What makes a “trail bike” a “trail bike?”
Trail vs all-mountain vs enduro. For those of us without years of experience riding, it can be hard to quantify what type of mountain bike is appropriate for our needs. Especially now, when mountain biking is experiencing such explosive growth; bike parks and dedicated biking trail networks are popping up all over the country and the world, and it’s no longer rare to see a drop or a jump on a local trail. Bikes these days need to be able to do it all, keeping one toe in the “DH” camp and an arm in “XC” land.
This has resulted in a relatively new, fairly broad segment of mountain bikes that are often referred to as “trail bikes.” Trail bikes aren’t necessarily 27.5” or 29,” they don’t have a specific amount of travel, and they don’t necessarily cost an arm and a leg.
They should, however be able to do it all, from riding the rolling, technical trails of Virginia, to the steep, dusty slopes in Retallack, BC.
“Trail Bike”, exemplified
Although there is no formula for making an amazing trail bike, there are certainly a number of ingredients that have proven to make a bike that rides well in a given circumstance. It’s just a matter of how to combine them to make a bike that will best suit the largest number of people. In my opinion, GT has succeeded in just that with one of their newest bikes, the Sensor LTS. Let’s take a look at what they’ve done.
This moniker was ascribed to 29” wheels when they first came on the scene, and it has stuck. These oversize hoops were initially relegated to the XC scene, where they helped smooth out the ride on lightweight, short travel bikes that were essentially flat bar road bicycles with a suspension fork. The first attempts at bringing 29” wheels to the more aggressive side of mountain biking were failures. Weak wheels, a lack of tire selection, and frame geometries that were behind the times made for bikes that rode like double decker buses.
A stigma developed around mid to long travel 29’ers, and for a long time many people, myself included, scoffed at these bikes. About four years ago, that all changed. The advent of wider hubs, called Boost, made big wheels stronger. Tire manufacturers like Maxxis and Schwalbe made burly, knobby tires for big rims. Fox and RockShox created stiff, long travel forks that worked with larger diameter wheels. And most importantly, frame designers figured out how to make these bikes fun to ride.
I heard Bryn Atkinson, former World Cup Downhill athlete, say that 29’ers offered “free speed,” and that he was amazed that every Enduro World Series athlete wasn’t running them. I think we’ll see that change soon enough, as not every bike manufacturer has caught up with the times and made a 29’er for their enduro race teams. That doesn’t mean you have to sit around waiting for a rad new wagon wheeled ride though, especially when the Sensor is ready and waiting.
One of the design elements that brought aggro 29’ers into the 21st century was the realization that you can take the frame’s head tube angle below 68 degrees and not only have a bike that still pedals uphill well, but also is way more fun on descents. There’s a myriad of interconnected and relatively confusing reasons why it took so long to get to this point, but suffice it to say that we’ve gotten here, and now 29” bikes like the Sensor have head tube angles that measure in at 65.5 degrees, something that was unheard of even three years ago.
For you, this means that the Sensor, even though it “only” has 5.1” of travel, is fun, capable, and well-suited to what 99% of us call “mountain biking.” By that I mean everything from one to six hour rides, trails that take you up to get you down, or those that spend the whole time in an undulating sine wave of hills. It’s sturdy and stiff enough that it’ll even handle the odd day or two at the bike park, should you care to get out for some lift-access riding.
Long and Low
This phenomena took the mountain bike industry by storm, so much so that it essentially became a cliché. It describes two general changes.
The front center (everything forward of the bottom bracket) of the bike gets longer, allowing users to shorten the stem to 35-40mm from the previous norm of 50-70mm. This, in combination with slacker headtube angles, has resulted in bikes that are substantially longer than mountain bikes ten years ago. The net effect is that modern bikes feel more stable and more calm, particularly on fast, rough terrain.
The second change we typically see is that bikes have gotten lower, and by that I mean that the center of mass of the whole system (rider plus bike) lies closer to the ground than the bikes of yesteryear. Riders today sit more “inside” the bike than “on top” of it, eliminating that double decker bus feel that I mentioned earlier. The lower center of mass makes the bikes of today corner like they are on rails and attack chunky terrain without batting an eye.
GT certainly didn’t miss this boat, and fully implemented the trend on their Sensor. The result is a bike that, despite its “wagon wheels” feels lively and spry through corners and tackles steeps in a manner reminiscent of it’s enduro inclined sibling, the Force.
As a mountain biker and someone who sells bikes for a living, I’m well aware of the commonly held belief that, regarding travel, “more is better.” It’s even an attitude I’ve fallen prey to myself on more than one occasion. That being said, the lesson I have learned several times now is that “no, it’s not.”
If you are splitting your time evenly between the bike park and pedaling, if you love racing enduros, or if you still have pipe dreams of hucking the Toonie drop, then again, I’ll urge you to consider the Force or even the Fury. For the rest of us the Sensor is not only a suitable tool for the job, but, dare I say it, the right tool for the job. It handles like a Porsche, allowing you to put it exactly where you want it. The big wheels make trail chatter fade away, and the more than ample five inches of front and rear wheel travel take any mistakes you make and ease them into mere hindrances. If you’re coming off a 160mm bruiser, you’ll find that the Sensor feels far more playful than a bike like that can ever manage, despite the big wheels. Popping off small bumps, roots, and rocks will become a common pastime instead of something you watch your friends do while you slog your “big bike” down your local trail.
Cost where it counts
GT has sourced build kits for the Sensor that start at $1,799, a price point that makes it attainable for anyone that is seriously considering getting into mountain biking and willing to spend some time saving up. The five build kits, two alloy and three featuring a frame with a carbon front triangle, range from that entry level “Sport” build all the way up to the Lime Gold Sensor Carbon Pro, which costs $4,999 and is fully loaded.
Whether you want to start with a lower cost bike and upgrade as needed, or want to jump in to the top tier model right off the bat, these builds have you covered, all featuring well thought out components that will get you out on the trail and put a smile on your face.
For those of you who know exactly what you want, we also have the Carbon Sensor loaded up in the Fanatik Bike Builder, ready to assemble into your dream ride, replete with a hand built wheelset and color matched rim decals.
GT Sensor Alloy Sport $1,799
- Full aluminum frame with lifetime warranty
- Fits a full size water bottle
- Easily maintained, easily adjustable suspension
- SRAM NX 11-speed drivetrain
- 180mm brake rotors front and rear
- Lifetime warranty on frame
- Threaded bottom bracket
GT Sensor Alloy Comp $2,499
- Shimano SLX 11-speed drivetrain with expanded, 11-46t cassette
- Rock Shox Sektor RL fork, black aluminum stanchions
- Shimano hydraulic disk brakes with 180mm rotors
- Cable actuated dropper post
- Dropper post length changes with frame size
GT Sensor Carbon Elite $2,999
- Carbon front triangle
- Threaded bottom bracket
- Fits a full size water bottle
- Groove Tubes keep cables hidden but accessible
- Sram NX Eagle 12sp drivetrain
- SRAM Level hydraulic brakes
GT Sensor Carbon Expert $3,999
- New Rock Shox Revelation Charger fork, which uses similar technology to Fox's new forks
- Gumwall Nobby Nic tires from Schwalbe
- SRAM GX/X01 Eagle 12sp drivetrain
GT Sensor Carbon Pro $4,999
- “Lime Gold” Hans Rey signature frame color
- Rock Shox Pike RCT3 Charger 2 fork
- Sram X01 Eagle 12sp drivetrain
- KS Lev Carbon dropper post
- Raceface Next R Carbon handlebar
Whether you are an experienced mountain biker or just getting into this awesome sport, chances are good that the Sensor will be a good fit. It’s got just the right quantities of all the requisite ingredients to make for a phenomenal all around ride — a bike that is at home on the slick rock of Moab and the high alpine trails of Retallack Lodge, BC. Start with an entry level build kit and upgrade your way to your dream ride, or spring for it right off the bat, the choice is yours. Either way, you’re in for a heck of a good time.
- Dan at Fanatik