GT Grade Carbon Pro: At the Finish – by MG
GT Bicycles is a brand built on passion for riding fast. While the brand’s image was forged in the BMX and mountain bike markets, GT’s Grade family of gravel bikes proves the company can build a great drop bar dirt bike too.
I’ve been riding our custom-built Shimano GRX Di2-equipped 2020 Grade Carbon Pro long-term test bike for about eight months. Now, it’s time to offer up my final impressions of the bike. Since I covered the basic specifications, features and geometry in my Getting Rolling post, today I’ll focus on my long-term ride impressions of the Grade Carbon Pro frame and fork.
For the 2020 Grade, GT redesigned its Triple Triangle frame design. Instead of stiffening the rear triangle laterally, the new ‘floating’ seatstay design encourages shock absorbing flex in the stays and seat tube.
Does it work? Oh yes… Yes it does. Overall, the Grade Carbon Pro is one of the smoothest riding drop bar frames I’ve ridden. In some ways the rear of the GT reminds me of the Kingpin suspension on the Cannondale Topstone Carbon, but the character of the two bikes couldn’t be more different.
While the Topstone Carbon has the ultra efficient feel of a great race bike, the Grade Carbon has a less edgy, more approachable character for many cyclists. In many respects, it’s more reminiscent of a lightweight, high performance carbon touring bike.
The GT’s 430mm chain stays are a full 15mm longer than Cannondale specs on the Topstone Carbon. The longer stays give the Grade Carbon a more stable, planted feel, particularly in rough gravel. They also give the GT a fair bit more tire clearance than the Topstone Carbon.
While the Topstone Carbon struggles to fit anything larger than a 40c tire in the rear, the Grade Carbon can easily take a true-to-size 42mm tire. If it’s dry, you could even fit a 44mm tire. GT’s spec of a 42mm max tire size is pretty conservative, from my experience.
GT equips the Grade Carbon fork with a flip-chip, so the rider can choose the standard 55mm offset, or a longer 70mm offset position. The 55mm offset provides stable, balanced handling for most gravel rides, while the 70mm offset provides more responsive handling in a fully-loaded bikepacking setting.
I rode the Grade Carbon extensively with the flip-chip in both positions and it had a profound effect on the bike’s handling. When running in the standard 55mm offset position, the Grade Carbon has a familiar feel, with good maneuverability and enough stability to easily ride hands-free for extended periods of time.
When I switched the flip-chip to the 70mm offset setting, the Grade Carbon took on an entirely different character. It was incredibly sensitive to steering inputs, enabling me to easily change lines on the road. It also felt great when running handlebar- and/or fork-mounted bags.
Without the weight of extra bags, the heightened maneuverability of the 70mm offset setting made riding in a close group or pace line marginally more challenging. It also felt like crosswinds had more effect on the bike’s stability unless I was running bike packing bags on the fork. It was harder to ride no-hands for extended periods, such as when taking off and stowing a rain jacket, particularly in the wind.
As a result, I tend to run the fork in the standard 55mm offset setting for most rides. I’ll switch it over to the 70mm setting if I’m loading the bike up for a sub-24 overnight, but will switch it back as soon as the bags are back off the bike. In this case, options are good.
Living with the Grade Carbon Pro
GT bucked the trend when it equipped the Grade Carbon Pro with external cable routing, and it’s a feature most home mechanics will applaud. It’s much quicker and easier to service externally-routed cables or hydraulic hoses.
On Shimano Di2-equipped Grade Carbon models, the Di2 wiring runs internally through the frame. This enables the use of Shimano’s seatpost-mounted battery, but on mechanical drivetrain-equipped Grade Carbon models, all cables and hoses run externally. Internal dropper routing is provided, which enters at the bottom bracket. Overall, it’s a good setup that’s easy to live with and service when needed.
With versatility in-mind, GT equips all 2020 Grade frames and forks with a plethora of mounts. There are 3-pack mounts on both fork legs and the top of the down tube with standard bottle cage mounts on the seat tube and bottom of the downtube. GT also provides fender and rack mounts front and rear, plus mounts on the top tube for a direct-mount bag (or an additional water bottle).
Any Room for Improvement?
While I’m stoked that the Grade Carbon Pro can easily clear up to a 44c tire, it’d be even better if it cleared a 50mm tire. That’s where the market is headed (mark my words), and I think the ability to clear a 50mm tire would only enhance the Grade Carbon Pro’s versatility.
Also, in my perfect world the Grade Carbon Pro would be spec’ed with a T47 threaded bottom bracket. That said, the stock press-fit bottom bracket has been creak- and trouble-free throughout the test period.
The Bottom Line
The GT Grade Carbon Pro is a great choice for gravel cyclists that prioritize ride quality and versatility… Those who want one bike that can take on almost any ride, from pavement to smooth single track. Even without ‘active’ suspension, the Grade Carbon Pro is one of the smoothest gravel bikes I’ve ridden. It’s a bike I look forward to riding.
Furthermore, GT built a lot of value into the Grade Carbon Pro, and really the entire Grade family. At each price level, you get a very nicely equipped bike. The stock top-end Grade Carbon Pro is equipped with Shimano’s excellent Ultegra RX groupset (with a clutch-equipped rear derailleur), and it’s priced at just $3,900. That’s impressive value for a bike that competes toe-to-toe with the industry’s best in terms of handling and ride quality. No, that price doesn’t get you carbon wheels, but from experience I can tell you it’s an upgrade worth making, and it’s still an excellent value.
In the end, the Grade Carbon Pro is light enough to race, robust enough to load up for a quick bike packing trip and fun to ride on virtually any road. For a gravel cyclist interested in doing it all, it’s a solid choice.
Learn more about GT’s entire family of Grade gravel bikes at GTBicycles.com.
Note: GT sent the Grade Carbon Pro frameset to Riding Gravel at no charge for test and review. We were not paid, nor bribed for this review and we always strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.