Giant launched its brilliant Maestro suspension system with the 4in Trance a few years ago. Yet, while its tough, tight handling makes it great fun on the trail, is it too short on stroke to compete with more recent all rounders?
Apart from a down tube/top tube change in its second generation there's been no Giant step for framekind on the Trance for a while. The mix of smoothly hydroformed tubes and organic-style cold forged sections still looks totally up to date though, especially in the smoked metallic finish of this frame. The Maestro suspension mechanics are all clustered in the bottom corner. Neatly curved colour coded linkages drive the shock and create a carefully judged floating pivot point to balance feedback and pedal firmness with smooth suspension feel. The Fox RP2 shock itself is mounted in a 'glory hole' punched through the big belly of the down tube, with a plastic roost guard on the underslung mount plates to keep it well protected from crap flicked up from the front tyre.
It's a relatively weighty frame for only 106mm of travel at nearly 28lb yet brake/gear lines are tucked away neatly and the stiff, broad stance rear subframe gives bearable if not ample mud clearance for tyres up to 2.2in. There's a single bottle mount in easy reach on the down tube too.
With its fast rolling tyre set up, the Trance ripped up hard packed trails from the start. With all the weight centred right down in the bottom of the bike, you can't help but throw it around. We were chucking the bike into corners on its ears, knowing it'd pop back up and hard over the other way super fast for a proper 'Moto GP' buzz. Just be ready for that low profile rear tyre to give up and go sideways at any moment if you don't really commit and get it right over onto its edges.
Don't expect similarly fast 'upright' steering. The 110mm stem is fine for trouble free trundling and neutral stability, but you'll want something shorter to snap through tight turns or wrap your wheel round the back of trees. There's no denying the Trance's poise and balance though, with either end lifting over stuff or side hopping lines easily, but never doing so without asking.
It's an impressively tight feeling bike as well, with loads of feedback from all corners letting you really work it to your advantage. The Maestro suspension delivers an equally excellent blend of consistent ground-hugging traction and positive feel at the pedals. There's only tiny movement however hard you stomp, with no sense of wasted energy or softness, yet - when the relatively low bottom bracket gives enough clearance - it still flows smoothly through rooty/ rocky/stepped sections without interrupting your rhythm.
As you'd expect all this makes it a great bike to ride really hard on rolling cross country or semi technical trails, and while it's not particularly light we'd have no trouble racing or marathoning it. The only downside is that while the solid, tight and agile feel of the Trance sets up an infectiously go-get-'em attitude, we just kept running out of travel. Basically we'd go barrelling into big stuff hard and fast - certainly faster than several of the other bikes here - then suddenly find the fork and shock just smacking their teeth out and unable to cope. If we ran the suspension firmer to stop it bottoming out then we lost a lot of the traction and control that lights up the handling, and the short stroke started kicking around on midsized stuff. From experience a slightly longer fork helps, but what this bike is really begging for is an extra inch of encore from the Maestro at the back.
The 100mm Reba forks with threshold adjustable Floodgate compression damping/lockout make it easy to harmonise both ends. XC performance is smoothly predictable and their reliability is legendary. Hayes Nine brakes are another hardy trail proven piece, although some testers objected to the undoubtedly bling but very stumpy carbon levers. WTB's flat Devo saddle was another opinion divider, with some loving it, others getting used to it gradually, and some never finding a comfy position.
SRAM X9 rear mech and shifters are super positive though and an XT front mech is a quality touch in a common compromise area on other bikes. RaceFace Evolve crankset and finishing kit add pose points and they perform well too, with plenty of feedback but no sting through the file pattern lock-on grips.
WTB rims on DT hubs produce a tough, if not particularly light wheelset, but Giant have chosen to inject free speed with a very fast rolling Hutchinson Piranha semi slick rear tyre. Grippy front/ slick rear is a combination we really like for racing but it takes experience to stay upright and going forward in the wet. A free shock pump adds to already good overall kit value as well.
Tough, infectiously agile, well specced for speed and with a great suspension system; the Trance is a great fun trail bike. Sadly we just couldn't escape feeling that at just the point we were hitting the vinegar strokes it ran out of travel and the moment was lost. With most trail bikes now packing at least another inch it either needs to lose weight or gain some stroke to compete with the best bikes. The Trance's infectious agility means you just can't ride it calmly.