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Update June 19, 2019 - Ride Review
I've now spent some time on this bike and wanted to update this review based on some kms in the saddle.
- compliance while riding in the saddle over gravel, rough roads. It's comfy and fast.
- Weight - when pedaling up steep inclines, you can overcome the lack of a really low gear just by how light & easy to accelerate it is
- Brakes stop on a dime, even on steep, loose, rough descents.
- Tyre clearance - This is addressed in the 2020 revision of this bike
- Saddle - like every saddle, some will like it, some will not. A custom-fit Shimano Pro saddle (Turnix) or a WTB mountain saddle with the anatomic relief would be more to my liking.
- Gearing - the 52/36 chainrings up front and the relatively small cassette don't quite give the low range that newer gravel bikes do.
Overall, this bike tends to swing a little more towards the regular road bike on the gravel bike continuum, as opposed to the fat tyre, super low gear/dropper post/1x drivetrain versions on the more rugged end of the scale. This will appeal to commuters and riders primarily riding on pavement, bike paths, rail trails, and long distances over relatively smooth terrain. The closer gear ratios make it easier to fine tune your cadence and make it more familiar, like a road bike.
One of the fastest growing trends in cycling right now is "gravel road". This encompasses a few different overlapping categories that we as retailers cater to already like rugged road bikes with disc brakes for commuters, cyclocross bikes that don't really get raced in Cyclocross events, and touring bikes. The difference here is that these bikes are specifically designed to turn off the pavement and handle the gravel and unsealed roads with relative comfort and confidence, while maintaining much of the speed and efficiency of the traditional road bike that people are accustomed to.
On the sales floor and riding with the local community, I've noticed a considerable increase in people talking about close brushes with cars, other safety concerns with riding their regular routes in the city and their desire to ride on less-traveled roads and get out of town a bit. This isn't unique to Melbourne, it's a trend emerging around the world and the answer that many find is a road bike that is equipped for a bit of riding off the perfect bitumen.
In 2015 and '16, GT was one of the first companies to design and produce a bike that met these needs specifically without trying to cater to other riding styles at the same time. GT is mostly known for mountain bikes and BMX, but their shared resources with Cannondale (both owned by Dorel Sports in the USA) allowed them to chase their road desires without going fully road bike. They built a carbon chassis form the ground up that had increased tyre clearance (up to 36c), used traditional road components, but had a lower gear range, wider bars, more rugged wheels, and lots of vertical compliance to smooth out the rough surfaces to make them enjoyable for longer distances.
In my experience, all the gravel road bikes can be grouped into two categories: First, road bikes that can handle a big dose of gravel roads, but maintain mostly road gearing and ride style; they are just as comfortable on the road as the gravel. Typically these have 2x11 drivetrains and 700x30-34 smooth or slightly textured tyres. The second group is designed more for bike-packing or a heavier dose of offroad riding. The build of the bike, although very capable offroad and over long distances, makes it a fairly cumbersome bike on the pavement, especially if riding with some other riders on traditional road bikes. These typically come with dropper posts for getting low in technical areas, a single chainring up front, and massive tyre clearance (up to 46c). The Grade fits the former; just as comfortable on road as on gravel.
The gearing is 52/36 up front, and 11-32 on the rear. This gives you your normal road gearing plus a little lower range for steeper or looser climbs and more importantly, the increments in gearing that you are accustomed to that are sacrificed with a simpler 1x11 drivetrain. The tyre clearance is up to about a 36c tyre, but stock is a mild-tread 32c tyre. The comfort of this bike over gravel at normal 28-40km/hr speeds is exceptional and it feels as if you can ride all day on a rail trail or unsealed road.
Overall, I think this bike is perfect for a road rider that is looking to expand into commuting, gravel riding, or exploring some other options in routes but wants something that feels and rides more like their normal road bike - only more capable and comfortable on the rougher surfaces. With a swap to 25c tyres, this bike would feel like a second road bike. It's going to handle choppy, rough, loose surfaces a lot better and allows you to explore a lot more without worrying about damaging your expensive equipment in the process.
As of May 14, 2019 we had these on sale, check the GT Sale Bikes link to see prices and availability: