GT is a legendary MTB brand, but it’s had its ups and downs over the years. 2008 looks set to be a big year, though. After a couple of seasons of a new model here and a revision there, there’s a whole swathe of new stuff for ’08. So many, in fact, that we’ve had to split them up so you don’t feel like you’re reading a novel. So we’ll look at GT’s more XCish 2008 offerings in another article – here we’re going to look at the Force and Sanction. Both are nominally in the “all-mountain” category, but occupy slightly different positions.
At first glance, both bikes look very similar. And, let’s be honest, not just to each other. The GT designers have gone for the currently-trendy swoopy-tube look, although in contrast to most other manufacturers the funkily-curved top tube is made of two halves welded together rather than being a single hydroformed tube.
At the back end is the latest incarnation of GT’s i-Drive system, with a clean new swingarm design. Except that it’s not called that any more. Having used “i-Drive” as a bike name as well as the name of the suspension design, the company ended up with all sorts of unwieldy monikers like “i-Drive 5 1.0” and so on. So it’s sensibly decided to cut a swathe through it all, rebrand i-Drive technology as “Independent Drivetrain” and give all the bikes different names. It’s even ditched the 1.0/2.0/3.0 spec level nomenclature on the bikes themselves – the little stars on the Sanction and Force’s top tubes tell you how posh the spec is.
Both bikes have 6in (152mm) of rear wheel travel, delivered by a Fox RP23 shock on the Force and a DHX Air on the Sanction. The only other visible differences between the two frames (other than colour) is the additional gussetry on the Sanction’s head tube, and the presence of 12mm through-axle “dropouts” on the back – the wheel’s held in with the 12mm version of RockShox’s Maxle. The dropouts are interchangeable both sides on both bikes, so if you wanted to run a Maxle on your Force or QRs on your Sanction then you could. Other differences are not immediately obvious to the eye – the Sanction’s geometry is more relaxed and freeride-oriented, while the Force is in the steeper, all-mountain style.
On the scales, the frames are very close, with barely a Mars bar between them. Claimed weight for the Sanction is 6.7lb (3.04kg) and 6.6lb (3kg) for the Force, although we’re assuming that that’s not including the shocks, given that that weight difference (under 50g) is about enough to account for the Sanction’s gusset and that a DHX Air is pushing 200g heavier than an RP23. Allowing for shocks, we’re looking at 3.47kg (7.6lb) for the Sanction and 3.2kg (7lb) for the Force – still entirely respectable weights for sturdy 6in-travel frames.
Once built into complete bikes, the differences in intent between the two models become clearer. The Sanction 1.0 is equipped with a healthy set of burly parts – RockShox Lyric fork, Kenda Nevegal 2.3in tyres, WTB LaserDisc DH hubs, Saint double-and-bash cranks (which are great cranks, but we don’t get on with the 32 tooth biggest ring – does nobody want to go fast any more?). As a result, the full bike comes in about 3-4lb heavier than the 30lb Force – 140mm Fox Floats, XT cranks with triple rings, Shimano Centerlock hubs. The rest of the spec of both bikes is the same, relying mostly on Shimano’s new XT groupset (of which more soon).
There’s definitely a distinctly different ride feel between the two bikes, although even the more relaxed Sanction has quite an “attacking” stance. We were never great fans of the very first i-Drive system, but the more recent incarnation found here is much more agreeable (as well as being lighter and more serviceable). You get the up-and-back motion of a high single pivot without the chain growth, pedal feedback and other unpleasantness. It is quite sensitive to sag, though – we haven’t quite figured out what the cause is, but there’s a sensation of the suspension losing suppleness if you run too much sag, which is rather counterintuitive. Use the recommended settings, though, and all is well.
Of the two bikes, it’s the Sanction that comes across as the most focussed. All the bits work well together and you can instantly tell what it’s for. The Force, on the other hand, feels a bit unsure of what it is. In some ways that’s unsurprising – GT was aiming for a 30lb 6in travel bike with (for some reason) QR axles at both ends. It couldn’t get a suitable fork for it, though, and had to compromise with the 140mm Fox. It’s only half an inch shy of the rear wheel travel, but it does end up feeling like the fork’s holding it back a little. We reckon that it’d be great with a 150mm fork on it, but then of course it would be getting perilously close to the Sanction (albeit somewhat lighter). Interestingly, long-time GT rider Hans Rey is running that very setup, though. If it was down to us, we’d be tempted to move the two bikes further apart by leaving the Sanction pretty much as it is but cutting the travel on the Force to 5.5in both ends. That should give scope for shaving some chassis weight and would make the bike more obviously all-mountainy. As it is, it’s got a lot of potential but feels a bit like a work in progress.
One thing’s beyond question, though – both these bikes (and indeed the whole GT range) looks set to deliver very respectable value for money. The Sanction 1.0 will come in at £2,499 and the Force 1.0 at £1,999. And remember that those are the tops of their respective ranges – there’ll be 2.0 and 3.0 models below them.
Stay tuned for the lowdown on GT’s 2008 XC offerings, including something really rather special…