About the Bike: 2013 GT Karakoram 2.0 — and A Bit of Miscellany
First, the Review
I owe a number of longer-term reviews on a number of topics. I figured I’d start with my most recent major bike acquisition, the 2013 GT Karakoram 2.0 now lovingly dubbed “Mountain Monster.”
At first glance, the Karakoram seems as unlike my Fuji Roubaix (AKA “The Fearsome Fuji”) as it gets. It is not really all that light (though it’s also not all that heavy). It’s much more upright. It has clearance for some pretty big tires. In short, it’s a mountain bike — and its mountain-bike breeding really shines through when you take it off-road.
That said, some of the qualities that make the Karakoram shine on the trails are qualities it shares with the Fearsome Fuji: sharp handling and the kind of mind-reading feel that make the Roubaix my absolute favorite road ride.
You can absolutely fly this bike by the seat of your pants. It responds brilliantly to countersteering. I relish the experience of railing sharp turns on the Karakoram by dropping my weight deep into the outside pedal and then just letting the bike kind of lie down towards the inside of the turn*. Exceptional balance means you can give it a lot of lean before you begin to feel like you might be risking road rash.
In short, the Karakoram is wildly nimble. I am far from being an accomplished off-road rider, but during this year’s Death March attempt, I rode the Karakoram through and around and over all kinds of stuff. At one point, my rear wheel slipped on a branch hidden under some muck and the bike’s responsive handling saved me from careening into a tree. A better rider would even have made it out of that tight spot without stopping (again, I’m pretty half-baked off-road). Simply put, the bike is well-balanced and responsive: ideal qualities in any road or off-road ride**.
This nimble handling also translates well to an urban environment. While I don’t think the Karakoram will ever be my go-to century bike, as an urban on-road commuter, it actually gets the job done with a fair bit of elan. Road obstacles can be smartly avoided, and the hydraulic brakes’ stopping power comes in mightily handy when oblivious pedestrians or drivers fumble into the road without looking.
That said, in terms of rider experience on the commutes, there’s a trade-off involved: a more upright position offers an awesome visual field and helps keep you visible to drivers, but it also means that you catch wind — lots of it! Even when tucked down over the bars, I’m still in a more upright configuration than I’m used to, and I definitely feel the air resistance. In less-aerodynamic winter kit, it can feel like riding in a parachute.
Coupled with Maxxis’ 2.10″ Aspen tires — which are fantastic on trails but can really soak up your effort on the road — this means that the bike is slower to accelerate and slower on the climbs. Yesterday, on a Karakoram commute, I rode a not-insignificant overpass climb into a stiff headwind and found myself really fighting to maintain a pace above 10 MPH. Make no mistake — this bike climbs, but it does so slowly, and seems to prefer to do so in tiny little gears. That said, in the right gear combo, pretty stiff climbs can seem fairly effortless — as long as you’re not pushing for speed. I suspect the right tires could go a long way towards mitigating this effect if you plan primarily to commute or tour on-road on a Karakoram 2.0.
Commuting-wise, between geometry and fat tires, the Karakoram encourages its rider to spin smaller gears. That’s good for me, because I remain an inveterate masher, and spinning will indubitably leave more in the legs for ballet class 😛
Coupling a high cadence with a low gear, it’s not difficult to maintain a 14 – 16 MPH pace on the flats on this bike once you’re up to speed. Likewise, the enormous gearing range means you can basically ride it up a wall, albeit slowly. Still beats the heck out of walking. Moreover, the bike descends like a freaking rocket.
Shifting is crisp and responsive (and continues to function, with varying responsiveness, even in mucky conditions). Braking is nigh miraculous: the hydraulic disc brakes that come stock on the Karakoram 2.0 are both powerful and nuanced. You can modulate speed with great sensitivity and still stop fast enough to scare the crap out of yourself.
Maintenance-wise, the bike seems to be pretty much “wash-n-wear.” After the mudfest that was Death March, a good bath and a shot of chain lube got it shifting perfectly again. Shifting adjustments should be no sweat (I haven’t needed to bother yet; I took the bike in for a full shop tune-up before the race); braking adjustments will be more involved due to the hydraulics. I plan to pay someone else to mess around with those, for the most part. There are limits to my expertise, and I’m fine with that.
At around 30 pounds, the Karakoram could be lighter (and, indeed, you can lighten it up considerably with a few easy-but-pricey upgrades: lighter wheels, etc.); however, it doesn’t feel heavy when you’re riding it.
Experienced off-road racers looking for race bikes should probably look elsewhere, but for beginning-to-intermediate mountain bikers, the Karakoram offers a lot of bang for the buck. Likewise, experienced off-road racers looking for a fun bike for non-racing rides could enjoy the heck out of this machine.
In summary, the GT Karakoram 2.0 is a very solid bike at its price point (especially if you can snag one on clearance, like I did — I paid $500 for mine). As an entry-level off-road 29er, it’s stellar; likewise, it shines as a slowish-but-steady urban assualt bike. For gravel racing, I’d reserve it for races with true off-road sectors; drilling away for hours on gravel climbs or flats really asks for a less upright position.
For loaded long-distance touring, I’d say that GT’s Karakoram 2.0 is quite admirably suited (and comes drilled for a rear rack), but if you’ll be any distance from places where you’re likely to find good bike shops, you might want to swap out the hydraulic brakes for a set of mechanical ones***, which are better suited to field maintenance. Nobody wants to carry around a bleed kit and hydraulic fluid on a backroads tour of anywhere.
The 29″ wheel size could potentially make finding tires and tubes harder in some parts of the world, but the Schrader-drilled stock rims offer flexibility: more retailers carry Schrader tubes than Prestas, and you can inflate them at gas stations, with most readily-available air compressors, and with cheap, widely-available hand- and foot-pumps. You can also use Presta tubes if you snag a couple of those little converter sleeves to go over the stems. Though I actually like Presta valves better, my imaginary “world-touring” rig is specced with Schrader-friendly rims for all of these reasons.
If you’re seriously considering the purchase of a Karakoram 2.0, go ahead and pull the trigger. I doubt you’ll regret it — for the price, you’re getting a reliable, capable bike that can be dressed up for racing or down for touring in rough country, not to mention a metric shedload of fun.
Next, the Miscellany
Things to remember for Saturday’s ballet class:
- When your heels are on the floor, keep your weight in them. The idea is that your weight goes in a column straight down to the floor. This makes you stable. I have a habit of keeping my weight in the balls of my feet all the time.
This is great when you’re supposed to be on the balls of your feet — like in relèvé, for example — but kind of a bad idea when your heels are supposed to be on the ground. I suspect this is the child of my favored gymnastic discipline — floor exercise — coupled with cycling, though I’m also one of those freaks who run on their toes. Or, well, jog. I don’t know if you would call what I do these days “running.” Anyhoo! I remembered on Monday (after class, of course ._.) that standing flat-footed with your weight in your toes doesn’t work so well in ballet.
If your foot is flat on the floor, you want to keep your weight in your heel; it stabilizes the whole column. If your heel is on the floor but your weight is in the ball of your foot, all kinds of craziness happens, and then you sprain your ankle.
- Chaines turns, which I grappled with and finally remembered how to do on Thursday: don’t over-rotate.
- Frappe: it’s not a coffee drink, so don’t do it like you’ve just had five espressos and a shot of cocaine. Also don’t do it like you’re angry at the floor. Both of these approaches result in the suede bits on the bottoms of your ballet slippers sort of sticking. Also, both of these approaches look ridiculous.
Other things to remember:
- The fact that I’m starting to feel human again is not an excuse to overcommit to a million things and run myself into the ground. My dance card is currently full to the point of bursting.
- Fill out FAFSA, zomg.
In other news:
- I am registered for Fall semester. I should graduate in December. THANK G-D. I love school, and inevitably I will do more school once I’m done with this school, but I am so ready to NOT be an undergrad anymore.
- I am not taking summer classes. The plan for this summer can be summarized in one word: ballet.
That’s it for now. Keep whatever side down is supposed to be down 😛
*Sure, I’m gonna lose some knee skin this way sooner or later, but the soaring feeling is worth it.
**…Also great qualities in a life partner or best friend.
***You can’t go wrong with Avid’s BB7s.