The first question when preparing the Grade for a test ride is, which pedals shall I fit, road or off road? That alone should be an indicator of the choices this bike offers you.
Well over a year after its launch it still looks fresh – proof, if it were needed, of GT getting it right first time. That’s why it’s ended up back in the lineup for our sibling magazine Cycling Plus’s Bike of the Year awards for 2016, having scooped ‘Best Debut’ last year.
It’s not a conventional road machine, nor a cyclocross, gravel or adventure bike, according to GT. The maker instead calls it ‘Enduroad’.
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One thing is for certain – little about the Grade is conventional – which is precisely why it works. There are cheaper aluminium-framed models, but this is the all carbon Shimano 105 version, sitting second in the specification stakes below the range-topping Ultegra machine.
The handlebar is usefully flared, and remains practical all the way to its 50cm wide tips, via the levers, which are spaced a more standard 42cm apart. It’s fantastic for maximising control on fast, bumpy descents, the added width ensuring millimetric adjustments are simple and confidence-inspiring. Everywhere else, getting on to the drops just seems to incite a more flamboyant, grin-inducing riding style, since the action needed to swing the bike from side to side is accentuated by the bar’s width.
The flared bar allows for millimetric adjustments, maximising control on fast, rough descents
At just 70.5 degrees on our medium-sized machine, the Grade’s front end has cyclocross-bike chuckability with massive stability, but still has the go of a road bike when needed, the 73 degree seat angle providing a normal pedalling position. To maintain good clearance for the larger rubber, the chainstays are 430mm, around 25mm longer than most road bikes, and contributing to the 1025mm wheelbase that helps the bike’s planted feel.
Although only 162mm tall, the head tube seems far longer thanks to the tall fork, and as supplied, the stem’s rise creates a very high hand position. I ended up flipping the stem to run it flat, and was able to replicate my usual cyclocross position, which is higher than my preferred road tuck, but a good compromise between observation and efficiency.
Quality kit and buttery smooth ride
Much of your investment here is in the frameset. But a full complement of Shimano 105 components, plus excellent Ultegra-level hydraulic levers and disc brakes rolling on a Stan’s Grail wheelset with front thru axle isn’t too shabby.
The front brake hose is neatly routed down the fork leg
Add in a Fizik Aliante saddle, 27.2mm carbon seatpost and 28mm Continentals and you’ll not want for anything else, unless you like your posterior dry, when a removable seat stay mount permits full mudguard (fender) mounting. The front brake hose runs on the inside of the fork leg, with the gear cables and rear hose clamped tidily beneath the down tube, keeping the frame looking clean.
With 90psi in its portly treads the Grade rolls quickly and covers tarmac briskly, especially in the bends, where their rounded profile defies you to lean ever further, and it’s so much fun trying that you’ll go back and do it again. With a beefy lower section for strength, and spindly seat stays for compliance, the Grade’s frame has a buttery smooth ride quality on the road, obviously helped by the high volume tyres and carbon post.
If you want to take in unmade roads (or what passes for roads in much of the UK, where we were testing), that ride plushness continues to impress. On southwest England’s Salisbury Plain, some of our local roads alternate between potholed tarmac, hardpacked gravel and dirt, and we traversed them without lowering tyre pressure or making any speed concessions.
No clearance issues here
The slick tyres will slip in wet mud, but are fine on almost everything else. And when things start to pogo, that broad bar helps calm them down.
An all-road machine that performs on the actual road
This isn’t a bike for the club run, and although it’s capable of holding its own on the blacktop – we cheerily breezed by several roadies out training – maintaining a constantly high average pace on the asphalt is unsurprisingly harder work than on more specific machinery. Mix up the surfaces though and the Grade doesn’t need to back off.
Yes there are other bikes capable of dealing with both road and rough stuff. But they often lean more towards true off road capability, whereas the Grade is stronger on the road.
The bike’s gearing setup confirms this. With 52/36 chain rings and an 11-32 cassette, there are all the gears you need for rapid road progress, but a super low 36x32 for long climb slogging.
Provided out-and-out speed isn't your only motivation, the Grade remains an excellent all-round, all-road machine
This is a good thing, as although the Grade performs well on short drags and power climbs, hustling over them at a decent lick, the effects of gravity and rotational mass make long climbs a sit-and-spin affair. So don’t plan to take one on an Alpine assault, unless you’re happy to spend more time looking at the scenery.
The complete bike weight is very good considering its robustness, but the beefier wheels and tyres consume more power in the hills, although making them tubeless would help.
It’s not the ideal bike for everyone, but what is? If you want to link up tarmac with fire roads, canal paths, byways or just urban shortcuts, there’s a lot of fun to be had.
It could be the perfect all-rounder for the rider who isn’t speed-obsessed, or a great N+1 bike for those wanting to mix it up and explore without leaving the road altogether. Basically, if you can, try one.