With five inches of travel commonly seen as the answer to trail-riders' prayers, it appears that GT have gone out on a limb by continuing to omit the five-inch travel bike from their line up in 2009.
Instead they’re reiterating their commitment to the six-inch platform found on the Force and Sanction ranges (both launched in 2008) with the reasoning that that there’s no need for a five-inch travel rig when a six-incher can do it all, and do it well. But can it?
Only a year young, the Force still tests the resolve of its engineers. Here's a bike that set out to combine the snappy handling of XC rigs with the all-terrain capability of longer travel suspension, a balance that's never going to be an easy task.
The Force's steep 69 degree head angle and high bottom bracket, while feeling punchy along tight singletrack, always had the potential of feeling nervy on anything particularly gnarly, yet the bike's 30+lb weight held it back from being the ultimate long-legged XC machine that its geometry suggested.
Enter GT's California-based boffins. Adamant that an extra inch can make the ideal trail bike, they’ve answered the call for a lightweight, long travel trail-muncher by producing a full carbon monocoque chassis to top the 2009 Force line-up of five models (2 carbon, 3 alu).
Providing the skeleton for the Force Pro, the shapely monocoque carbon front and rear triangles shave a hefty 1.2lbs from the weight of the normal 6061-Alu frame, driving the total weight down to an impressive 26.01lbs (11.8kg) for the complete XTR-spec'ed bike in medium size.
Benefiting from the renowned climbing attributes of GT's Independent Drivetrain (formerly i-Drive) suspension design, the svelte Force Pro is likely to be a very capable climber and potentially gives the rider a true access-all-areas trail pass.
Firmly pitched at the XC rider end of the trail bike market (they have the Sanction for the other end), the entire Force range continues to employ snappy-handling geometry dictated by the same 69 degree head-angle seen in the 2008 range. But any 'rides-high' criticisms have been addressed tentatively by lowering the bottom bracket height from 13.9in to 13.6in and slackening the seat angle by nearly half a degree.
The bottom bracket is still fairly high, but as their chief engineer told us, “I'd rather ride a little high than bash my pedal on every rock.” The XT equipped Alu-framed Force 1.0 sheds a pound to bring it down to a smudge over 29lbs.
Up front, handling gets a welcome confidence-boosting vitamin shot by spec'ing the new range of 140mm travel Fox 32 Float forks complete with the soon-to-be-industry-standard 15mm diameter thru-axle to help keep things tidy when the going gets rougher.
The Pro gets the 10mm extra travel up front with the Talas 110-150mm fork. Low (15mm) rise bars from Ritchey along with Crank Bros Acid pedals compliment the aggressive XC feel to the Force range.
Considering you get an extra inch of travel in a package that weighs no more than most five-inch rigs out there, it's easy to see why the engineers at GT believe five-inch travel is redundant. First impressions are positive.
The Force Pro will retail for £3,699. Those willing to carry an extra 3.2lbs for the XT-equipped Aluminium Force 1.0 can do so for £1,899.
To make a carbon version of the Force, GT's engineers worked hard to maintain strength while losing weight, using monocoque (one-piece) designs for both the front and rear triangles and avoiding stress-inducing lugs.
Take one look at the varied shapes that evolve and transgress into each other along the resultant tubes in the carbon frame and you'll appreciate the work that has gone into the design of the Force Pro.
GT's labcoats have used their nifty-sounding 'Force Optimized Construction' as found on last year’s Zaskar carbon bike in the design and manufacture of the Force Pro, producing different cross sections of tube in different places to maximise strength while reducing weight and layering up the carbon weave according to how stresses are expected to arise in the frame.
Pretty tech stuff and the end result is a veritable work of art in a world of contemporary swoopy frame aesthetics.
The Sanction continues to be the burly big brother to the nimble-footed Force, and remains a bike that, with its relaxed geometry, has its sights set firmly on the aggressive all mountain target. GT like to call that pigeonhole 'extreme all mountain'.
For 2009, that target gets closer with further relaxed head and seat-tube angles (66 and 71.5 degrees respectively) on an otherwise unchanged 2008 Alu frame. The problem of spinning out on descents has been addressed by spec'ing a larger 36T chainring, complete with bashguard as part of the new Shimano Saint '09 groupset.
Up front, Fox's chunky legged 36 Talas RC2 with 20mm thru' axle takes care of keeping the front end tracking true.
GT has always been relied upon to produce bikes that do the business without fuss or a grumble, often out of the spotlight, but the Zaskar is perhaps the one model that has always stood out as an extra special weapon in GT's armoury.
For many, this triple-triangle legend holds a warm place in the heart, and there are few GT aficionados who haven't thrown a leg over the Zazzer at some point.
For 2009 the Zaskar carbon and 6061 Alu models continue, but are joined by a 29-inch wheel version of the timeless legend. GT claims that the benefits of the 29'er (increased traction and ride stability to name just two) in the world of fast XC riding is in keeping with the Zazzers heritage.
Whether the Zaskar Niner ever makes it to this side of the pond remains to be seen, but its existence will no doubt split opinion in Zaskar fans everywhere.