GT Zaskar Elite 2010, £999,

Like the Cindercone, GT's Zaskar is one of mountain biking’s most distinguished names, dating back to the halcyon days of the late 1980s. This entry-level model still features GT’s original ‘triple triangle’ design (where the seat-stays join the top-tube), only now it’s updated in a hydroformed Kinesis aluminium frameset. Despite the head-tube gussets and bridges at bottom bracket and seat-stay, the frame’s pretty light which makes it eminently upgradable.

It features the Tora fork (as on the Kona and Pinnacle) and again performance was surprisingly good for such a budget item; the 32mm lowers certainly make it feel solid on demanding trails and the lockout can be turned as you ride to switch between rigid or ‘open’. Avid Juicy brakes were a godsend in the wet and the 2.0in Kenda Karma tyres are probably the best crossover choice here for both commuting and hardpacked trails.

Special mentions should be made for the WTB saddle, comfortable from the off, and the brilliant, narrow and super tacky grips (yes, the small things make a difference). Zero points, however, for the horror handlebar which is too narrow and needs swapping for a wider, low riser bar with a decent backsweep. There’s five sizes from XS to XL; women may like to try the GTw Zaskar Expert with specifically tailored geometry.

PROS lightweight, tyres, grips
CONS handlebar