By Matt Black
Weight: 12kg (26.5lb)
Sizes: XS S M L XL
Size tested: M
Thanks to a number of intelligent and UK-friendly component up-grades, the lively GT Zaskar Comp remains a lightweight XC race bike at heart, but rides like a demon when railing the berms and trails.
I can’t think of another bike manufacturer that if I ran my hands over the Zaskar's frame when blindfolded (not including the XS S frame sizes) I would still easily identify it as the GT Zaskar.
What I'm saying here is that thanks to its iconic Trade Marked, Triple Triangle frame, the GT Zaskar, in all is guises, has remained one of the most recognisable hardtail mountain bikes for nearly a quarter of a century - and that's way older than me!
The latest incarnation of the GT Zaskar Comp features a Speed Metal alloy Hydroformed frame that is built to accommodate 27.5 forks and wheels only. The original concept and design of the Triple Triangle was to stiffen the rear end and prolong the life of the frame (lifetime frame warranty is included).
I’ve ridden one other GT Zaskar in my time (a 29er) and found that also to be something of a speed-machine. But opting for a ‘middle of the road’ 27.5 only version, I feel for 2016 GT have aimed the Zaskar Comp fair and squarely at the privateer, cum club rider, that wants a hardtail bike that's up for a bit of everything - as long as it starts and ends with ‘fun!
The quality of the frame finish is excellent. The welds look bomb-proof and are chunky, evenly spaced and in keeping with the oversize tubing of the front triangle. There’s the usual double bottle cage mounts fitted with bolts long enough to hold the thickest of cages securely in place.
You have to remember that the GT Zaskar has a long race heritage and this is reflected in the low and aggressive frame design, namely the short, tapered head tube and long top tube. However, this changes dramatically thanks to the UK version getting its own special component make over. More of that a little later though.
The bold lime green paint job is eaqual and pleasingly matched by the simple black graphics. Far from understated, the Zaskar Comp screams out loud and proud 'I'm colourful and want to perform'.
RockShox 30 Gold Solo Air forks provide 100mm of travel to soften up the front end to good effect, as long as you treat the bike with a little respect when it comes to leaving the ground. The RockShox certainly help keep the overall weight of the Zaskar Comp to a minimum. They are also plush, easy to set up and come with a remote lockout lever up on the handlebars.
They are a cross country fork though and work best when the Zaskar is in full flight in touch with Terra-Firma. The Zaskar is still a cross country bike at the end of the day so expectations of jumping around like a dirt/jump bike should be put aside. Anyway, why waste your time slowing down in the air? You go faster when in contact with the ground
There's no oversize axles to stiffen up the steering down at the hub, and the dropouts are standard fare 9mm. This only heightens the stiffness of the short tapered headtube so there is a little disparity from top to bottom in the steering compartment - but not enough to get on your high-horse about - far from it in fact.
All things considered, the Zaskar Comp is a hardtail XC bike that is playful enough for most cross country riders who like their ride a little more on the adventurous side. And anyway, you can't expect to have everything for £950, can you?
Wheels and tyres
Nothing revolutionary going on here, but the relatively light and reasonably lively GT, in-house, All Terra hubs are laced to Alex DP21 double walled rims to provide a happy medium on which to hold the durable Maxxis Ardent 2.25 tyres. Tension and lacing remained true, tight and hassle-free throughout the test period. It's reassuring to know that the simplest and uncomplicated items are often the ones that work best.
The inclusion of a pair of Ardent tyres are area in which the Zaskar picks up some well-deserved bonus points thanks to their mix of large volume, open spaced tread, some sharp siping and distinct lack of rolling resistance. The Ardent tyres refused to inhibit speed and/or momentum that you so easily pick up on the Zaskar, while maintaining plenty of grip – why waste all that hard-spent energy?
Grip is bountiful in all but the deepest of muddy sections and the ride is made extra-reliable by the contact made in riding gloopy, tacky singletrack, but especially noticeable on fast-rolling, dry trails. Linked to the GT Zaskar as they are, the Maxxis Ardent 2.25 tyres are an excellent choice for riding our changeable UK conditions.
For reliability and all-round stooping power the GT Zaskar Comp comes with Shimano M447 hydraulic brakes that boast a 180mm front disc to stop you at a moment’s notice, while at the back a 160 rotor helps drag the rear end around the corners without locking up too easily. Both rotors are centre lock.
Bedding in on these brakes took no time at all thanks to the gritty water that filled every hole on our test ride. No squeaks either!
The 180mm disc on the front is terrific. It’s almost over-kill for such a light bike, but adds to the fun of the ride. Having a larger rotor on the front means you can ride harder and faster and then leave the braking to the last minute, or should that be second?
We’re now getting into the meat of the changes to the 2016 Zaskar Comp that are specific to the UK market. The standard Deore Chainset is replaced by a beefy Race Face crank that’s fitted with a matching 32 tooth single chainring that really looks the business.
A simple, clamp-on resin chain guide sits where the front mech would normally be. There was no noticeable chain rub when selecting any rear gear. Set up from out of the box was spot on.
A fuss-free FSA bottom bracket connects both crank arms, spins freely and holds the whole thing together perfectly. No complaints from an area where most manufacturers tend to save a few quid and hide a dumbed down bottom bracket. Original equipment FSA kit is renowned for just getting on with the job.
The Deore shifters are married to a Deore rear mech while the cranks are connected to a Sunrace 11-36T cassette via a 10 speed KMC chain. Bit of a mix-and-match, but it all works perfectly well and the shifting was positive rather than super-slick, but again no complaints here – not at this price!
GT have again for a bit of a mix with the finishing kit, but it all comes together to give the Zaskar Comp a very ‘together look’.
The short, chubby All Terra stem and matching wide bars really livens up the steering. Responsive would be an understatement. The geometry is classic GT race set up: 69.5 head angle and a 610mm top tube length on the medium test bike would normally have you stretched out over a 100mm or 110mm stem and narrow XC bars – but not here.
Race geometry matched to a short stem and wide bars is going to keep any rider focussed on the trail ahead, but that’s part of the fun and is exactly what makes the UK specced bike such a joy to ride.
If there was one area in which I would instantly upgrade it would be the grips. Slip off the fitted stock rubbers and invest in a pair of lock-on grips. The Zaskar deserves it. There’s a lot going on at the front end and you need to remain fully in control. Still, with the money you save on such a nice bike, you can afford a decent pair of lock-on grips.
In summary: Fun is the buzz-word here!
Thanks to some unique and well thought-out component upgrades, the 2016 GT Zaskar Comp is a lightweight cross country hardtail which has faultlessly morphed into an all-rounder that’s perfectly set up for the changeable UK riding conditions and differing terrain.