Road Test: GT Grade Carbon Elite

Jan 21st, 2020

This review originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of Adventure Cyclist magazine. 

Three years ago, we took a look at GT’s then-new Grade, the type of bike we think fits perfectly in our annual issue focused on supported tours and event rides. After all, if you want a single bike for most of your cycling but only load it up once a year, why would you buy a “kitted-out 4×4 truck to get groceries and drop the kids off at school”? Since that review in February 2017, the market for this type of bike — alternately called gravel, all-road, adventure, any-road, and about a zillion other silly permutations — has exploded, and no matter how niche your preferred application might be, someone is probably making a version of this bike style just for you.

So why the Grade again? Well, GT’s second generation of this bike launched last spring with updates to the frame and fork, quite a bit of spec change, and a price that had us doing double takes. And when an opportunity arose to do a few big days of riding on northwest Montana roads and trails, and I could request nearly any dropbar “adventure” bike on earth to bring with me, it was the Grade that I reached for.

Testing anomalies

Before diving into the nitty gritty, my time on this frame was split between two not-entirely-stock component builds. More than half of my mileage was aboard Shimano’s new GRX 810 Di2 group and GRX wheels, including Shimano’s PRO cockpit parts, which you can read more about online at Then GT shipped me the original-ish parts to rebuild the bike as it ships for two grand. Well, almost. A set of Shimano 105 brifters and hydro calipers were included instead of the stock Tiagra. Still, despite the component mishmash, this Franken-Grade offers plenty of food for thought.

Carbon and … fiberglass?

This is my second carbon bike review in a row for Adventure Cyclist, a category we don’t cover often and has randomly arrived in a cluster. Our letter writers trend hard toward a dislike for plastic bikes, and when it comes to long-distance fully loaded touring, I can’t say I blame them. But the reality of what we see roll past the front door of Adventure Cycling HQ and through the pixels sent our way in open calls like our photo contest tell a different story. Certainly ferrous frames are still the favorite, but more and more carbon bikes show up under riders tackling all types of touring. And why not? They’ve become ubiquitous in bike shops, offer excellent reliability, and have enjoyed a precipitous price drop from the über-bike stratosphere of not long ago to, well, a $2,000 GT. 

The Grade, though, isn’t entirely carbon. The whippet-thin seatstays are a mix of carbon and fiberglass, allegedly offering the marketing-speak mix of “lateral stiffness and vertical compliance.” My own experience with fiberglass is limited to a few summers in my youth working at a marina and the dirty work of patching boat hulls, but over many miles of rough terrain and a couple of particularly long and bumpy days, I can say the Grade does provide a surprisingly comfy perch without feeling noodly when out of the saddle or otherwise putting down some power. The aesthetics of the stays are polarizing, though I have to say the slim profile blending into GT’s iconic triple triangle shape make for an awfully elegant rig in my eyes.

If you just can’t cotton to a carbon frame, GT does offer the Grade in a pair of aluminum builds, though all models feature a carbon fork with a 12mm thru-axle and flat-mount disc brakes, along with rack and fender mounts. The alloy versions, as well as the Carbon Elite tested here, have a single dropout position with 55mm of trail. The higher-end carbon builds have a slightly different fork with “flip chips” to adjust handling characteristics between 55mm and 70mm of trail.

Built for versatility

The proliferation of supercompact double cranksets is a boon for any adventure cyclist, and the Grade takes advantage. Featuring an FSA Omega Adventure crankset with 46/30T rings, this bike has some serious range. The low end of 24 gear inches might not be quite low enough for kitchen-sink–level packing, but that’s not what the Grade was made for anyway. Strap on a day’s worth of supplies to make it to your next van-supported or Airbnb overnight, and you’re going to find the range of this 2×10 drivetrain more than enough. 

Shifting was smooth for me despite a mismatch of stock shifters and derailers — Shimano’s 105 group is 11-speed and the Tiagra cassette only offers 10 cogs. Whoops. Still, Shimano’s hydraulic brifters feel excellent in hand, offer crisp shifting action, and those hydro brakes? Well, you’ll have to pry them from my not-overtaxed hands. Unless you’re bound for outer Mongolia, it’s hard to make a case (other than price, which is a legitimate concern) for mechanical discs.

Elsewhere, the Grade’s build was solid if unremarkable. WTB’s 700c i23 rims wear the brand’s 37mm Riddler tires, which are solid performers on a variety of surfaces, if not exemplary on any. A Fabric saddle didn’t sit right with some colleagues who hopped on the Grade for round-the-block test rides but worked fine for me, and other house-brand cockpit parts — including a surprisingly specced carbon seatpost — offered standard lengths and shapes without any surprises.

Obligatory grading jokes ?to follow

Complaints? I have a few. One is entirely not GT’s fault, but at some point during the bike’s multiple teardowns and rebuilds, a cable housing ferrule became stranded inside the driveside chainstay. As anyone who’s tried to isolate a creak or squeak on a carbon bike can attest, the material has a habit of echoing any sounds to simultaneously magnify and obscure its origin. Well, this rattling ferrule nearly drove me over the edge, and I tip my hat to the stubborn ingenuity of my local shop for fishing it out at what must have been a very unpleasant billable hour. I’m not in love with the press-fit bottom bracket situation, though I suffered no unpleasant creaks or other issues over the course of two different BBs. And a lack of rear rack mounts will be a dealbreaker for some, but as we argued three years ago, this is a bike that begs for soft bikepacking-style luggage or a hybrid setup if you’re looking to load up. 

That said, the Grade Carbon Elite earns high marks for comfort, smart spec, and versatility. But it’s highest class ranking comes in the value column. This is a lot of bike for $2,000. It’d be right at home on weekend jaunts, multiday charity rides, an after-work cyclocross series, and spirited road or gravel group rides, to say nothing of its ability to take you far from the beaten path as any self-described “enduroad” (whatever that means) bike should.

The bike has changed, but the conclusion has not. The Grade is a quiver killer, sure, but it’s also a killer value.  

GT Grade Carbon Elite

Price: $2,000
Sizes available: 48cm, 51cm, 55cm, 58cm, 61cm
Size tested: 55cm
Weight: 24.2 lbs. (as tested)

Test Bike Measurements

Stack: 590mm
Reach: 394mm
Head tube length: 162mm
Head tube angle: 72.3°
Seat tube length: 531mm
Seat tube angle: 73°
Top tube: 574mm
Chainstays: 430mm 
Bottom bracket drop:
Fork Offset: 55mm
Trail: 55mm
Wheelbase: 1043mm
Standover height: 791mm
Bottom bracket height: 286mm


Frame: Grade carbon Triple Triangle, two bottle mounts, top tube mount, fender mounts (with removable brace) 
Fork Grade Carbon, carbon steerer, rack and fender mounts
Handlebar: GT DropTune RS, alloy, 16°
Stem: GT Design 3D forged 6061, 6° Rise, 100mm 
Brake/shift levers:
Shimano 105 hydraulic, 11spd(as tested)
Rear Derailer: Shimano Tiagra GS, 10spd
Front Derailer: Shimano Tiagra
Brakes: Shimano 105 hydraulic (as tested)
Rotors: Shimano, 160mm
Crankset: FSA Omega Adventure, 46/30T 
Cassette: Shimano HG500 10 spd, 11–34T
Chain: KMC X10
Bottom bracket: FSA PressFit 30
Seatpost: GT Carbon, 27.2mm
Saddle: Fabric Scoop Radius Sport 
Headset: FSA No. 44
Hubs: GT, 100 x 12mm front, 142 x 12mm rear, thru-axles
Rims: WTB i23 TCS 2.0, 28h, tubeless ready
Tires: WTB Riddler 700c x 37mm, tubeless ready

Gear Inches

































Related Reading