Mountain bike technology was advancing at a blistering pace in the mid- to late-1990s. The number of anodized components on the market was at an all-time high, but there was a lot more going on than a bunch of shiny purple parts. In just a few short years, cantilever brakes were quickly replaced by V-brakes, and the widespread acceptance of disc brakes was just around the corner. Front suspension, once decried as being an insult to the purity of the sport, became increasingly common, and companies large and small were trying out a wide range of new full suspension designs, some successful, others not so much.
GT LTS Details
• Wheel size: 26"
• 100mm travel
• Head angle: 69.7°
• 6061 aluminum frame, ti rocker link
• 424.4mm chainstays
• Frame sizes: 14.5", 16", 18", 20"
GT was right there in the mix, and the LTS, which made its racing debut underneath Nico Vouilloz in 1995, soon became one of the most sought-after bikes of that era. Steve Peat, Mike King, Hans Rey; a veritable who's who of mountain biking's greats spent time aboard various iterations of the LTS and the STS, the aluminum-lugged thermoplastic version. Development
The LTS was preceded by the RTS, which had a scant 2.5” of travel that felt like even less, due to the fact that pedaling caused the shock to extend, giving the bike a 'locked-out' feel under power. There were still plenty of skeptics when it came to full-suspension, and the RTS was designed to appeal to the hardtail holdouts. Riders looking for plush, active travel would have to wait.
Given the success of the RTS, when other companies began releasing longer travel options the logical idea was to simply create an RTS with more travel. As Jim Busby Jr., GT's suspension engineer, soon discovered, that was easier said than done.
“Whichever way he approached the kinematics, it just wouldn’t work. To make the rocker larger and to control the anti-squat with 100mm of rear wheel travel proved impossible. The RTS was, for all intents and purposes, over. It could not get past 65 mm of travel without very strange things happening,” says Mark Peterman, who at the time was a product manager working closely with Busby (his current title is Vice President / Asia Sourcing for Cycling Sports Group).
With the RTS off the table, Busby shifted his attention and began working on a new suspension design, one that would be more active, rather than locking out under power. According to Mark Peterman, “If you had never met Jim Jr. at the zenith of his powers, he was like a crazed oracle that would rush into a room, make a pronouncement, and then rush out leaving the rest of us to look at each other and then fake to each other that we knew exactly what he was talking about.
“Later we would sneak into one another’s offices and say in hushed tones, 'Did you really get what Jim was saying?...Dude….I have no idea'... and then we knew we were screwed because ultimately we had to take his revelatory vision and actually commercialize it into a real product that could be sold with confidence at a reasonable price.”
With the help of GT's in-house aluminum welding and CNC capabilities, the LTS began to take shape, morphing from a cobbled-together mule into a much more refined product. The suspension layout is a modified version of a Horst Link design (GT paid Specialized a licensing fee), with the rear pivots located on the chainstay, below the rear axle.
Initially available as a frame only, the first frames had a titanium upper link, and came with a Fox Alps 4 air shock that delivered 4" (100mm) of travel. That shock didn't offer much in the way of adjustability, and GT soon began spec'ing a coil-sprung RockShox on the higher end models, while the more entry-level LTS-3 received an elastomer sprung offering. The LTS picture here, which resides in GT's Connecticut headquarters, has one of the early frames, although the parts spec isn't entirely correct. However, it is a good representation of what a complete bike from that era would have looked like.
Nico Vouilloz piloted an LTS to a World Cup win in Cap d'Ail in 1995, and beat out Shaun Palmer to take home another World Champs victory aboard a thermoplastic version in 1996. **Note: video contains a brief moment of NSFW material in the introduction.
The 1997 LTS took things a step further, and in addition to having two settings that allowed for either 3.7” or 4.7” of travel, it also had a trunion mounted, coil sprung shock that allowed the bottom bracket height to be raised or lowered. 1999 was the final year of the LTS' existence; its replacement was the I-drive, another Jim Busby creation.
The LTS was well received, but the bane of its existence were the bushings used for each of the eight pivots. They were chosen due to their lighter weight, and lower cost, but they ended up causing headaches for shops and customers alike due to the incessant squeaking that developed as they begin to wear. It wasn't long before most major mountain bike manufacturers began adopting sealed cartridge bearings for their pivots, save for a few exceptions, a trend that continues today.
Nearly 25 years have passed since Jim Busby Jr. began working on the LTS, but the basic principles behind the design are still relevant, which isn't the case for many of the other full suspension designs from that era. In fact, take look at 2018's hottest bikes and you'll find a number of models with coil sprung, trunnion mounted shocks, adjustable geometry, and suspension that's designed to remain active while pedaling, a clear indication that the LTS truly was ahead of its time.
Photos courtesy of GT Bicycles / Jake Hamm