GT seems to think that the burgeoning ‘all-mountain’ category is where the action is this year. How do we know? Because there’s just a single four-inch cross-country full-susser in its entire line-up, and a clutch of six-ish inch travel all-mountain bruisers.
It’s a bold statement of intent from GT, which has had mixed success with various incarnations of its ‘i-Drive’ concept over the past few years.
The Force 1.0 sits just below the overtly burly Sanction 1.0 in the GT line-up, blending 140mm of Fox-driven travel up front with a full 150mm at the rear, courtesy of a reworked and rebranded ‘Independent Drivetrain’ system. The Force promises a hint of the freeride-inspired Sanction’s muscularity with a healthy dollop of ride-all-day practicality.
Ride & handling: ride-all-day versatility
GT’s product managers have obviously tried hard to give the Force 1.0 ride-all-day versatility. The numbers – 23in top tube and 68.5° head angle – are about right, and sure enough it’s a comfortable bike to jump on and pedal up the ﬁrst climb. But something about the front-end set-up – a combination, we suspect, of weight distribution, head angle and fork length – doesn’t mesh quite right, and the result is a ponderous feel to the steering at slow speeds.
The good news is that the rear end delivers on its promise of unfettered small bump response, giving this 30lb bruiser the kind of technical climbing ability that many lighter, lither but less supple machines can only dream of.
It needs muscle, perseverance and a willingness to keep an occasionally wayward front end under control, but the Force is a bike that’s capable of laughing in the face of steep climbs peppered with ledges, roots and rocks.
The better news is that, as the speed picks up, the narrow boat-like responses morph into a nuanced blend of stability and controllability.
Blasting through sections of rubble-strewn trail at speeds that will have most ﬁve-inch bikes ﬂoundering in the Force 1.0’s wake is a blast.
It carries a weight penalty over some of the shorter-travelled competition, but it’s a small price to pay for the stability and assured plush of nearly six inches of rock-munching ability.
If anything it’s the fork that holds it back, betraying the compromise of a lightish 140mm fork on a bike that really deserves a stiffer 150mm unit to match the rear end. But that would add more weight. You pays your money…
Chassis: float like a butterfly
The principle behind GT’s long-running Independent Drivetrain concept is, er, just that: a ﬂoating bottom bracket isolates the transmission from the feedback that would otherwise result from the high main pivot location.
That’s what this really is (and what GT’s suspension designs have long been) – a single-pivot bike with added linkage and pivot shenanigans to keep the bottom bracket location relatively constant as the shock moves through its stroke.
It’s never been easy to combine a high single-pivot swingarm with a ﬂoating bottom bracket and associated dogbone linkage into a particularly elegant concoction, but the Force chassis pulls it off better than many previous attempts.
The monocoque top tube, hydroformed down tube and swingarm all feature enough subtle curves to take the edge off what might otherwise be a rather clunky design.
Full-length cable housings are neatly routed and the ﬁnish is tidy, but the sole water bottle mount has been relegated to mud-sucking duty below the down tube.
Thanks to the ﬂoating drivetrain, GT has been able to spec a Fox Float RP23 shock with a relatively low compression damping tune.
It’s a good move for subtle bump response, although choppy pedallers might want to dial in a tad more ProPedal damping.
Holding up the front is 140mm (5.5 inches) of Fox Float RLC fork. It keeps the weight down and works as well as you’d expect, but with this much travel the standard quick-release and stanchions are approaching their limits. Push hard, and it starts to feel whippy.
Equipment: decent function, sane weight, good old Deore XT
What is there to say about a full Shimano Deore XT transmission and brakes, except that it works as well as you’d expect?
A 34-tooth rear sprocket helps take the burn out of the steepest gradients, while the low-proﬁle of the XT rear mech makes a real difference when you’re threading through your umpteenth narrow gully.
The rest of the kit is sensible trail-riding product that blends decent function with reasonable weight.
Summary: a heap of fun
Ponderous slow-speed responses aside, there’s a lot to like about the Force 1.0. It’s a versatile big-hitter that brings some of the invulnerability of freeride-inspired machinery to a bike that’s light enough to ride all day.
Sure, it’s a compromise – but it’s still a heap of fun. If you can live with the weight, it’ll challenge you to climb the unrideable and slap a great big grin on your face on the descents.