GT Sensor Carbon Expert 2016 Review
March 2nd, 2016
Product Full Name | GT Sensor Carbon Expert
Retail Price | £2999.99
Available From | Cycling Sports Group
GT Sensor Carbon Expert – the do-it-all full susser that flies under the radar
Back in the mid 80’s, Gary Turner made a prototype mountain bike frame from aluminium which not only marked a new direction for GT Bicycles – but it earnt them recognition for producing the most advanced mountain bike frame to date.
Over the years GT Bicycles have produced a lot of game changing bikes and suspension platforms, and with a brand new racing team for 2016 are going to be firing on all cylinders once more. For 2016 they offer XC; Trail; All Mountain and Enduro bikes – as well as their Gravity range.
With a lot of people choosing bikes with more travel than they really need, we opted to look at the 130mm travel Trail model – the Sensor.
The Sensor platform is built around 130mm travel, and sensible geometry designed to feel lively and confidence inspiring. The size XL we tested has a roomy 1200mm wheelbase, a 68degree head angle and a 73degree seat angle. It also has fairly long 440mm chain stays which will add stability to the lively geometry.
The frame has an aluminium rear end with a 142mm Maxle, combined with an FOC ultra-carbon front end that reduces weight. Whilst offering the benefits of stiffness, the carbon triangle also absorbs trail buzz- rather than transmit it through the frame.
The dropped top tube gives good standover height, and even the size XL looks nice. Pleasingly, a water bottle can be easily fitted to the GT Sensor Carbon frames – the low shock mount is completely out the way.
At the heart of the Sensor frame is the Angle Optimized Suspension (AOS) design. There’s a lot going on at first glance, but when you cycle the bike through the travel it’s easy to understand what goes on. Essentially there is a high pivot, and the Pathlink driving the Fox Float DPS shock that joins the rear chain stays via another pivot.
The interesting thing is that the bottom bracket is mounted on the Pathlink itself, making the BB float between the front and rear ends – this is to counter the chain growth from the rear ward movement of the high pivot.
The principles of this system are similar to the i-Drive system that GT first developed back in 1999, though the AOS design is far less intricate – and better suited to grimy off road conditions.
Because of the way the shock is mounted, you can’t see the shock shaft for setting sag. GT get around this by having a sag indicator – which although easy to use isn’t the ideal system but you can get a ballpark setting fairly easily.
It doesn’t look great though – it’s essentially a sticker, and a bit of plastic stuck on with some double sided tape. We’d like to see a neater and more visible option on a bike of this calibre – when you’re sat on the bike it’s very hard to keep the saddle weighted and see where you are on the sag rating – the frame gets in the way.
The GT Sensor Carbon Expert has a Fox Factory 34 FLOAT with 140mm Travel up front, and a Float DPS shock out back. Both the fork and shock have blacked out graphics to blend in with the all-black finish of the frame – and look great on the bike.
Trusty Shimano SLX brakes with 180mm rotors take care of stopping duties, whilst tough tubeless compatible WTB rims on Shimano SLX hubs rolled well. Maxxis Ardent tyres are a good choice for firm conditions, but the fast rolling tyres just don’t have enough grip for the UK – a chunkier front tyre would help handling no end.
A 22 speed Shimano XT drive train adorns the Section – 11 speed cassette out back and a double 26/36 tooth set-up on the front with a side swing front mech. Although the front mech works admirably – we do wonder if it’s needed on a bike like this. We’d prefer to see a neater – and lighter – single ring set up.
A Raceface 760mm bar and 60mm stem do hint at the bike’s trail intentions – but really the 760mm bar just isn’t long enough – especially on a size XL that’s big enough for riders well over 6ft. The 60mm stem is a touch long too, given the fairly roomy cockpit. There are plenty of nice finishing details – like nice long GT lock on grips, and laser etched GT head set spacers.
Out on the Trail
The first few things we really noticed on the Sensor Carbon Expert were that the front Maxxis Ardent tyre couldn’t hack our local conditions, and the combo of a 60mm stem and a straight 760mm bar were making the bike feel a little nervous.
So we fitted a Mavic Charge up front, and we also fitted an 800mm bar – the stock Race Face 760mm bar really doesn’t reflect modern riders towering over 6ft, regardless of riding style. The roomy 659mm top tube was long enough to let us creep back to a 50mm stem too, which helped give us a much better stance on the bike.
Once we had those things dialled in, the Sensor Carbon Expert sprung to life. Despite weighing 30.37lbs/13.77kg which is a little portly for a 130mm bike, it really doesn’t feel heavy on the trail and zips along nicely.
The back end feels active and responsive on smaller hits, and doesn’t seem too fussed about bigger smacks. In fact it seems the harder you push it, the better it feels – but make no mistake, this thing isn’t an Enduro race bike. The Sensor Carbon Expert is designed to get out in the hills, buzz along miles of single track and make you grin.
And it does that really well. If you over step the mark, things can get a little out of shape – but the bike tends to feel pretty composed most the time. The long chain stays certainly help slow down the handling that might be a little twitchy otherwise, and feel great when cornering – even with the Ardent out back there’s quite a lot of grip.
It also climbs well – the suspension offers enough grip, and the fairly roomy wheelbase means theres enough weight on the front wheel that it doesn’t wonder about when winching up through the woods. Whilst you can feel slight movement through the pedals when climbing out the saddle, there isn’t any energy robbing bob, and the bike encourages you to stand up and crank.
The GT Sensor Carbon Expert gives a really engaging ride – it makes you want to get stuck in and hop and pop off everything in sight. Perhaps it just made me think of Hans Rey, but it definitely bought the fun side out in my riding.
At the moment, it seems shorter travel trail bikes are on the increase – manufacturers now have good enough suspension platforms that less travel works out great. There’s enough grip and shock absorption, but a bike that feels taught on the climbs, punchy on single track and has enough travel to keep you out of mischief when you push your luck.
The GT Sensor Carbon Expert is one of those bikes.
The GT Sensor Carbon Expert is a really nice trail bike. It’s got most things going on pretty good – though a degree off the head angle certainly wouldn’t hurt. And for a bike like this with an 11speed cassette – do we really need to see a double chainring and mech set up? I stayed in the big chainring for the whole test time – and got irritated by the noise of the chain clattering in the front mech.
But overall, it’s a great bike and makes you wonder why most riders would need more than 130mm.
The trouble is, most the riders that pick bikes with more travel than they need don’t realise that having that suspension makes them lazy and can make their experience on the bike less enjoyable. Longer travel bikes need to be worked hard to ride well, but a lot of the people riding them suffer from that love makes you fat syndrome.
The GT Sensor most definitely will not make you fat. It has enough travel to keep you out of danger – but it thrives on rider input. The more you put in – the better the ride gets.
It takes two to tango on this whip, and I’ve loved riding it.
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