GT's flagship carbon fibre Grade was one of the first of the new breed of gravel and adventure bikes to hit the market when it launched a couple of years ago. It combines disc brakes with big tyres and slacker geometry to create a bike that is fast on the road yet capable of tackling more adventurous trails and paths. You get a well-considered package for the asking price and it should definitely be on your shortlist.
Ride and handling
Where road bikes are pure in their pursuit of speed on the road, the new gravel/adventure category offers you a wider choice of roads and tracks to ride over. GT tags the Grade with the EnduRoad descriptor, but you can call it what you want: it's a road bike with bigger tyres, disc brakes and slacker angles, which opens up the sort of riding the bike is capable of doing.
Take your pick of gravel roads, bridleways, beaten up old farm tracks, potholed country lanes, old mountain bike tracks... the Grade tackles them all, and more, just fine. Its 28mm tyres (which appear much wider on the Grail rims) provide good comfort and traction (in the dry), while the carbon frame and fork take the edge out of bumpier tracks but maintain a nice bit of zip when sticking to the tarmac.
The geometry, with a longer wheelbase and slacker head angle than a road bike, instills a huge amount of confidence in its ability to be stable and steady, traits that mean it's very composed at high road speeds or when hurtling down a dusty tree-lined track dodging roots and rocks.
Don't think that it's slow and ponderous on the road. Granted, it doesn't have the razor sharp direction changes or acceleration of a race bike, but it's far from a slouch when used mainly as a road bike, and it'll cruise along the road just as fast as the best endurance bike. You can ride it for long distances or load it up with some bikepacking bags and go on a multi-day adventure – on a route that takes in some of the forgotten lanes and byways that crisscross this small island.
The weight – 8.78kg thanks to the carbon build and generous kit choices – gives you a fighting chance on the hills, where the 52/36 chainset and 11-32 cassette help you scale most climbs. A 50/34 chainset would be preferable, especially when heading into more challenging terrain and especially if you do decide to swap the slicks for a tyre with more aggressive tread pattern and head into wilderness, where climbs are typically steeper.
The bike displays a high level of front-end stiffness when climbing out of the saddle, with the 15mm thru-axle helping to eliminate rotor rub from the disc brake and the oversized bottom bracket and down tube area ensuring it feels stiff under pedal. The use of a regular quick release 135mm back-end didn't appear to be a detriment to the ride of the bike, but it must be noted that more recently designed adventure bikes are leaning towards thru-axles at both ends.
The full-carbon frameset, with slender seatstays (carbon wrapped fibreglass cores) and fork blades, noticeably removes more vibration from the ride than the aluminium Grade I tested last year, resulting in a more composed ride on the wide variety of terrain the bike is able to tackle and conquer.
A pair of 28mm Continental tyres are, at about 75-80psi, beautifully smooth on the road, mopping up bumps and ripples very well. They're capable of tackling off-road trails, provided the ground is dry: the slick design is next to useless in mud. There's ample tyre clearance, up to 35mm, to fit a gravel tyre (such as Panaracer's GravelKing) or even a cyclo-cross tyre, so the Grade can be easily adapted for a higher ratio of off-road to road use if that's how you want to use the Grade.
The Grade, then, handles any terrain with ease and isn't fazed by rough terrain, yet whizzes along the smoother stuff as quickly as any decent endurance road bike. That you can fit mudguards and racks boosts its versatility immensely, making it a bike that can comfortably replace three or four dedicated-purpose bikes. It's well suited to the recreational cyclist who cycles for fun or transportation, rather than those who count segment chasing as their priorities.
GT has used its iconic Triple Triangle design, most famously used on its Zaskar mountain bike from the 90s, with a full-carbon fibre construction.The seatstays are actually made by wrapping a fibreglass core with carbon fibre, to provide the right blend of stiffness and compliance. That, along with the 27.2mm seatpost, is claimed to provide as much as 11mm of deflection, which helps to smooth out rougher roads and impacts from riding over ridges and holes.
A huge down tube, BB30 bottom bracket and tapered head tube help to ensure the frame is stiff enough to deliver the speed on the road. As I've said, this model benefits from a full-carbon fork with a 15mm thru-axle. Because the Grade has been around for a few years now, it's using post mounts for the disc brakes; while not as clean looking as the newer flat mount standard, it works just fine and is easy to adjust.
There are details of which I'm a fan, the external cable routing being one, with the cables and rear brake hose neatly clipped to the underside of the down tube. Full-length outers prevent dirt getting into the cables, the frame looks clean, and cable replacement is going to be far easier than with internal cable routing. A removable seatstay bridge provides a mudguard mount, a simple and smart solution that lets you fit mudguards for winter riding.
Build and prices
The pictured bike is the most expensive model in the Grade range, and packs a full Shimano Ultegra mechanical groupset with hydraulic disc brakes. It's an excellent combination. Gear changes are a delight, with a light action, and the brakes are simply superb. Get them bedded in and they deliver stacks of braking power with easy one-finger application, they're a godsend on challenging descents and flawless in the dirt.
The devil is in the detail, for GT has packed this bike with a really high-quality set of wheels. The excellent Stan's Grail rims – a wide aluminium tubeless rim able to take plenty of abuse – are laced to the lovely DT Swiss 240 hubs which are silky smooth and very durable. Brass nipples are a nice touch as they provide better longevity and durability, for a negligible weight penalty.
Continental's Grand Sport 28mm tyre is a good choice, fast-rolling and puncture-resistant, and on the wide Grail rims measure closer to 30mm – they look huge! It's a shame that GT hasn't opted to make use of the tubeless compatibility of the Grail rims and fit some tubeless tyres. There's nothing to stop you upgrading them yourself, but if you've just spent £2,700 on the bike, you might understandably be wanting to curtail any future expenses.
You get a GT branded aluminium handlebar, with its flared drops, and matching stem, coupled with an FSA K-Force carbon fibre 27.2mm seatpost. The flared handlebar feels a bit odd at first if you've never used one before, but while it makes less sense on the road, it's invaluable on off-road terrain. The extra width provides more leverage and control over the bike's direction when tackling rougher tracks, especially those pointing down.
The seatpost is topped with a superbly comfortable Fizik Aliante saddle, the kicked tail shape a benefit on steep off-road trails. The plastic edges help to prevent scuffs if you have any crashes or tumbles off-road as well.
Its looks might be divisive, but it's a well-designed bike packed with some thoughtful details and the performance will appeal to the many riders who want one bike that is happy on the road but capable of going off-road, and versatile enough to be turned into a touring bike, cyclo-cross racer, mudguard-equipped commuter or regular road bike. The Grade is a chameleon of a bike.
A versatile, fast and capable road bike that's happy in the rough
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road.cc test report
Make and model: GT Grade Carbon Ultegra
Size tested: 56
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: All New GT EnduRoad carbon frame and fork, disc specific triple triangle with Tapered head tube, full carbon fork, PFBB30 bottom bracket, removable fender bridge
Fork: GT Carbon with tapered 1 1/8-1 1/4 threadless Carbon steerer, disc specific, 15mm thru axle
Chain: KMC X11
Crank: Shimano Ultegra 52/36 with Praxis Works PF30 BB adapter
Bottom Bracket: Praxis Works PF30 BB adapter
Front Derailleur: Shimano Ultegra braze on
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Ultegra 11spd
Shifters: Shimano Ultegra STI 11spd
Cog Set: Shimano 105 11spd 11-32
Rims: Stans No Tubes Grail Disc specific Road 28h
Tires: Continental Grand Sport Race 700x28c Folding
Hubs: F: DT Swiss 240 sealed bearing, centerlock, 15mm thru-axle; R: DT Swiss 240 sealed bearing, centerlock, 135mm spacing
Spokes: 15g stainless steel
Nipples: Brass CP
Brake: Shimano R685 hydraulic w/ cooling fins, 160mm IceTech centerlock rotors
Brake Levers: Shimano BR-R685
Handlebar: New GT DropTune Ultra Light double butted 2014 alloy bar with 16degree flair
Stem: New design 3D forged alloy SL
Grips: Black Marble Cork
Headset: Integrated TH sealed bearing
Saddle: Fizik ALIANTE R7 Mg
Seat Post: FSA K-Force Light carbon 27.2, 20mm set back
Seat Clamp: New Alloy blk ano
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?
Take the road to nowhere
When you want to head off the beaten path, take the road less traveled, or avoid cliches altogether, the Grade Carbon is the bike of choice for the route of your dreams. With a glass fiber and carbon frame and GT's patented Triple Triangle design, you have the ultimate in control and fatigue reduction for those long day exploring the roads to nowhere.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
High-quality finished and the paint job is durable, ideal for tackling rocky trails.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Full carbon fibre frame and fork with carbon wrapped fibreglass stays.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Longer and slacker than an endurance bike.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Fitted very well with no stem change needed, with good reach for long distance road comfort, yet with nimble handling off-road – a shorter stem would liven it up off-road if you wanted.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Incredibly smooth provided you don't overinflate the tyres – they work best at lower pressures so don't be afraid to experiment.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
The oversized bottom bracket and down tube, along with the tapered head tube and 15mm thru-axle fork, ensure the bike is very responsive and doesn't waste your power input.
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? Relaxed, very relaxed.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Relaxed and steady best sums up the handling of the bike, and it really shines on descents.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
I'd love to see tubeless tyres fitted as standard to make use of the tubeless compatibility of the excellent Grail rims.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
A compact chainset would better suit this bike if you want to explore trails and paths, but for road use the 52/36 is just fine.
Wheels and tyres
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Maybe
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
There's growing choice in this gravel/adventure category but the Grade was one of the first from a big brand, and it's still very much a relevant choice combining great performance with a sorted specification.
About the tester
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.