GT Grade wins Gravel Bike of the Year | 21.05.24

Stif Team Rider Issy Hill with her GT Grade

There’s something special about finding out you share a secret with someone...

Walk into a Stif store and we’ll forgive you for assuming we’re a bunch of mountain bikers all about shredding the gnar in baggy shorts, but - perhaps surprisingly - most of us harbor a secret love for drop bars and skinny wheels. The volume in the office noticeably rises on a Monday morning when it turns out we’ve won over another naysayer whose just spent their weekend in the drops. A few of us have arguably taken it too far and gone full roadie, but enough of that already.

We’re here to talk gravel, and more specifically, the GT Grade - newly crowned gravel bike of the year by Bike Radar.

Still here? Great! You’re either a convert or gravel curious… either way, come with us on a deep dive of why the GT Grade should be the one in your n+1 rule.

If you need a little persuading, keep reading, if you’re already a gravel fan, click here to jump to why we (& Bike Radar) love the Grade.

What is 'Gravel' Anyway?

The classic quote “You know if when you see it” was coined in 1964 by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in an attempt to define ‘smut’ but, it’d work just as well today to define gravel. It doesn’t quite fit in a neat little box, instead bridging the gap between Road and Mountain Biking. As vast as that divide sounds, gravel biking fills it, and then some.

The GT Grade in Action, offroad
The GT Grade in Action, climbing a fire road

Some days it’s all tarmac, the next it can just as easily be flowy single track or techy mountain passes. Either way, Modern gravel bikes are super-capable of all of the above, the GT Grade especially so.

Lightweight and aerodynamic frames would, at-a-glance, appear to be straight out of the road world too, but where as a road bike frame is built to be super stiff for pure power transfer, a gravel frame is cunningly engineered to hit the sweet spot between the stiffness required for all out speed and the compliance needed to leave your teeth in your skull when you’re rattling down a washboard bridleway at 40kmph.

The internet can sometimes be guilty of romanticizing gravel, it’s often all beautiful backdrops behind mountain fire roads and soft lighting at dusk, which looks great, but it rarely looks like that here in the UK! We tend to make use of the increased tyre clearance found on gravel bikes to deal with the good old slopfest for the 9 months of the year it’s raining round these parts.

Once you’re on a gravel bike, ‘gravel’ is pretty much anything you want it to be. Set off from your front door and aim for the horizon, whatever you encounter is what gravel is on that day. Dusty fire roads, boggy bridleways, sweeping corners on tarmac descents… gravel changes with the seasons. You’re probably not going to throw your gravel bike on a bike-park uplift and hit the DH tracks, but there’s very few other places that aren’t suited. There’s a couple of Sams and a Gabriel on YouTube who’ve pushed their gravel Bikes to truly ludicrous extremes (Pilgrim, Reynolds and Wibmer, all well worth a watch!), but we tend to take it a little easier they they do… we reckon we’re having just as much fun though!

Issy Hill rides the GT Grade

Looking for a gravel route to try it out for yourself?

We’ve picked a route around our Summerbridge store that'll take you through the rolling hills of the Dales, and we've borrowed a whole collection of Gravel routes around bristol from our team rider Claire Sharpe - you can check them here

Why do you need a Gravel bike?

For many of us here at Stif, it’s the simplicity of being able to ride anything and anywhere. Wake up and the weather is good… pump up your tyres and commute to work on the roads. If it’s still light in the evening, take the long way home through the dales. Found a spare hour or two on a weekend? KIt-up, clip-in and see where the road takes you. Inevitably, it’s a country pub or a quaint cafe for a refuel - a great way to spend a sunday afternoon! A gravel bikes ability to eat up the miles makes it a fantastic way to explore your local area, either by road or by linking trails, bridleways, passes and anything else you can point two wheels down.

By no means are you limited to however far your legs can take you from your door though. If you’ve an adventurous spirit, the world is your oyster. Load up a frame bag, strap a tent to your bars and head out on multi-day epics, bikepacking romps, alpine escapades… the possibilities are endless. Coast-to-coast or cross-continent, a gravel bike is the tool for the biggest days out.

Team Rider Claire Sharpe rides the GT Grade

If you’re looking to build endurance or just increase fitness in general, gravel is far more fun than the gym (speaking from first hand experience!) Whether you want to dig into the murky world of watts per KG, VO2 Max, cadence and heart rate zones or just find a big hill and murder your legs until you’ve conquered it - a gravel bike can give you the freedom to chase KOM/QOM’s until your lungs can’t take it, or just enjoy the ride while quietly building base fitness that’ll have you leaving your mates in the dust next time you hit the trail center on mountain bikes.

There’s of course benefits that’ll transfer back to your mountain bike too. The ability to pick your way through a rock garden becomes a much more immediate requirement when you don’t have 160mm of suspension to keep you out of trouble!

Us Stif staffers tend to come at gravel riding as mountain bikers, but if you’re a roadie looking to venture into the woods, gravel will feel immediately familiar, yet unlock a whole new world. Take shortcuts to link your favourite road sections or just follow a dirt track to see where it takes you. You’ll soon discover the thrill of flying between the trees on a singletrack descent, the joy of pumping a berm to leave a corner faster than you entered it or the feeling of achievement after summiting a techy climb. Sure, the Alpe D’Huez will get the blood pumping, but timing a pedal stroke perfectly to lift yourself over a sniper root cutting across the trail at 45° while your heart rate maxes out and your legs are screaming is a whole other kind of type 2 fun.

What Makes the Grade LE the Gravel Bike of the Year?

An instant classic when it first launched to critical acclaim in 2014, the original GT Grade was one-of, if not the original gravel bike, and it’s only gotten better since. 2019 saw major updates and the introduction of the floating triple triangle seatstays.

Now in its 3rd iteration, the Grade new grade features bang-up-to-date geo, a heap of neat features like built in frame protection and tidy internal routing, plus 30mm of ‘gravel-travel’ and continues to impress. Try to prise our demo bike away from our staff for a weekend and you’ll see for yourself - the Grade rips.

A big part of what sets the Grade apart is the innovative 3 triangle design. The seat-stays ‘float’ past the seat-tube to join the front triangle at the top-tube. A full carbon fibre layup allows GT to tune 30mm of gravel travel into the rear end without the need for complex pivots or axles, keeping the weight down whilst ensuring enough compliance to maintain traction and reduce fatigue over long days in the saddle. Higher modulus carbon fibre is used in the headtube and bottom bracket for razor sharp handling and responsiveness. Allowing the seat-tube to ‘float’ between the gently bowed seat-stays creates a leaf-spring effect, separating the rider from rear wheel impacts and reducing trail chatter in high speed sections. If you’ve ever taken a bridleway shortcut on a road bike, you’ll appreciate that this is a genius stroke of engineering!

Elsewhere, the Grade frame continues to be well thought out. Whilst appearing simple at a glance, there’s neat touches everywhere. Cables are internally routed, thankfully not through the headset! There’s mounts for 2 bottle cages and storage, plenty of room for frame bags, downtube and chainstay protection, a threaded bottom bracket and heaps of tyre clearance - essential for UK riding at least 9 months of the year! Cable routing for a dropper is a great addition too, further increasing the Grade’s off-road pedigree.

Longer, lower & slacker than the previous generation, the Grades off road intentions shine through it’s numbers, though GT has kept them relatively sensible. The seat-tube angle is properly steep at 73°, while the head angle sits at 70°. That’ll sound steep if you’re a mountain biker, but it’s the sweet spot for gravel - not sluggish on the roads, not twitchy on the dirt.

A long front-center and low stack heights are again influenced by the Grades mountain bike roots, placing the riders weight bang in the middle of the wheels, exactly where you want to be when the going gets tough. A 60mm stem keeps reach in check, and a 55mm fork offset gives a trail measurement of 72mm means super stable steering.

GT Grade Close Up - Drop Bars
GT Grade Close Up - Downtube Protection
GT Grade Close Up - Floating Seatstays
GT Grade Close Up - Internal Cable Routing

Designed with room for dropper seatposts and suspension forks, the Grade has the potential to be upgraded into a full-blown off-road weapon, but a well chosen spec means there’s no need to immediately start hunting for upgrades, the Grade is ready to rip straight out of the box.

Built around Shimano’s 1x12 speed GRX RX820 drivetrain, a 40 tooth chainring up front keeps things simple and the 10-45t cassette offers a huge range - from crawling up techy climbs to finish line sprints on the tarmac - there’s very little you’d ever want a groupset to cope with that this one can’t handle.

WTB Vulpine tyres are a staff favourite here, thanks to the dual compound - minimizing rolling resistance on hard pack surfaces but offering plenty of grip on loose dirt corners. Specced at 40c, rolling on WTB’s 23mm wide WTB i23 rims, the Vulpines offer a round profile, similar to a larger road tyre, but with a tread pattern optimized for diving between road and dirt sections without compromising performance on either. For the UK Winter slop, we’d recommend grabbing something with a deeper tread, there’s not really a gravel tyre that’s suitable for all conditions, so having a spare set is always a good idea. The Grade arrives tubeless - grab yourself a set of Reserve Fillmore Valves and swapping out tyres becomes a super-simple job.

GT’s own stem is everything you’d want it to be and their dropped bars offer a 16° flare and a flattened top, they’re super comfy wherever your hands are - Shimano’s GRX Brakes are shaped to work equally well whether you’re on the hoods or in the drops.

Team Rider Issy Hill rides the GT Grade

GT Grade Pro LE • At A Glance

  • Grade Carbon Fork, 1.5 Tapered Carbon Steerer
  • Shimano GRX 40 x 10/45 Groupset
  • Shimano GRX Brakes
  • GT DropTune Super Light, Double Butted 6061 Alloy, Flat Top, 16° Flare Bars w/ GT Alloy 60mm Stem
  • GT Carbon Seatpost
  • WTB Vulpine TCS Light, Dual Compount 40c Tyres
  • WTB ST i23 Wheelset
  • Threaded Bottom Bracket
  • 3 Water Bottle Mounts
  • 9.1KG (Medium)

So, on paper it’s a winner, but how does it ride?

It goes without saying that we’re fans of the Grade here at Stif, it wouldn’t sit on our shop floors if that weren’t the case. Bike Radar should be a bit more impartial than us here, and they’ve just named it the gravel bike of the year. Here’s a few nuggets we’ve pulled from their write up, but you can head over here to read the whole thing.

The Grade’s ride is everything I want from an all-round gravel bike. On smooth tarmac and lighter gravel roads, it’s rapid – even with its more off-road focused gearing.
I never found the Grade wanting when riding fast. Yes, your cadence is faster than average at higher road speeds, compared to the 42-tooth chainring on the Merida Silex, or the 2x 48/31 found on the Canyon Grail, but it’s all the speed you need.
I like having the range the GT has at the lighter end – not having to get all the way up towards the 45-tooth sprocket on steep climbs is good for the chainline (and wear over the long term). Yet having a 40/45t combination (lighter than 1:1 ratio) is a boon when things get steep and technical.
At 9.22kg, it’s not as light as its pricier rivals [...] It rides like a lighter bike, however. The combination of a light, claimed 980g frame and a wheelset that’s responsive with quick freehub engagement feels amply stiff where you need it, yet has the compliance of a good hand-built alloy wheelset.
Get into the choppier rutted stuff and the brilliance of GT’s flexible back end really comes into play. With the achievable movement at the saddle, the Grade rides like more complex suspended gravel bikes.
It really is one of the smartest designs available and it’s commendable for its simplicity.
I almost expected there to be an imbalance between the rigid front end and the flex-tail rear, but it works brilliantly. The front end feels taut and responsive, yet because of the longer fork and more relaxed head angle, it knocks the edges off jarring ruts, roots and bumps.
And, because GT has used a short stem, the steering responses haven’t been diluted… The Grade’s handling is a beautiful balance between nimble and flickable, yet the steering never feels anything less than in control.

So… Yeah… Pretty Good!

Which is the Grade for you?

We offer the Grade in 2 spec levels, both built around the same frame. The Pro LE spec is the one Bike Radar have crowned gravel Bike of the year, coming in at £3,600. We also offer an entry level spec, the Elite at £2,199, built around Shimano’s 2x10 GRX RX400 Groupset the Grade Elite is a fantastic option for your first gravel bike. Both bikes are available with 0% finance and available through any of the cycle-to-work partner schemes we work with.

GT Grade Pro LE

GT Grade Pro LE


GT Grade Elite

GT Grade Elite


Stif Staffer Dan enjoying an ice cream after racking up the miles on the GT Grade

Stif Staffer Dan enjoying an ice cream after racking up the miles on the GT Grade