First Ride: New GT Grade gravel/road/adventure bike

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Photos by the author and Dane Cronin, courtesy of GT Bicycles.

Let’s face it, the vast majority of us are never going to need the kind of elite-level performance that modern race bikes are designed for. We want other things, like bigger tires, maybe some fender mounts, and a slightly more comfortable ride for our real-world behinds. GT is jumping into the fray with a new model aimed at the core the recreational road bike market with the new Grade.

The frame is built around GT’s famous Triple Triangle design, with carefully shaped tubing to create a compliant ride. There’s also room for tires from 23c to 35c knobbies and fender eyelets front and rear. Featuring carbon and aluminum options with complete bikes starting at just $799, there is likely to be an build spec for everyone.

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The Grade is designed for paved roads…

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… to back roads.

GT has been closely following the changes in the road bike market over the past five years. While the brand has had success building and racing elite performance frames with the Lotto and Saturn teams, it knows that most riders these days are looking for more versatility. They’re more likely to tackle the long way home rather than Alpe d’Huez. The key design criteria were disc brakes for supreme all-weather stopping power, a more head’s-up geometry for long days in the saddle and more tire clearance for bigger rubber.

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The carbon Grade frame weighs in a less than 1,000 grams, so there’s no weight penalty for versatility. All the usual modern technologies are present, including a tapered head tube and PF30 bottom bracket—essentially a requirement to accommodate the massive down tube and chainstays. That lower half of the bike creates a stiff and responsive platform, while the upper half is entirely tuned for ride quality. The seat stays are pencil-thin and completely solid. The seat tube and top tube were carefully shaped to allow the seat tube to deflect back and the top tube up over hard impacts.

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The Triple Triangle design might be polarizing, or seen as a styling folly, but it has legitimate engineering behind it. The seat stays transmit the road vibrations away from the seat tube (and thus the rider) and into the top tube. Plus it allows for more deflection of the seat tube over those rough patches. If you look closely you will notice there is no seat stay bridge, but GT includes a small, plastic attachment that can be fitted for mounting fenders. Unlike many competitors, the frame also features full-length external housing for the derailleurs and brakes, which makes servicing simple and keeps contaminants out.

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The frame is mated to a full carbon fork with a tapered steerer tube that has a very small taper to increase compliance. The leading dropouts assist in vertical deflection as well, while the 15mm thru-axle keeps things tracking straight and true. The rear end uses a standard 135mm QR.

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There are seven models in all for 2015—two carbon and five aluminum. Unlike the bike you see pictured, the top tier model with have the mechanical Shimano Ultegra 11-speed group with hydraulic braking, but it hasn’t reach full production yet. There is also a Shimano 105 model with the same hydraulic brakes, an 11-speed 105 aluminum model, and aluminum models with Tiagra 10-speed, Sora 9-speed and Claris 8-speed.

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This was my first ride on the Shimano hydraulic braking system and all I can say is that it is sublime. A total game changer. I don’t care what argument you might have against disc brakes, but when you are one-finger braking coming down a 20 percent grade with all the stopping power you could ever need, your mind will likely be changed.

Look for aluminum models to hit dealerships in August, carbon models in September.

 

First ride

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There is no shortage of amazing roads in and around the mountains of Utah, but we ventured well outside where a “normal” road bike would go. Loose gravel, hardpack, grass, and singletrack—that’s where the Grade really loves to be let loose to roam. Over washboard, gravel ranch roads, the larger tires and compliant frame make it easy to really keep your momentum up and pedal through. The stock Continental 28c tires look absolutely massive on the wide Stan’s NoTubes rims (more on those soon), and the extended flare of the GT handlebars leave plenty of room for getting rad.

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A 20-mile ride is not enough for a full review, but I was incredibly impressed with the Grade and its ride. From loose surfaces to just ordinary pavement, it’s comfortable, capable and a lot of fun.

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In action

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