How MBA got its hands on GT’s 2001 i-Drive Team this early is a mystery even to us. The lightweight (really) i-Drive stole the show when GT unveiled it to the press this summer. Few aspects of this racer-only chassis remain unchanged from last year’s i-Drive models. In fact, the pressed-aluminum monocoque seat mast may be the only component that the 2001 Team i-Drive shares with its porky brethren of the past.
If you read the preview of the GT prototype we printed in the September issue, you?ll be primed and ready for the facts on the real thing. Here’s the dope:
1. Easton pipes: GT had a custom-butted Easton tube set produced for the Team frame. The downtube is noticeably slimmer, but there are taper-butted sections everywhere?even throughout the swingarm. The claimed weight of the Team frame with shock is five pounds?light enough to build a complete race bike in the 23-pound range.
2. Shorter-travel swingarm: The Team, and its little sister, the i-Drive Race, have a different swingarm that is configured for a shorter-stroke shock. Travel is limited to 3.1 inches as dictated by GT’s pro team.
3. Integrated headset: To save weight and give more purchase for the head tube welds, the headset bearings are pressed directly into the frame.
4. New numbers: GT’s pro XC racers wanted a dual-suspension bike that handled exactly like their hardtails. To this end, GT slackened the seat angle slightly from 75 degrees to an effective angle of 73 degrees; cranked the top tube out to a whopping 23.75 inches; steepened the head angle to 71.5-degrees; and lowered the bottom bracket to 11.75 inches. What all those figures translate to is a quick-steering, in-the-saddle climber that will hold a line in an out-of-the-saddle sprint.
5. Killer wheels: Tubeless Hutchinson Python Gold tires on Mavic CrossMax tubeless wheels should silence any doubts that this GT was bred to race. GT has invested heavily in the UST system.
6. New i-cam: A lighter extrusion inside the i-Drive mechanism shaves weight, and sealed bearings replace the fussy cup-and-cone items of past years. The new eccentric unit is a vast improvement.
7. Flat handlebars: GT finally realized that serious cross-country riders?not just racer boys?want flat handlebars. The Team gets an Easton C-2 carbon fiber item.
8. Almost all XCR: GT spec?ed every drivetrain and braking component from Shimano’s XTR catalog. The odd items were Avid’s rickety-feeling Speed Dial brake levers. Fear not! This is a $4000 bike. As it turns out, GT was simply out of XTR brake levers when they prepped our test unit. XTR levers will be standard equipment.
9. Needle bearing pivots: The major pivot points turn freely on small uncaged steel rollers to keep the i-Drive on the trail for a long time.
10. Downsized dropouts: Smaller versions of the previous i-Drive dropouts were designed to shave off a few more grams from the frame. Disc brake mounts were retained, however, in case you decide to upgrade later.
11. Pro parts pick: How about a RockShox SID Race fork in Black Box blue? A Ti-rail SDG saddle? An Easton Magnesium stem? Or a Syncros carbon fiber seatpost? There are few if any places where upgrading would be necessary or beneficial in any way. This is the full Monty.
Riding the GT I-Drive Team for the first time
l GT finished the flagship i-Drive with a stunning Team-Issue paint scheme. You won?t feel right taking this pup out in baggy pants and a T-shirt. And don?t plan on stopping anywhere?you?ll soon attract a small crowd and be forced to field questions. You?ll discover that this GT requires a racer mentality from its pilot?on and off the trail.
If you believe that this is a watered down version of last year’s i-Drive 1000, you?re in for a shock. It handles exactly like a pro-level hardtail?and nothing like an aggressive trailbike.
The cockpit is long, very long, and low. You can really get your rhythm, hunker down and climb aboard the Team. Its steep head angle and lock-out-equipped Fox Float RC shock make powerful, out-of-the-saddle efforts seamless and efficient. The front tire remains on line even when you yank mercilessly on the handlebars in a sprint.
The price you pay for this climbing effectiveness is exacted on the descents. Here, you have to pump up your game a notch to compensate for the steep head angle and long, low stem. Like a racing hardtail, the GT Team tends to follow ruts and push the front tire down tricky descents or around slippery corners. To get the Team to flow through the forest, you need a light touch on the handlebar and a smooth, lean-through-the-corners riding style.
Last year’s i-Drive was virtually mistake-proof in technical sections, and invited a no-holds-barred, aggressive riding style. Try that on the Team and you?ll be everywhere but on the trail. The Team is a precision instrument, and it is designed to be placed in capable hands to eat up closed courses. To this end, you?d be hard-pressed to find a better mount.
GT’s Steve Blick said that the Team is designed to use the bike’s short-travel suspension to save the racer’s energy for the second half of the race?where it really counts. We?d agree with his assessment. If you want a lightweight version of last year’s singletrack screamer, this isn?t it. If you?re looking to win cross-country races, the i-drive Team is a very good prospect.