The 165mm travel Sanction is most certainly not your typical long legged trail weapon, with GT designing the 27.5" wheeled bike specifically for the world of enduro racing rather than for all around use. What the heck does that mean, especially given that there are plenty of bikes with similar amounts travel on the market? The Sanction's geometry is one part of the equation - its wheelbase is longer than many downhill bikes out there, and the roomy front end and short stem combo is designed to improve stability and confidence. The bike's suspension design also leans far more towards out and out performance on rowdy downhills than striking a middle ground with climbing in mind, and GT has tackled that last concern with a remote lever for its FOX Float X CTD shock. Oh, and you'll never be able to mount a front derailleur on the bike, so don't even bother trying. What GT hopes that the Sanction will allow you to do, however, is descend faster than if you were on any other bike in the same travel bracket.
The Sanction's Suspension Explained
• Intended use: enduro racing
• Travel: 165mm
• Wheel size: 27.5"
• Aluminum frame
• ISCG 05 chain guide tabs
• Single chain ring only
• 180mm post mount rear brake
• 12 x 142mm thru-axle
• MSRP: $1,999 USD (frame w/ FOX Float X)
GT's I-Drive suspension design, referred to as 'Independent Drivetrain' on newer models, uses a ''floating'' bottom bracket unit that allows for a relatively high main pivot location without the main drawback that is usually associated with it - excessive chain growth. The high pivot helps the bike absorb hard, direct impacts due to the rearward axle path that it affords, but it's the floating bottom bracket that lets such a design work without the massive chain growth that would usually be associated with such a design. It does this by letting the bottom bracket move in roughly the same plane as the rear axle by locating it on a separate element that pivots off of the swingarm, all while being attached to the front triangle by a short link, essentially creating a four-bar linkage system even if it doesn't resemble what comes to mind when you hear that term.
The bike's suspension design resembles what GT uses for the 220mm travel Fury DH bike rather than the high main pivot layout found on the Force, a decision that should make it obvious that the 165mm travel Sanction has been penned with aggressive riding and descending in mind rather than the more all around riding that the Force is intended for. Flipping the bike over to inspect what's happening downstairs does reveal an obvious relation to the Fury, although a direct comparison will also show that there are some important differences. In fact, the only piece that the two bikes share is the short dog-bone connecting link, with all of the other suspension components proprietary to the Sanction. GT also wanted the Sanction to accelerate with more jump than the Fury - not surprising given that it's an enduro race bike - and have placed the pivots accordingly.
How should a bike designed specifically for enduro racing act on the climbs? After all, the very large majority of the time on the clock during a race weekend is spent racing down, not up, with much of it often rivaling terrain that we're seeing on today's World Cup tracks but raced on bikes that are sporting two inches less travel than a true DH sled. Regardless, there are sometimes climbing sections during the timed stages, and they are often short, steep, balls-out sprints that are more about how many ponies one can lay down than asking a racer to navigate any sort of technical uphill, which is exactly the sort of ascents that GT had in mind when they designed the Sanction. The remote lever on the handlebar means that you can firm-up the FOX Float X CTD shock in an instant, something that the average rider might scoff at, but a feature that, depending on the track, competitive enduro racers will feel is as necessary as a set of pedals after using it a few times. Don't get me wrong, given its intentions, the big GT pedals decently well when the suspension is left open, but when you can hit that button and have it feel like you're mainlining a hit of caffeine, why wouldn't you use it if the clock is ticking and you've trained for exactly this type of thing?
The two more interesting questions are how it sprints when the suspension is left open, and how it handles when pointing upslope. Respectably well on the first, somewhat strangely on the second. As far as bikes with similar amounts of travel go, the Sanction moves forward well under power when the shock is left open, and while it's never going to have the jump of a shorter travel bike, you'll also not have anything to complain about if you're coming off of a new Nomad or Slash. Out of the saddle efforts, which is how a bike like the Sanction is going to be propelled in a race situation, do feel somewhat odd, however. This isn't down to a lack of efficiency, though, but rather the bike's geometry and 35mm stem. Not surprisingly, I'd have to say that it feels a lot like sprinting an ultra-efficient downhill bike.
|Yes, I can and did pedal it up all sorts of tricky climbs. And yes, every time I came up against a rooty challenge or ultra-tight switchback I thought of a few other similar travel bikes that I would have rather been on, but none of them are as confidence inspiring on the way back down. Ah, tradeoffs.|
Are you the kind of person that expects a Nicolas Cage movie to have a deep, meaningful plot? Or your expensive Five Star dinner at that snooty French restaurant to include large portions? If so, you might be more than a little disappointed when it comes to the Sanction's climbing manners on technical trails. Keep your expectations in check, though, and you'll likely find that the bike performs well enough to get by. Sure, I could shit all over how the Sanction ascends tricky singletrack, but wouldn't that be a bit like doing the same for a downhill bike? The 165mm travel GT is not intended to be your everyday all-mountain machine, and holding it to that standard would be unfair given that it really is one of the few pure enduro race-specific bikes out there. Yes, I can and did pedal it up all sorts of tricky climbs. And yes, every time I came up against a rooty challenge or ultra-tight switchback I thought of a few other similar travel bikes that I would have rather been on, but none of them are as confidence inspiring on the way back down. Ah, tradeoffs. This is not the bike for you if all of your climbing is done on twisty singletrack, but it'll do just fine if you earn your descents by pedalling up tamer climbs or gravel roads. Downhill / Technical Riding
I recently took the Sanction to Whistler as part of a group test of the latest downhill bikes that saw me spending a week learning the ins and outs of the newest long-travel machines, going through brake pads up in the muddy upper reaches of the Garbanzo zone, and doing my best to wear out as many rear tires as possible. I think that I achieved all of that and more, and I was also somewhat surprised to find myself reaching for the Sanction far more often than any of the carbon fiber downhill sleds that were in the test stable. It's no secret that I'm a big fan of well-designed, relatively short-travel bikes, but if there's one place that makes sense to be on a downhill sled, it's Whistler. That still applies, of course, especially if you prefer to really let it roll up in the rough and tumble Garbonzo zone that sports more rocks than Charlie Sheen's coffee table on a Saturday night, but the 165mm Sanction manages to stay more composed on the same terrain than any bike not designed to sprint out of a World Cup start gate has a right to.
The ability of the Sanction to stay so calm when things get a bit touch and go, at least in my mind, is the position that it puts the rider in, which is further back behind the front axle than on other bikes. The approach is the same that GT takes with the long front end on their Fury downhill bike, and, as you might expect, the results are similar: bucket loads of confidence during those times when that's exactly what's needed to commit to a line, and an air of invincibility that most other 165mm travel bikes would be jealous about. Confidence equals speed, of course, and the Sanction's handling was very much spot-on for going quick. That slightly more rearward weight position that the long top tube and short stem provides just doesn't feel that drastic when you're rolling fast, and I'd say that it actually feels more natural than a conventional set of geometry numbers. That's in contrast to how the Sanction performs on the ascents, but it's a tradeoff the GT was obviously happy to make. And, since there's plenty of machines that can both climb and descend at a relatively high level, but very few 165mm travel bikes that can brush off the terrain that the Sanction rolls its eyes at, I'm glad they did. Want an all-rounder? Look elsewhere. Want a bike that not only lets you get away with making bad decisions on the downhills, but actively encourages you to do exactly that while letting you get away with it? Get a Sanction.
The bike's aptitude in truly scary terrain doesn't come free of charge, though, as it can feel like a handful relative to a more conventional bike with similar travel when the trail either levels out from pointing straight down, or gets tight enough to warrant putting in some big steering inputs. I'll admit I was a bit surprised about this as its big brother, the Fury, actually felt quite manageable when speeds dropped, whereas the shorter travel Sanction had me looking back to see if I had a trailer attached to the bike. The obvious answer is that it's all relative, and that while there are plenty of lazy handling downhill bikes that make the Fury feel somewhat reasonable, there are even more quick handling and nimble mid-travel bikes that have the Sanction reminding me why the GT isn't the best choice on rolling terrain.
|The Sanction is the best descending mid-travel bike on the market, which is a result of the bike's geometry and suspension being absolutely dialed-in for those purposes. Expecting it to excel elsewhere would be a bit like expecting to have a nice, relaxing night at a Slayer concert.|
I wasn't surprised to find that the Sanction's suspension matches the bike's handling in that it mutes small and medium high-speed impacts better than most bikes in the same travel class, and it manages to take the tops off of sharp edges incredibly well at the sort of speeds that you'd ride a capable bike like the Sanction at. I wouldn't call it a 'plow bike', though, as it still rewards you using your brain and not just going straight through the worst of it like you were on a downhill bike, but you can certainly get away with taking that approach if you must. That said, I was surprised to constantly find the o-ring on the Float X shock pushed to the far end of the stanchion, even when running just a whisker less than 30% sag. There were no teeth rattling bottoming moments, but the bike was certainly using all of its travel a bit more than I would have guessed it. Then again, it's there to be used up, isn't it? And just so long as you're not hitting bottom hard enough to feel it through the soles of your shoes, it doesn't matter. So maybe a bit more linear than some other machines out there, but I feel like that's a trade-off for how forgiving it is while in the mid-stroke and deeper, which is where a 165mm travel bike often is when you're riding it like it's a downhill race bike. It's also incomparably supple and active when talking about air-sprung, mid-travel bikes, something that is no doubt down to the Float X shock's slippery action. Technical ReportThe build on my Sanction test bike is completely custom and not representative of the complete bikes that GT offers, and it also served (and still serves) as a rolling testbed for the components you see bolted to it. That includes the ENVE M70 wheelset, SRAM's Guide brakes, Continental's Baron Projekt 2.4 tires, and the Manitou Mattoc Pro fork.
• ENVE's M70 wheelset is about as baller as it gets when talking about wheels, especially considering that there's a set of DT Swiss hubs at the center of those carbon hoops. Regardless, I'm not going to sugarcoat it: I'm a bit conflicted when it comes to ENVE's wheels. After all, at $999 USD for a rim and $2718 USD for a complete wheelset, they are very expensive relative to a more common aluminum rimmed option, and it's not like we haven't seen the rims fail. That said, you can destroy any rim if you try hard enough, but I feel like they should be nearly indestructible of they're going to cost as much as they do. Did the wheels on the Sanction give me any trouble? Nope, not even the slightest hiccup, and I didn't even need to true them once, but I still feel a bit conflicted about them.
• I'll have a separate review of SRAM's new Guide brakes in the near future, but here's a summary in the meantime: more power and a firmer feel than Avid's four piston Trail offering, but they don't seem to have lost much in the way of that early stoke control that Avid had going for them. That might not sound like a big deal, but it's that control in low-traction moments (wet or super dry conditions
) that made the Trail brakes so good.
• Continental's Baron Projekt 2.4 tire is a serious chunk of rubber. I found them really, really difficult to mount due to a rather tight bead, but the traction on tap from the German tire is outstanding. This is especially true in regards to braking bite, with it feeling a bit like you're dropping anchor every time you grab a handful of brake. The downside to them is that the large center lugs give them similar rolling speed whether they have air in them or flat, which we found out when we cut the rear tire's sidewall after only a few days of riding. That's an exaggeration, obviously, but they do roll quite slow. Pinkbike's Take:
|The Sanction is very much a specific tool for a specific job, and it isn't the bike for you if you're not looking for a mid-travel bike to ride like a downhill rig. There are better pedalling and more climbable choices if you want an all-around bike to go for long rides on yet still hit all the big moves, but GT didn't design the Sanction for you to use it as an all-mountain bike, did they? No, not at all. The Sanction is one of a few purpose-built enduro race machines out there, and it'd be at the top of my list if that's what I was looking for in a bike.- Mike Levy|