Bikerumor Review – 2009 Giant Mountain Bikes

2009 giant anthem trance review mountain bike bicycle full suspension xc cross country all mountain freeride interbike 2008

About a week ago, Giant’s 2009 mountain bikes were all available at their NC demo day on some of the state’s best trails.  For three hours, we ran the Anthem, Trance and Reign all through the swoopy, hilly trails at Dark Mountain in Wilkesboro, NC.

I rode the Anthem and Trance, since I prefer a more XC oriented ride, while my esteemed associate, Evan, mainly rode the Reign because he likes to jump everything he sees.  There’s about 10″ height difference between us and probably 45 lbs (me being the taller, more handsome of the bunch…ha!), so we have different opinions of the bikes.

What was surprising for me was the fact that the Anthem, with 100mm travel, felt more subtle than the 120mm travel Trance, but both were very efficient when putting the hammer down.

The Reign was in a totally separate class with 6.75″ of beefy “get you out of trouble” suspension.  If you’re looking at a new bike for 2009, read “more” to see our impressions of Giant’s ’09 lineup…

The bikes we rode were all the X2 trim level.  Above that is the X1, then the X0 with premium spec.  The Anthem X2 rocks a Fox F100RL and Float RP2 shock, XT drivetrain, RaceFace cockpit and Mavic/WTB wheels.  MSRP is $2,900.

The Trance X2 has a Fox 32 F120 RL fork w/15mm QR thru-axle and Float RP2 shock, XT drivetrain with Hayes Stroker Trail hydraulic disc brakes and WTB rim/Giant Hub wheelset.  MSRP is $2,800.

The Reign X2 has a Marzocchi 55R 160mm fork and Roco R coil shock, SRAM X.5 shifters/derailleurs, Truvativ Ruktion cranks, Hayes Stroker Ryde hydraulic disk brakes and WTB/Formula wheels.  If you’re only interested in this bike, scroll to the bottom of the post…

We covered the frames and technical features of these bikes in our Interbike Coverage post, which you can read here…so this post is more about how they ride than what’s on the frames.

Part One: Tyler’s review of the Anthem and Trance:

UNUSUAL OBSERVATION #1

I mentioned the difference in suspension feel.  When the demo team gets the bike setup for you, they ask your weight so they can get the shock and fork set up correctly.  I weigh about 180 lbs with a full camelbak on, which is what I told the reps, so I assumed both bikes would be set up the same, especially the rear end since both bikes use the same Fox Float RP2 shock.

After spinning around on both bikes (about 16 miles on the Anthem, about 8.5 miles on the Trance), the Anthem felt decidedly more plush over the little stuff.  In comparison, it made the Trance feel downright harsh on the tiny bumps.  Both bikes ran full aluminum cockpits, and I’m used to a big Easton carbon bar, so that probably played a little into it, but overall, the Anthem felt more comfortable.  You’d think a 120mm bike would soak up the little stuff more than a 100mm bike, right?

I had the demo guys check the air pressure in the shock and fork on both bikes.  Turns out the Anthem’s shock was running 160psi and the Trance’s shock was at 180psi.  Both forks were set at 80psi.  That accounts for some of the difference, but then, there was…

UNUSUAL OBSERVATION #2

The Anthem ran WTB’s Silverado Race saddle (above), which had a good bit more padding than the WTB Devo Comp (below) on the Trance.

It seemed odd that the thinner seat was on the longer travel, all-mountain type bike, but that certainly accounted for feeling more of the little bumps on the Trance than on the Anthem.  Actually, the Silverado was one of the more comfortable seats I’ve ever ridden and something I would consider putting on my own bike.  The Devo, however, didn’t agree with me.

Note, too, that the Trance’s Devo doesn’t have the scuff guards like the Silverado does.  Again, an odd parts pick for a bike that’s probably going to see more wrecks than the XC-oriented Anthem.

HOW DO THEY PERFORM?

Starting with the Anthem, it performed like a good XC bike should.  On the trail, at first, it felt like a little bit of the energy went into suspension movement.  After a few miles, that became less noticeable and the bike definitely accelerated on demand.  The shock’s lockout lever is easily within reach and can be switched via feel after the first couple of times, allowing you to keep your eyes on the trail.  The two cable housings run on either side of it, and guide your hand to the right spot (pic below).

In hindsight, I think any noticeable softness under pedaling was due more to the lower air pressure in the rear shock than the bike’s design because the Trance, even with it’s longer travel, didn’t budge the shock when I pedaled.

The trails at Dark Mountain have something for everyone…wide, fast bermed turns, roots, rocks, jumps, climbs and very, very fast technical descents.  The Anthem performed well at all of them, and I felt very much under control of the bike the whole time.

At the halfway point, we ran into some of the local BMCC boys and girls that built these trails, and I noticed they were all riding the longer travel Giants.  Matt commented that the Anthem seemed too twitchy…that it reacted too quickly and he felt like he was all over the trail.

After he said that, I did notice that the bike reacted quickly, but that’s what an XC race bike should do, and that’s what I’m used to, so it felt normal to me.  The Anthem has a 71° head angle, so if you’re used to riding a slacker angle on a longer travel bike, this one’s going to keep you on your toes, but it goes where you point it.

The only limiting factor to really pushing this bike to the limits of its handling were all the leaves on the ground.  It’s Fall, and in NC, that means lots and lots of leaves on the trail.  In fact, the bike went right out from under me around a wide corner when the leaves got the better of the Michelins.  After that, I was a little more cautious than I like to be on demo rides.

Next up was the Trance.  I was looking forward to this one because I rarely ride bikes with more than 100mm of travel.  Bouncing around the parking lot felt giddy…silly, really.  So much bounce…until you climbed.  I rode this bike on a different section of trail that required a paved climb out of the parking lot.  While climbing the road, I looked down at the rear shock and it didn’t budge under pedaling forces.  Chalk that up to Giant’s continued refinement of the Maestro Suspension design that started years ago on their NRS bikes.  Based on Formula One race cars, its goal is to use pedal-induced forces to drive the rear wheel into the ground.  I can’t speak to the physics of it, but it appears to work.

Stand up on either bike, though, and there’s a good bit of movement.  I suppose if you were in a position to stand up and hammer, that’d be the time to use the lockout.  In a race situation, you’d probably want a remote lockout lever, but none of the bikes we rode offer a lockout at any trim level.

HOW DOES IT RIDE?

After noting the responsive nature of the Anthem, the Trance’s handling felt a little sluggish at first.  It’s head angle is 69.5°, which is a pretty substantial difference from the Anthem.  Once you get used to it the slower steering feel, it creates a more stable bike, which is important since you, like me, will be tempted to ride over things you wouldn’t normally do on a 3″ or 4″ travel race bike.

None of my “sluggish” comments should be misconstrued to say the front end wasn’t stiff.  It never felt flexy or mushy, just felt like it had a slack head angle…which it did.  In fact, Giant developed their own 15mm thru-axle hub (above) to get this bike to market quickly with Fox’s new 15mm standard.  So, you get the latest tech on this bike, and as more manufacturers start churning out wheels with the new standard, your upgrade options will expand.

SIDE NOTE: For those of you that have never ridden a long-travel bike, here’s the difference:  They’re generally set up to keep the bike headed in the intended direction, regardless of what you’re riding over or off of, and the slacker head angle helps keep the steering more stable.  The flip side of this is that it takes a little more turn of the handlebar to translate into turning the bike.  Not a lot, but enough that you’ll feel like the front wheel isn’t going where you want at first, especially if you’re hopping off something like the Anthem.  Keep in mind, this is not commentary on the Giant in particular, rather the design of most of today’s 5″+ travel “All Mountain” style bikes.

Climbing on the Trance felt every bit as efficient as the Anthem.  Pedal effort seemed to translate directly into forward motion with no sense of wasted energy…as long as I was seated.

Once the trail pointed down or got really rough is where this bike revealed its talents.  On Dark Mountain’s rock garden, which you come into with some speed and finish by dropping into a tight, 180° left hander, the bike just rolled over everything.  I even took a really bad line (on purpose, of course…), and the bike made up for my mistake with its 120mm of travel and exited me smoothly into the turn.

On the fast downhill sections, there are rain bars, jumps and other things that I usually work the bike over to avoid catching air.  With the Trance, I was inspired to go ahead and earn a few frequent flier miles, and the bike never made me regret it.  In fact, I was taking jumps I had never, ever even considered before.  After riding this bike, I can see why this type of bike is selling so briskly:  It inspires confidence and really let’s you have fun on the trail without sapping all your energy on the way up.

This combo of climbing efficiency, long travel and downhill stability is good, it means the Trance is something you could use for all-day epics.  Just change out the seat.

OVERALL IMPRESSION:

With both bikes, if you stay seated, they’ll pedal efficiently over most anything you’d run into on a climb, meaning you really don’t need to use the lockout unless you’re on fireroads.  In fact, on one rooty little climb, the Anthem kept the wheel on the ground really well while I hammered it up.  Some bikes would have bounced a little or skittered around.  Other bikes make you feel like you’re plowing through it, efficiency be damned. But the Anthem propelled forward gracefully the whole time.

Given the difference in travel and geometry, you need to pick the bike that’s going to best fit your needs.  For me, that’s the Anthem, because our local trails are tight and fast without a lot of big drops or downhills, and it’s something you could race too.  But I can see times when I would really want the Trance’s longer travel and more stable head angle, letting me jump and bomb over anything (within reason).

All that said, both bikes were a lot of fun and something worth considering.  Giant has five demo days left this year, and I’m sure they’ll have a full 2009 schedule up soon.

 

Part Two: Evan’s review of the Reign:

The Reign X2 is the only one in the Reign X lineup that uses a coil shock.  The X1 and X0 both get air shocks.  Stock photo above is because we forgot to take pics of this bike at the demo day. (On that note, we also didn’t take any sweet action shots of Evan jumping things…mental note, next time, action shots!)

HOW DID IT RIDE?

One note on the setup.  Despite riding a Small frame, the coil was set up for someone that weighed 40lbs more than me…and for some reason, we didn’t adjust the air pressure in the fork prior to my ride, so overall it was a little firmer than it probably should have been.  Here goes…

The Reign is a bike built for action geared towards the freeride guru.  It is crafted burly, has a mean look, and can handle most anything you would want (or could) throw at it.  This bike overcompensates for doing dumb things with it.

Once up to speed, it has great maneuverability, predictability, and feel, especially for its portly weight and slow rolling wheels and tires.   After the first 16 miles, my legs were pretty spent from pedaling such a hefty bike around.  It is not at all the bike you want on a long or even medium length purely cross country ride.

However, if your ride exhibits lift-assisted steep descents, sky bridges, and knuckle whitening drops around every other corner, this is your bike.  If some seriously technical/aggressive, downhill/freeride riding is on order, or you need to relieve some anger, grab the Reign, it can deliver.  On the last downhill section exiting the Dark Mountain trail, I’ve never ridden it as fast as I did on this bike.

For the $2,250 you’d shell out for this bike, it seems like a good package and comes up as possibly a little more bang for the buck then the competition.

…AND MORE ON THE TRANCE:

I also rode the Trance, and to follow on Tyler’s review, it’s an all around good bike.  It rides smooth, has enough travel to accommodate a myriad of terrain, and you can still hang with your XC bike friends.  It is quick to turn and surprisingly jittery and could leave you wanting a little more forgiveness as far as high speed tracking.  It has to be coerced into desirable lines.  Also, it is not going to stand out as the best climbing bike, especially if you get off the saddle to make a sprightly climb.  The Trance X2 falls about par across the board, there is a lot to like about it but nothing to really get thrilled about.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Regarding the Trance, you can see the difference in opinion between someone like Evan that normally rides a long-travel all-mountain bike and me, who rides a 80mm XC race bike.  Take your riding style into consideration when using our reviews to influence your purchase decision.)

Comments

Flash - 12/09/08 - 3:15pm

How could you not get pictures of Evan catching air on the Reign!
Oh well, other than that…excellent review. You can get a real feel from the reviews for what type of bike you need if you don’t know. The Reign is everything the review states and more.

[...] reviewed some of Giant’s 2009 mountain bikes, including the Anthem, here. Email | 1 Views | Add a [...]

marc rutkow - 06/14/10 - 4:32pm

we bought a brass 2 for my son and the bike has broke six different time when he jumps on it. it has cost me twice what i paid for it. if you like to jump do not buy this bike. i spoke with the manufacuture of this bike and they dirrected me to a website to reinforce the the bike as they had all ready been aware of this flaw unfortunaetly it fix the problem but know their is a new part that is breaking.

[...] but the top of the range aluminum Anthem is a very nice bike.  We rode these last year, too, and reviewed them, and Giant’s reps said that only the spec has changed for both the Anthem and the [...]

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