Product Launch: GT – Les Deux Alpes, France

Originally posted on August 13, 2010 at 17:20 pm
This past July, I had the opportunity to attend the GT press camp, in the breathtaking mountains of Les Duex Alpes—a small ski resort town in the Isère départment of the French Alps where the northern and southern Alps meet. The area is part of the Serre Chevalier mountain range in the heart of the Oisans region.

Les Deux Alpes is situated between the villages of Venosc and Mont de Lan, and its name refers to its location of being in between these two alpine villages. Nestled in at 1650m (5,413ft) Les Deux Alpes is the largest ski resort in the area and is the second oldest in France after Chamonix. Along with Alpe d’Huez, La Grave, Puy St. Vincebt and Vaujany the area makes up the Grande Galaxie ski area. Perfect for riding mountain bikes.

My jetlagged mind was completely captivated by the amazing landscape as our Mercedes 6-speed diesel van made its way up the winding, narrow roads of the Alps. Streams and rivers filled with pure glacial water flowed past, powering the villages we drove through. Roadies pedaled the steep grades and motorcyclists took advantage of the twisting pavement. Reaching Les Deux Alpes, we drove along the main road to meet the folks from GT and checked into Hôtel Le Souleil’Or. The view from my balcony was absolutely stunning. Huge mountain ranges, glacial snow, gondolas, armor clad downhillers, and thin brown trails switch-backing down the green mountainside.

For the few days that I was in France, GT had presentations, photo opportunities, ample ride time, and meals covering nearly all my awaken hours, but with my sparse free-time I found it possible to walk from one end of the village to the other in less than 30 minutes. There’s also a free bus service that will transport you around. Other than mountain bike and gear rentals, the Les Deux Alpes is mostly ski shops and apparel, plenty of restaurants, night clubs, taverns, hotels, and a few kitschy souvenir shops. Enjoying the outdoors is really what the area is all about, and is no wonder why GT chose it for their 2011 product launch.

GT uses just three categories —Gravity, All-Mountain, and Endurance—to describe their 2011 mountain bike line with some bikes bridging categories. For the coming model year GT has succeeded in offering a wide range of bikes, but haven’t lost their focus of who will be using the bike and where.

What I found impressive is that GT offers a bike for every rider, male or female, from the beginning XC rider to the elite racer, and from dirt jumper to downhill speeder, with price points to match. Someone new to biking or that wants to throw a leg over a functional 29er can get GT’s aluminum Karakoram 3.0 for $600. It’s a solid, Triple Triangle hardtail with decent components and subtle graphics.

Their all-mountain, full-suspension Sensor model will be offered in either 26" or 29"-wheel size and built with a SRAM 2×10 or 3×9 drivetrain, depending on price which ranges from $1379-$3000. The entire GT Endurance line will be available with 26" or 29" wheels with the 2×10 drivetrain showing up frequently.

For the full on, cross-country racer the Zaskar Carbon hardtail is GT’s 2011 crown jewel. This FOC Ultra carbon frame takes full advantage of the kiting and sequencing processes that GT has developed in nearly two decades of composite frame making. In the process they scrubbed 300g of weight off of its 2010 predecessor. It has a tapered head tube, replaceable inserts in the direct mount disc tabs, and 2×10 SRAM drivetrain. The Zaskar will be available with single-speed dropouts as an option or with an aluminum frame for the budget conscious.

When I tested the GT Marathon Carbon Expert in Dirt Rag #149, I loved how the bike pedaled but complained about the graphics. I was glad to see that the 2011 line has some of the best-looking color schemes around. There are lots of color-matched components too. For example, the 7" travel Ruckus 1.0 has Cash Green SRAM XO derailleurs and shifters matching FUNN green rims and stem, which match the green highlights of the black paint. Little touches that will make a downhill rider proud, while riding top of the line components.

Colors aren’t everything though and GT is building bikes that will stand up to the abuse mountain bikers like to find. All of GT’s full-suspension bikes use the Independent Drivetrain (i-Drive). The i-Drive isolates the bottom bracket from the affects of the suspension, has minimal pedal feed back and even less pedal bob, and allows the rear wheel path to travel in a curve to sustain forward momentum and tire contact. Best of all the i-Drive has no proprietary parts, so any real bike shop should carry replacement bearings.

On my first day of riding at GT’s press camp, I suited up in full body armor and a full-face helmet and hitched a ride on the gondola. Up top I threw a leg over the Sanction 1.0—An all-mountain offering with 150mm of rear travel and 160mm up front. The jetlag and too many cappuccinos had my heart racing pre-decent, but during the second run I found my groove and felt more comfortable using most, if not all, of its travel. The 180mm front and rear rotors were welcomed on the steep descents that rolled into hairpin turns, and the slack geometry kept me behind the bars. For my limited jumping skills I don’t think I gave this bike half of what it’s capable of handling. It’s a mean downhill-pointing machine that pedaled sufficiently back to the lift for more runs.

For the second day of riding I left the pads in my hotel room in preparation of some cross-country riding aboard the full-suspension GT Sensor 9"er Pro. This is one of those offerings that’s available with either 26 or 29-inch wheels. This Sensor had 29" with a 2×10 SRAM drivetrain, 120mm of rear travel and 120mm in the fork. After setting up the suspension I joined the rest of the group as we pedaled through Les Deux Alpes, crossed a gravel parking lot offering lift access and pedaled up some rocky singletrack dented with horseshoe prints.

After completing half of the 5K-loop with the group, I split off with a few other journalists to climb up to the top of the mountain where the lift was dropping riders off. As we climbed I was worried about the 2×10 drivetrain not being low enough to make it to the top, until it was brought to my attention that we just climbed a 21% grade section. I liked that I didn’t lose momentum, like I do when using the granny gear, and that I wasn’t completely drained after the climb up. The 2×10 ratio offers plenty of gears on either end, even with the larger wheels. GT really hit the mark by researching and equipping this bike with a 2×10.

The Sensor 9"er Pro felt awesome during the entire climb and the i-Drive maximized my pedaling efficiency. It was amazing to stand at the top of the mountain that I just pedaled up and look out across the Alps at the paragliders sailing below. After a few minutes break, it was time to see how the bike would handle the ride down. I felt relaxed on the Sensor riding against the 3-5 foot berms on a trail that looked more like a bobsled course than a mountain bike trail. In short the ride down was fun and I felt confident at high speed. This is one bike I would like to ride again for a longer period of time.

The next bike I took out was the 26"-wheeled Sensor 1.0. This bike also has 100mm squish in the rear and 120mm in the fork. I took it on the same trail as it’s 29" cousin and was again pleasantly surprised by how well the bike climbed and descended.

A bike that I kept missing but really wanted to try is the full-suspension Distortion 2.0. It’s classified as a gravity bike and bridges into the all-mountain category. It has 112mm of rear and 140mm of front travel, and looked pretty damn bomb-proof. Maybe next time.

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