GT is a classic bike brand that has been through some dark times in recent years. Much like the recently relaunched and rebranded Saracen, they’re trying hard to recapture their heyday, when GT were at the forefront of bike design with the thermoplastic STS, carbon fibre LTS, the titanium Xiazang and proto-hardcore-hardtail Zaskar being on most rider’s wishlists at some point.
Since being bought by sports giant Dorel in 2004 they’ve been steadily working at getting back on track, with Dorel buying the UK distributor last year as part of a global expansion scheme. Another sign of the attempt to reposition GT is that the longstanding association with Halfords is to end on the 1st January 2011, with GT Bicycles only being available from independent bike dealers from that date.
With all this in mind, GT took us to Les Deux Alpes in France to show us their progress in the reinvention of the brand and, as their new motto, the chance to “earn our wings”. Quite. They’ve been doing some soul searching and have decided that the path to righteousness is to concentrate on producing bikes that are dependable, reliable and offer value for money as well as a solid riding experience, rather than going down the route of changing technology every year or making bikes that might be light but might not last.
They’ve also been trying, like the rest of the bike industry, to figure out which pigeonholes to put their bikes in. Unlike Cannondale, they’ve not come up with any new genre defining phrases and have gone for just three self explanatory categories, Gravity, All Mountain and Endurance.
We’ll start off with the Gravity range, which brings us neatly to the Fury, the bike that has just taken first place under GT Team Rider Marc Beaumont at the Val Di Sole World Cup.
For 2011, the Fury has been given a lower BB and a slacker head angle by using removable headcups. The frame still uses full carbon fibre construction and the eye-bendingly bright paint scheme does a good job of making the seriously chunky chassis look much skinnier than it is. The Independent Drivetrain system remains, having been revised over the years to make it lighter and easier to maintain, the bike having 211mm of squidge at the back. A full build of the top end Fury World Cup model with Fox 40 RC2 forks and a DHX RC4 shock tipped the scales at 39lbs without pedals. In the UK the Fury will only be available as a frameset with DHX RC4 shock, priced at £2,999.99.
Moving down in travel we come to the Sanction, having 150mm of travel at the rear and 160mm single crowns up front. Designed for enduro racing in the European sense, there’s a tapered 1.5″ to 1.125″ headtube and, as with almost all of the 2011 bikes, the rear shock tune has been revised with input from Fox as well as GT Product Manager Todd Seplavy to give an increase in rebound and compression damping in the top third of the travel.
There are no current plans to bring the Sanction into the UK but it felt quite at home on the less full on downhill trails in Les Deux Alpes, the Independent Drivetrain system working well during seated pedalling and with no overly intrusive pedal feedback when descending, although the new shock tune did seem to make the bike sit in the middle of the travel, falling away in the initial part before ramping up steeply in the end stroke.
The main surprise from the Gravity range was the Distortion. It’s a bike that’s hard to label, with only 112mm travel at the rear but 140mm at the front. It could be called a short travel slopestyle bike or a heavy duty XC bike but neither of those capture what it does it completely. When you looking at the frame geometry it makes more sense, with a long top tube, 67° head angle and pleasingly low 12″ static BB height. It rides like it’s packing more travel than it does, and has a planted feel in turns, the longer top tube giving plenty of space to move around and adjust position and weight.
The tapered headtube and thru axle rear end keep everything stiff and this combined with the lack of wallowy travel means it’s great fun to snap out of the tight, hardpacked berms that were on offer in the bikepark trails of Les Deux Alpes. Throwing it into the braking bumps was a bit more of a rough ride than on it’s longer travel brethren, but the way the Distortion sucks up punishment is rather impressive. I imagine it’d be excellent fun on the more twisty and jumpy trail centres out there, as well as for ragging through the local woods or the odd bit of DH track poaching thrown into a longer ride.
It’s not been decided whether to bring the Distortion into the UK yet, but if you’re happy with genre-bending between the worlds of big bike handling and XC bike travel then the Distortion is a lot of fun. The Distortion 1.0 that I rode came with Fox 32 Float FIT forks, RP23 rear shock, Joplin uppy/downy post and an X.9 2×9 drivetrain. It weighed in at a respectable 30.1lbs with (light) flat pedals. The only disappointment about the Distortion was the Formula R1 brakes, which had plenty of power but were lacking in modulation, mostly due to it being impossible to get the lever blades close enough in to the bar.