After years of mainly frame-only options for 29in wheel fans, it’s pleasing to see a few more big-brand complete bike offerings in the sub-£1,000 price categories. The Talon is essentially a cheaper version of Giant's £1,695 XTC 29er.
At this price, we'd expect the extra metal and rubber of a 29er to result in minor compromises in weight and componentry, but it's still disappointing to find a poorly controlled fork on a £795 bike. While the rest of the Talon would almost warrant the cost of a fork upgrade it seems wrong to feel the need to spend more as soon as you’ve bought a bike.
Ride & handling: A fast-rolling big wheeler hampered by its fork
It goes almost without saying that we expect to find forks that perform well on bikes at this price, but the clunk of the rebound on every full extension as we skimmed the Talon over rocks and roots took a lot of the enjoyment out of the ride.
After the first couple of rides we ditched the Giant's SR Suntour Ltd fork in favour of a RockShox Recon from another test bike so that we could get a feel for the bike without the fork tainting the mix. We really wish Giant’s spec guys had done the same.
Okay, it would have cost a bit more but it’s a real pity that a bike as well designed as this has its potential stifled by a poor fork. With a better damped and direct tracking fork the Talon is a superb tamer of fast bumpy singletrack.
On gentler terrain it rolls well but initially feels a bit dull. But then, going totally against old big-wheeler cliches, it comes to life as the speed increases and the trail becomes more challenging, managing to combine a lively but confident handling feel with big wheeler bump-shrinking steamroller stability and momentum.
In short, with a decent fork the Talon laughs at bumps, rails bends, and generally feels like the sort of bike that would normally cost several hundred pounds more. Its weight goes against it on the climbs and its fork goes against it on bumpy descents and rocky rooty singletrack.
Frame: Superbly designed and constructed
The Talon frame is almost exactly the same as the one on the twice-the-price Giant XTC. It’s superbly designed, constructed using the company's well proven Fluidform hydroforming method to manipulate the main tubes into a theoretically-perfect combination of strength and rigidity while maintaining a comfortable ride feel.
The top tube is a flattened oval with all the cable routing underneath. The big, almost box-section down tube flares and bridges across to the first 90mm of the top tube, curving away from the reinforced head tube and flaring into the bottom bracket shell to create the strongest possible junctures at every stress point.
The long, low top tube offers more standover room than most 29ers and the rear triangle is very compact, with relatively straight stays and plenty of room for big tyres. There’s only one set of bottle cage bosses.
Equipment: A single component compromises an otherwise well specced bike
The Suntour fork is a big disappointment. While it boasts a plush 100mm of compression and offers decent preload adjustment and a lockout, rebound topout is an undamped thunk and the lockout creates a rattly feel.
As if that wasn’t enough, the fork height and its skinny stanchions noticeably flex and flutter under braking, or when the terrain gets rough. Put simply, the fork compromises the Talon’s ride potential.
The wheelset on the Talon is great – Giant-branded hubs and rims, tight-laced with black stainless spokes, all wrapped up in Maxxis CrossMark 2.1in treads, which roll fast, grip well and offer a high enough profile to run low pressures for extra comfort.
The drivetrain isn't quite so impressive. The Shimano STX rear mech with Deore shifters and front mech all looks good but the crankset is a steel ringed Alivio offering. Still, shifting was accurate throughout the test and we still find Shimano’s Octalink bottom bracket bearings to be far longer lasting than most SRAM/Truvativ units.
Stopping duties are taken care of, as powerfully as is usually necessary, after a brief bedding-in period, by Shimano hydraulic discs, with 160mm rotors front and rear. A couple of testers said they'd prefer a wider handlebar than Giant’s 24in own-brand offering, but the quality of the bar, stem and seatpost is good and the slimline saddle is well padded and more comfy than it looks.