GT have introduced big changes for 2014, and the Force is a perfect example of this. An evolved suspension design, fresh geometry and the choice to optimise the bike around 27.5in (650b) wheels mean the new Force shares little more than its name in common with its predecessor.
Ride & handling: Stiff, stable and confidence inspiring
GT have put a lot of time and effort towards determining exactly what an all-mountain rider is after, and it's paid off. We felt immediately comfortable on the Force – the combination of a lengthy top tube, 60mm stem (regardless of frame size) and full-on 760mm bar is a winner.
Debuting on the bike is GT's new Angle Optimized Suspension (AOS). The design is very much an evolution of the previous generation i-drive (Independent Drivetrain). A vital new part features, though – GT call it the PathLink, and it’s essentially a large forged aluminium component that moves the position of the bottom bracket relative to the suspension's position in its travel, to reduce chain growth.
We're pleased to report that we detected no odd sensations or feedback through the pedals or drivetrain. It's not the most active-feeling of suspension designs, but the rear end does a fine job of keeping traction and swallowing small and big hits.
Geometry was chosen through a relentless testing effort involving the likes of pro riders Dan Atherton and Hans Rey, and it shows. It’s an altogether slacker, lower and longer setup than on the previous Force.
A 67.2-degree head angle and low 13.7in bottom bracket height hint towards the bike's downhill capability, yet they don't tell the full story. Whenever gravity is on your side the Force inspires confidence; it's simply all you need to get downhill fast – stiff enough to hold the line, slack enough to dip the front wheel in without fear and light enough to exploit every lip on the trail.
It's an exceptional climber, too. Despite the rear shock getting Fox CTD technology, we found the bike ascended admirably even in the fully open Descend setting. That's a relief, as the low shock placement means switching the CTD lever on the fly isn't the easiest of tasks.
That low shock placement is no accident, though. It's a result of GT's engineers making an effort to lower the centre of gravity – just look at the position of the shock compared with the the previous generation Force models.
The Force is a much more attractive bike for 2014
Ignore the raging forum topics on wheel size and take it from us – this bike rides very, very similarly to a 26in-wheeled machine. Don't expect the rollover capabilities of a 29er and you won't be disappointed.
A lower centre of gravity means more stability. Combine that with the lengthy wheelbase and you end up with a bike that shows a preference for stability over agility; yet with sensible line choice the Force can still be tucked into tight switchbacks. Similarly, the front end of the bike requires a little more effort to pop than some of its competitors, probably down to longer chainstays.
Frame & equipment: Sorted off the peg
The GT Force's new carbon frame is available in four sizes, ranging from S to XL. Three different builds will be available, along with a frame-only option.
Every effort has been made to reduce flex; even the suspension hardware uses 15mm hollow thru-axles, and there are dual bearings at the chainstay pivot to keep things tight and tough. Securing the rear wheel is a 142x12mm Maxle lever.
GT chose to send us out on the Force Carbon Pro, the model below the range-topping Carbon Team. It's an exceptionally well equipped bike that's ready to go out of the box. Weight is decent, too, ours dropping in at a claimed 13.48kg (29.72lb). We only hope that GT can price it to contend well against the major opposition.
Up front is the familiar Fox 34 Float CTD fork, performing to its usual high standards with no surprises or inconsistency. The XT triple chainset won't be for everyone; fitter riders might get annoyed at its tendency to flap compared to single or double setups. Still, the transmission performed well for us, never dropping a chain or misshifting, although the shift action was unusually firm at times.
All Force models will come equipped with an internally routed dropper post. In our case it was the superb RockShox Reverb Stealth unit. Clamped to the dropper was Fizik's Gobi XM saddle. A disappointment came in the form of the Formula T1 brakes – the action was simply odd at times, with feel and consistency becoming an issue over longer downhills.
e*thirteen's TRS+ alloy hoops performed flawlessly and look the part, with a particularly mean-sounding rear hub if you're into that sort of thing. Continental Mountain King tyres offered reasonable grip on the ultra dry and dusty test trails of Utah, and we didn't puncture for the test duration.
We're glad that GT haven't skimp and opted for own-brand finishing kit. Instead, it's all quality parts courtesy of RaceFace.
The first bikes should be available from September or October, depending on where you're based.