First Impression: GT Helion Elite

Editor’s note: This is one of six bikes we’ve gathered together that fall between $1,900 and $2,600. Read our introduction to see the other five and watch for our long-term reviews of each in Dirt Rag #182, due on newsstands and in mailboxes any day now. Subscribe now and you’ll never miss a bike review.

GT Helion First Impression—WEB (3 of 15)

GT’s new-for-2015 Helion lineup consists of five models ranging in price from the $5,420 Carbon Pro down to the $1,680 Comp model. Sitting one step above the Comp, you’ll find this $2,550 Elite offering.

GT develops all of their bikes utilizing “Centered on Rider” (C.O.R.) philosophy, which targets five specific areas when designing a bike: fit, function, tune, spec and geometry. With the Helion, GT was striving to develop a bike for the “everyday cross country rider.”

When Dirt Rag Tech Editor Eric McKeegan initially assigned the Helion to me for review, I was a bit skeptical about how much I was going to enjoy this short-travel rig. Having spent quite a bike of time on longer-travel trail and all mountain bikes over the last couple of years, my style and tastes have gravitated toward more aggressive bikes. But, assignments must be followed through, so off I went. Let me walk you through my first impressions.

GT Helion First Impression—WEB (10 of 15)

During last year’s $2,500 bike group test, I was continually impressed with the quality and performance of bikes in this price point. Out of the box, the Helion certainly held its own with the best of them. It’s a decently good looking bike with solid spec for the asking price. Details like the WTB ST i23 TCS rims, which are UST certified, are a very nice touch. Even though the stock tires are not TCS models, they’ll wear out and you can upgrade to tubeless versions.

GT Helion First Impression—WEB (4 of 15)

Up front you’ll find a RockShox XC 32 TK  setup at 110 mm of travel. With RockShox’s Solo Air spring, setup is a piece of cake using the air pressure chart on the back of the fork leg. Rebound damping is adjustable and the lockout is remote actuated.

GT Helion First Impression—WEB (12 of 15)

The 110mm of Pathlink suspenion travel is controlled by X-Fusion’s 02 RLR rear shock with adjustable rebound damping and remote lockout. Down on the middle pivot of the Pathlink, you’ll notice a sag indicator to help you find the proper air pressure for the shock, though it can be hard to see while you’re on the bike.

GT Helion First Impression—WEB (15 of 15)

Here’s a better view of GT’s Angle Optimized Suspension (AOS) design. The high main pivot (above the shock) creates a rearward axle path that should improve small bump performance. The downside of that high main pivot would be a lot of chain growth and resultant pedal feedback, but that’s where Pathlink comes in. As the suspension compresses, Pathlink carries the bottom bracket rearward with the swingarm to minimize feedback. That said, there’s still a little bit of chain growth, which provides anti-squat and a firm pedaling platform under power.

After my first ride aboard the Helion, it was clear I was underestimating the potential of this bike. It quickly because clear this test was going to be more fun than I had anticipated.