The new GT Sensor has a totally new frame, revised suspension system and rolls on different sized wheels. It's definitely a change for the better too, although there's still a slight dislocation between frame handling character and underlying capability.
Frame and equipment: all-new frame, 650b wheels
GT have created an all new Sensor frame for 2014, placing the shock that controls the unique AOS evolution of their evergreen i-Drive system as low as possible. They've then straddled it with a seriously stout hydroformed clamshell structure at the base of the seat tube.
The rear stays and hollow bridge are equally massive too, with 15mm hollow shafts for the main pivots, clamped bearings for easy replacement and no friction-increasing preload. The front end is burly too, and the whole bike is a proper battleaxe when it comes to cleaving a straight line through trouble. The AOS system also hangs the bottom bracket between the mainframe and rear end, effectively halving the influence either has on pedal reaction.
The switch to 650b wheels has been so common this year that it watch almost not worth mentioning just a couple of months after it started. There's no doubting that the slightly bigger wheels do roll smoother and grip better on rough terrain than 26ers though, with very little obvious acceleration or agility loss.
While the wheels are taller, most manufacturers are dropping their bikes lower between the hubs to make them even more stable and that's definitely the case with the 335mm bottom bracket height of the Sensor.
Ride and handling: heavy and frustrating at times
AOS has allowed GT to use a super high main pivot that would pedal dreadfully on a conventional bike but swallows drops and boulder hits like a 150mm bike despite only 130mm of actual wheel movement from the short 185mm long, 51mm stroke shock. A Hoover-like ground connection means it clambers up outrageously technical slopes without stress, but a quick flick of the ProPedal lever eliminates bounce on smoother climbs.
There's no escaping the fact that the 3kg (6.6lb) frame weight is very heavy for the travel though, so you'd need to upgrade to the 400g lighter carbon version to be competitive on climbs.
The most frustrating thing with the Sensor isn't its weight though – it's the fact that despite being built like a brick shithouse and eating rocks for breakfast, the steering at the far end of the long front end is the wrong side of steep and uptight to really make the most of it.
Even with a 750mm bar in the 80mm stem and 2.4in rubber up front, the GT repeatedly felt slightly nervous and afraid to commit to corners that other bikes drifted through without a problem, and the front end always freaked out way before the back on awkward landings or braking bumps.
If you like a more XC handling feel that's great, but we can't help feeling that a degree off the head angle and an inch on the fork (or both) would make it an awesome hardcore bike, not an almost hardcore bike. It's expensive for the kit you get too.