The not-so-minor details
GT Zaskar Carbon 100 9R Expert
Cycling Sports Group (CSG)
- Great looking with great lines and color matching.
- Confidence inspiring position and handling will suit technical XC riding.
- Stiff combination of fork and frame.
- Suspension movement under pedaling power.
- Rear linkage will require regular maintenance for long-term durability.
- Tall bar position for some.
- Heavier than others.
The Zaskar moniker has been used by GT since 1991 with the introduction of their first USA made aluminum rigid mountain bike frame. Obviously our test bike; a carbon 29er dually from the east is a far stretch from the original Zaskar, but it still holds true to its historical cross country racing purpose.
So how did this new iteration of a true classic perform?
Let’s start with the suspension design, somewhat of a classic in itself, the GT I-Drive. This design has been used by GT in slightly different incarnations since 1999. At that time GT was considered the master of the mass-produced full suspension world but much has happened since then. The general concept of the I-drive is to isolate the crank from the suspension movement and in return reduce the effect chain tension has on the suspension action. The theory of this is to create a bob free efficient riding bike where energy isn’t wasted through the suspension but sent straight to the rear wheel. In reality it works well enough, just not as well as GT’s marketing team would lead you to believe.
While we still felt sufficient forward drive, the I-drive didn’t feel as efficient as other recent popular designs under heavy pedaling. And so we found ourselves reaching for the climb mode on the FOX CTD shock more than expected after witnessing the rear shock moving in time to the pedal stroke. Luckily, the horizontal and mid frame placing of the rear shock allowed easy reach to the CTD lever for smoother sections of trail or road.
The Zaskar Carbon makes use of the woven material in an elegant way with swooping lines and smooth edges. We were impressed by the lateral stiffness of the frame with little sign of flex. While most of the frame is carbon, the suspension linkage points are aluminum along with the neatly machined out bottom bracket assembly. Due to the shock layout being where a water bottle would normally be placed, GT provides a bottle mount underneath the top tube. This bottle placement actually worked better than expected, however a rider with a narrow stance on the bike may occasionally feel the bottle rub the knee.
The rear end with its 142mmx12mm axle provided a good level of stiffness, though the durability of the pivots proved to be an issue. After a solid few weeks riding, the I-drive developed an ear aching creak that was diagnosed as the lower linkage bearings. Upon pulling apart the extremely solid and well-made pivot area, it was found that dirt had entered into all bearing areas. The bearings are solid angular cartridge bearings that are normally used in headsets and should last a long time. However, regular maintenance is required to ensure that these bearings remain grit free with a good coat of grease.
The RockShox Reba fork was a breeze to setup and with the handlebar mounted remote, we loved the overall ease of use. With its stiff 15mm thru axle and tapered steerer, we had no issues pointing the Zaskar into loose and off-camber turns with confidence. The only complaint we had with the fork was the factory set lockout compression was too light and still allowed the fork to compress when we didn’t want it.
We loved the Zaskar on descents, with immense traction and confidence through every twist and turn. The stiff frame and fork combination inspired us to push harder then what we’d normally with a 100mm travel bike. For a bike aimed at the XC and endurance enthusiast, we found the handlebar position on the higher side. With the stock 15mm Crank Brothers riser bar and the stem slammed on the headsets top cap, we disappointingly had no drop from saddle to bar height. While we were comfortable with this position and the handling it provided, at times of steep inclines we wished for a lower bar height without resulting to negative rise stems or similar.
We couldn’t fault the component spec with a mixture of SLX and XT drive components. The fitting of a XT clutch derailleur was a bonus, keeping the chain in place and quiet for the whole test period. The formula RX brakes had great controllable bite. However out of the box they needed a fair amount of work to setup completely drag free, much in part due to the close gap between pad and rotor. The Easton XC wheelset held true all test, although the hefty weight of over 2kg for the pair did slow down the bike’s acceleration. Overall the spec is a smart choice between durability and performance but didn’t lend well to a superlight bike.
All up, the Zaskar Carbon 100 9R is a fun riding, capable and confident handling machine with a little old school branding flair. However, the upright handlebar position and maintenance prone linkage system may not appeal to many of the endurance crowd that this bike is aimed at.