The GT Grade shook things up when it was first introduced in 2014. The whole concept of the adventure bike was just taking off, and the Grade was at the forefront of a new crop of bikes that redefined what a road bike could be. Blurring the lines between a cyclocross bike, a touring bike, and a road bike, GT’s designers took the UCI rule book that usually governs how road bikes are built and threw it in the trash. They started from scratch with their own design, using unique materials and component choices to create a bike that pushed the boundaries of where you can go with drop bars.
Where to start…the Grade isn’t really like any other bike we’ve ever ridden before. It’s kind of similar to the Diamondback Haanjo, but also not really. We did get to take an initial look at it all the way back in 2014, when actually seeing the Grade in person was like sighting a unicorn, and we were pretty impressed with the technology that went into it. We would have to wait until this spring to finally throw a leg over one, and let us tell you: it was worth the wait.
So what makes the GT Grade Carbon 105 such a great ride? Because for all their rule breaking, GT knew when to stick with what just works and when to push the boundaries. The full carbon frame on the 105 model is stiff and responsive to input from hard efforts on the road, largely thanks to it’s PF30 bottom bracket and tapered headtube. But point it towards the dirt and it becomes almost another animal entirely. The pencil-thin Dual Fiber seatstays are filled with fiberglass, which helps give them more flex and absorb more vibrations so you get a much smoother ride than normal. The Triple Triangle Design that GT is famous for also decouples the rear triangle from the front, allowing for much more compliance and travel than would be possible otherwise. Up front, the tapered fork sports a 15mm thru axle, which is a big bonus since it makes for a stiff front end and allows for easier disc rotor alignment.
Make no mistake, this is no lightweight bike…but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While the Grade Carbon 105 frame probably tips the scales at well over 1000g (I don’t have an exact number in front of me), I would actually prefer that on a bike that’s going to be taking me a long, long way from home on some not so great roads and trails. In the back country, I’ll take a few hundred extra grams of weight over some eggshell-thin tube walls to hit an arbitrary number on the scale any day. This added weight translates into a confident, fun, and comfortable ride that feels nicely planted on the trails or gravel roads, but without holding you back too much on the climbs.
The Grade Carbon 105 is also nicely spec’ed with some really high quality parts, namely the Stan’s NoTubes Grail wheels with Centerlock rotor mounts. You may not know this, but the Grail was actually developed by Stan’s at the request of GT specifically for the Grade. We’ve ridden the Grail’s on a few other bikes, and we have to say it is without a doubt one of our favorite alloy wheelsets out there. The rims are a thoroughly modern wide and blunt profile that support some really wide rubber. We were also delighted to see Centerlock rotors on this model, since we greatly prefer Shimano’s mounting system over 6-bolt.
The new Shimano 105 hydraulic ain’t bad either—once you get past the looks of the levers. They aren’t the prettiest things out there, but functional and affordable they are. The hydraulic levers have a really smooth actuation with easy modulation that lets you know in no uncertain terms that you’re in control, even on some super sketchy, rutted out gravel descents. Shifting is par for the course with Shimano, which is to say excellent. One thing that did kind of puzzle us though was the crankset, which was mounted with 52/36 chainrings, aka The Pro Compact. For mixed terrain use we would have liked to see a straight up compact with 50/34 rings, but it’s not a deal breaker since GT does provide you with an 11-32 cassette, which gives you more than enough gears to get up just about anything. And thanks to Shimano’s 4-bolt universal road chainrings, swapping them out for 50/34 or even 46/46 CX rings takes little more than a few minutes and a hex wrench.
And is it ok if we take a second to chat handlebars? Ok, thanks. The Droptune bars on the Grade Carbon 105 are probably unlike any other bar you’ve ever ridden, with a huge (and we do mean HUGE) flare at the drops. Our bars measured 42cm at the hoods and over 50cm near the bar ends. At first it took quite a while to get used to them, and on the road they felt a little awkward. But after venturing onto the dirt, we got it. Riding in the drops on dirt will usually give you more stability because it lowers your center of gravity, and on the GT you get even more of that. Because the drops splay out so far, it feels almost like you’re riding a really aero mountain bike—which is kind of cool.
Set up was a breeze, for the most part. There was the usual mounting of stem and seatpost, which is easy enough. The disc rotors and calipers were easy to adjust, thanks to the fact that they’re hydraulic. Simply slap the wheels in there, undo the two mounting bolts for the caliper, pump the lever a few times, then squeeze the lever and tighten up the bolts.
Over time, we did change out a few things. The bike came with some slick 28mm road tires mounted, which were totally fine, but we wanted a little more grip and plump so we went with a set of 32mm lightweight touring tires instead—which gave some extra grip on the trail. The bike also came with a Fizik Aliante saddle, which is probably fine for most riders, but it didn’t work for our particular contours, so we swapped it out for our usual go-to perch instead.
But beyond that, it’s all gravy.
The GT Grade Carbon 105 is one of the most fun bikes we’ve ridden in a long, long time. It definitely has the chops to keep up with a fast group ride on the road, but it also can push the limits of where you can go on a bike with drop handlebars. It’s an adventure bike that will make you want to go out and see what’s down that gravel path you’ve always wondered about, or duck off the road to check out that path going into the woods. With the proper saddlebag equipment, and enough food and water, there are very few places we couldn’t imagine going on the Grade.