First Impressions: 2014 GT Sensor and Force
The Sensor and Force undergo complete redesigns, utilizing an all new suspension platform, dubbed AOS.
If you peruse the internet as much as we do, you’ve probably seen the teaser video for a new GT model, which created quite a lot of industry chatter and got me anxious to see what was in store for us when we arrived in beautiful Deer Valley, Utah, for the unveiling of not one, but two, new bikes – the Sensor and Force. Having undergone a new, ground-up redesign, both models see changes, with new geometries, Goldilocks wheels and a new linkage called AOS, or Angle Optimized Suspension.
GT engineers decided to focus on wheel path, opting for an upward and backward direction, which they say gets the wheel out of the way of obstacles more effectively. In other words, the angle of attack is optimized, hence the dweeby marketing term. In order to accomplish this wheel path, the pivot location has to be quite high. The problem with having a high pivot is that it creates an absurd amount of chain growth, which translates into massive pedaling feedback. If you’ve ever ridden a mid-90s Cannondale Super V, you know exactly what I’m talking about. In order to separate pedaling and suspension forces, you have to minimize chain growth. This is what separates AOS from that old Super V. GT uses a link called PathLink, which allows the bottom bracket to move backwards with the wheel path, thus controlling chain growth.
Blah, blah, blah.
The new linkage isn’t the only change to the models. Updated geometries breathe new life into the GT lineup. Both the 130-millimeter Sensor and 150-millimeter Force get lower bottom brackets plus longer front-centers to allow the use of shorter stems. Oh, and let’s not forget this year’s buzz word: 27.5. GT goes all in for both models, offering them in 27.5 only. That is, unless you fancy 650b, which will fit just fine too.
Sensor Carbon Pro
The new Sensor is quite capable for a bike sporting just 130 millimeters of travel front and rear. The bike felt balanced while climbing, descending or in the air, a huge improvement over the GT bikes I’ve ridden in the past, which had a much longer learning curve. The Sensor line gets a 90-millimeter stem – sort of a please-everybody length for a bike in this category. That, and the 740-millimeter bars creates a cockpit that will work for most riders. While I might opt for a slightly shorter stem – which there is plenty of space for thanks to the roomier cockpit – the 90 didn’t feel unwieldy at all. Climbing efficiency is decent. While the support isn’t as firm as VPP or DW bikes, it’s got more support than an FSR does. I’m a pretty lazy climber, so I was okay with leaving the shock in trail 1, but more aggressive climbers may find they want to reach down and switch to climb mode. If the shock is left “open,” all those watts you throw down will get sucked right into the shock. While the Sensor’s geometry inspires confidence on the descents, the suspension travel ramps up fairly quickly, which kept me from using every millimeter of travel on the chunky stuff. However, that same ramp-up felt quite good while pushing hard through corners. It’s a bit of a trade off in that regard.
All and all, the Sensor is a really fun bike to ride. The carbon main frame, massive seat stays and wide, large-diameter pivot axles all add up to create a very stiff bike. The e.thirteen TRS+ wheels are super stiff as well; the bike responds to every rider input. While some might complain about 32-millimeter stanchions being flexy, I have no problems with it, especially at this travel. GT gets props for not skimping on suspension; both the fork and shock have Trail Adjust, which makes CTD much more desirable to those of us who are picky about suspension feel. Continental tires are generally a great choice, but for aggressive trail riding I would prefer the much more versatile 2.2 Trail Kings over the dry condition X-King tires that come spec’d on the Sensor.
As far as the drivetrain goes, I’m over triples. GT tries to make a case for using triples, even on the flagship Team models, saying that they’re more versatile, offer a wider gear range, and, if you want, you can always replace the big rig with a bash and have a double. Apparently, market research also shows aftermarket sales of triples is up, which suggests that people are swapping their double-spec’d bikes back to triples. That’s all well and good, but as far as I’m concerned, the fewer the rings, the better. Fewer rings means fewer shifting problems, fewer dropped chains and less complexity. Now that we’re all running dropper posts, our left hand has more important things to be doing, and simply taking the big ring off a triple leaves you with crappy gear ratios.
Although the ride quality of the Sensor really impressed me, I was still left wondering how it would be as a 29er. Having recently come out of the Wagon Wheeler closet, I’m not afraid to say that I’m a big fan of the big wheels, especially on trail bikes. It seems to me that the Sensor would make a fine 29er. GT, however, is putting its money in the 650b bin.
Force Carbon Pro
At first, I couldn’t decide which of the two models suited me more, but after blasting down a full-on DH run on the 150-millimeter Force, I think it’s this one, which surprised me because ever since companies started offering shorter travel bikes with shred-able geometries, it’s been my jam. As I mentioned earlier, I’m a lazy climber, but not so lazy on the descents. I can handle a bike pretty well, so I’ve begun choosing bikes to suit my weakness. This selection process has been working out quite well so I figured I’d be more into the Sensor, but it didn’t work that way this time. The Force isn’t much less efficient going up than the Sensor is, but it’s much more capable on rowdy descents. What swayed my decision was when I decided to take the Force on a double-black DH trail at Deer Valley. The thing ate up the trail and gave me the the confidence to boost stuff that I wouldn’t even attempt on the Sensor, all with only a very small difference in climbing agility.
For the Force, going with the 650b wheels was a great call. I personally don’t think the wheel size has much, if any noticeable advantage over 26, but people don’t seem to want 26-inch wheels at all anymore. The sad truth is that if GT had made the Force with 26-inch wheels, nobody would buy it… so 27 is the next best thing. As I said, the claimed advantages of the wheel size are difficult to determine, as are the disadvantages. The bike climbs just fine, and best of all, it’s perfectly happy getting thrown into switchbacks and dancing through tight stuff.
As far as the spec goes, the Force and Sensor Carbon Pro models are outfitted quite similarly. The Force gets a beefier Fox 34 fork, and 2.4-inch Continental Trail King Protection tires, a shorter 60-millimeter stem, wider 760-millimeter bars, and XT cranks instead of the Race Face cranks on the Sensor – still triple.
I have a soft spot in my heart for the GT brand, which was once an industry leader, but has endured some years spent wandering in the desert. It’s great to see the company step up its game by updating these models with current trends such as shorter stems, wider bars, progressive geometry and internally-routed dropper posts. The AOS suspension seems to be a great step forward as well. On the whole it was an impressive showing by GT.