The GT Sanction could not be classified as anything but an all-mountain bike. It was never intended to be a neutral jack-of-all-trades, offering equal measures of long travel and light weight like most of its classmates. The bike you see here is narrowly focused on the most aggressive courses of the enduro racing scene. So narrowly that when it was released last year, it was only available in the U.S. as a frameset. But now it's gotten all dressed up for the downhill.
The Sanction Pro floats on 160 millimeters of rear travel and 170 up front. It was one of just two bikes we tested that ran a Fox Float 36 fork, and the only one with a full chainguide. The SLX / Stan's wheels and Maxxis High Roller tires come tubeless-ready, though the 25-millimeter-wide rims don't inspire as much confidence as the rest of the build, especially given the bike's 33-pound weight.
The Sanction pedaled calmly, considering that it was scaled down from GT's downhill bike. We did have to rely on the firm settings of the Float X shock, but mostly to increase ride height, not necessarily to limit pedal feedback. Overall, it climbed comfortably, just not quickly. Fortunately, as with enduro racing, the uphills on our test loops were not timed.
The iteration of GT's I-Drive linkage used on the Sanction is vastly different from that of its moderate-travel bikes. It is more supple over high-speed medium and large hits. Descending through the root gardens and mud pits of our test course, the Sanction felt remarkably like a downhill bike. It offered up all of its ample travel when you needed it, and was laterally stiff enough to be forced through anything you had the muscle for.
When the speed dropped and the corners tightened, it still felt like a downhill bike. Its long travel and longer wheelbase were a lot to wrangle without momentum on your side. This bears considering if this is to be your new enduro-winning machine; some enduro courses may be too mellow for this beast. But the Sanction has applications beyond its intended use. A pedal-able bike with above-category travel and durability is the perfect choice for any hucker or shredder with an unhealthy appetite for abuse and trails rugged enough to satisfy it.
Q&A with Todd Seplavy
GT came out of the gates hard and fast last year with their Sanction–one of the slacker, angrier enduro/all-mountain bikes of 2015. Last year, riders in the states could only get the Sanction as a frame kit, but for 2016, GT is offering several complete bikes, including this mid-range model.
We peppered GT with questions about the Sanction. Here's what GT spokesman, Todd Seplavy, had to say. –Vernon Felton, Bible of Bike Tests Moderator
Vernon Felton: What's the Sanction all about? What kind of rider were you designing this bike for?
Todd Seplavy: The Sanction is designed for the rider looking for a premium level, EWS-capable, race-caliber bike. We don't compromise on the frame; we're giving the consumer the exact frame ridden to the podium by Martin Maes. The bike is a weapon in the hands of a skilled rider and can be confidently raced on the burliest of tracks, or also used for shuttling and technical alpine trails.
With the Sanction Pro we really aimed the spec of the bike toward the privateer racer to provide as much punch as we could for the dollar and deliver dependable spec throughout.
VF: The Sanction is on the brawnier side of the enduro spectrum. Last year we felt like the Sanction was more of a mini-downhill bike that could be pedaled (surprisingly well) to the top of the mountain. How do you guys see the Sanction fitting into the grand scheme of things?
TS: That's intentional. When we started out with this project we were purposely not making "an all mountain bike with a slacker head angle, wider bars, and shorter stem". Many of the tracks seen at EWS races are on par with difficulty of World Cup DH tracks. When friends ask me "should I get a Force or Sanction" or "should I get a Sanction or a Fury," my answer always comes down to 1. Where are you looking to ride? 2. How rowdy are you looking to get? 3. How often are you going to ride vs. race? Let those be the guiding questions to help define what bike to add to your quiver and how to most wisely spend your hard earned monies.
VF: Where does the Sanction excel and why is that true?
TS: When the terrain gets steep-n-deep, the geometry of the bike is simultaneously super confidence inspiring and very predictable. There are lots of times when this bike will help make up for poor decision making or ill-timed moves on the trail, simply by virtue of its poise and generous traction. This geometry can kinda be like having the Super Star in Mario Brothers
VF: There are so many carbon super bikes out there–this ain't one of them. Why did you choose aluminum for this model?
TS: Aside from the geometry, the fact that this bike is aluminum in a sea of carbon bikes and still can be a top contender really says a lot about the frame. This allows the Sanction to see more than one season of race use. It gives you enough leeway to afford gas and hotels for some races, not have to eat only ramen and Kraft dinner, or to upgrade as your finances allow.
VF: We tested the 2015 Sanction frame at last year's Bible of Bike Tests. Have you tweaked the frame in any way for 2016?
TS: The frame remains the same for 2016 but we did add 10 millimeters of travel to the fork.
VF: Component spec is tough to nail–what were you aiming for with the spec on the Sanction Pro?
TS: The Sanction Pro is squarely aimed at the privateer enduro racer. The spec is meant to be tried, true, dependable, and performance driven. It can be raced right out of the box without fully cashing in your 401k or selling a kidney.
VF: Are there any details/features on this bike that you think are particularly critical to its performance that might be missed at first glance?
TS: Thanks for asking! There are always a couple little things that consumers, dealer, or media overlook that a product manager went the extra distance to spec. As silly as it might sound, the 3C compound tires and metallic-finned brake pads are two of these little details that help round it out for me. Another is that the bike comes with a spare RD hanger in the parts box–totally clutch on a Friday night before a race!