After a few 'not quite there' rear suspension designs in previous years, GT are now fully committed to the i-Drive. It's easy to see why. Creating bikes that are good at most things is not easy, but floating drivetrain set-ups like this allow designers to make a bike that you can ride hard and fast on XC trails and climbs, at the same time as giving a plush suspension cushion for big hits and gnarly downs. The 2.0 sits a rung down from the top of the 5 (5in/130mm rear travel) ladder. The base model costs around £900, the top one is £2,000, and if you prefer less heft there's the 102mm travel XC i-Drive.
The floating drivetrain and the swingarm of the i-Drive system pivot on two big bottom bracket type bearings (you use a BB cup tool to change them). The swingarm has reasonable mud room around a 2.1in tyre but you can't go much bigger. The frame features hydroformed top and down tubes and a ring-reinforced head tube. Standover room is simply average and, like the Mongoose, the only set of bottle cage bosses is under the down tube. The bolt-on rear dropouts are a good idea in theory, but it's fiddly trying to replace the back wheel without removing the QR.
But these are relatively petty gripes. The frame structure is well put together, there's a big stack of washers for stem height adjustment and the full-length seat tube with forward facing quick release clamp gives you max seatpost adjustment - all the way down for big drops to all the way up for those up to 6ft 1in on a Medium. Both the Fox Float R rear shock and Vanilla R fork are top quality tried-and-tested products. They're simple to tune to suit your weight and riding, and 130mm (5in) of fork travel feels just right with the frame's confidently neutral geometry.
Most of our test riders are getting used to Dual Control shifters in conjunction with a Rapid-rise rear mech, but none are fans of Rapid-rise rear mechs with Rapidfire shifters, as fitted to the GT. There are riders out there who feel happy with this set-up, and getting used to it is not a major issue but, in sudden unexpected climb situations, the reverse-action shifting demands more forethought. But it's a good drivetrain on the whole. The hollow axle external bearing Truvativ Stylo crankset, XT gear mechs and Deore shifters all worked perfectly... until the chain broke on the second ride, then broke again in a different place. We still have more new bike problems with Shimano than with SRAM chains. It's well worth checking new bike chain links for poor assembly.
The GT's wheels are excellent: WTB's SpeedDisc rims on DT Swiss Onyx hubs, with a mud-friendly Tioga Blue Dragon 2.1in tyre at the back and a big, grippy 2.3in Yellow Kirin up front. Magura's Julie disc brakes are powerful and durable and we appreciated the 180mm rotors. A 685mm (27in) riser bar, stem and seatpost are all tough quality items from Truvativ, and the SDG Bel Air saddle is a test team favourite.
You can feel a tiny little kick through the pedals when the suspension is working but it doesn't seem to mess with power transfer. The ride feels confident and efficient. Acceleration is surprisingly crisp for a 5in-travel bike and it climbs pretty much as you'd expect a well sorted 14.36kg (31.6lb) suspension bike to climb. Inevitably, there's some minor weight shift bob in the coil and oil fork, but the damping in the Fox ProPedal shock ensures that there's hardly any motion out back until you need it to tame bumps. Small bump response is not quite as fluid as on some bikes, but this is probably what makes the acceleration feel so crisp.
tune with fast cross-country terrain
The i-Drive has a slightly longer top tube (23.2in) and stem than some. The result is that it instantly feels a little more in tune with fast cross-country terrain, and at times a tad too stretched on the more radical downhill stuff. But it'll still let you get away with a hell of a lot more dodgy manoeuvres than a shorter travel bike. That's the beauty of longer travel XC-biased bikes. They're fast, they're comfortable and they'll let you get away with stuff that would probably be just a little beyond your skill level on a short travel bike. A slightly lower bottom bracket also makes the I-Drive feel that little bit nimbler on slower technical terrain.