GT’s Grade is one of a new trend of road bikes (some call it gravel and adventure, GT calls it EnduRoad) built with the intention of providing the capability to tackle more than just smooth roads, because with its relaxed geometry and bigger tyres, the Grade is as happy hurtling through the woods on a thin slither of singletrack as it is chasing wheels on the Sunday club run. Fit some mudguards and it can be pressed into service as a daily commuter.
If you don't race and want a bike that's a more versatile all-rounder than most regular race-inspired road bikes, the Grade might just be for you. This £850 (cheaper if you shop around) Tiagra and TRP Spyre disc brake-equipped model provides a lot of fun for not a lot of outlay, and really impressed this reviewer.
To ride, the GT Grade isn't all that dissimilar to a regular road bike. On smooth roads, it zips along with plenty of pace and demonstrates good authority on the descents, with surefooted handling through the corners. On road climbs the high weight does make itself known, but the compact chainset and 11-28t cassette do give you a fighting chance. Head off-road, though, and you might be wishing GT had specced a wider range cassette; we're seeing manufacturers spec 30 and 32t cassettes on these sort of bikes, which definitely help on the steeper gradients you're more likely to be discovering.
The Grade is built for going the distance. With the 28mm tyres it's a comfortable companion over long rides. The carbon fibre fork helps remove some of the vibration at the front end, providing a bit of comfort for your hands and wrists, while the 27.2mm diameter seatpost and skinny stays attempt to provide rear end smoothness.
There is more feedback through the saddle compared with the carbon fibre Grade, which is only to be expected, but the ride never gets unduly harsh, a significant benefit no doubt of the big volume tyres. It is competent, rather than satisfyingly smooth, when the tarmac gets choppy.
Speed is easily piled on but don't expect an electrifying or snappy ride. It's more measured than that, partly due to the long wheelbase and a more relaxed head angle than you'd expect on a regular road bike. Once up to a decent lick, though, it hurtles along, providing enough pace to easily keep up with regular road bikes. You can average good speeds on the Grade, making it a fast commuter, and it's only when the screw is really turned that you might wish you were on a regular road race bike.
So, good on the road, but is it any good off? Yes, is the simple answer. Heading off-road is where the Grade gets really interesting. As you no doubt know, gravel and adventure bikes have become hugely popular in the past couple of years and the Grade came along just as the scene was mushrooming from an underground US-only pastime to the global invasion it has become, with more manufacturers jumping aboard.
GT doesn't claim to be reinventing the wheel here, recognising that cyclists back in the day had no hesitation in taking touring bikes off-road. But there definitely appears to be a growing desire to get away from the blackstuff, and events like the Transcontinental Race (read our interview with contender Josh Ibbett here) and Dorset Gravel Dash are evidence of this.
Going off-road is something the Grade excels at. With the simple addition of the bigger volume tyres, the longer wheelbase (1025mm) and slacker angles (a 70.5 degree head angle on this 55cm bike), the Grade is a huge amount of fun in the woods and over the plains and along bridleways. Spread out an Ordnance Survey map of your local area and start exploring tracks and paths as a new way of spicing up otherwise ordinary road rides.
I've been doing exactly this. I've ridden the Grade along paths and tracks I wouldn't dream of taking a regular race bike with 23mm tyres along. The swept out handlebar, an oddity at first, suddenly makes sense off-road, providing a wider effective bar when riding in the drops for more control and leverage.
It's surprising what you can get away with on the Grade. The frame is stiff and direct, and with the tyres running soft, it smooths out smaller rocks and roots on wooded trails a treat. It's not quite as point-and-squirt through the tighter corners as a cyclo-cross race bike, but it's less scary when the terrain pitches you down a steep gulley into a dried-out riverbed.
Keep riding like that and you'll reach the limits of the tyres, especially in anything but dry conditions. The frame and fork has space for up to 35mm tyres, though you might get away with wider depending on the specific tyre. Regular cyclo-cross tyres can be accommodated if you want to get through some muddy trails, so you could tackle a cyclo-cross race if you wanted.
Falling neatly between a slick and a 'cross tyre, the Panaracer Gravel Racer I recently tested would be a good option, perfect for rides that have an equal mix of tarmac and dirt, providing extra traction on the loose while still allowing decent speeds on the smooth.
Far from being a jack-of-all-trades, master of none, the GT Grade combines the capabilities of an endurance road bike and a cyclo-cross bike into one multi-talented package. If you want a road bike that can tackle so much more than just road riding, from blasting along bridleways and trails like the popular South Downs Way on a Sunday morning, to commuting along a mixture of road and canal towpaths on Monday morning, the Grade manages it all.
Frame and build kit
The GT Grade is available in a range of aluminium and carbon fibre builds, with prices starting at £650 and rising to £2,499. This £850 model has a Shimano Tiagra mechanical drivetrain and TRP Spyre disc brakes.
The aluminium bikes share a frame that is visually similar to the carbon Grades. Key features include double-butted tubing with hydroformed profiles, smooth welds and a tapered head tube, and a carbon fibre fork with an aluminium steerer tube. It's available in six sizes, from 51 to 60cm.
The Triple Triangle Design, where the seatstays bypass the seat tube and meet at the top tube, is a signature design feature that GT has been using for the many decades it has been in existence. You'll either love it or hate it, depending on your viewpoint and memory of early GT mountain bikes.
GT keeps the cable routing simple, externally routing them along the underside of the down tube with screw-in clips to keep them secure. The carbon fibre fork has a regular quick release axle, and it's the same at the rear dropouts. The more expensive carbon framed models feature a fork with a bolt-through axle. I didn't notice any downside to the regular axle, with no detectable flex or disc brake rub from the front.
The 28mm tyres that the GT Grade Alloy Tiagra comes with are Continental Ultra Sport IIs. They're a wire bead tyre so they carry a bit more weight than the folding version, so that could be a future upgrade to shed a bit of weight.
You could swap them for narrower tyres if you want, but it's likely you'll stick with these. They're very good. Rolling speed is good, as is the traction in a range of conditions, and they're impressively durable when hacking through the undergrowth.
As mentioned earlier, the Grade is designed for up to 35mm tyres, so you can go wider if you feel the need for a chunkier tyre, depending on how adventurous you want to get. With 32mm Panaracer Gravel King tyres fitted it was suitable for proper off-road exploring, good enough to tackle some of the trails I normally only ride on my mountain bike and lots of fun.
Mudguard and rack mounts ensure that the Grade will appeal to commuters and sensible cyclists who like to fit 'guards for winter cycling, and racks for touring or commuting.
The Tiagra groupset is fine for the money. It's not the lightest, but it's certainly easy to use and most definitely durable. Reliability is something Shimano is famed for, and the Tiagra parts don't disappoint in this arena. The FSA Vero 50/34t compact chainset is a common cost-saving measure but it provides adequate shifting performance and stiffness.
TRP's Spyre disc brakes are of the mechanical variety, and here are combined with 160mm rotors front and rear. After a short bedding-in period, the brakes provided bags of power measured out with enough modulation to make them very usable.
Wheels are subject to more abuse than usual on a bike designed to be taken off road. The Formula hubs and Alex ATD 470 rims are well built, with even spoke tension, and though a little on the weighty side they turned out to be very strong and sturdy when given a battering. It would be nice to see a tubeless-ready rim as used on the more expensive Grades, though.
GT uses its own-brand flared dropped handlebar – which doesn't take long to get used to – stem, seatpost in 27.2mm diameter and Bio-Morphic saddle. GT has wisely provided a few headset spacers so you can play about with the height of the handlebar, and the seatpost is easy to adjust with a two-bolt clamp. The saddle was pleasantly comfortable on all but the longest rides.
Hanging from the scales, this size 55cm Grade comes in at 10.01kg (22.06lb). That's a respectable weight for the type of bike, the specification level and the type of riding it's aimed at, and as I mentioned, you could drop a bit of weight easily by upgrading the wire bead Continental tyres to folding versions.
Any fears that the GT Grade might be a jack-of-all-trades, master of none were soon dispelled after several months of riding it. From being a suitable candidate for the evening chaingang or weekend club run to the daily commute, the Grade has all the speed and performance, plus the comfort and stability, of an endurance road bike like the Cannondale Synapse.
But it also has the capability to genuinely tackle gravel tracks, bridleways, moorland paths, canal towpaths and tree-lined singletrack, along with the ability to be pointed down terrain normally reserved for a mountain bike. Add in the generous tyre clearance, disc brake performance and reliable kit, and this Grade is a very accomplished performer. If you're not racing, the Grade takes a sledgehammer to n+1.
It's worth shopping around as well. I've seen this GT Grade model discounted by as much as £150, at which point it's a bit of steal.
Brilliantly capable and fun disc brake-equipped bike for tackling the rough and the smooth
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road.cc test report
Make and model: GT Grade Alloy Tiagra
Size tested: 55cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
GT Triple Triangle™ alloy hydroformed frame
Carbon 1"1/8 to 1"1/4 alloy steerer fork
Shimano Tiagra 10 Speed drivetrain
Mechanical disc brakes
Alex/Formula disc specific wheels
GT finishing kit
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
GT say: "For a comfortable and enjoyable set up that is primarily to get you from A to B fast whether it be gravel tracks or hard hitting roads then the new 2015 GT Grade AL Tiagra is the one for you."
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Hydroformed and double butted aluminium tubing with a tapered head tube. The triple triangle design, well, you'll either love it or hate it.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
A carbon fibre fork with an aluminium steerer tube which adds a bit of weight, and a full aluminium frame.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The key difference is the much slacker head angle than a road bike, which makes it much more stable and is a bonus on rough tracks. The wheelbase is longer as well, at 1025mm on this 55cm model.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Really good fit, all the control points fall into place nicely.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, mostly. The aluminium frame is sprightly and quite stiff, but the 27.2mm seatpost and big volume tyres help to smooth the ride.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
No lack of agility when you stamp on the pedals.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? A little slower than most road bikes.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Fantastic stability especially at higher speeds, though it can feel a little slow and ponderous at slower speeds – which becomes a bonus on the rougher tracks and navigating through the trees on a slither of singletrack.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The tyres are good but the wire bead adds weight; upgrading to a more versatile tyre with a tread pattern gives more grip if you do plan to take this bike away from the roads.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
A carbon fibre seatpost might inject a bit more compliance into the ride.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Lighter tyres would be a good start.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
I'd upgrade from wire bead to folding tyres to shed a bit of weight. And don't be afraid to experiment with tyre choice to suit your local terrain or style of riding.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The handlebar seems odd at first but do give it a chance, it works well off-road.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
The TRP Spyre disc brakes provide a good balance of power and control, once bedded in.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
There's a lot to like and little to pick fault with here. The GT Grade Alloy Tiagra is a very good choice if you're looking for a road bike that is a bit more hardy and capable than a regular option.
About the tester
Age: 31 Height: 180 Weight: 67
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.