Bike Test: GT Helion Carbon Pro
We can all remember the time we first hopped on our bikes for the pure enjoyment of the ride, plain and simple. The last thing on our minds was winning a trophy or a medal, and we certainly did not lose sleep over a training regimen. GT is one of those companies that has been around a while and understands the roots of why we love riding so much. When they set out to design a cross-country bike, they wanted to capture that first-ride ecstasy. So, they have created the Helion Carbon Pro, a full-suspension bike that is designed to bring the fun and nimble feel back to cross-country riding. With a design motive such as this, we couldn’t wait to start spinning the pedals on this bike and see if the smiles started flowing in.
The GT Helion Carbon Pro is designed for the rider who is looking for a bike that will practically float up the climbs while still being fairly nimble and exuberant on the downhills. The Helion, with its stiff carbon fiber chassis and cross-country geometry, is a bike that can handle extended rides and adventures into unknown terrain while helping the rider get there without being too winded.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
The Helion utilizes GT’s FOC Ultra Carbon fabrication method to make up the front triangle and swingarm. This means the frame uses the least amount of high-modulus carbon fiber possible to tune the bike’s handling for optimal XC use. A unique aspect of the Helion’s design is the travel-independent drivetrain (iDrive). This places the chainstay pivot point for the 110 millimeters of travel on a forged link that houses the bottom bracket. The purpose n is to allow the suspension to operate independently from chain tension, thereby allowing optimal pedaling efficiency while soaking up chatter.
Apart from the 27.5-inch wheels, the main stand outs were the remote locking Fox fork and shock, which allowed us to stiffen up the front and rear suspension on the fly, when riding to the trailhead, or climbing a long fire road. Apart from these features, the components all worked in harmony without any fuss or moments of brilliance. When you don’t have to worry about the components on the bike and instead just get to enjoy the ride, that’s a standout in its own right.
The fit: The Helion has a proper sized frame. Our test bike was a large and the reach felt spot on for those in the 5-foot-11 to 6-foot-4 range. The geometry placed us in a very neutral position, which helped the bike handle the climbs and the descents without us wishing for slacker or steeper angles.
Climbing: To say that the Helion was a good climber would be an understatement. The bike had us floating to the top of climbs with plenty in the tank to spare. The travel-independent drivetrain performed well, delivering power to the rear wheel in an efficient manner while still absorbing bumps along the way. Power transfer felt similar to that of a hardtail but with that extra squish to keep the tire from losing traction. When we encountered long, smooth limbs, we used the push-button dual lockout to up its power transfer game that much more. The front end felt light and nimble, which made it easy to lift the front wheel to clear roots or ledges on climbs. Climbing was definitely the Helion’s forte.
Cornering: The Helion struggled to give us the confidence to rip corners on more aggressive downhills. Small, quick turns better suited the Helion’s abilities. Despite dropping tire pressure to the point where we started experiencing roll-over of the back tire, we were never quite sure how much traction we had while going into and through downhill turns. The center of gravity on the bike felt nice and low, but the tall-feeling standover height and unpredictable tires made it difficult to go into downhill corners with confidence. On the flip side, this bike is an absolute beast on uphill corners. The geometry put us in an optimal position for ripping around steep uphill hairpins with ease. We hit some uphill turns on the Helion that have left other bikes feeling like big-rig trucks, and the GT took them in stride. As long as the Helion doesn’t venture too far into all-mountain territory, it does just fine in corners.
Descending: We can’t say the Helion descended as well as some other bikes in its class. The rear tire had a difficult time maintaining grip, and the front end became fidgety as speeds increased. The bike felt unsettled over rough and loose downhills. The rear suspension didn’t feel like it had 110 millimeters of travel at its disposal, but having said this, the Helion wasn’t designed to be a downhill shredder. The bike rolled fast and worked great on more moderate descents with smooth surfaces. As long as we kept speed in check and laid off the downhill attack mode, the bike handled descents alright.
At just under $5500, we expected the Helion Carbon Pro to include a few upper-pay-scale items. It’s not that we had any drivetrain issues, but we thought that at this price the build should have included a few higher range components to drool over. All the components worked well with each other; there just weren’t any that stood out as being exceptional.
Another thing we noticed on the Helion was the lack of a quick-release seat clamp. This is no deal breaker by any means, but it’d be nice to be able to raise and lower the seat without busting out the multi-tool each time.
The GT Helion Carbon Pro was built for the cross-country rider who wants a little plushness with his efficient-pedaling ride. Although the bike isn’t the most confidence-inspiring machine on the descents, it sure makes up for it on the climbs. The Helion floats to the top of hills while leaving plenty of fuel in the tank to keep going. One thing is for sure, when riding the Helion, riding buddies will think you’ve been training more than you actually have.□