GT Bicycles is a brand with a storied history, and while they may not jump to the front of your mind when thinking about your next bike purchase, it’s hard to deny their legendary status. Over the years GT Bikes has sponsored countless winning athletes in every two-wheeled discipline, yet their image has had a hard time rebounding since the early 2000s. With a new crop of athletes and the long-awaited departure from their I-Drive suspension platform, GT Bikes could finally be making the comeback nostalgic riders have been waiting for. The new, aluminum GT Bicycles Force 29 is a true gravity-fueled beast that indulges aggressive riders and we’ve been hard at work seeing just how it stacks up.
THE LAB The new GT Force 29 follows the industry’s longer-lower-slacker trend. The most notable change however is the 29-inch wheels compared to its 27.5” predecessor. Along with the wheel size change, the 2020 GT Force also comes equipped with a 170mm travel fork. Keeping the bike’s performance where GT wanted it, the LTS platform sees geometry updates that are tuned via a flip chip that offers a High setting and Low setting. Our size large Force has a 65.1- or 64.6-degree head tube angle with a 77.1- or 76.6-degree seat tube angle. The chainstays see a small increase from 440mm to 442mm and adding just a little bit of length to the 1,253mm wheelbase.
GT’s Linkage Tuned Suspension (LTS) is a four-bar system that is designed to minimize braking forces from the rear wheel while also maintaining a steady shock leverage curve. All 2020 GT Force bikes are required to use a trunnion mount as it allows the Force to use a shock with a longer stroke. The longer stroke results in a lower leverage rate giving a smoother suspension feel and offering better small bump compliance. GT also kept the end user in mind when it came to design and maintenance. There are no proprietary or hard to find parts on this frame, which means repairs and upkeep won’t result in many curse words or nightlong internet searches.
GT Bicycles sent us the Force Pro, which comes decked out with a slew of SRAM components. The drivetrain is comprised of a SRAM GX Eagle 12 speed cassette, derailleur and 170mm Eagle cranks. Stopping power comes from a pair of SRAM G2 RSC brakes grabbing a pair of Centerline rotors in 200- and 180mm diameters. Wheel and tire spec come in the form of Stan’s Flow Mk3 wheels wrapped in Maxxis tires. It’s hard to go wrong with a 2.5” Minion DHF out front and a 2.4” Minion DHR II in the rear. Suspension duty is handled by a 170mm Fox Performance Elite fork with a 44mm offset and a 185x55mm Fox Float X2 Performance shock soaking up 150mm of rear travel.
We spent quite a few months bashing our GT Force Pro on the loose Southern California trails around Los Angeles. Frenchie finds himself mainly riding in the San Gabriel mountain range, which offers its fair share of technical singletracks. His main trails of choice looks something like this: a long, long climb to the top of a steep mountain where a short rest is then followed by a high-speed, flowy, off-camber and overgrown fire road. This high-speed track is littered with water bars and sweeping, foot-out brakeless corners. That section leads straight into a hillside traverse that drops into a ravine. From there, its tight, uneven switchbacks, both steep and flat rock gardens, stream crossings with the occasional rocky, uphill sprint. Frenchie was also able to get a weekend of testing in at Mammoth Bike Park (check out our Mammoth review to see the terrain offered). The conditions have been set, but how did the bike do?
The Force Pro didn’t leave us feeling one way or another when it came to climbing. It climbed okay. It wasn’t a rocket on the ascents, but it didn’t feel like we were “towing a dead cow” either. The bike pedals fairly well for a longer travel 29er designed for downhill abuse. In the Low setting, the Force felt more like a long and low limo, making it harder to get over some abrupt rock up-and-overs. Swapping to the High setting helped alleviate some of those hang ups on the technical portions of the climb. We’re quite confident that if that bike was a bit lighter, the Force would climb quite a bit better and offer a much better ride overall. At roughly 33 pounds, it is certainly not the lightest bike to push around, but at $4,700 we can’t complain it doesn’t weigh as little as bikes twice the cost.
As with most long, slack 29ers, the Force performs much better with the wheels pointed downhill. In the Low setting the bike felt really big in the corners and hard to flick around, making it awkward to handle on tight switchbacks in the San Gabriels. In Mammoth, the rear end hung up a bit on rocks and roots but shredded Kamikaze. Switching to the High setting was a night and day difference. The bike became more playful and didn’t feel as long in the corners. In general, though, the bike still feels big and long. Without a doubt the Force performed best in the High mode. While tight, switchbacks are the bike’s nemesis, it excels in high-speed rock gardens and wide-open sections of trails. Our testers did note that the SRAM G2 brakes were descent, but if there was an emergency that required instant stopping, there might be some problems.
The Wolf’s Last Word
The Force is a big mountain bike, there is no denying that. Its long, low and slack design leaves it favoring the descents over the climbs. If you’re an EWS wannabe training for your shot on the world stage, this could be a viable option. Likewise, if you live and ride in an area with high speed tracks, open trails with big chunky terrain, the GT Force is a blunt weapon built to pulverize. If you’re looking for a lightweight, long travel machine that will climb more like your XC bike but give you a bit more confidence on the downs, this is probably not your best bet. It’s a capable pedaler, good all-around bike, but is portly and requires more muscle when it comes to switchbacks and tighter, awkward terrain.
At $4,700, GT’s top-end Force Pro is a very fair deal, but is just outside the “affordable” bike category. GT offers two models below the Pro spec: the Expert, which comes in at $3,700 and has a comparable spec to the Pro build. It would be a great option for aggressive shredders on a budget. GT Bikes also sells their base Force for $2,750. If you are someone that doesn’t mind putting in a little extra effort when it comes to climbing for a bike that will obliterate almost anything you throw in front of it, then the force may be for you. It’s been a while since we’ve been this happy on a GT and we’re excited to see what comes next.
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