First Ride Review: GT Zaskar LT Expert

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We’ve had this mossy green-coloured hardcore hardtail in to ride for a few weeks now, and Chipps has been able to take it on enough of his local trails to bring you this first-ride review of GT’s most dramatic new hardtail in years, the Zaskar LT Expert.

Secret testing in the wild reed beds of Todmorden…

There aren’t many other mountain bike model names than GT’s Zaskar with so much heritage. Launched nearly 30 years ago, you’ll know that it famously won UCI World Cup races in downhill, slalom, XC and trials under riders like Juli Furtado, Hans Rey and Eric Carter. In recent years it reappeared as a carbon hardtail to mark its 25th anniversary.

Quiet out… Apart from that rattly noise.

As you’ll see from our companion news story, the new Zaskar LT has been completely re-thought, including a big re-think of the famous Triple Triangle, to give the bike a lot more vertical give, as well as bringing the geometry up to date with some suitably trail-worthy figures, a longer top tube, shorter stem and capacity for a 130-140mm fork.

What first surprised me when unboxing the bike was its great moss green colour and modest price (and slightly chunky weight…) – I guess we’re all used to thinking of the Zaskar as a premium, top end bike ridden by pros at high speed, but at £1299 for the Zaskar LT Expert (and £999 for the Elite) it’s a pretty everyday price for a mid-level hardtail. The spec on the LT Expert is pretty competent, with a few UK-friendly flourishes. For a start, the 2.5/2.4WT Minions show that Expert means business – this really isn’t a ride to work hybrid. There’s a workable dropper post with a great lever, some chunky but serviceable wheels and SRAM’s 12 speed NX/SX Eagle.

The welds on any GT Zaskar have always been gorgeous. This is no exception.

It’s a very sharp looking bike and I had to remind myself several times that there are suspension forks that cost as much as this whole bike. Setup was relatively easy and I was soon on my way.

My local loop – which manages about ten miles, all within two miles of my house, starts with an evil, long, sustained climb from home, first on tarmac, then on to gravel and finally on to the alternating bog and broken rocks of the moorland trails. Similar to what you’d find in the Peaks. The long climb is a great way of checking out the riding position and climbing abilities of any bike and the Zaskar LT Expert proved a roomy and steady away climbing companion. The budget of the bike was certainly felt in the weight – I don’t have the work scales to hand, so the best I could measure was using the highly inaccurate ‘bathroom scales’ method, which put it at around 15kg. Certainly something I’d agree with when lifting it on and off the hook on the wall. But the climbing position was great. The bike is pretty unflappable and as long as you have the faith, the bike will keep you climbing on the trickiest of slabby steppy climbs. Could this be some of that promised vertical compliance from the new, longer (much longer!) seatstays?

Seatstays no longer touch the seat tube, which adds 50% more vertical compliance according to GT.

Starting on the steady, but rutted gradual descents that greet me the other side of the hill, I noticed a couple of things that unnerved me. One was that the Shimano MT410 were terrifying out of the box. Wooden and powerless, it took a good couple of rides for them to start biting properly. Once they did finally start gripping, the power was decent, though the lever feel was always wooden from the one-and-a-half finger levers. The other thing that bothered me, as I rattled over the bumpy moor was just that – a rattle. While both the Zaskar LT models feature smart looking internal cable routing, the cables themselves are pretty free to rattle around inside the downtube, and I found that they rattled on every descent. Even zip tying the three cables together as they came out of the bottom bracket joint didn’t really solve it. A good mechanic will have some tips for quieting this niggle (and there’s easy access to the downtube via the opening on the BB shell for radical silencing with a feather duster) but it was a constant annoyance the let down the sleek look of the bike.

Cables go in, ever so neatly…
…and emerge less tidily. And less quiet.

Descents on my test loop are a mix of moorland tracks and narrower, slabby tracks with waterbars and old stone walls to keep you paying attention. This was where the geometry of the Zaskar LT was noticeable once again. There’s a really nice, familiar and trustworthy feel to the bike. It’s not so long that exaggerated movements are necessary to lighten the front or back end and you still feel like a rider and not a bystander. It was also where the limits of the budget Rockshox 35 forks could be felt. After 60km of test rides, the fork felt sticky on the smaller bumps and a little over-run on the bigger ones, and with little tuning options available for the regular rider, it did seem to be the weakest link on the bike (at least the brakes improved on the rides…) Another thing that did niggle was the interplay between the SRAM NX Eagle shifter and the Shimano M401 brake levers. Both have chunky handlebar mounts and it was impossible to get the shifter at just the right angle. A small whine, perhaps, but shifting is something you do a lot on the bike…

Rockshox 35s. They’re OK, with some good adjustment, but were a bit of a limiting factor.
Big lever clamps get in the way of each other well. Fabric grips and saddle were great.
No car, not far and no, this isn’t gnar…

Overall, though, especially for the price, it’s a fantastic, fun bike, although the temptation to start upgrading after the first ride is strong. I’m already looking at my trail bike to see if I could ‘borrow’ some more upmarket components to just see if Zaskar LT Expert has the potential to be that great all-round trail bike that I suspect it could be. But if you went crazy, you could easily double the price of the bike and push it out of the ‘My first decent trail bike’ territory that it currently sits in.

“I’m off to the bike shop for some upgrades…”

And that’s where it resides. As a well-sorted trail bike for a new rider, or as a winter hardtail for a more experience rider, it’s a great place to start. Yes, it could be lighter, but then so could I. As it is, there’s some pretty reliable gear on the bike that should last you well – especially if you’re going to put a bit of time into keeping it running sweet.

Oh, and that Moss Green (with British Racing Green accents) colour on the LT Expert is fantastic!

Three Things That Could Be Improved on the Zaskar LT Expert:

  • 1. A more capable fork would be AMAZING
  • 2. Better cable management
  • 3. Better brakes please!

And Three Things We Loved

  • The geometry and overall stance of the bike
  • The climbing ability on technical terrain
  • That the Zaskar is back to being GT’s all-round, any-trail, any-time bike
Just the one bottle cage. Did we mention the colour?

The one question that needs asking is ‘The Zaskar LT Expert is pretty good, but surely there must be a ‘Pro’ spec bike lurking in the wings?’ We don’t need a carbon fibre, expensive wonder machine, we need a bike with the new Zaskar LT frame at its heard that is just a bit better specced for a little more money and it’ll be a complete winner. Instead of £1300, perhaps it could be £1700 and come with a great fork and slightly better brakes, slightly better wheels and weigh a little less. Then there’d be a real reason to recommend it to everyone. As it is, it’s a fine trail bike for just about anything you want to do with it – as deserving of the Zaskar name, but the upgrade itch will be triggered after the first ride.

For more details, see GT Bicycles

Review Info

Brand: GT Bicycles
Product: Zaskar LT Expert
From: CSG UK
Price: £1299
Tested: by Chipps for Three weeks
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Comments (9)

    Should be polished alloy, not painted

    They’ve been pretty much dragging through their legacy in the interest of sales, yet at the same time completely ignoring the legacy itself (this, the previous zaskar, the heihei), for a number of years now. And it’s not even as if they can claim continuity and evolution alla specialized. Probably best avoided. . .

    Dinning out on their legacy for years. Don’t get me wrong as my first ‘real’ mtb was a GT and I always wanted a Zaskar but over the years I cringe at how they have used the original Zaskar image and dragged on with the Triple Triangle…. however I can quite see how the extra length in the seatstays could add comfort so maybe finally its come full circle

    ‘Should be ball burnished alloy, not painted’ FTFY!

    Heihei was Kona, you mean Xizang

    My 23yr old gt Xizang is still going strong

    Is that Rockshox 35 any better than a Recon RL? It seems like it is adding on the bike’s price just to allow marketing say that it has 35mm stanchions

    Read several reports that the 35 isn’t a great fork. I’d say the Recon RL is marginally better.

    I would love a frame only option and I definitely echo the other comments of wanting a ball burnished finish. For the money it looks like a great starter MTB and will likely be snapped up by many C2W schemers.

    This has the 35 Gold RL. 35mm aluminium, DebonAir. On paper it sounds better than the others:

    Recon RL is 32mm steel, Solo Air.
    Recon Gold RL is 32mm aluminium, DebonAir. So is the Sektor RL.

    The 35 Silver R or TK however are 35mm steel, coil or Solo Air, TurnKey damper.

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