PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
GT Force Carbon
Words by Henry Quinney, photography by Tom Richards
The GT Force is a name many of you will be familiar with. Along with the Zaskar and the Fury, it’s a staple of GT’s lineup. Although the travel and design of the Force may have changed with the years, it’s always been a bike that is meant to cover all bases - both in terms of getting you to the top and coming back down.
This new bike does see a whole raft of changes. It’s now a 160 mm, rearward axle equipped trail smasher with 29” wheels and a 170 mm fork. This 2022 model uses a front triangle and rocker made of carbon with an adjustable length alloy rear end.
Force Carbon Details
• Travel: 170 mm front / 160 mm rear
• Wheel size: 29”
• Head angle: 63.5°
• Seat tube angle: 78°
• Reach: 480 mm (L)
• Chainstay length: 435/445 mm
• Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
• Weight: 35.77 lb / 16.22 kg
• Price: $6,000 USD
With all these changes comes dimension changes also. A size large Force now has a 480 mm reach, a 445 mm seat tube, 435/445 mm chainstays and a 63.5-degree head angle combined with a 78-degree effective seat tube angle.
With the geometry addressed let’s look at the elephant in the room - the idler. GT are almost old hands at this second wave of idler ideology, having already implemented the design on the World Cup winning Fury downhill bike. It's well executed, part of what GT calls 'Ruckus Management' - this essentially means that there is more rubber matting than a padded cell and the idler essentially doubles up as a chain guide. This is to not only make the bike quiet but also aims to keep the chain secure. That said, I think for 35.77 lb or 16.22 kg, a bash guard wouldn't go amiss.
The bike seems to have ease of maintenance in mind. All the hardware is tackled with a 6 mm allen key, there is a threaded BB and the internal routing is all guided, although the cabling does favour those who ride with their front brake on their left.
Prices range from $3,800 - $6,000. The version tested here is the top range Force Carbon LE. It’s got a nice spec, and it seems to prioritize suspension and brakes, which is no bad thing. The top tier RockShox Zeb and Super Deluxe combined with SRAM Code RSC brakes and a large 220 mm front rotor are all sensible and solid spec choices. As is the internally adjustable Trans X dropper. However, I think the WTB KOM rims with a mix of Formula and SRAM hubs and the cheap feeling bars and stem are a little disappointing. That said, it’s a fair amount of bike for the price.
So, let’s get to it. What does all this trendsetting and box ticking achieve and, quite frankly, was it worth it?Climbing
Is this Force, which is appropriately brutish in its build and capabilities, a good climber? Well, I suppose that you can mount a wall tack with a sledgehammer, but to put too much stock in how well it does the job might be missing the point.
This bike climbs well, however it is somewhat reliant on the climb switch for anything like a spritely feel. Ultimately, it pedals well if not only as well as the reasonably expected for a bike that weighs closer to 40 lb than it does 30. That said, it far exceeds the climbing performance of the Norco Range, the other idler-equipped bike on test.
When you point it up something technical it’s a bike that definitely likes to hit things with some momentum. For all the claimed wonders of rear axle paths I’m not convinced they aid a bike's climbing capabilities. The rearward axle path may well smother bumps and lumps at speed but it doesn’t have that quick-footedness to just get up and out of the way. Like anything, it’s a compromise.
One thing I like about the GT, though, is the climbing position. Your weight feels very well centered ,and while it’s true that a lower front end will help weight the fore of the bike on climbs, having bars in a comfortable position can often give you more options in your own range of movement. You can still apply your weight through the bars and it feels more like a conscious choice rather than by merit of you being somewhat extended towards the front of the bike. The near-620 mm top tube fit me really well.
Another element you may also be thinking of is how the idler wheel affects climbing. In my mind, it’s very minimal and it’s a bit of a red herring.
I think the power loss due to the extra wheel is negligible and there are other factors that are much more relevant. The first one is lubricant choice. On hot summer days in BC using dry lube it would become quite loud after around 30 or 40 minutes of pedalling. It’s probably not quite the same as a jockey wheel and its associated drag, but probably reasonably similar. The main difference being that the driving forces want to pull the chain as short as possible between the cranks and the cassette. This means there is quite a lot of force wanting to essentially pull the idler directly down. It’s this force that I believe contributes so much to the noise and lubrication issue.
Using wet lubricant does make this bar far quieter and reduces any chain noise to a gentle purr. However, that leaves you vulnerable to all the problems associated with running wet lube in the dry, but I feel the noise reduction benefits outweigh the cons.
The Force won’t set the world alight on the climbs but it’s capable enough that it shouldn’t dissuade you from considering it.
So, you’ve got through the tardy business of getting an EWS-worthy race bike to the top of the trails, what next? Well, this bike gives back what you put out - but that’s not to say it doesn’t have quirks or peculiarities.
Primarily, and this is the important bit, this bike is very good at what it aims to be very good at. The way this bike tracks is just fantastic. GT has managed to strike a great balance between small bump compliance and tracking. Sometimes small bump sensitivity can feel like too much of a good thing and you might find yourself dialling in some low speed compression to trade some sensitivity for some stability.
The Force, however, balances these characteristics wonderfully. The shock tune, and the recommended window of sag, complement one another well. The bike was active and felt like it followed the contours of the trail. That said, it also had plenty of mid and end stroke support and I never had any harsh bottom outs.
The more speed you provide this bike with the more it will reward you. It’s like a car with massive wings and a splitter, and it feels most balanced at medium to high speeds. At slower speeds, I never felt like it really had that same agility as something like the Spire. I don’t believe it to be the geometry but rather the suspension action.
Do high pivot bikes excel at higher speeds? Absolutely, but in those situations you also have a lot of stability generated from the fact that you’re going faster. When applying the brakes you tend not to hook up with an instant of traction in the same way that you might when going at lower speeds through jankier tech or stepped turns.
At low speed, I found that if the wheel did hit an obstacle while on the brakes it would give me a disconcerting feeling as it felt like it was moving my weight forward, even if only in respect to the rear axle. In a way, this then stops you from feeling like you’re driving the bottom bracket forward with your weight but rather pivoting around it. This is something I undoubtedly got used to more over time and by the end of my test period it wasn't so jarring. Funnily, I don't feel the Norco suffers from the same trait.
Another area of the bike that had me scratching my head a little was the handlebars. This is one of the less fundamental areas of a bike in terms of cost or spec, and they’re easy to change, but I found them unwieldy and I never really got used to them. The dimensions of handlebars, and how they’re measured isn’t always as simple as people might think. The same amount of backsweep doesn’t take into account that the taper might run for longer and will give a different dimension. Hopping on something like the Transition Spire or the YT Capra, with more conventional feeling bars was something like a blessed relief.
So, who’s the GT for? I think it’s somebody who favours trails that have a higher average speed. This bike, all 160 mm of it, would make an excellent bike for somebody that wants to absolutely smash bike park runs with maybe some pedaling in between. If you need something that takes high-speed braking bumps and offers bucket loads of stability in return but you still want something to go for a pedal after work then this would be a great option.