It’s been a while since we rode a GT full-sus 29er. Why? Well, when GT went through a rethink of it’s objectives in 2012/2013, it decided that it wanted to focus it’s full-sus attention on it’s trail, all–mountain and downhill bikes.
TREAD Test Crew
Photos: Dino Lloyd
GT hadn’t forgotten about the XCO/Marathon category and was producing its Helion model in 27.5 wheel size. It was also still producing hardtail 29ers but as we know, the most important bike in South African mountain biking is a full-suspension 29er. Important in that the majority of the market is either currently riding or aims to be riding this category of bike.
Well, GT is back! It has just introduced the Helion in a 29-inch wheel size in three models – the Carbon Expert 9R, Expert 9R and Elite 9R.
We were able to ride a Carbon Expert 9R prototype for a couple of months before the launch. Here’s what we can tell you.
We had a prototype, which, spec-wise wasn’t identical to the production model. However, our mission was to get a feel for the Helion frame and the Angle Optimised Suspension (AOS) with the Pathlink. We actually rode this design at Deer Valley, Utah in 2013, when it was first introduced on GT’s Sensor and Force 27.5 models, but this was a first for us – riding it in South Africa on a marathon 29er.
AOS is essentially an update, on GT’s i-Drive/Independent Drive predecessors, which offers what GT claims to be uninterrupted pedalling efficiency, optimised bump compliance and minimised performance compromise under braking.
Pathlink is the unique piece of machinery around which the updated single-pivot suspension design is based. It’ allows the pivot to be positioned higher up on the frame, which ensures a rearward arcing wheel path, controls chain growth and minimises pedal feedback. It still looks a bit complicated, but is certainly way more durable and robust than it’s predecessors.
The best way to understand AOS and Pathlink is to watch this short video:
Our test frame was the 9R Carbon Expert, the flagship model. It has a carbon front triangle and an aluminium rear. We’re not going to go into great detail about the rest of the bike we tested other than to say it was fitted with high quality wheels (Crank Bros Cobalt, Rear shock (Fox Performance Elite Float), Fork (Fox Performance Factory 32) Shimano SLX/XT mix on brakes and gears and Race Face crankset and cockpit. Most of this comes on the production model, except the wheels, which are WTB rims with Shimano hubs.
Our objective was to see if GT’s decision to adapt its 27.5 performance (which we found superb on those Deer Valley trails), to 29-inch performance, was successful. The full-sus 29-inch bike market is heavily traded in South Africa, so competition is fierce. And who better to give GT feedback than the TREAD crew, who have been test-riding full-sus 29ers since the sluggish-handling Gary Fisher models in the early 2000s.
What stands out?: Certainly the colour scheme and finish with subtle graphics; a departure from the common black/raw finish normally found on carbon frames. The production models however are either black or dark blue gloss with minimal colour accents. Also the rear suspension. Nothing else like it, so it’s very obvious.
What we like: The colour scheme and finish. The overall look of the bike. The geometry – 69.5 degree headtube angle, 70.5-degree seattube angle.
What we don’t like: The absence of a secondary bottle mount, which could be accommodated on the belly of the top tube (and once was by GT on it’s full-sus model).
Initial feel/set-up: The bike has a well balanced stance and setup. Initially, the front end felt a little too planted, but we grew accustomed to it quite and started to appreciate the firmness, especially through fast turns.
Climbing: Not especially nippy, but damn efficient up long, steady ascents on both rough and smoother surfaces. There was almost no pedal bob when climbing out of the saddle in the Trail or Descend suspension setting modes.
Descending: The Helion was largely a confident descender. Steep and loose with turns is usually where a rider will feel most vulnerable on a descent, but the Helion felt reassuringly stable. At times we felt a 120mm travel fork would have been a better match for what is a very capable rear sock set-up, especially on gnarly rocky downs, where it did feel a little under-suspended up front.
Cornering: In fast turns, the front end felt sure and predictable and that made us smile broadly. This was a standout feature for some of our testers. “It just never feels like it’s going to give,” said one. Our test bike came with Kenda Karma Pro tyres, which really did impress with their performance, although a quite light and susceptible to sidewall damage if you’re not paying attention in sharp stuff.
Who should buy this bike & why? Those who are into their marathon and/or stage races and who appreciate the high value-for-money offering. It’s a race bike, but without the hard race feel, which means you feel more in control on steep descents and efficient up long climbs.
Value for money? At three different price and spec points, the Helion should accommodate most people looking at a 100mm marathon style bike. Considering the spec on each, the GT Helion is high value-for-money purchase.
2017 GT Helion 9R Elite: R27 495
2017 GT Helion 9R Expert: R37 495
2017 GT Helion 9R Carbon Expert: R49 995
SPECS AND GEOMETRY
Omnico: 021 691 0110; www.omnico.co.za