GT is considered to be of the most established bike maker in the MTB segment, as the brand played a major role in the development of off-road technology in the heyday on mountain biking. The iconic two letters have never completely disappeared from the industry, and in recent years GT has seen a noteworthy resurgence. To prove the point, the Zaskar XC model in this test features a top-level carbon frame with the well-known triple triangle frame in order to appeal to both traditionalist and those looking for the latest technology.
Readers who have been into mountain biking in the 1990’s are surely familiar with the GT brand and its rich history. Most of them might have donated half a liver for one of the famed bikes from this manufacturer, especially the Zaskar, which has always been at the top-end of the MTB range. The past 40 years have seen several GT classics. Gary Turner started the company in the late 1970’s, progressed quickly to welding mountain bike frames even before it became mainstream. GT sponsored many top athletes in the sport, the most famous being Hans “No Way” Ray. But we shouldn’t overlook excellent champions like Julia Furtado or Gee Atherton either.
After this short prelude into the brand image, let’s turn our attention to our test bike, the brand new top-of-the-line Zaskar Carbon Expert! In the model name the “Carbon” naturally refers to the frame material, and the “Expert” signifies the level of equipment. The “Zaskar” is a legend itself amongst the GT bikes, which is well demonstrated by the iconic triple frame triangle. You cannot mistake it for any other brand as – looking from the side – there are not two, but three triangles within frame. This design has been used by GT bikes for decades, and it undoubtedly had great significance when bike frames were constructed from metal. Nowdays we can honestly say that it is chiefly a visual feature as a carbon structure’s stability can be assured so many other ways. So the third triangle within the frame is not needed “per se”, but to me it’s still visually appealing.
This cross country specific carbon frame features FOC (Force Optimized Construction), which in layman’s term is a structure that takes into account all the forces that the frame has to endure during the ride. The most important force is pedaling though the drive train. GT engineers made sure that not a single watt goes to waste from the riders efforts. Controlling the bike is one of these forces, which principally manifest at the steering. Thus the Zaskar Carbon utilizes a tapered head tube and fork in order to provide the necessary stability for precise steering and handling. The third main group of forces come from the ground via the wheels. To tackle these, the bike has the latest Boost-standard wheel attachment, 110x15mm thru-axle in front and 148x12mm at the back. It would be difficult to conceive a wheel interface more stable while being lightweight. As an added bonus, the rear wheel’s thru-axle threads to the threads dropout, forming a visually pleasing layout which functions as a conventional quick release.
On the other hand, it’s interesting that GT went against industry trends by not employing internal cable routing on the Zaskar Carbon. In my opinion this is not a deficiency, rather the brand has mercifully spared the owner from unnecessary trouble when the bike needs servicing. The rear brake’s attachment is also noteworthy as the mounting bosses employ internal threaded nuts in order to avoid fatal damage to the threads. Again it’s a solution which increases durability and makes the bike more practical to when it comes to service time.
The Zaskar Carbon frame is paired with an advanced level suspension fork, the Fox Float 32 with 100mm of travel. This model has a good reputation both in terms of performance and strength, the suspension movement can be locked out using a practical handlebar-mounted lever. To top it all off, the finish of the fork perfectly matches the color and the design of the frame!
Shifting and braking duties are handled by the venerable Shimano XT components. In fact the only piece that deviates from the “gruppo” is the Praxis single ring crankset. The model we received for testing is from the 2018 lineup, hence it only has 11 cogs at the back. The current 2019 Zaskar Carbon Expert is equipped with the new SRAM GX 1×12-speed drive train. I tried both bikes and I found them to perform flawlessly, and since both versions are available, the rider can choose whichever is more suitable.
The Stans Crest S1 rims are laced to house-brand hubs on our Zaskar Carbon Expert test bike. The wheels are obviously tubeless ready from the box, the Schwalbe Racing Ralphs likewise. I consider this wheelset to be an optimal choice for this bike, achieving considerable amount of weight savings while offers durability and the option to go tubeless.
The handlebar, stem and seat post all bear the GT logo. These are also in-house components, and perhaps these would be good candidates when it comes to cutting some weight off the bike in the future. On the hand, the saddle is a WTB, the Silverado is a very popular model in the venerable MTB brand’s lineup. GT and WTB – the two MTB pioneers – seem to go hand in hand.
Concerning the aesthetic of the bike, our Zaskar Carbon Expert has an eye-catching finish, it will be relished by those who prefer a more extravagant design. Personally I tend to prefer a more subdued finish on bikes, but the refreshing dotted fluo-red still makes my day.
I admit not having ridden a GT bike for ages, so I was curious to see what how the American brand managed to reinvent itself in the current market environment. The Zaskar name should guarantee a god ride! The geometry chart was also promising, as the test bike has the progressive frame angles that the new 2019 bikes come with. I was hoping that the number translate to a ride that meets standards and the high standards of modern XC bikes. I have to admit that all my reservations were wholly unfounded. The Zaskar Carbon climbs and descends admirably. Handling is stress-free when tackling the steepest technical uphills, moreover I never experienced steering flop, and cornering is acceptable even at snail-like tempo. The carbon frame is quite stable, it reacts well to power input, and consequently I experienced no frame flex whatsoever.
Descending is aided by the slack head tube and the short stem paired with a longer than usual top tube. There is plenty of stability in order to enjoy fast technical downhill sections. I had a sense of great confidence on board the GT Zaskar Carbon even on the steepest trail sections. I also had no complaints about maneuvering on twisty descents, although the modern XC frame geometry does tend to sacrifice quick reaction for utmost stability. The compromise between these traits seem to work for this bike: there was sufficient agility to maneuver through the dense forest. Although fast handling is nice in some trail situations, most riders – including myself – prefer the added stability in case of an XC bike nowdays. It makes the bike faster overall, especially on more challenging, fast and technical modern cross country courses. If I have to slow down a bit more in tight corner, the lost time sis well compensated by the speed gained in other sections.
The Zaskar Carbon is clearly worthy of the GT legacy. On the other hand it’s not looking back to the past, it employs the most advanced bike technologies, and even the design is progressive rather than conservative. So even if the GT brand means little to you personally, never owned of the manufacturer’s famed legendary models, in the Zaskar Carbon you’ll find an excellent XC bike for present-day race courses. On the other hand, if like me you have always dreamt of owning a GT but could make the leap in the past, now you can not only realize the dream, but get a professional level rig which will likely to transport this legendary brand into the top end of the market once again. I can only recommend this bike with both my head and soul!