Giant XTC 29er £1650

Fast yet capable big-wheeler

BikeRadar score 4/5

Giant launched their XTC 29er last year and, typically for the brand, it proved an outstanding performer for those specifically after speed and rigidity. The package has only been tweaked slightly for 2011 but the results are outstanding.

Whatever handling, control, confidence or speed criteria you’re scoring it on, the XTC is one of the best shop-ready big-wheeled hardtails we've tested, with only a significant price increase over the previous model letting it down.

Ride & handling: New rolling stock makes a good ride truly great

When jumping between different aluminium bikes on group rides during testing, you could almost hear the purr from whoever switched to the Giant. Stiffness through the steering and pedals with subtlety through the seat is the holy grail of hardtail design, and Giant’s bike balance is pretty much spot-on.

The precision and placement of the front wheel through the screw-through axle fork tips, up the tapered steerer in the twist-free front end, and into the wide, flat bars was a highlight last year and it still shines this year. While you could go a shade shorter, the 90mm stem is a good balance between straightline speed stability with racer’s reach and reasonable singletrack responsiveness.

The wide bars give plenty of leverage to hold lines or push the inside line through turns, and the super-short rear end carves in tight behind. Big, short stays give a very direct link between your shoe sole and the rear wheel too, helping the Giant to avoid the big-wheeled laziness common of many 29ers.

The Giant PXC2 rims are slightly lighter and more flexible than those on last year's XTC 29er. This means they trade a tiny amount of stiffness in turns and rocky pinball situations for a noticeable increase in overall ride quality. While the XTR 29er is no feather bed there’s now enough smoothness in the back end to mean multi-hour rides aren’t a shortcut to the chiropractor.

The rims are still wide enough to fatten up the super-light Maxxis Aspen tyres enough to shrug off rocks and edges far better than the previous Kenda rubber. Considering how fast they roll and accelerate, grip levels are outstanding on all but the wettest trails.

This all comes together to create a bike that’s slightly slower off the mark than an equivalent 26in race hardtail but doesn’t force you to back off the minute the trail gets technical. Momentum, traction, shifting smoothness, rider comfort and rough terrain are all enhanced, and the fact we managed to bend the saddle rails without noticing is a prime example of just how hard you can hammer this bike without it showing. 

Frame & equipment: £250 more than last year, but you do get 30-speed gears, better wheels and tyres

Giant certainly get things off to the right start with their Overdrive head tube and matching tapered steerer Fox QR15 fork. The oversized hexagonal Megadrive down tube shares a long seam with the shallow but broad top tube, which then tapers and slopes back dramatically to the slim, subtly kinked seat tube. This lets Giant bring the rear wheel in super close on big rectangular chainstays, but lack of cross bracing still means reasonable mud room. It’s still an IS brake mount though.

Giant’s new P-XC2 rims are much shallower and 35g lighter for a more forgiving, faster reacting ride feel than last year’s hoops. They’re also shod with our favourite Maxxis Aspen 29er tyres. You get an upgrade to a Shimano SLX chainset and Dyna-Sys shifters for a full 30-speed transmission. Shimano’s powerful and consistently sharp feeling M445 brakes take over stopping duty from Avid.

Giant finishing kit still includes their specific wide, flat 29er bars, but there’s none of the blue anodised colour coding of last year. The only obvious downside (besides the £250 price hike) compared to last year’s bike is that the saddle is now a Giant own-brand item which we bent the rails on, rather than last year’s Fizik Tundra.

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