Bike: 2015 GT Sanction
MSRP: $2,170 (Frameset)
Size Tested: Medium
Geometry: See page 2
Complete Build: (Here)
- Drivetrain: Shimano XT
- Brakes: Shimano XT
- Fork: Fox 36 Float 160 RC2 FIT
- Shock: Fox Float X CTD
Reviewer Info: 5’9”, 155 lbs.
Test Location: Boulder City, Nevada
Interbike’s outdoor demo is located at Bootleg Canyon in Boulder City, Nevada. It’s a fantastic network of trails, and it’s a great escape from that wretched hive of filth and villainy that is Las Vegas.
The trails we spent most of our time on were relatively fast, with a fair amount of sand and some pretty rocky sections.
Having said that…
Riding bikes at a demo is always kind of tricky. For starters, we’re unable to get as much time on each bike as we like–our test durations are measured in minutes and hours, not our preferred time frame of weeks and months. One good ride can tell you a lot about how a bike handles, but it certainly doesn’t allow for the customary, in-depth, Blister analysis.
Demo days also don’t generally permit the time needed to get each bike dialed to our liking. A quick suspension setup and fiddling with the bike’s ergonomics gets it most of the way there, but it takes days to really get everything running just right. Furthermore, differences like tire selection and tire pressure can have a huge effect on how a bike rides, and we generally don’t have the chance to get to tinker with those variables too much.
So while we believe it’s important to be upfront about the limitations of reviewing bikes in such settings, there is also merit in riding a slew of bikes, back to back, on the same trail. Subtle differences that might not become apparent if our test rides happen weeks or months apart are able to come to light, and each bike’s attributes may be more easily identified.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the GT Sanction.
Over the last year or two, GT’s lineup has undergone some fairly significant revisions. On the whole, GT’s bikes have gone from being somewhat gangly and antiquated, to fitting right in with the current crop of aggressive, long travel bikes. Their line features a couple of new trail & all mountain bikes (the Sensor and the Force) and a heavily redesigned DH bike that we’ve reviewed, the Fury.
The Sanction is GT’s longest travel bike that isn’t a full-blown DH bike. It has 160mm of travel, 10mm more travel than the Force, and its aluminum frame design bears much more resemblance to the Fury’s than it does to GT’s trail bikes. I’d ridden the Fury earlier in the summer at Whistler and had a pretty good time on it, so it seemed to me that the Sanction, which looked like a more trail-oriented version of the bike, could be a ton of fun.
In North America, the Sanction is only offered as a frame equipped with a Fox Float X rear shock with a remote lockout.
The Sanction I rode featured a build kit almost identical to that of the Sanction Pro, which is available for purchase in Europe. The bike was built up with a 160mm Fox 36 fork, a Shimano XT drivetrain and brakes, a KS Lev seatpost, and a 35mm Race Face Atlas stem mated to an 800mm-wide Raceface Atlas bar.
The parts on the demo bike I rode were definitely showing signs of wear, which I’ll talk more about below. I should also note that the very short stem coupled to the fairly wide bar was a bit of a departure from most of the other bikes I rode. While that sort of cockpit is nice when the going gets legitimately steep, it was a bit overkill for the trails I was riding at Interbike.
Like a lot of new trail bikes, most of GT’s newer bikes, the Sanction included, are long, low, and slack. With an 1,186mm (46.7”) wheelbase on the size Medium I tested, the Sanction is one of the longest ~160 mm bikes on the market (although not quite as long as the new Giant Reign).
The rest of the measurements on the Sanction are similarly lengthy; it has a 602mm (23.7”) effective top tube, and while GT doesn’t list the reach for the Sanction, my measurements say it should be around 443mm (17.4”). Neither of those numbers are the longest on the market, but they’re both far from short.
The GT is also somewhat unique in that, at 439mm (17.3”), it has relatively long chainstays. To be fair, 439mm chainstays aren’t actually very long for a 27.5” wheeled bike, but the Sanction’s back end is about 5mm longer than a lot of other bikes out there.
The Sanction has a 66° head angle and a 74.5° seat angle. Some might say that those angles are slightly on the steep side, though plenty of bikes in this class are down to a sub-66° head angle (the Santa Cruz Nomad, Giant Reign, and the Devinci Spartan, to name a few), and it appears that GT is going for slightly quicker handling here. Whether or not you’ll benefit from that depends a bit on your riding style and the trails you’re riding. The Section’s steeper seat angle, however, should probably help on longer, steeper climbs, though I didn’t have an opportunity to really test that out in my time on the bike.
As I mentioned above, I found the fit of the Sanction rather unique largely because of the fairly short stem on the bike I tested. Even though its frame sits on the long end of the spectrum, the Sanction didn’t feel all that long thanks to that short stem. This can be contrasted with a bike like the Giant Reign, that has a slightly longer frame and comes spec’d with a 50mm stem.
Having ridden the Fury, I was really interested to swing a leg over the Sanction. And given what I knew about the Fury, it wasn’t much of a surprise to find that the Sanction’s primary focus is steep, gnarly descents. But my time on it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops.
For starters, the Sanction I rode had a worn bushing in the dog bone link within the Independent Drivetrain linkage. This produced a noticeable “clunk” every time I’d put even a small amount of force into the pedals. Unfortunately, I found this really distracting. The rest of the bike had also been put through its paces as a demo bike; it was fairly creaky, and the shifting was definitely unhappy. All of these issues are relatively easy to fix, though, so this is really more of a caveat; it’s harder to get a good test on a bike when the linkage is loose, and I’m spending more time trying to get a clean shift and less time paying attention to what the bike is actually doing.
Maintenance issues aside, the intentions behind the Sanction are immediately clear: it’s for going down really steep hills, really fast. It is essentially a downhill bike that’s been trimmed down just enough that it’s not an insufferable chore on climbs.
Like the Fury, the Saction’s Independent Drivetrain linkage did a good job of keeping the bike reasonably efficient, but it isn’t going to win any hillclimb awards. The Sanction will get up to speed quickly when you throw some power into its drivetrain, but it’s still a big, heavier, squishy bike with suspension tuned around descending prowess, not uphill efficiency. GT acknowledges this, and specs the bike with a handlebar remote to easily switch the rear shock into “climb.”
My time aboard the Sanction was spent on trails that favored XC bikes, with lots of fast, rolling turns, and only a few rocky descents to see how the suspension held up. On these trails, the Sanction was clearly overkill; it felt sluggish, and I didn’t find anything long and steep enough to allow the bike to get up to speed, which I think is quite telling.
I rode the same trails on a number of 150mm–160mm bikes, many of which fared just fine, but the Sanction was having none of it. It’s built to suffer through a climb in order to go as fast as possible on some steep, nasty descent. If the trail isn’t steep and rough, the Sanction feels big and out of place (kind of like a downhill bike).
On the few sections of trail where I could get the Sanction up to speed, its resemblance to the Fury was apparent; the bike felt long and stable, but still had good pop and it could play off of small features on the trail. I thought the Giant Reign plowed through chunder a bit better, but the Sanction did a better job of precisely bouncing through rock gardens and pumping off of the terrain. Compared to something like the Devinci Spartan, the Sanction definitely feels like a bigger plow bike.
Placing the Sanction on the spectrum of longer-travel trail bikes designed with steep, technical terrain in mind, it falls just below the Giant Reign. The Reign felt the most willing to point and shoot; it’s the more stable bike, and the least susceptible to getting kicked offline. The Sanction is a bit more willing to pump and pop through the terrain, but it still feels like a big, relatively heavy bike that rides more like a mini-DH bike rather than an aggressive trail bike.
The Devinci Spartan falls more on the other, more playful end of the spectrum. It’s distinct from the Reign and Sanction in that it’s easier to ride in a very active manner. My Specialized Enduro Expert falls more in line with the Devinci because it’s relatively light.
More so than many of the other 160mm bikes on the market, the GT Sanction is a purpose-built machine. You’ll be hauling it up climbs, but if you’re looking for a bike that handles steeps well and likes to go fast downhill, yet retains a degree of playfulness, the Sanction is a good choice. And at a bit over $2k for the frame, the Sanction comes in at a slightly more reasonable price than some of its carbon brethren.
NEXT PAGE: Geometry