By Sean Badenhorst, Editor
Lance Schneider, South Africa’s GT Bicycles brand manager, was bristling with anticipation and enthusiasm when he invited me – over a cup of coffee – to the 2014 GT Bicycles launch in Deer Valley, Utah, USA.
“GT has something really special to introduce to the world and we need editors of core mountain biking publications to attend,” said Lance. “Guys that understand mountain biking; guys that appreciate riding proper trails. I’d like you to go from South Africa.”
Not many options in South Africa I suppose, but I was stoked to get the invite to represent TREAD at the launch, which turned out to be nothing short of barrier breaking – on a few levels – for the GT brand.
The guys at GT Bicycles have been hard at work for the past two-and-a-half years in an effort to perfect the 27.5-inch wheel platform that’s likely to become the dominant wheel size globally in the near future. Peter Denk, Director of Technology at the Cycling Sports Group, the company that owns the GT brand, led the new thought processes within the company.
They decided that with the increasingly firm boundaries between the different disciplines of mountain biker, they’d focus on the rider. What does the rider want to achieve from his ride in each of the five main categories – Gravity, All-mountain, Trail (full suss), Trail (hardtail) and XC? Where is the Marathon category you may ask? Well, globally, marathon and XC fall into the same grouping.
GT calls this it’s COR Philosophy. No, it’s not poor spelling, it’s an acronym: Centred On Rider.
“With COR Philosophy as our guide, we are able to develop bikes that fit the needs of each type of rider. GT has a rich history of leading in technological innovation but our modern approach to bike design starts with understanding the relationship between rider and bike. The five facets of COR Philosophy are Fit, Function, Tune, Spec and Geometry,” explained Todd Seplavy, Senior Product Manager at GT Bicycles.
Central to the new Sensor and Force designs is AOS – Angle Optimised Suspension – an update, essentially, on GT’s i-Drive/Independent Drive predecessors, which offers 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 rearward arcing wheel path, controls chain growth and minimised pedal feedback. It still looks a bit complicated, but certainly way more durable and robust than it’s predecessors.
The best way to understand AOS and Pathlink is to watch this short video:
GT didn’t try and redesign its entire range for 2014; it started with three models – the Sensor (Trail), Force (All-mountain) and Fury (Gravity). I never rode the Fury, but we’ll cover it in a later post.
What I did get to ride was the Sensor and the Force. The GT guys have been doing these press camps for years. This was the first time I’d attended one and was impressed with their attention to detail. The world’s most influential mountain biking media was invited to attend (must have be around 40 of us from all continents). They split us into two groups for bike riding purposes and we were joined by GT staff, also from around the globe.
The trails selected for the Sensor test ride incorporated climbs and descents, some rather steep, but mostly moderate gradients and flowy. This gave us the opportunity to ride the bike on gradients it’s designed for. The following day we switched models and that gave my group the go-ahead to put the Force through it’s paces. Climbing trails didn’t feature prominently, but there was a little ascending. There was also some pedally flat bits and loads of descending – some of it fast and flowy and some of it tight and rough.
You can’t formulate a comprehensive opinion on a bike in two hours on unfamiliar trails, but you can develop a first impression. Here are my first impressions on the Sensor and the Force:
Sensor Carbon Pro
The bike: In summary, it’s a 130mm travel, 27.5-inch wheeled trail bike with a carbon fibre frame. It has Fox Float 32 CTD suspension at the front with matching rear shock, e-thirteen wheelset and Rock Shox Reverb Stealth remote dropper seatpost. It also has a triple chainring as GT reckons 75 percent of mountain bikes sold worldwide still have triple chainring setup. There are seven Sensor models for 2014 – three carbon fibre, three aluminium and one Hans Rey signature edition (also aluminium).
The ride: It climbed smoothly and predictably. And faster than expected really. The AOS and Pathlink no doubt performing their intended function with distinction. There’s some serious ‘chunk’ in the seatstays, which no doubt offers substantial rigidity, especially when standing on the pedals. Descending was similar to climbing – smooth and predictable, while cornering was very sure. Combine wide bars, short stem, long top tube, 68-5-degree head angle and Conti X-King front tyre and you have a recipe for significant control.
- Rock Shox Reverb Stealth remote dropper seatpost. I didn’t just like it, I loved it! It worked flawlessly on demand.
- The adjustability of the Formula T1 brake levers. You can find your perfect finger fit/reach.
- The 740mm wide Race Face Turbine bars and Thomson Elite 80mm stem. This combination is the foundation layer for optimal control.
- The Shimano XT gear shift system. Never a mis-shift – always crisp and reliable.
Force Carbon Pro
The bike: In summary, it’s a 150mm travel, 27.5-inch wheeled all-mountain bike with a carbon fibre frame. It has Fox Float 34 CTD suspension at the front with matching rear shock, e-thirteen wheelset and Rock Shox Reverb Stealth remote dropper seatpost. There are three Force models for 2014, all of them with carbon fibre frames.
The ride: Straight to the chairlift we went to get to the summit of Bald Mountain, which is at 2 789 metres – a kilometre higher above sea level than Joburg. And straight onto some gnarly descents. As with the Sensor, the wide bars (760mm), short stem (60mm), relaxed headtube angle 67.2 degrees) put me in a position of confidence. A couple of early front-wheel slides and I decided to reduce the 1.8 bar (front) and 1.9 bar (rear) tyre pressures. That seemed to work to a point, but I still felt some front wheel drift at moments I wasn’t expecting, mostly in sketchy switchback turns. A bit unnerving. I don’t know if it was the Conti Trail King tyres (at 2.4 width, a whole lot of chunk!) not hooking up like I expected them to, or just me on a new bike on unfamiliar trails, but it’s still something that sticks in my mind; and I have some limb scrapes to remind me. Having said that, on the whole, it delivered a descending confidence that had me taking on some Higher Grade trails without hesitation. I did notice the rear shifter was quite stiff and the rear brake lever changing modulation from soft to hard after a few grabs in succession.
- Rock Shox Reverb Stealth remote dropper seatpost. It became as natural to operate as my gear shifters by the end of the day.
- The 760mm wide Race Face Turbine bars and Thomson Elite 60mm stem. A position of absolute control.
- The triple chainring. I was able to ride up any steep ascents without hesitation or doubt.
- The 180mm rotors front and rear. ‘Windows’ into the gravity-craving soul of the Force.
I believe this is the optimal wheel size for my height (174cm), so felt completely comfortable on the Deer Mountain trails on both the Sensor and the Force. But I rode behind Dan Atherton, yes THE Dan Atherton, on one of the descents on the Force and saw that even at his height (188cm), this wheel size is optimal for this kind of riding – in general, steep, twisty and flowing. He was so smooth and never once did I think, “Whoa! That guy would do better on a 29-inch wheel bike”…
I got to ride each bike once for a couple of hours on the amazing mountain trails of Utah. Both bikes were brand new. What a privilege. We don’t have that kind of trail network in South Africa, which is why test riding these two models on familiar South African trails for an extended period will be required to deliver a more comprehensive review. This will happen in the next few months when production stock arrives.
What did have an impactful and long-term effect on me is how GT has not held back on speccing these two models. I’ve always felt GT has been a brand that specs its bikes to fit into price points. But the 2014 Sensor and Force break that barrier. Race Face bars, Thomson stems, seatposts and dropper seat posts on all but the lowest level Sensor, only carbon fibre frames in the Force range…
This all points to GT’s commitment to its COR Philosophy – build bikes for the rider/type of riding, not budget limits. We’re waiting for pricing, but expect that GT won’t have gone overboard.
Handing over the Force after my final ride at Deer Valley concluded some of the best steep-gradient trail riding I’ve ever done. I thought back to that coffee I had with Lance in Johannesburg all those weeks before. He was right; GT did just introduce something special to the world…
For more on the new bikes over the coming weeks, visit www.gtbicycles.com
© Tread Magazine