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.
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.
- Good value
- Light’ish weight
- Playful handling
- Plush rear end
- Outdated cockpit
- Too many chainrings
- No dropper post
- Flexy rear end
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.