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GT Grade Carbon Pro review

16 Nov 2020

Page 1 of 2GT Grade Carbon Pro review

Verdict:

Plush yet stiff feel and assured handling and does a decent turn on the road, but a wide-ranging 1x setup would be preferable

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£3,499
For 
Stiff • Comfortable • Light • Good handling • Versatile
Against 
Gear ratios • External hydraulic cabling is a little unsightly

When GT launched the Grade in 2014, the machine came with what at the time was the curious moniker of ‘gravel bike’. It bewildered many onlookers – what was this strange new niche between cyclocross, mountain biking and road riding?

Take a look at the landscape of the bike market today, though, and it’s clear that the manufacturer could not have better predicted the trend that lay ahead if it had tried.

The Grade’s premise has always been to offer a twist on road cycling. It’s a bike geared to adventure and all-road riding, but without ever losing touch with its underlying racy road character.

 

For 2020, however, the bike has arguably moved a little further away from road riding to reflect how tastes have changed over the past six years.

Buy the GT Grade carbon from Cyclestore now

First off, though, it’s intriguing that GT hasn’t followed the crowd and designed the bike around super-wide 650b tyre clearance. There’s no sign of a dropped chainstay, as seen on some gravel bikes, to allow for the 2.1in tyres that have become increasingly popular.

‘I look at tyre widths a little like bike weights,’ says Patrick Kaye, product manager for the GT Grade. ‘The pendulum swings one way and everyone thinks the absolute lightest bike is the best, but then the pendulum swings back and people realise there’s more to frames than the weight. I think we’ll see the same thing with these super-wide tyres.’

So while it doesn’t match some of the widest clearances on the market, the Grade does pack a rather impressive 42mm tyre clearance on 700c wheels (with room to spare).

 

On 650b wheels the Grade will comfortably fit 47mm tyres, but not 2.1in (53mm) tyres. Still, that’s a big step on from the 35mm max clearance of the original Grade, and it opens the bike up to some testing trails and very rough terrain.

There are a few other innovative design elements at play here. The ‘floating’ glass fibre seatstays, for instance, sit free from the seat tube, linking the top tube directly to the rear dropout. The glass fibres in the seatstays offer more flex than carbon, so should provide a more forgiving ride over the rough stuff.

However it’s the Flip Chip fork that arguably demands most attention. ‘What we’ve focussed on with the fork is an adjustment to fork offset and trail,’ says Kaye. The Flip Chip is a flippable insert on the fork dropout that adjusts the bike’s geometry.

We’ve seen the same tech employed by the Rondo RUUT, but where Rondo’s Twin Flip is designed to alter normal ride characteristics, GT has employed the same thinking specifically to improve the handling when the bike is loaded with bags and panniers.

‘Out of the box the Grade will be set in the rearward position,’ Kaye says. ‘That gives you a more natural geometry when the bike isn’t loaded. When you load the front end, and the whole bike, you lose a lot of steering response. The Flip Chip reacts to that by changing your fork offset and trail.’

Alongside a wide array of mounting points for panniers and bike bags, it affirms that the Grade is fully geared toward serious bikepacking.

 

A Grade material

GT markets the Grade as a bike to have fun on, and that character shone through during my tests. From the outset the bike was lively and responsive, almost impatient, thanks to a stiff front end that makes the handling really active.

For my first ride I headed to an off-road route that’s long, narrow, rocky and so steep in places I expected to get off and walk. I was shocked that the bike had the traction, stability and gearing to see me up the 30% ramps.

The combination of stiffness at the rear end for climbing and softness in the seatstays is married together very well. The cushioning gave me the confidence to keep a little more pressure in the tyres compared to other bikes on the same terrain, which translated to a touch more speed at times.

When it came to technical descents, the bike’s handling allowed me to push my skills that little bit further than normal. This was helped by the flared bars and high front end that did a lot for my sense of control, and the clutched Shimano Ultegra Di2 RX groupset, which is a great spec considering the Grade us under £3,500 in this guise.

Buy the GT Grade carbon from Cyclestore now

I also took the Grade on several road rides without switching from the specced 37mm WTB Riddler tyres. The wide tyres and upright position did create a little drag, but the bike still felt punchy and remarkably light on the road, perhaps partly because of the impressive 980g frame weight. To me, that really proved the bike’s versatility.

The only real complaint I could level at the Grade is the choice of a 2x setup, even though I was hugely impressed with the performance of the Ultegra Di2 RX.

 

GT argues that this particular bike’s riders prefer the versatility of more gears, and the smaller jump between each gear ratio that a 2x setup offers. For the type of riding I was doing on the GT, though, I didn’t feel that a tight spacing of gears was necessary at all.

When scaling a steep, muddy ramp I just wanted the easiest gear I could find, and 1x can often offer easier gear ratios than 2x, especially with the advent of 12-speed cassettes.

Buy the GT Grade carbon from Cyclestore now

I would also prefer to enjoy the maintenance and weight advantages of ditching the front derailleur. Some riders will disagree, but the more I ride 1x systems the more I’m convinced that it is the right solution for gravel bikes.

That aside, there’s not much to criticise about the Grade Carbon Pro. GT was first to the party, and the new Grade shows that it is not about to leave the dancefloor any time soon.

Spec

Frame GT Grade Carbon Pro
Groupset Shimano Ultegra Di2
Brakes Shimano Ultegra Di2
Chainset Shimano Ultegra Di2
Cassette Shimano Ultegra Di2
Bars GT DropTune Super Light
Stem GT Design 3D
Seatpost GT Carbon
Saddle Fabric Scoop Shallow Elite
Wheels WTB KOM Light i23 TCS 28h, WTB Riddler 37mm tyres 
Weight 8.9kg (size 55)
Contact gtbicycles.com

All reviews are fully independent and no payments have been made by companies featured in reviews

Page 1 of 2GT Grade Carbon Pro review