For as long as Giant has been making their XTC hardtails, we've been hanging out high marks for high quality performance. A welcome move to UK spec rather than global kit makes them a more complete ready-to-go package than ever.
Naturally fast but forgiving enough in the rough to stay fun
Giant has one of the most advanced tube forming facilities on the planet, and they've made full use of it on the XTC frameset. Long spear bulges on the head end of the main tubes take the place of gussets, while the rest of the tubes run through a gamut of different profiles and sections to stiffen and soften the ride where appropriate.
The disc-specific rear end uses a big hydroformed wishbone section with subtly shaped stays triangulating the small, windowed dropouts. Resulting tyre room is ample if not excessive, but then this is a speed bike not a fat tyred sofa. Twin bottle cages will certainly suit thirsty long haul riders and Giant provide one cage and bottle already fitted, which is nice of them. A QR seat collar also makes height adjustment or post removal easy for car stowage, although a bolted collar would be a few grams lighter if you start to get serious about racing.
It's certainly a bike likely to get you into a speed habit too, with an easy, assured mile-eating feel from the off. The frame channels pedal power and steering input straight to the wheels with no obvious deviation or hesitation to create a crisp, responsive character. Even with a stiffer, full diameter seat post (last year's bikes used a slimmer, shimmed post) it's still not uncomfortably stiff, smoothing sharp edges off steps and rocks enough to save your spine even when you're flat out.
The low riser bar also gives a decent dose of width and slow speed control without spoiling a purposeful pedalling position, and handling is as neutral but obliging as you could ask for. Through rapid rough sweeper, slippery off-camber or stalling speed switchback alike, it's totally predictable and communicates any potential problem well in advance. The only slight flaw in its otherwise totally sorted approach to the trial is a slightly high weight for its intended race related life.
What this excess weight gets you, though, is a sturdy set of Manitou Splice Super forks. They're smooth from the box without being soggy, and cope with most trail obstacles very competently. You've the option to wind down travel to 70mm to speed up steering or totally lock the fork for climbing or smoother sections, too. Giant's own-brand MPH disc brakes aren't light either, but they've been giving totally dependable all-weather stopping for years and these are likely to be no different. You even get a free bleed kit for easy maintenance.
XT highlighted LX gears are ideal for high mileage, high pressure work and the Deore hubs are renowned long runners too. Mavic XM317 rims are another proven XC staple and UK spec bikes now benefit from Kenda tyres. The Blue Groove/Nevegal pairing on our test bike was run rear/front which is opposite to our preference. But, once switched, they give decent grip for most of the year, only letting things slip in slimy winter muck. You could save a lot of weight upgrading them with a lighter folding bead set, but at least they're plenty fast in summer once you've got them rolling. We've no complaints about any of Giant's own-brand Comp finishing gear either, and the WTB saddle is a classic.
The XTC SX takes Giant's excellent, evolved hardtail frameset and sets it up with a sturdy UK-ready kit set. The result is naturally fast but forgiving enough in the rough to stay fun, and the handling maintains pitch perfect neutrality whatever you're doing. The overall weight comes in slightly heavy, but the frame's good enough for extensive upgrading and underlines the Giant's eminent suitability as an all-round UK XC bike.