The Up Side
With the right amount of sag (around 25 percent), and a little compression platform, the Force muscles up the climbs with competence, if not alacrity. However, the field is stacked these days in this category, and there are other bikes with this travel and geometry that scoot uphill without needing any band-aids to help their cause.
Possessing a surefootedness and sense of composure that longer-travel bikes with bigger wheels could envy, gravity is the GT's thing. Plush suspension and enviable chassis rigidity make for a bike that can be thrown down the steepest lines with a confidence that borders on recklessness.
Dollar for Dollar
Much of the Force Carbon Pro's suspension composure can be traced to the superb Fox Float Factory DPX2 EVOL shock and Fox Float Factory 36 Kashima FIT4 fork. Finding these, along with nice touches like the KS LEV Ci dropper and a SRAM X01 rear derailleur, on a bike that retails for $5250 was a very pleasant surprise. You'd normally pay upward of a thousand dollars more for that level of componentry.
Throughout GT's long and storied history, the brand has not been afraid to think outside the box. This is especially true when observing the arc of suspension designs GT has deployed over the years. The initial RTS was different from anything else at that time, but was supplanted by GT's take on a Horst-link four-bar suspension for a few years. When Specialized took complete ownership of that design in the late 1990s, GT stepped away and developed the unique I-Drive system, which went through several evolutions over the next decade-and-a-half. And now, here we are, wheelying into 2019 on the new Force Carbon Pro—the same bike that Martin Maes has been using to lay waste to EWS circuits. Guess what? It has a new suspension design, again. A Horst-link four-bar, no less.
To be fair, GT has been using a distant variation on the Horst-link for a couple years now, but this, with its seatpost rocker link, is a much more traditional arrangement than the high pivot and rearward-arching bottom bracket of the prior iteration. It punches out 150 millimeters of travel, aluminum stays pivoting off a burly carbon-fiber main frame. Spring and damping duties are handled by a Fox Float Factory DPX2 EVOL trunnion-mounted shock, with a Fox Float Factory 36 Kashima FIT4 fork providing 160 millimeters of travel. That choice of suspension componentry, on a bike that retails for $5,250, is highly commendable. By the numbers, the 27.5-inch wheeled Force Carbon Pro is contemporarily long, with a 1,219-millimeter wheelbase on our size-large test bike and a 470-millimeter reach. Head and seat tube angles are 65.5 degrees and 76 degrees, respectively, when set in the 'high' position. The bike can be adjusted a half-a-degree slacker, with a corresponding 6-millimeter drop in bottom-bracket height and a 5-millimeter shortening of reach.
Out in the wild, the sky-blue bike is crystal clear in its intent: Smash all descents. Sag the suspension around 35 percent, point the bike down and crush everything in your path. The suspension is plush, swallowing square-edged trail chatter and successive big hits with ease, the chassis is stout and unflappable. It rails turns beautifully. It is a bike that rewards strong, aggressive riders with a stable platform from which they can carve up landscapes however they want. There is a singularity of purpose to this GT that makes it a very capable weapon when it comes to ripping timed enduro stages to pieces.
Riders a little further down the mortal totem pole might have a rougher time. Climbing with the suspension set in the plush-and-wonderful zone was a struggle. Even in the high setting, pedal strikes were commonplace, and the extra material that makes this chassis so stoutly flex-free made its presence felt when motoring uphill. Reducing sag into the 25-to-30-percent range helped substantially, but came at the cost of traction and also somewhat negated the previously mentioned awesome high-speed descending performance of the suspension. Bottom line: The Force requires a little more force than some other bikes to scoot up climbs. If setting Strava ablaze with climbing PRs is your goal, there are other bikes more suited to that task. They just might not be as capable at going completely berserk on the way back down.
Fit and finish was clean, although it was curious to see some externally routed cables in this age of all internal, all the time. Speaking of curious, the component spec on our bike was an interesting mix. The Fox suspension and the KS carbon LEV seatpost were of a quality that are usually found on bikes costing at least a thousand dollars more, while the SRAM Guide R brakes seemed to be less than ideal for such a gravity-focused sled, especially when there are several similarly priced four-piston options available. Nevertheless, for strong riders seeking an abuse-worthy missile to throw down the mountain, the Force Carbon Pro is a hard-to-beat value.
Q&A With Patrick Kaye, senior product manager, GT Bicycles
The Force Carbon Pro is listed on GT's website as "our GTFR Team Replica bike." It definitely has an enduro competition stance. What specific differences are there between this bike and what Martin Maes was competing on in 2018?
We wanted to give the GT Factory Racing Team a nod by making this bike similar to what they run at the EWS races. The frame Martin and the team use is an inline production frame, and it is the same frame that's available at retail. Martin and the team will vary their set up depending on the course, and often times, they will be running prototype parts. We worked with some of our team partners like Race Face, Fox, Stan's No Tubes and Schwalbe to deliver a race-ready setup that emulates GTFR's builds while still being available at an accessible price.
This is available only with 27.5-inch wheels. Given that the Fury is available with both 29-inch and 27.5-inch wheels, was there a conscious decision to stick solely with 27.5-inch wheels on the Force? And, considering the market-wide proliferation of long-travel 29-inch enduro bikes, is there any potential for a 29-inch version in the future?
27.5 ain't dead! Seriously, 27.5 is very much alive in the global marketplace. The Force is a really versatile bike that will suit a lot of different styles of riders, it's fully capable on any type of terrain. That being said, we're always tinkering, testing and tuning, so who knows what the future holds.
The Groove tube is back! It was a surprise to see external cable routing on the Force Carbon Pro, given the widespread push in recent years by everyone to hide the cables inside the frame tubes. Can you lay out the reasoning that went into opting for external cable routing? And, how has it been received at the dealer/consumer level?
Internal cable routing can give a bike a clean look, but it does present challenges to the rider. Groove Tube makes servicing your bike super easy and allows for smooth, virtually hidden routing from front to back and protects your cables from rock strikes and snags around the bottom bracket area. Dealers and mechanics enjoy the simplicity and functionality of Groove Tube while riders enjoy more shred time and less maintenance time.