Growing up, I remember GT bikes as the bike to have. A brand with a long storied history, I have fond memories of learning how to dirt jump on a GT Fueler BMX bike. I’ve never really spent time on the mountain bikes, but when GT revamped the line and released the new Force Carbon, I was intrigued and wanted to try one.
I’ve been on the hunt for a capable trail machine featuring 27.5″ wheels and modern geometry, suited for our local flow trails and bike park dirt jumps. At our local spots, that rig has to be ridden up to get down the mountain.The Force Carbon Pro is billed as an all mountain steed, designed to allow riders to engage full send-mode anywhere and everywhere shred happens. Featuring a carbon front triangle mated to a stout alloy rear section, the bike has six inches of front and rear wheel travel. On the GT website, the copy simply states “Developed for riders that seek out big hits and a lot of gravity. The all-new Force is built for the fun of it.” As that’s exactly what I’m looking for, I was all in.
$2,000 for a carbon frame?
The $2,000 retail price of the frame only package stood out, especially considering the drool-worthy rear shock spec of the Fox Float DPX2. As I already possess a garage filled with spare parts, I’ve been seeking out a new frame up project and the Force Carbon Frameset is one of the best options around. I’m even stoked on its alloy rear end; after running a few bikes using hybrid carbon/alloy construction it makes sense to me. For session-style riding, long term durability is a priority and I’ll choose bombproof construction over light weight bikes that I’m scared of breaking any day. If a chainstay (the part of my bikes that end up hitting the ground the majority of the time) was to be damaged in a crash, I’d rather have a lower replacement cost.
That said, the challenge with the Force is actually getting one. I first reached out to GT last year, and wasn’t able to get my grubby hands on a Carbon Force until midsummer of 2019. In addition, it’s difficult to find one, as there aren’t any stocking dealers around. We’re based in Portland, Oregon where there is no shortage of bike shops, so that is a bit of a problem. Although there are a few online dealers, that also means trying before you buy is an issue.
When the Force eventually did became available, GT was nice enough to send over a complete bike for me to try – the Force Carbon Pro. Featuring a $5250 retail price tag, it stands out as one of the few complete builds available with top drawer Fox suspension. I’ll take the suspension upgrade any day — as a Shimano fan, I’m just going to pull off the stock drive train anyway to run my favorite parts.
Features & Geometry
Our first impressions and a run over the geometry of the Force Carbon were posted here, so I won’t retread too much for this post other than to touch on how my thoughts evolved over a few months with the bike.
- Force Carbon 27.5″ frame, 150mm of rear wheel travel w/threaded BB shell
- Fox Float Factory X2 metric rear shock
- Fox Factory 36 160mm fork, GRIP2 Damper
- 65º or 65.5º Head Angle
- Intended use: all-mountain / enduro
- MSRP: $5,250
The highlights of the Carbon Force Pro Package is the top-level suspension spec from Fox. Like the majority of bikes these days, the drive train is provided SRAM GX Eagle, which provides 1×12 gearing. We initially experienced shifting issues with the GX, and for the majority of our time with the bike ran 11-speed Shimano XT. As we got ready to wrap up our time with the Force, the bike was returned to its stock spec and the shifting has been fine. Stopping duties are provided by SRAM G2 RCS brakes and though I’m not a fan, they’ve been acceptable, with no perceptible issues, though after spending time on 4-piston Shimano models, these pale in comparison.
While the suspension spec blew me away, the dropper post that comes stock is a weird choice.
Upgrading the dropper: SDG Components Tellis
The Lev post isn’t my favorite, but for the most part they’re reliable. However, the medium Force came equipped with a 125mm drop post. After riding 160mm and 170mm drop posts, I wasn’t looking forward to our black diamond and double black trails with only 5″ of drop.
As I knew I’d have the bike in my possession for a few months, I decided to get rid of everything I wouldn’t run on a personal bike, and instead build it up as I would want to ride it. The post was the first thing to go, and I immediately swapped it with a 6″ travel SDG Tellis I borrowed off my XC hardtail.
It looked like I had enough clearance for even more drop, so reaching out to Tyler at SDG, he sent over the new 7″ drop Tellis Dropper Post. I paired it with my all-time favorite saddle, a limited edition blue SDG Bel-Air. I’ve been running an iteration of this saddle since I can remember, and while I’ve tested other saddles, for all-around use, I always return to the model that just works for me.
Seeing as how I was able to fit a 7″ dropper post, the 5″ model that comes stock doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Drivetrain and Brakes of choice: Shimano XT
While the GX Eagle group performed adequately, I’m a Shimano fan through and through. An XT drive train was installed, and though my favorite XT brake is now the 4-piston model, I had a 2 piston option that was more than ample for slowing down the Force paired with 7″ and 8″ rotors.
External Cable Routing
The Force uses external cable routing, which almost feels like a bit of a throwback when a lot of brand have switched to internal routing. GT says it kept the cost of the frame down, and it does make maintenance easier.
Wheel Swap: SPANK Vibrocore 350 Wheels
Instead of trying to find a Shimano freehub body, I swapped out the Stans wheels with Spank Vibrocore 350 wheels. I’ve been running these wheels on my downhill bike and I’ve become a huge fan of the radially compliant rim design, which allows me to run a bit more air pressure while still tracking great in the turns. (Although I have a few Cushcore inserts lying around I wasn’t ready to commit to a tire, yet and have no desire to install them twice)
Experimenting with Fit
Next I turned my attention to dialing in my fit. The bike comes spec’d with 31.8 bar and stem, which I much prefer over the 35mm standard that’s trending on new bikes. However, 35mm is overkill; overly stiff, it’s harsh at speed on rough terrain and even worse with an alloy bar.
Thanks to my day job at a bike company I’m able to try a wide range of components. The Spank Industries Split Stem is available in four different sizes in 5mm increments, so you can really dial in and tune that ideal fit. They also offer additional sizes in 35mm so its more like 3mm, but I’ve avoided 35mm so far and don’t ever have plans to adopt it on any of my bikes.
The stock stem is a 50mm which was a good all-around option. I also tried a 38mm. The stock bar is an aluminum Spank Industries Oozy with 30mm of rise. I liked the rise quite a bit, but after a few days of banging out laps at our local bike park my hands were feeling it so I decided to try a version of the bar featuring Vibrocore foam. Vibrocore works really well, reducing high speed vibrations, while still being uber stiff and responsive. I also have a number of carbon bars at my disposal, but carbon bars and jump trails are not the best combination for logical reasons.
I also added the Spank Spike 33 grip. After a few days testing both versions of this grip in Whistler, I’ve become a fan, and really like the single clamp design. It also features a cut-out relief, so it aids a bit with damping vibrations as well.
I’ve been having a ton of fun riding some steep trails, so I’ve been really enjoying taller bars, and taking advantage of the adjustable bb height and head angle on the Force.
On the Trail
The Force has been proven at the top level of the sport, being piloted to wins on the EWS circuit by factory pilot Martin Maes. The Force platform is now available in both 27.5″ and 29″ iterations, with Maes running his as a mullet, with a 29″ wheel in the front. That is definitely a setup I would have been interested in trying, but I’ve been having far more fun enjoying it for what it is – a trail ripper, designed for good times on two wheels. Ok, not totally true – I really wanted to try the mullet setup, but didn’t want to deal with having to steal a fork off another bike, buy a travel reduction kit and install it for a few rides. Plus I really was enjoying riding on a Fox 36 fork again.
And the bike as-is, is really damn fun to ride. Our local flow trails are littered with berms and jumps and I have been having a good time playing. I’m 5’10” and running the medium size which has a 440/445mm reach depending on the flip chip settings. While a lot of people are sizing up to the large for the longer reach, I’m stoked on the shorter medium, as it fits my desired riding/user experience. If you’re unsure on sizing, (regardless of what bike(s) you’re looking at) make sure you demo some – its way less expensive than buying a bike and selling it to get a fit and ride that you’re happy with. There are a lot of opinions in the cycling space, and the only one that really matters is yours.
With 435mm chainstays, this bike is built for stability at speed. I think I’d prefer a slightly shorter back end to make it even more jibby, (and manuals would be easier) but then you trade off that stability at speed and in the turns.
29″ vs 27.5″
29ers are becoming more common than ever, but 27.5″ wheels are still pretty popular among riders in our local riding scene. A lot of this is based on our local trails, but a lot of it seems to be based on whether folks have enduro racing aspirations or just want to rip. I’d even say there could be a direct correlation between flat pedals and clip-in; riders that clip in seem to gravitate towards 29″ a bit more, whereas flat pedal riders are 27.5″ fans. As someone that loves (and can apparently justify the cost of both) bikes of both wheelsizes, I have been running platforms on the GT while keeping my 29″ rig with clip-ins.
My personal bike is a Transition Sentinel 29er. It’s playful for a 29er, but has a 64º head angle on the front end that needs momentum to really come alive. This is where the Force has been great. The option 65º/65.5º head angle and smaller wheel size in comparison makes the GT feel much more maneuverable – I hardly ever ride straight down the trail, preferring to zig or zag at every opportunity. The Force is also available in a 29″ iteration, so it comes down to the type of riding experience you’re looking for. The smaller wheel is going to be more maneuverable at slower speeds, and the bigger wheels will facilitate higher speed charging.
If I’m riding with friends that are just looking to charge the trail like every section is a racecourse, the 29er is the way to go. However, pushing the envelope every time I’m on a bike comes with its drawbacks. If you’re riding at 11, eventually you could make a mistake that could result in a trip to the hospital. As I get older as a ride, I’ve been having a lot of fun just riding bikes, drifting some turns and having fun in the woods. Riding 27.5″ wheels means I feel the freedom to take the jibby line over the fast racer line, and that’s been really freeing.
Not as fun on the uphills
Climbing prowess with mountain bikes is relative. It would be silly to compare a 6″ travel bike to a short travel bike with the same expectations; for an apples to apples comparison, you’d compare it to a bike designed for the same applications. That said, while the Force was capable of getting to the top of any hill, it wouldn’t be my first choice it every ride started with a long climb, as it’s optimized for going down. Part of that is the horst link suspension; some was the weight. That said, Horst link style bikes aren’t known for being the best pedalers – there’s a reason Specialized kept on trying to add a “brain” to their shocks. After riding other suspension designs for years though, I’ve found myself coming back to Horst Link bikes – they seem to fit my riding style better for the majority of the riding I do here in the Pacific Northwest.
As the Force offered adjustable two position geometry, the ride can be tailored a bit. Set in the low position, the low bottom bracket makes it really fun for ripping turns, and taking those inside line drifty turns that are more about the fun than speed. That said, I was hitting my pedals quite often in the low position; so much so that I had to check to verify the cranks were 170mm. (they are) Switching to the high position helped the bike in a number of ways; not only did the slightly steeper seat angle climb better, but I was banging pedals on stuff less. I also took off the higher rise bars I had been experimenting with (I was trying a 50mm rise which was super fun on steep double black trails) and went back to the stock Spank Oozy 30mm rise bar, as well as the stock 50mm stem. (I had been running a 38mm)
I still found the bike to be rippable, and that’s the setup I’d recommend if you’re earning your turns. Once the bike parks closed for the season, this was the way to go.
Could be improved
There isn’t much for a chainstay protector — it’s essentially a 3m clear sticker. It does protect the stay a little, but it also has the bike sounding like a throwback DH bike in the rough stuff. It is loud at times, but it also gave me a sense of nostalgia when pinning it on the descents. I could have come up with half a dozen solutions to damp the noise but elected to enjoy, ok, ignore the sound.
I also had problems with a one of the rear shock fixing bolts repeatedly coming loose. Had I the time, I would have reached out to the team at GT and figured it out, as applying blue Locktite to the threads didn’t resolve this problem and I never figured out a resolution. I began checking it at the top of every climb and would often have to tighten it.
Who’s it for
If you’re a fan of 27.5″ wheels and looking for an all arounder with a sweet set of shocks, you already want a Force of your own. If you’re a rider looking for a fun all arounder with a bias towards ripping berms and jump trails, its definitely a bike worth taking a close look at.
Check it out at GTBicycles.com
Special thanks to the following folks:
GT for sending the Force over – we got along great.
Tyler at SDG for sending over the 7″ drop Tellis. Now that the 7″ drop model is available, this is the post to have.
The Gravity Cartel for setting us up with Spank and iXS gear.
Joe at Shimano for setting us up with the XT goodness.