I thought it would be interesting to get a pair of "blue collar" mountain bikes (affordable, yet capable, bikes), and have two different riders test them.
By Lee Klevins and Jeffrey D. Guerrero
This bike review began with an idea that came to me one night during a wrenching session in the Dirt Rag workshop. I thought it would be interesting to get a pair of "blue collar" mountain bikes (affordable, yet capable, bikes), and have two different riders test them. Not just any two riders, mind you. One tester would be a grizzled mountain biking veteran and former shop wrench by the name of Lee Klevens. The other would be a total newbie mountian biker, A.K.A. Dirt Rag Art Director Jeff Guerrero. What follows are the reports filed by Lee and Jeff. Enjoy!
– Karl Rosengarth, Technical Editor
Size M 18"
This test began as an idea… "Lets get two different sizes of the same bike and have two different riders test them." For me, the test began the day that the bikes arrived at the Dirt Rag headquarters. Every bike that comes here arrives in a different form. One may be so-and-so’s personal bike, already ridden and already dirty. Some bikes arrive adorned with all sorts of trick parts, in one person’s vision of how a consumer might put one together. I kind of like the way the GTs came. Off the shelf, the way a bike shop would get them. Open up the box, remove the factory packaging and begin to build it up. I find that I always get a better feel for the bike if I assemble it myself. I tend to disassemble things a bit (I like grease on the threads of bolts) and make sure that things are put together right. I like my wheels to be tensioned, round and true. I enjoy the process of checking things out and getting to know a bike before I ride it.
The brushed aluminum, clearcoated frame had the normal make and model stickers on it, but one sticker caught my eye immediately. It was a sticker stating, "Built in California, USA." Now I’ve been around for a while so I know the difference between "built" and "made" in the USA. "Built" implies assembly, while "made" implies being manufactured. The frame itself was made in Taiwan, and then assembled into a bike in California.
The large diameter aluminum 7000 series tubes incorporate GT’s signature triple triangle design. A large gusset on the down tube at the head tube junction sends a beefy message when viewed. Not only does the frame look strong, but also GT has a pretty good track record of being able to build bikes that hold up.
Next on the beefy list are the Syncros rims. They also have a little sticker that caught my eye. It simply states "abuser friendly," a pretty bold statement to say the least. After tensioning the spokes, the rims trued up nicely; the only problem I had was that I wasn’t able to get them perfectly round. They weren’t all that bad, just not perfect. Besides, the rims have a nice tall braking surface on them, and the bike comes with a front disc brake. The Avid mechanical disc brake seemed pretty cool. This was my first experience with a cable-actuated disc brake, and I wasn’t quite sure about it. I do however like most Avid products, and have a respect for their ability to do a good job at designing things. Once I read the instructions (yes, I actually had to read the instructions), and examined the brakes, I was impressed with the amount and method of adjustability.
The disc ready GT front hub has an interesting set up of having a cartridge bearing on the disc side and loose balls, cup and cone on the other. Other GT house brand items include; an alloy seat post-decent, an aluminum stem-nice, a pair of 6061 riser bars, a seat post quick release clamp, and a pair of comfy dual compound grips.
The Avalanche 2.0 comes with a black RockShox Judy C fork with 63/80/100mm of adjustable travel. Other goodies include a WTB Momentum head set and Velociraptor tires, an SDG Comp saddle, Truvative cranks, Shimano Deore shifters and front derailleur, LX rear derailleur, and Avid brake levers.
The toe clip hardware and the rear hub looked kind of suspect. The pedals are alloy bodied, steel caged units complete with GT toe clips and straps. The nuts, which hold the toe clips to the pedal, were some sort of plastic expansion units. I kind of prefer real nuts and bolts, but then maybe I’m just nitpicking. As for the rear hub, there was nothing wrong with it; I just know that Shimano hubs are completely serviceable.
Although the GT Avalanche 2.0 that I got was a medium (18"), it rides big. The long travel Judy C and the riser bars give it a tall stance. This is perfectly OK to me, however. I like the way big bikes ride. I’m not quite as bent over, and my neck doesn’t hurt after long rides. The Judy C seemed to have a bit too much sag for me until I preloaded the springs all the way. After doing that, I found that I wanted to slow down the rebound some. But since it has no valving adjusters, the only thing that I could do was to change the oil. I still think that the fork is a tad too squishy for my 175lb., aggressive riding style. I suppose that’s just a personal preference though.
The Avalanche 2.0 isn’t the lightest bike that I’ve ridden at 29lbs. So far however, it seems to be quite a sturdy steed, especially the wheels. The Syncros abuser friendly rims are way stiff. I’ve purposely slammed over things that I would normally finesse my personal bike over, and the rims have yet to need even a little truing. The 750g. Velociraptor tires offer excellent traction, even if they add to the weight factor. One other advantage that the meaty tires offer is a little more resistance to pinch flatting than a flimsy tire. Did I mention that I slammed the bike over things a bit? Well, quite a few times I was able to continue on my merry way after I expected to have received a snakebite.
Like I mentioned earlier, the bike rides a little like a larger bike. That doesn’t, however, take away from its handling. The bike climbs well and carves turns well also. It handles both high speed and low speed maneuvers equally with character. The longer travel forks that are being put on bikes now have some advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are sort of obvious. More travel equals more comfort and control in most situations. The added height can be a help or a hindrance, depending on ones personal preference, although handlebar height can easily be fine-tuned with different bar/stem choices. The major disadvantage that I’ve experienced is when, for instance, you’re dropping in or going over a log and the fork’s extra travel sucks up the front wheel’s forward momentum. This results in the rider’s momentum continuing without the bike, otherwise known as going over the bars. Maybe this is just part of the learning curve, getting used to the longer travel. Maybe the fork just isn’t dialed in for me, but I’ve also noticed other riders experiencing the same phenomenon.
One of the things that I really liked about the Avalanche 2.0 was the Avid disc brake up front. The brakes inspired loads of confidence, especially when riding in wet, muddy or snowy trails. The mechanical action of the brakes uses quite a bit of cable and housing, so you don’t get the precise feel of a hydraulic unit. But their performance easily out performed any V brake, especially in adverse conditions. I really despise it when V brakes get all clogged up with mud. Speaking of mud, another annoyance was the top swing front derailleur’s ability to catch and hold mud between it and the seat tube. This prevents shifting into granny gear at times. To be fair, this happens to lots of bikes with top swing front derailleurs, I’m just venting.
Other than that, most everything worked the way it was meant to. Oh yeah, the cheesy plastic chain guard didn’t last the first ride (had to carry it home). And the toe clip plastic expansion nuts didn’t make it two rides. Both of these were pretty minor, and neither would have caused me to DNF. The Avalanche 2.0 left me with the impression of a bike that’s willing to hold up to what one’s willing to dish out.
Size XS 12.5"
My first real mountain biking experience was an August 2000 ride with the Pittsburgh Off Road Cyclists. I borrowed my roommate’s vintage Bontrager and rode it with platform pedals and close to no brakes or shifting. For subsequent rides I started borrowing Karl’s fully rigid Eastern Woods Research until my other roommate lent me a 16" Ironhorse frame to build up. The common thread among all three bikes is that they are all good mountain bikes, but none of them fit my 5’2" body.
Enter the GT Avalanche 2.0 in size extra small! One look at the sloping top tube had me certain this bike was all me. The brand new, shiny aluminum 12.5" frame indeed fit me like a glove, allowing ample clearance where needed most, and not stretching me too far out like the larger bikes I had been riding. Almost immediately my riding improved, mainly due to a correct fit, but also aided by simply having a modern mountain bike in proper working condition.
The front disc brake worked so well in mud and snow that I decided I wanted a rear disc to match. Unfortunately, the rear hub is not disc compatible even though the frame is. Luckily, I work at Dirt Rag, so I just grabbed a set of disc wheels and went on my merry way. GT’s philosophy behind this bike was to give the average rider a quality frame to build on. The XS model did tip the scales at around 29 pounds complete, so out of curiosity, I asked GT what could be done to lower the bike’s weight. GT’s product development guy suggested that I upgrade four main areas of the bike: the wheels, fork, brakes, and finally the drive train. The most important thing I can think to say is that for around $800 you can buy a quality bike and upgrade it as you go along. Upgrading components could make this bike perform better, but the important thing is this blue-collar bike will let you get out on the trails right out of the box. Contact: GT Bicycles, PO Box 35075, Santa Ana, CA 92735; 714.481.3751; www.gtbicycles.com.
–Jeffrey D. Guerrero