Some of you may have seen the first look article on the GT Sanction Team here a few weeks ago. Take a quick scan through that as I cover off the price and build. Since then I’ve been out and about giving the 2016 GT Sanction Team a proper thrashing.
Let’s talk sizing; I stand 6’ tall and I like the geometry of the size large on test. Ideally I’d want it a hair longer, but the XL might be too long, so I’d consider running a slightly longer stem. There was a comment in the First Look article regarding the Sanction being another long, low and slack enduro bike. When this came out a few years back it was ahead of the curve, but today, the Sanction sits neatly with the other enduro bikes. I’ve always been squarely in the long, low, slack camp, so I was looking forward to rallying aboard the Sanction.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the GT at first. It feels like GT finished most of the design work and then got busy doing other things. Some of the finer details are missing here. The cables fall out of the cable guides, which I fixed with some zip ties. There is no integrated chainstay protector, so some velcro or similar is required to keep the chain slap down to a dull roar. The chain guide runs really close to the main pivot, allowing almost no room for any debris. After some time on the bike, under hard pedalling the tire would rub the lower portion of the chain guide (this didn’t happen at first). This rub appears to be occurring through a combination of some rear end flex and some flex in the iDrive system. The cable routing of the seat post brings the line down alongside the moving shock, another zip tie is required to keep them from rubbing. I think using a regular external routed seat post would have resulted in cleaner routing. All of these niggles are fairly easily solvable, but for a bike of this price it should come dialled. That said, the real meat of the Sanction has held up well. Durability-wise the bearings and pivots still run smooth after many days in variable conditions. I certainly haven’t detected any creaks or groans.
GT claims the Sanction is designed to “Hustle the hills, ravage the descents”. I propose this should say, “Survive the hills, ravage the descents.” The build and geometry on the Sanction Team is clearly aimed at descending prowess, and the ride lived up to my expectations. The GT was capable of climbing the local single track climbs, but it didn’t feel particularly efficient. I found myself calling it a day, when I would normally be going for another lap. I found the iDrive system helped pedalling over rough terrain by minimizing chain growth, but did little to reduce suspension motion when pedaling. With no lock out on the shock, the suspension was constantly moving, even under smooth pedaling, which just seemed to rob efficiency. I never felt like the GT Sanction was horrid on the climbs, I was just always pushing to keep up. A climb switch on the shock would be a welcome addition. While I loved the low bottom bracket when descending, you will be clipping your pedals when climbing on anything remotely technical. I’m going to leave it at that, as I don’t think GT designed the Sanction to be spirited on the ascents.
All the hard work on the way up was well worth it though. The GT Sanction came alive when pointed downhill. Minimal chain growth meant putting in quick pedal strokes was easy, and the bike seemed to accelerate well for the effort. The higher-than-normal main pivot paired with the Fox Float X2 resulted in excellent suspension performance over rough terrain. The Sanction seemed to develop grip everywhere. Square bump compliance on the Sanction is also excellent, and it seemed to glide over the notoriously janky North Shore trails. The Fox 36 was supportive, yet communicative when grip was running out. The Fox dampers and Sanction suspension/geometry worked together in harmony and rarely felt overwhelmed. The Sanction has a long wheelbase, which tends to flatten out the trail, but never felt unwieldy. The Sanction was easy to flop into corners, and it carved through bumps with ease. The Fox Float X2 and Sanction combination offered good support at sag, but ramped up nicely to resist big bottom out events. I liked the relatively low bottom bracket when pushing in and out of corners. From fast flowing trails, to steep rooty gnar, I always felt fast and comfortable descending on the Sanction.
Most disliked part of the build was the KS LEV post. I think I broke my thumb trying to activate the post repeatedly. When the saddle was down the post required a butt tap for the post to rise. After a number of wet rides, the cable seized in the housing and the post no longer functioned. Ultimately I found the post unreliable, not particularly good on the trail and finicky. Next up the brakes. Granted I only had one ride after they were bled, but the bite point on the Shimano XTs was unpredictable once they warmed up. I had a hard time truly attacking the trail with mystery bite point brakes – and they were only somewhat better after the bleed. The e13 upper guide broke right away. I ran the bike without the upper guide for the bulk of the review, and actually had no issues with losing the chain.
Some of the likes I had for the build were the suspension, the wheels and the cockpit. The Fox fork and shock were great. It took some time to get set up but both had sufficient range on all the adjusters for me to find a happy place. The Stans Flow EX rims on DT 350 hubs were flawless over the review period. I liked the fit and feel of the wide Race Face Atlas bars, and the short stem. Surprise of the build were the GT branded grips, which turned out to be great. The High Roller 2 tires in the 2.4” width and sticky compound worked very well around these parts at this time of year. The Shimano drivetrain was excellent and never missed a shift. Overall some well thought out spec from GT.
Ultimately I enjoyed my time on the GT Sanction Team. As much as it pains me to say this, the GT Sanction Team is a quintessential enduro bike. It will make it to the top of the climb. It won’t be pretty going up, but it’ll be a riot on the way back down. To boot I think the GT Sanction would be a hoot in the bike park. Descending on the GT was wonderful, with great suspension kinematics, excellent dampers, aggressive geometry, and I think it looks fantastic. Where the GT Sanction Team lacked was in some of the build spec, going uphill, and some details on the frame. I did find solutions to most of the idiosyncrasies of the GT Sanction, like the cable guides, the chain slap, tire rubbing the chain guide and the routing of the seat post. Pricing on the GT Sanction Team looks a little steep to me at $6,000 USD. Similarly priced bikes are generally carbon frames, with slightly lesser spec dampers, but otherwise similar builds.
If your focus is descending or you’re racing enduros, you will thoroughly enjoy your time on the GT Sanction Team. If you’re looking for a one bike to rule em all, I’d say there are more versatile 160 mm travel bikes on the market. I walk away from the Sanction Team with mixed thoughts; I loved every moment of smashing corners and power wheelies aboard the Sanction, but for me it wasn’t good enough going down to justify the deficiencies elsewhere.