triangle" (on metal bikes, the seat stays are long, cross the seat tube and join the top tube ahead of the seat tube — they've even done it on the carbon frame being reviewed). Long, long ago they had some technical rationale for this, but that has long been disproven, but they stick with this gimmicky trademark no matter what — and that "no matter what" makes me question what goes into their overall bike designs.

Can't remember which site, but IIRC there was mention elsewhere from the designer that not only do the stays flex but the top tube and seat tube (ie the stiff bit is chain stays + down tube), and that even the ally version allows a fair amount of deflection.

posted by JonD [213 posts]
26th June 2014 - 16:02

7 Likes

fukawitribe wrote:
oldstrath wrote:
Looks nice, but not sure it can do anything my 1980 Galaxy can't do.

No disrespect to a perfectly lovely bike but, functionally, I doubt there's anything your Dawes can do that a Penny Farthing can't - but out of that, the Galaxy and the GT I know which i'd rather take out with me for a bit of mixed surface fun.


Well, obviously I haven't ridden the GT grade, and it does look nice, but having ridden the Galaxy, a modern MTB and a copule of cyclocross bikes over the kind of surfaces shown in GT's video, I honestly struggle to spot the difference

posted by oldstrath [208 posts]
26th June 2014 - 17:47

7 Likes

oldstrath wrote:
fukawitribe wrote:
oldstrath wrote:
Looks nice, but not sure it can do anything my 1980 Galaxy can't do.

No disrespect to a perfectly lovely bike but, functionally, I doubt there's anything your Dawes can do that a Penny Farthing can't - but out of that, the Galaxy and the GT I know which i'd rather take out with me for a bit of mixed surface fun.


Well, obviously I haven't ridden the GT grade, and it does look nice, but having ridden the Galaxy, a modern MTB and a copule of cyclocross bikes over the kind of surfaces shown in GT's video, I honestly struggle to spot the difference

Fair enough and clearly there's no way for me to comment as I know nothing about the bikes or you. That said, I am a little surprised that you struggle to notice the difference between them if only for the difference in tyres and forks i'd expect (the CX bikes maybe not so much, but then the only ones i've been on have been more towards the wrist-breaker feeling in both geometry and rigidity on harder surfaces).

fukawitribe's picture

posted by fukawitribe [544 posts]
26th June 2014 - 20:40

5 Likes

DavidC wrote:
A problem I have with GT is their decades-long sticking with their "triple triangle" (on metal bikes, the seat stays are long, cross the seat tube and join the top tube ahead of the seat tube — they've even done it on the carbon frame being reviewed). Long, long ago they had some technical rationale for this, but that has long been disproven, but they stick with this gimmicky trademark no matter what — and that "no matter what" makes me question what goes into their overall bike designs.

By whom and in which way has it been "disproven"? Is there a text or discussion somewhere?

posted by Jolar2000 [1 posts]
5th July 2014 - 17:43

6 Likes