Sunday, May 31, 2009

Evolution of the Species – GT LTS

THE YARDSTICK BIKE OF THE MID 90S. You are not a true GT fanatic unless you recognise this bike. Like the original GT Zaskar which pushed things onto the next level, the GT LTS raised the bar and set a new standard for all to follow. A revelation of its time and a bike that holds special memories for those few who were fortunate enough to own one back in the days. I'm glad I've still got one.

THE MID 90’S WERE A CRAZY TIME in the development of off road bicycles. It seemed every month there was a new dual suspension bike design being released. Doubts no longer existed that dual suspension was the way forward. The public was willing and eager to jump onto the dual suspension bandwagon and there were no shortage of choices.

SPEARHEADED BY THE NEW GENERATION of bike designs such as the Answer Manitou FS, Proflex, Cannondale Delta V and Trek Y series, the GT RTS was soon outgunned by these new comers as other manufactures grasped the rules of engagement. With availability of better suspension components, suspension travel has gone from 1.8” to 3.1” overnight and even though the GT RTS was still a great bike, (both factory GT DH racers Mike King and Nicolas Vouilloz held on to and kept racing the GT RTS as long as they could, even after release of GT-LTS) the writing was on the wall that a replacement to the rapidly aging RTS was needed desperately.

ONE OF THE CRITICISM of the old GT-RTS, though at the time of launch it was actually considered as strength, was its lack of a plush and active rear suspension. Public were becoming more educated and the demand for an active suspension bike that worked constantly increased exponentially. So in fall of 93, GT began testing an all-new design, designated LTS (Linkage Tuned Suspension), to restore GT back to forefront of dual suspension bike war, both from pure suspension performance perspective, as well as regaining lost ground in the showroom.

ESSENTIALLY A 4-BAR LINK DESIGN, the LTS employed the Horst Link that populates the entire Specialized FSR range today. As a matter of fact, if you look at the pre-2007 Specialized Stumpjumpers FSR range, you’ll be able to see LTS’s DNA lurking beneath these Specialized bikes. Equipped with then cutting edge Rock Shox Judy forks and Super Delux rear damper, the LTS provided incredibly plush suspension action that was unmatched in its price category. The LTS was so good, it took out MBA Bike of the Year in 95 uncontested, and the record sales of LTS globally meant Specialized had to take action to enforce the FSR design patent to ensure GT could no longer continue selling the LTS and evolution models after 1999.

WHEN IT CAME TO COMPETITION, the LTS crushed its opposition. The strength of the LTS was its versatility over different terrain and bump eating performance. Downhillers loved them, and the race results backed it up. The biggest winning margin in the history of World Cup DH race was established with a derivative model of the original LTS concept. The infamous GT LTS Boomerang. Ridden by Nicholas Vouilloz, the prototype GT LTS won on debut at the incredibly rough 1995 Cap d’Ail event by a massive 14.13 seconds, a record that remains unbeaten today. A year later at 96 Cairns World Championship, Nico, now onboard a Thermoplastic framed LTS DH running first generation Rock Shox Boxxers, defeated American sensation Shaun Palmer, who raced onboard the arguably the greatest DH bike ever, the Intense M1, to showcase how good the basic LTS design truly was, even against the latest generation of super bikes. An unknown British rider called Steve Peat was also winning British National and European regional events onboard a LTS. Back home, Michael Ronning, Scot Sharples and many other future World Cup racers also all kick started their racing careers onboard a LTS.

TILL THIS VERY DAY, the GT-LTS remained as one of the plushest mass production dual suspension XC bike ever made, and this is unlikely to be rivaled as the modern day XC bike design tend to employs air shocks instead of coil spring unit. As it was built during the 90’s, where fashion trend dictated that everything had to be CNC machine, anodized or ball burnished, it ensured a LTS cut an unmistakable profile in the crowd. However, the LTS was not without faults, despite all the astounding performance it offered. Soon it became clear that the multitude of pivots and bushings wore out all too fast, and the high mount shock mean the center of gravity was on the high side. Also, the scissor-action shock linkage means that when going down a steep hill with brakes applied, a V-brake equipped LTS will display one annoying trait – a tendency to ‘stink bug’, or rear suspension jacking up under heavy braking. This was easily cured by running a rear disc brake, so GT provided holes on rear drop outs on bikes built after 96 to enable a rear disc brake be fitted. However, as the threat of Specialized lawsuit on bikes with Horst Link design approached, GT had to abandon its most successful dual suspension design, one that enjoyed enormous global success both on the showroom floor and international race circuit, to commence a totally new and radical design in which the brand still depend on today. The GT I-Drive System.