Having already met GT's new 4in travel i-Drive frame, where cost conscious components cramped its style, we inevitably leapt at the chance to try the fully XT equipped 1.0 version. Its tenacious, high traction trail character didn't disappoint, either.
This is an all-new incarnation of the i-Drive frame and the best-looking and most detailed yet. The neat integrated Aheadset head tube backs onto a radically sloped and kinked top tube for plenty of crotch clearance. A big throat gusset strengthens the down tube joint and the seat tube snakes through an S curve before piercing the top tube.
As you'd expect for a race-biased frame, top tube length is generous - even on the medium size - but Hotwheels don't bring in the XS and XL bikes, so it's average riders only. You'll be hard pressed to squeeze bigger than a 2.2in tyre through the rear triangle, too. The main pivots use full size bottom bracket bearings though, so reliability reports are generally good and the old strip metal 'dog bone' link has also been reinforced with a plastic outer.
GT's i-Drive system has been around for eight years now, but the basic principle is unchanged. The bottom bracket and chainset hang down from the rear sub-frame, but with a short link strip connecting them to the mainframe. This pulls the bottom bracket forward as the suspension compresses - essentially holding it in limbo between the two halves of the bike. The result is a slight elastic feeling in the chain when you put the power down. This takes some getting used to, and can be demoralising on a bad day, but you're rewarded with remarkably constant ground connection and traction, making it a tenacious climber.
Heading downwards, the RP3 shock does limit small bump reaction slightly, but it still drops and sucks up rocks pretty well in the fully open position. It's particularly impressive pedalling through corners, but the flipside is a real dislike of powering across washboard sections where each part of the frame seems to fight the other.
The fat tyres and broad bars also create a comfortable cruiser feel rather than predatory race character, and the GT always felt happier taking its time rather than sprinting flat out. We think this is a missed opportunity, as otherwise the long low frame makes it ride lighter than its true 28lb bulk. More technical singletrack fans will appreciate the extra slow speed control though.
The GT's kit list is a who's who of benchmark trail componentry. Fox's F100R fork is plush and well damped with only a slight bushing knock to occasionally disturb composure. XT transmission kit gives intuitive fingertip control - once you're used to the Dual Control levers - and the brakes are beautifully controlled, if a little low on ultimate stopping power.
The XT/DT wheel kit is super durable too, but we're not huge fans of the trundling yet sketchy Tioga tyres, which are suited to sandier climes than typical Brit riding. Truvativ XR bars are slightly low rent and heavy compared to the rest of the spec, but you're getting great kit for your cash overall. Comfy and secure seating doesn't get any better than the Gobi saddle on top of the Thomson seat post though, and Lock Down grips are a small, but very nice touch.
Looking at GT, we thought it'd be lighter than it is. It's by no means the worst offender on the weight front, and while it's too heavy to really race, the big 'power steering' cockpit makes it a great all-rounder once you get used to the spongy power delivery. It's still good value too, even factoring in the tyre and cockpit upgrade that it's gagging for.