Ghost Kato FS 5 review

Playful 27.5 trail bike held back by odd spec and dated geo

27.5 All Mountain Trail
Ghost Kato FS 5 2017

The Ghost Kato is a 130mm travel full suspension trail bike.

What is it

While Ghost may not be a familiar name to U.S. cyclists, the German brand has been producing bikes for over two decades. Four years ago, they entered an exclusive retail partnership with REI. The outdoor megastore carries everything from Ghost’s entry level hardtails to its top end all mountain rigs.

Ghost Kato FS 5 2017

The Kato sells for between $1700 and $2700.

The Ghost Kato FS is a 130mm full suspension trail bike and is available at three different price points, starting at $1700 and topping out at $2700. The Kato FS 5, reviewed here, is the top of the line model and right now on REI.com it’s marked down to $1889.

Pros
  • Good value
  • Light’ish weight
  • Playful handling
  • Plush rear end
Cons
  • Outdated cockpit
  • Too many chainrings
  • No dropper post
  • Flexy rear end
Mtbr’s Take

On paper, the Kato FS 5 offers an extraordinary value proposition. Currently selling for under $2000, it comes equipped with a full Shimano XT drivetrain and Fox suspension. These components are hung on a quality alloy frame that looks good and is easy to service.

Ghost Kato FS 5 2017

With Fox suspension, Shimano XT drivetrain, XT hubs, and Shimano brakes, the Kato offers a ton of value for the money.

Scratch past that glittering surface and you’ll start to notice some odd spec choices, though. Starting up front, there’s the narrow handlebar and long stem. That odd duo is paired with a front derailleur, skinny tires, a rigid seatpost, and a quick release rear skewer. While not everyone might agree, the U.S. market has shifted towards wide range 1x drivetrains, wider bars, short stems, and meaty tires. These innovations have made bikes easier to ride.

Ghost Kato FS 5 2017

The 2x Shimano drivetrain shifted flawlessly, but was louder and heavier than its 1x counterparts. We also experienced several dropped chains.

We could understand skimping on one or two of these features in the name of affordability, but this component selection is head scratching. That’s unfortunate, because these product miscues undercut the performance of what’s an otherwise nice handling bike.

Ghost Kato FS 5 Rear End and Post

At this price point, we would have liked to see an entry level dropper post and thru axle. Using a quick release skewer compromises rear end stiffness.

On the trail, the long stem and skinny 2.25 tires made the bike feel skittish. Replacing those components with a shorter 50mm stem, wider 760mm bar, and larger 2.3 rubber helped the Ghost’s nimble handling characteristics shine through.

Ghost Kato FS 5 2017

Tires are one of the cheapest ways to improve overall handling. Replacing these mini tires with 2.3 rubber made a world of difference.

The Kato’s 69-degree head angle is almost two degrees steeper than most bikes in this category. That geometry gives the Ghost an XC like feel when climbing switchbacks or descending meandering singletrack. On more challenging terrain, that steep front end can be a hindrance, causing the bike to feel skittish and twitchy.

Ghost Kato FS 5 2017

The Kato uses a combination of internal and external routing.

While the geometry kept us from feeling comfortable pushing hard on rougher trails, the suspension performance was solid. The Kato relies on a four-bar linkage, which is the same suspension configuration used by brands such as Specialized, Transition, and Canyon. It’s a system that’s well regarded for its playful attributes, and that carries over to the Ghost. This trail bike is perfectly at home hitting natural doubles and pumping terrain. We particularly enjoyed the rear shock tune, which had a plush feel throughout the stroke. That performance was matched by the highly tunable Fox fork.

Ghost Kato FS 5 2017

The Kato uses a four-bar linkage, a system used by a number of high end manufacturers, including Specialized.

Bottom Line

Overall, it’s hard to say who the Kato is for. If this was 2010, we’d call it the bike of the year. For under three grand, it’s a bargain. But look past the product spec and take a deep dive into the geometry and component selection, you’ll begin to realize how dated the whole package feels. If it were our money, we’d be cross shopping between the $1500 Marin Hawk Hill, $2500 Diamondback Release, or any number of other consumer-direct options.

Ghost Kato FS 5 2017

The Kato is a good looking bike but some questionable spec choices and dated geometry hold it back on more challenging terrain.

However, the Ghost Kato does offer something few other brands can — the REI experience. If you’re an REI member, you’ll receive an end of the year dividend. That’s essentially a 10% rebate. At full price that’s $270 towards upgrades. You’ll also receive one free tune-up within six months of purchase.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 3.5 Flamin' Chili Peppers
Price: $2700 (currently marked down to $1889)
More info: www.ghost-bikes.com and www.rei.com

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

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  • Midgemagnet says:

    Hey, stop trying to kill off the front dérailleur! Some of us want closer gear ratios and don’t have issues operating two shifters. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find decent 2X bikes these days thanks to 1X mania, and though 1X certainly has its place it’s not a universal solution.

    Looking at the Ghost website it seems that this bike is marketed as an entry level full squish for beginners, which might explain the steeper head angle and longer stem. They list the bar width as 760 mm with a 15 mm rise, but no spec for stem length, so there could be differences in the mtbr review bike spec and what’s available in the shops.

    Tyres, bars, seat and pedals are all very much a personal choice, so whatever a new bike comes equipped with here is going to be wrong for a lot of riders. Still, I quite agree that there’s no excuse for a QR rear axle and lack of dropper post. At least the latter can be upgraded easily, but a QR-to-10 mm thru-axle upgrade could be trickier, even assuming the hub allows it.

  • gg says:

    Interestingly all 7 of the REI reviews rate this bike 5 Stars.
    Clearly an MTB for these consumer happy campers.
    For under $2K a steal.
    The biggest short fall is the red cable housing. Yuck !

  • alkd says:

    I almost burst out laughing when I read this:
    “Tires are one of the cheapest ways to improve overall handling. Replacing these mini [2.25] tires with 2.3 rubber made a world of difference.”

    You do realize that you’re talking about 0.05″ of tire width? IE, less than 1/16 of an inch, or 1.25 mm. There are plenty of 2.25″ tires that measure larger than plenty of 2.3″ tires. Such a blanket statement comes across as dumb.

  • Saris Mercanti says:

    @ALKD You’re right, a lot of brands don’t measure their tires accurately. In fact, when I took calipers to the stock tires on this bike, the measured 2.1″ at the widest point! Yikes.

    @GG If you’re only looking at the XT drivetrain and Fox suspension, this is a killer deal. Unfortunately, the rest of the package feels dated. To a novice rider buying their first bike, those issues wouldn’t be obvious. Take any rider with experience on modern platforms and you’ll hear a different story.

  • alkd says:

    @ Saris – If you had mentioned going from a lower volume tire to a higher volume tire, it would have made perfect sense / I wouldn’t have batted an eye at the comment.

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