Question 1: Do you want a road bike?
Question 2: Do you want that bike to feel like a mountain bike, with disk brakes, slack geometry (for a road bike), long wheelbase, the right amount of compliance, wide tires and a bad attitude?
Question 3: Do you want that bike to descend like a monster?
3 Yes's? That’s the Grade. It is the drop-bar bike mountain bikers should buy if they want to crush it on road, gravel and smooth dirt.
40mph can be fun. Cynthia Izoldi photo.
I never really considered getting into "gravel" riding, mostly because I think it's marketing bullshit. Sure, riding a road bike on gravel might be fun—I enjoy a cyclocross race every now and again—but this whole “open road/freedom/adventure/bike-camping/gravel” thing feels targeted to millennials dancing around a bonfire to Lumineers songs.
However, GT has serious MTB cred. They make gravity-focused race rigs that haul. So if they put out a road bike, it’s a safe bet it’ll be capable of some bad-ass-ery and abuse. And the category is not their fault. To their credit, they just put out the best gravel-capable bike.
Also, road cycling really helps your mountain biking. Steady-state power, endurance and long miles; Train yourself to pump out 300+ watts consistently over an hour and a half, and that’ll pay huge dividends on any trail ride. Also, I love seeing how fast I can go on the road, mashing out power while trying to hit 50mph is kinda awesome.
The GT Grade is the bike that makes road biking feel like mountain biking. That is... lots of fun.
The Grade has a lot of features which are not quite standard roadie equipment: 32c tubeless Clement Strada tires are super fat for a road bike (until recently 23c has been the norm). Recent science has proven wider tires offer lower rolling resistance (MTB kind of led the way there). So instead of the harsh, 120 psi skinnies on road tires, the Grade has fat rubber running 50 psi.
Mount whatever you want, plenty of room back there. GT photo.
The Mavic Aksium carbon wheels are light, have beefy Mavic hubs with straight-pull spokes and disk brakes. They don't flex under cornering or speed.
Great stopping power and a really visible fork. GW photo.
And damn, the Shimano R785 disk brakes feel nice when you’re hauling ass downhill and want to dive hard into a side street. Hard braking at speed is a sketchy proposition with rim-brakes. No more. These are smooth and powerful.
The vertically-compliant rear triangle and fibreglass seatstays. GW photo.
The Grade’s frame has a massive down-tube and wide bottom bracket for stiffness. The seat-stays feature fiberglass cores wrapped in carbon fiber to deliver a sweet amount of vertical compliance. Suspension, basically. It takes the edge off bumps but can hold its line like if on rails.
Up front, a beefy carbon fork keeps the Grade’s braking power in line and it’s bright yellow color makes sure teenaged drivers staring at their cellphone have at least a decent chance of seeing you.
Wide bars make it to the roadie market. GW photo.
If you like wide bars on your mountain bike, the Grade’s flared drop bars provide leverage for aggressive descents and body-english on climbs. Truthfully, descents are where the bike is the most fun. I consistently pedaled hard as I could down hills just to see how fast I could go. That’s how comfortable it makes you feel. It’s plush, the tires stick to the road no matter what, the bars are wide… so have at it.
The beefy down-tube and ultegra cranks. GW photo.
The Shimano Ultegra drivetrain, with 52/36 chainrings and an 11-32 cassette, fit every situation. Though, the bike begs you to put power into it—this isn’t a rig for twaddling around to the store.
Its stock 90mm stem is a little long. I toyed with going full-on douche and putting a 35mm stem on it, but that would be too short. 70mm worked well for me.
It's really light too. GW photo.
Finally, the carbon seatpost added vertical compliance to an already plush package.
Gettin' used to it, trying to blend in. GW photo.
I’m grateful to GT for putting this in my hands, though giving me a high-end road bike is casting pearls before swine. I asked them “are you SURE?” at least twice when they offered it to me for review. They assured me that, yes, they’d like me ride it, and even threw in some Sugoi roadie-wear so I’d fit in a little better on the tarmac (GT and Sugoi are owned by the same company, so it's the MTB-est of roadie gear). I still don’t own a pure road helmet, shoes or those gloves without fingers, but I think I passed most days.
I refuse to buy fingerless gloves. Cynthia Izoldi photo.
My first ride on it was a “what the heck, roll it out of the garage and see what happens” ride. I threw a water bottle in the cage as an afterthought. Not even sure I had a multi-tool and a tube. Without realizing it, I hammered 30 miles in a little over hour and a half. For me that’s a ton. I kept looking at the next hill thinking “not a problem, I’ll get over that and FLY down the backside.” When riding the Grade, at some point you'll realize you’re REALLY thirsty and turn around, loving that you still have 15 miles until home.
The geometry doesn’t bend you over like a hardcore race bike—they call that ‘endurance’ geometry—you can keep your eyes and chest up, dropping into those flared bars when you want to get low. It helps open your chest to vacuum in as much air as possible when you need it.
It climbs awesome. Cynthia Izoldi photo.
Again, the Grade descends like nobody’s business. Grippy tires and a long wheelbase make you feel invincible. On fast, swoopy bits of road, you can roll over cracks and crud with impunity. If you have a bike computer, you’ll mash as fast as you can downhill to see what you can get the number to. The tubeless tires, flexy chainstays and carbon seatpost take pretty much all the road chatter out of the equation.
Again, the compliant seatstays take a lot of the harshness out of any surface. GW photo.
The brakes are powerful. A ton more powerful than the rim brakes on my CX bike, and those don’t suck. Interestingly, overheating is more of an issue on road descents because of the faster speeds and generally smaller rotors (though 160mm disks on the Grade match what you can find on some XC bikes). The cooling fins on the disks and calipers mitigate head and I never experienced any fade.
You’d think a bike with these kind of descending chops would feel slow on the climbs, but no. The stiff bottom bracket and downtube transfer power really efficiently. As I mentioned, wide tires provide less rolling resistance than skinny tires (something about a larger volume of air in a wider tire holds a better profile under weight). In the saddle or out, push the cranks uphill without any rattles or feedback from the road.
Sick of seeing me in Spandex yet? Cynthia Izoldi photo.
Yes, I took it on dirt. But because I don't normally ride ‘gravel’ I don’t have a lot to compare it to. It’s fun... but it’s not mountain biking. If you do take it on a dirt road, it’ll feel perfectly normal. You won’t worry about your tires or brakes or frame.
I guess what this bike does is let you give no shits about whatever is in front of you. Fast road: awesome, beat everyone on the descent and pedal all day. Gravel: no problem.
Could get used to it. Feels good. GT photo.
If you’re a mountain biker who wants to ride on the road, this bike is your jam: Aggressive, holds its line descending, strong brakes, plush, poppy on the climbs. Buy this bike.
And yes, it’s adventurous. With a Grade you can bang out really fun fitness training before work or whatever. It will increase your mountain bike skill and fun. Though be careful, you might just start riding the road for fun. Then where will you be?
And it looks great. Cynthia Izoldi photo.
Fork: GT Carbon with tapered carbon steerer, 15mm thru axle
Bars: New GT DropTune Ultra Light with a 16-degree flare
Drivetrain: Shimano Ultegra 11-speed
Rear Mech: Shimano Ultegra
Chainrings: Shimano Ultegra 52/36
Cassette: Shimano 105 11-speed 11-32
Bottom Bracket: Praxis Works PF30 BB
Brakes: Shimano R785 hydraulic w/ cooling fins, 160mm IceTech centerlock rotors
Wheels: Mavic Aksium Disc Allroad Wheelset
Tires: Tubeless Clement Strada USH 700x32c
Seatpost: FSA K-Force Light carbon 27.2, 25mm setback
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