After a few weeks pounding the GT Sensor Carbon Team around our trails we’ve grown an appreciation for its finest attribute – its brawn.
What is it, who’s it for?
GT label the Sensor as a trail bike, slotting in between their cross country suspension bike, the Helion, and the all-mountain Force, the Sensor strikes a balance between short and long travel. GT have dressed it in some serious parts though, the big tyres, 150mm RockShox Pike and wide bars make this ‘trail bike’ look pretty badass.
So from our first impressions we’d label this bike as a hard-charging trail bike for blasting your local trails and having a good time doing so, but it won’t best serve you as a marathon race bike or gravity fuelled enduro rig.
We’ve reviewed both the Helion and Force X, check out those reviews here:
GT Helion Carbon Pro review.
GT Force X Expert Carbon review.
When we talk about the properties of carbon versus aluminium we tend to use words like light, supple, smooth, svelte or lively. In the case of this bike we can only think of descriptions like burly, sturdy, solid and beefy. Its solid ride character really became a dominating feature, we’ll touch on that later.
There’s nothing svelte about this one, it’s built like a tank. Big shapes and wide-set pivot points give the Sensor real muscle.
The Sensor Carbon Team uses an all-carbon frame and we chuckled at the sticker stating that fluorescent colours will fade, a relief in some regard as the paint is bright!
Cables are routed externally with an exception for the RockShox Reverb hose entering into the seat tube and a section of the gear cable through the seat stays. A rubberised chainstay protector could have been a nice touch, without one the chain resonates loudly on the carbon.
Plenty of room for a full-sized water bottle, you could carry a flagon of sherry on there with that amount of space.
Perhaps even more striking than the fluorescent paint is the mighty complicated and convoluted looking suspension linkage housed down low around the cranks. Stare at it for a minute and you’ll begin to understand how it works: the rear wheel goes up, pulls on that bit which pushes on that other bit, and presto – the shock compresses!
GT’s Angle Optimised Suspension system is a good one believe us. AOS is few years old now and is used across their entire range of duallies, right up to their World Championship winning Fury downhill bike. It’s designed to provide the benefits of a high-pivot suspension system but with fewer of the negatives (like brake jack and pedal feedback). With the main suspension pivot so high the rear wheel can move up and over objects in its way, but usually with some negative impacts on the drivetrain. This is where we say hello to the Path Link.
The bottom bracket is housed in the Path Link, which rotates slightly rearward from the main frame with the suspension compression so as to minimise the amount of chain growth.
Watch this video if you failed physics and your head hurts trying to figure it out.
It’s a tough task to pull off but we’re impressed by the execution, and attention to detail too. There’s a little plastic mudguard protecting the sensitive rear shock, and the rear brake and gear cables are guided around the moving parts securely. It may look a little busy down there but there aren’t actually any more individual moving parts than say a Giant, Trek or Specialized duallie.
It’s a fair bit to get your head around but is well executed in a sound and study manner, nothing came loose or got in the way of a good ride.
GT seem to have a thing with shopping around for parts, there’s an eclectic bunch of bits from a wide range of brands on this bike, but all the parts work well together, testament that whoever specs these bikes rides them too.
SRAM: A SRAM X01 drivetrain and Guide brakes do a great job as always, the RockShox Reverb was perfect and all these SRAM bits played nicely together making for a nice and tidy handlebar area. Our test bike did come with a spongy rear brake though, that never seemed bitey enough, but a bleed should fix that easily.
The RaceFace single-ring setup is sweet, and the e*Thirteen chainguide allays any doubts of chain security in a quiet and drag-free manner.
Suspension: FOX out back and RockShox up front, the marrying of the two brands takes some getting used to. The variance of travel amount between is considerable, 130mm rear and 150mm in the fork. Perhaps GT are aiming to achieve slacker angles (the higher end model Sensors all come with 150mm forks) by using a taller fork? We’d suggest fitting the RockShox Bottomless Tokens (reducing the size of the air chamber for more progression in the spring rate) in the fork to help it ride higher in the latter portion of the travel to match the rear, as the 130mm out back is already super-progressive.
The Pike RTC3 is the top-shelf offering with the slow speed compression dial in addition to the three-stage climb lockout. We dialled the slow speed compression 3/4 of the way on when riding regular trails to help the fork match the firm rear end.
Wheels: Stan’s Flow (such a great name) wheels are a nice and reliable set of aluminium wheels, all ready to go with tubeless strips and valves.
Cockpit: Not an area we took much notice of, in a good way. The RaceFace Turbine bars are 760mm wide for a stable position and the GT grips clamp on super tight and the integrated aluminium end caps act as bash guards against tight trees and the ground at times.
When we rode the Sensor’s bigger brother the GT Force X a little while back we didn’t get along with it straight away, it felt big and bulky and slow to get going. The same goes with this bike to a degree. But we persisted and on our second ride we totally got its vibe! You don’t ride these bikes like your run-of-the-mill trail bike, you ride them hard and then reap the rewards from such a solid chassis and firm, supportive suspension.
Setup: There’s huge benefit to a bike’s handling in keeping the centre of gravity down low and centred in the frame, but the drawback on this bike is how the shock shaft is hidden from view, making for a trickier suspension sag setup procedure. GT have done a fair job of getting around this by equipping the bike with a nifty little sag guide. Instead of measuring the o-ring on the shock shaft, you need to watch the attached plastic needle line up with the inscriptions on the linkage. It’s tricky to see from where you sit on the bike, but better than nothing.
On the trail: Once up to speed it’s easy to keep it there and if you’re game, the key is to lay off the brakes and give it hell! It’ll hold lines through rocky sections and won’t lose momentum when it’s mighty rough, the rear end stiffness helps gobbles up big impacts transferring the energy of the impact into the shock rather than deflecting.
Descending: The AOS suspension design is not especially smooth across rapid repeated impacts on the trail – riding quickly across braking ruts or rock gardens it tends to skip across them with the rear tyre thudding along behind you. Lucky there’s a chainguide fitted as standard, we didn’t ever worry about dropping a chain when the bike was thumping around behind us.
Rather than a ground hugging or offering a supple kind of ride, it’s more a firm and engaging one that responds instantly to your input. Jumping from one side of the trail to avoid a rut, or gapping over a hole and into a corner becomes a possibility when you’re not wallowing in a cushy and comfortable bike. This beast begs you to take control.
When seated, with your weight distribution shared between the cranks and the saddle, the suspension works effectively to smoothen the terrain. But if you’re out of the saddle, you’ll notice the suspension feels firmer when standing. This attribute is also a contributing factor to the bike’s excellent pedalling efficiency. So when you get up out of the saddle and jam your foot down on the cranks, the bike remains firm and doesn’t wallow.
Cornering: We found ourselves searching for the fastest lines through a corner, dismissing any potential obstacles, and ploughing straight through them instead. And we probably went for more gap jumps than we’d normally attempt too, pulling up hard and feeling sure the Sensor would ride it out even if we came up a little short.
The Maxxis tyres had a big role to play in the corners, the High Roller II is always welcome here at Flow, its cornering bite and confidence-inspiring meatiness instantly promotes us to recklessly throw it around the place. The Ardent out the back is a good pairing for this bike, its lower profile tread and less-aggressive nature helps the rear end of the Sensor slide around a little and steer through corners with a little bit of a rear wheel drift.
The Sensor has pretty long chainstays when compared to many of our favourite bikes in the ‘trail’ category, we measured the rear centre at 445mm, so don’t expect it to flick around the tightest trails without a heavy hand. Chainstay length is a real buzzword in the industry right now, shorter is not always necessarily better though. As demonstrated in this case, you can really benefit from the stability of a longer stay, steering through the turns more aggressively.
With the aggressive front tyre and lower profile rear tyre we found ourselves taking wide lines into switchback turns, getting right over the front wheel and letting the rear end do whatever it liked, this seemed to be the fastest (and funnest) way around. On open and fast turns the stability we love about these bikes gave us confidence to hold our lines, stay off the brakes and keep it pinned all the way around.
Climbing: We know that the suspension works well, especially with hard impacts, but what about when climbing? The FOX Float shock is a long way away down there, reaching for the lockout lever takes more time and effort, so we ended up climbing all but tarmac in ‘trail mode’. Switch the FOX lever over to climb mode only for the tarmac, it almost locks out completely.
When you jump out of the saddle and crank down on the pedals the Sensor lunges forward, rewarding your effort. The AOS design does a good job of resisting compression from your downward force and torque on the chain. This makes it an excellent out of the saddle climber, with an aggressive approach it ascends super fast.
Spinning away up a climb in the saddle you’ll feel the cranks shifting forward and backwards with the suspension compression, a little off-putting at first but quickly forgotten. That’s just the AOS doing its thing.
The GT Sensor is a prodigious bike that relishes hard riding. Where many bikes sacrifice robustness, the Sensor manages to keep its weight down to 13kg but still feels so solid beneath you. But it certainly isn’t a peppy and agile trail bike, so if you’re a lighter or gentle rider you may find it a bit heavy to get going.
Out of the box the Sensor is specced ready to ride, we didn’t feel the need to change any parts at all, the value for money is pretty good too. And our inner old-school GT fan relished in the moment riding the Sensor.