Giant manufactures bikes for many of mountain biking's biggest names. It's also been quietly turning out some impressive hardtails, combining good trail manners with great specs.
With its matt black finish and bike next- door looks, no-one will give the XTC rider a second glance. The frame is a model of understated but tidily built ordinariness, right down to the integrated rack mounts on the wishbone rear end. But it's the attention to detail that counts. Giant was one of the first manufacturers to introduce hydraformed tubing to the mass market. No surprise then, that the XTC LX sports several subtly shaped lumps at vulnerable frame junctions, providing extra strength where it's needed most.
The XTC line-up has racing in its blood, a fact that becomes obvious the minute you step aboard and stretch out to reach the bars. But don't fret - it's a comfortable and efficient position that's just a tad longer than its competitors. And what it sacrifices in front-end flickability, it more than compensates in stability and day-long comfort.
Stretched top tube and 80mm fork aside, there's little about the Giant to suggest its race heritage. From the wide riser bars to the comfy saddle and generously profiled tyres, it could almost have been built specially for those all-day epics.
Downsides? Just a niggling feeling that it could be capable of more. The fork is superb - easy to set up, almost infinitely adjustable and with a plushness that puts it at the top of its class. Whether negotiating a rooty climb or blasting through a rock garden, it's smooth and predictable. But the big tyres and stable feel mean it's too easy to blow through all 80mm of travel at speed, and we're left wondering what the XTC would be like with a good 100mm fork. The whole thing has a slightly weighty, ponderous feel that takes some of the spring out of its stride.
Giant's hardtails have always given a lot of bang for your buck, and the XTC LX is no exception. Own-brand MPH hydraulic discs are beginning to look a tad industrial next to the competition, but the simple design, easy adjustability and good stopping power are a match for anything at this price. The one bum note on the spec list is the cheesy plastic chainset protector, but that's easily removed.
The Giant boasts one of the lightest mid-range frames we've seen, and it's only the weight of the fork, brakes and wheels that make it heavy. When you've got the cash you may want to look at upgrading any one of these three.
The Giant's up against some tough competition at this price. It's well built, well specced and has a good frame and fork package, but we can't help feeling that its weight - and lack a 100mm fork - hold it back when the pressure's on. Yet, if you want a reliable, good-natured bike for long day rides, the XTC has plenty to offer.