-160mm rear travel
-170mm front travel
-Four-bar high pivot linkage with idler pulley
-Price range: $3,800-$6,000
-Suppleness and bump eating capability
-Neutral, efficient pedaling
-Idler pulley increases drivetrain friction, maintenance, and noise
-Not the most confident during hard cornering
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It comes as no surprise to see the new 2022 GT Force sporting a high-pivot, idler-pulley-equipped suspension design. The most obvious clue came three years ago to the day, when GT launched a new version of the Fury, its downhill bike, which debuted the system that we see here on the new Force.
But also, GT just can’t seem to stay away from funky mousetraps for very long. That, and suspension platforms with rearward axle paths. Way back in the early days of mountain biking, The GT LTS used a simple four-bar suspension design, but it wasn’t long before GT developed its revolutionary i-Drive system, which began a near 20-year run of very cool, albeit often overly complex floating drivetrain suspension designs.
Then in 2019, GT scrapped its latest version, AOS (Angle Optimized Suspension), which rode fantastically but was an absolute nightmare for cable management. GT’s AOS bikes might have had the worst cable routing of any bike ever made. So for 2019, GT went back to its roots, cleaned things up, and opted for the simplicity of a standard four-bar suspension platform. Bringing LTS back into the fold seemed like the right move at the time—but it didn’t work out super well.
We weren’t big fans of the previous Force. In 2019 it was an underwhelming, mushy-climbing 27.5er, which was subsequently modernized into a sub-standard, pedal-bobby 29er for 2020. Both heavily relied on a shock lockout on anything that even threatened to be a climb, and had us missing the magic carpet ride that we loved about the AOS bikes on the descents. In fact, a lot of people seemed to be missing floating drivetrain GTs.
But, could you achieve a similar feel without all the complexity. Yup—just add an idler pulley. This little noise maker comes with some sacrifices but it’s a hell of a lot simpler than AOS and i-Drive, that’s for sure. And, it’s so similar to AOS in the way it tracks the ground that it brought me right back to 2013 when I first rode the AOS design.
It’s not hard to see why, either. Basically all of GT’s floating drivetrain designs featured high pivots, just like this bike does. All the complexity of i-Drive and AOS was essentially there for one reason: to mitigate chain growth through the suspension travel by making the bottom bracket basically follow the axle’s path. That’s what the idler does, too, but it does so by changing the angle of the chain force instead—all those extra pivots, links and bearings, essentially replaced by one little pulley. When looking at it that way, the idler seems rather genius. Take the LTS four bar linkage, raise the pivot up, and add a pulley, and engage hover-bike perfection.
Not only does the new Force mow through anything in its path when descending at high speed, it smooths rooty climbs without bobbing or squatting. Unlike the previous version, the new Force does not need a shock lockout. It is composed and supportive while simultaneously feeling active and plush. The feeling is actually pretty similar to an Evil Wreckoning or perhaps an Ibis Ripmo (though that bike is in a different travel category). Speaking of suspension travel, the new Force runs 160 millimeters in the back and 170mm up front.
That’s the same up front as the current Force 29 it replaces, but 10 more millimeters out back. Not only does it gain overall capability by adding travel, it manages to climb and pedal with a ton more efficiency, less vagueness, and an overall more enjoyable demeanor. The steep 78-degree seat tube angle certainly helps in this department.
GT recommends setting up the Force with between 25- and 30-percent sag, but I think it behaves best when sticking closer to 25 percent. The suspension platform seems to be pretty sensitive to changes in sag. I dropped some pressure in the shock to achieve right around 28-percent sag, and the bike became noticeably more active while climbing. It’s still dignified, but with just a few percent less sag the bike is quite a bit livelier.
Thankfully, I preferred descending with 25-percent sag as well. The bike is meaningfully more poppy and supportive, even with just a few percentage points difference. I’d like to see what adding a volume spacer to the shock would do, although this bike really doesn’t need more top-end plushness. That, it has in spades.
It chews up trail like it’s been fasting for a week, and while it can maneuver well, the suspension system prefers gobbling gnar in a straight line. If you push hard into corners, you’ll definitely notice some uneasiness, which is sort of par for the course when it comes to the wheelbase lengthening that happens when high-pivot bikes move through their travel. This can cause the rider to feel as though they’re off balance when compressing the suspension through corners because the actual balance point of the bike changes more than bikes with more vertically arcing axle paths. But, the Force’s LTS linkage does mitigate the wheelbase growth some. And, running sag right at 25 percent helps prevent the bike from blowing through all its travel every time you push into a corner, and makes the bike feel a lot more surefooted when leaned over.
While we’re on the topic of stability, we might as well mention that the Force’s chainstays are adjustable between 435 and 445mm, a range that hits a real sweet spot for me. The size large that I’m riding comes stock in the long position, but flipping it increases the maneuverability of the bike in a noticeable way. I did the same test loop back-to-back in both settings, starting in the short mode, and that’s what I wound up preferring. But I’m not as fast as I once was, so I tend to opt for maneuverability over stability. For a long-travel 29er, I’m rather impressed with the handling and efficiency of the new Force. So far, I’m not sure I’m sold in general on bike designs that require idlers, but one thing is for sure: This bike is a lot better than the one it replaces.
Overall, I do think the new Force is a better mousetrap. It’s a huge improvement over the Force 29 that was released in 2020, and despite the noticeable drag and extra noice created by the idler pulley, I’ll take it over the rat’s nest that was AOS any day. The real question, though, is if it’s better than other bikes that don’t have an idler pulley complicating the drivetrain. And even if the answer is yes (which I’m not convinced of quite yet), is it better enough to make the annoyance worth it? Time will tell.
Photos: Ryan Palmer