Reviewed by Matt Thompson and Jess Pedersen // Written by Brandon Turman // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Brandon Turman
As of 2013, the enduro bug is officially upon us. To create a bike that excels at the discipline, one that's capable of killing it on the descents and hoofing it back to the top in record time, GT took their 2012 Force and Sanction platforms, mashed them together and tweaked the result to meet the enduro racer's needs. In this case, those were the needs of Dan Atherton and the recently signed young gun, Martin Maes, both of which have posted incredible finishes. The outcome was the Force LE, boasting 150mm of travel and a 66-degree head angle, which is a whopping 3-degrees slacker than the rest of the Force lineup. With Team GT Atherton's successes in mind, we were keen to get a first hand look at the Force LE during our 2013 Test Sessions.
Force LE Highlights
- Monocoque/Hydroformed XM Metal frame
- 26-inch wheels
- 150mm (5.9-inches) of rear wheel travel
- Tapered headtube
- 66-degree head angle (+/- 1-degree with Cane Creek Angleset)
- 71.7-degree seat tube angle
- 354mm (14-inch) bottom bracket height
- 430.8mm (17-inch) chainstays
- Race Face X-Type bottom bracket with ISCG tabs
- 12x142 thru-axle rear end
- Measured weight (size Large, no pedals): 31-pounds, 11-ounces (14.06kg)
- MSRP $5,550 USD
The Force LE frame represents what GT calls "Chassis Tune," which is essentially the culmination of all of their technologies bundled into one and tuned to the demands of a specific type of riding. Sprinkle some gussets, forged links and pivots, a tapered headtube, Independent Drivetrain, and decades of tinkering, molding, stressing, and testing on a few hydroformed tubes and viola! you've got yourself a GT. Easier said than done.
One glance at the Force LE (or most of the GT lineup, for that matter) will leave many wondering how in the world the suspension works and what's going on in the bottom bracket area. That's GT's Independent Drivetrain, more commonly referred to as the I-Drive. In this system, a compact four bar linkage allows the bottom bracket to rotate backwards slightly, helping to maintain a consistent distance between the chainrings and cassette. This allows GT to use a high-pivot frame design without compromising pedaling efficiency. Variations of this platform have been in existence since 1999, so they've had gobs of time to tweak and tune it to perfection.
Large, sealed swing arm bearings at the main pivot locations help with durability and rear end stiffness. Shock positioning is easy to access and tucked into the main frame, ensuring that it'll stay clean if you happen to ride in the muck.
The time they've had to refine their designs is also evident when looking at the smaller details on the bike. Cable routing, for instance, certainly doesn't look like an afterthought, and neither do the sleek bolt-on 12x142mm rear dropouts. It's clear that lots of painstaking hours went into the design.
On The Trail
With the enduro racer in mind, Matt and Jess hauled the Force LE out to Bootleg Canyon near Boulder City, Nevada. The terrain there varies from non-stop, moon-like rock sections to some flowy bits. One of the main trail combos the bike was tested on, Boy Scout to Girl Scout, is often used as a Super-D race course and contains the full gamut of steep, tech, fast, and flow.
Rolling out of the parking lot, we found our size Large test bike to be a tad on the short end of the spectrum for a 6-foot rider. The cockpit was a little cramped as a result of the relatively short 24-inch top tube. While a longer stem could have alleviated the issue, we like our stems short and our bars wide, so consider bumping up a size after looking at the numbers. At 14-inches, the bottom bracket height was slightly higher than most bikes with comparable travel. With the Cane Creek Angleset in the slackest position the bike's head angle comes in at a slack 65-degrees, but you wouldn't know it as a result of the high bottom bracket and short top tube. That said, this didn't affect handling too much and took very little time to adjust to. As a benefit, the bottom bracket height allowed us to sneak in a few extra cranks through the rough bits without fear of spiking the ground.
Pointed downhill, the Force LE was confidence inspiring over technical terrain. It could be ridden casually without getting into trouble, but really loved to be pushed. The bike was very playful and responsive at speed, but at the same time very stable. It had no problem changing lines quickly, felt stiff and precise, and tracked well through the turns.
With the suspension set between 25 and 30% sag and the FOX CTD Float in the firmest Trail position, the suspension worked very well. It soaked up small bumps, large square edge hits, and sustained chatter with ease. It also did decently on mid-sized drops and g-outs. The suspension offered a very firm platform for popping and riding the bike aggressively. Even when the suspension was being taxed by consecutive hits, it still felt very consistent, predictable, and was ready to pop over obstacles at a moment's notice. It didn't blow through the travel and felt like it stayed pretty high in the stroke - perhaps a little too high at times.
As a flat pedal rider, Matt did notice a slight tug at his pedals when hitting square edge bumps due to the I-Drive suspension design. Jess, clipped in, didn't experience the same sensation. Your mileage may vary depending on your pedal preference.
Weighing in at over 31-pounds, the Force LE is a ways from the light end of the all-mountain/enduro spectrum, but it's certainly not the heaviest. Surprisingly, it didn't ride like a heavy bike and felt light and snappy in relation to what the scale showed. Rolling speed was also impressive, and the bike moved down the trail at a quick pace.
Pointed uphill, extended climbs while seated were rough given the short top tube and stem combo. While the suspension performed very well and didn't feel as though it was robbing power, the cockpit was noticeably cramped, putting us in a hunchback-like position. As one would expect, hard sprints resulted in no noticeable pedal bob, and the bike responded quickly under power. It was quite fast when punching it but still provided ample traction.
The component spec on this bike was pretty righteous. An array of Easton, RaceFace, KORE, Formula, Shimano, RockShox, FOX, and Maxxis parts add up to a well-spec'd bike. In fact, we didn't feel a real need to swap out anything before hitting the trails.
As usual, the RockShox Reverb adjustable seatpost was greatly appreciated and is a must for any true enduro racer.
Easton's Haven wheels were certainly flashy and proved to be plenty stiff. Given their recent hub bearing upgrade they should last a long time, too.
Suspension duties up front were handled with FOX's 34 Float CTD. Our only complaint here was fork's tendency to dive in some of the ride modes, making us yearn for more compression control.
At 740mm wide, the KORE OCD bars could be a bit wider, but they'll be comfortable for most riders. Given the short top tube, the 55mm Easton Haven stem was too short to be pedaling uphill for very long, but we appreciated it on the way down.
One immediate upgrade we'd suggest for most terrain is to swap the front tire. We have yet to discover a place where the Maxxis Ardent gives confidence while turning. It's fine out back, though, as rolls quite well. If you so choose, there's room for up to a 2.4-inch in the swingarm.
Unfortunately we just couldn't get on with the Formula T1 brakes. They felt underpowered, lacked modulation, were noisy, and felt as if they needed to burn in but never did despite quite a few laps.
The Shimano XT drivetrain worked great throughout the entire test and shifted very well. We also never dropped a chain. There was a bit of chain noise due to the alloy Race Face bash ring, but in general the bike was very quiet. Hooray for clutched derailleurs.
Long Term Durability
The Force LE frame is burly in all the right places and the components have no glaring strength issues. We had a hard time pointing out anything that wouldn't last in the long run.
What's The Bottom Line?
The GT Force LE is a solid all-mountain/enduro bike, and it has the potential to be great with a few minor component swaps. It's stiff, versatile, and will work quite well for the aggressive rider. We think it'd be perfect for the rider that likes to climb up to enjoy the down, or someone who caught the enduro bug and is itching to give it a go. GT's proven Independent Drivetrain design handles all types of bumps nicely, and save steep ups and super steep descents, this rig will slay nearly every trail. Just be sure to pay attention to sizing otherwise you may find yourself feeling a little cramped.
Is the $5,500 price tag justified? That's debatable. Several other brands have lighter weight carbon offerings in the same range. If you do fork out the dough, know that the quality is there, the design works well, the components are ready to roll, and durability certainly isn't a concern.
For more about the Force LE, cruise over to www.gtbicycles.com.
Bonus Gallery: 29 photos of the 2013 GT Force LE
About The Reviewers
Matt Thompson - Humble enough not to claim his Master's Downhill World Champ status when we asked him what his accomplishments were, Matt has over 20 years on a bike and likes to go fast. Really fast. At 210 pounds of trail building muscle, he can put the hurt on a bike in little to no time.
Jess Pedersen - Jess is one of those guys that can hop on a bike after a snowy winter and instantly kill it. He's deceptively quick, smooth, and always has good style. He's also known to tinker with bikes 'til they're perfect, creating custom additions and fixes along the way. Maybe it's that engineering background...