On paper, the 2007 Giant XtC 3.5 Disc certainly looks the part. And so it should - it costs a fair bit more than competitor hardtails. It has a big-name fork, hydraulic disc brakes and a rear mech from Shimano's high-end XT groupset. But weighing in at 13.2kg (29.3lb), it's no lightweight, and despite the well controlled RockShox Tora fork, we weren't initially too enamoured with its performance. It simply felt a bit dull, although first impressions can often be misleading.
Giant's frame structures always impress. Like Trek, they make the big company economies of scale work for them and habitually produce very classy frames for their lower priced bikes. The hydroformed tubes of the XtC almost shout about the fact that Giant are market leaders in liquid-formed tube technology, not that you'd initially take much notice, because the frame is finished in an understated grey and black overcoat without loud graphics.
Extensive use of hydroforming in tube production has resulted in a fine and aesthetically pleasing frame that has all the strength, weight and stiffness attributes Giant were looking for precisely dialled into every tube.
We're surprised at the 80mm (3.1in) travel RockShox Tora fork choice though. In performance terms it's OK, with good rebound damping and an easy-to-use legtop lockout switch. But with such good adjustability and lots of hard riding heft built in, it seems a waste not to commit to the 100mm (4in) travel option that's almost become standard. Perhaps this is symbolic of Giant's conservative approach on the XtC.
Putting a high spec rear mech on a lower budget bike is a favourite trick played by manufacturers when they need to save money elsewhere. We'd rather have seen, for example, two aluminium chainrings on the Truvativ crankset or Shimano hubs instead of the unknown models fitted to the XtC.
Still, everything does the job it needs to and we really like Shimano's new LX Rapidfi re shifters. As with SRAM's trigger shifters, you can now opt to shift both ways with your thumb, but there's also still the forefinger option on the shifters.
Plenty of riders like the adjustable expansion chambers of Giant's MPH hydraulic disc brakes featured here. We do too, in terms of lever reach adjustability, but watch out on the sort of long downhills where you have to drag the brakes - perfect adjustment is likely to change as the brake fluid heats and cools.
The XtC's wheels feature Alex DP17 disc rims with black spokes, and they're shod with Kenda's Kharisma II 2.1in treads - good all-rounders that grip tenaciously and clear pretty well in the mud. The other finishing kit includes a long Giant-branded stem, a lowrise 25in-wide handlebar, a Giant seatpost and WTB's very racy looking Silverado saddle. This seat is a bit more comfy than it looks but its minimalist styling will put off riders who look for comfort bonuses in this price range.
As we mentioned above, our first impressions of the XtC were, at best, underwhelming. We gradually warmed to the bike, though, and there's nothing actually wrong with it, but we're still left with the distinct feeling that it needs a bit more zest injecting into it. Even with all this great frame, fork and component technology laid out in front of them, there are still times when the big bike brands are too conservative for their own good. There are lighter bikes than the XtC around at this price, and faster rolling tyres on bikes like the Trek 4300 do a hell of a lot to make you overlook their lower budget. The treads on the Giant rolled slower but gripped better as soon as the trails got very wet. The 80mm (3.1in) travel Tora fork would have been a bonus on a bike like this a few years ago, but the goalposts have moved. These days, a heavy-duty fork with less than 100mm (4in) of travel just leaves you wishing for more. On every ride, especially on bumpy descents, we were reaching the travel limit frequently, but it wasn't a soft spring issue - the fork was harsh with full preload.
The XtC 3.5 sort of trundles along - its weight goes against it on climbs and it's not inspiring or hard-ride worthy enough to make up for that elsewhere. We couldn't fault its handling but it's just a bit dull, with an odd mix of Euro cross-country and over-cautious, fairly hefty parts spec.