Bike launches are often bundled with good – but not great – initial test rides to collect first thoughts of new gear. Giant's Anthem X Advanced 29er debut, however, came with an unusually thorough thrashing on southern California's fantastic Backbone Trail. After three hours, 27 miles and 4,300ft of climbing, there was little doubt that it's an absolute ripper for covering lots of ground in a hurry.
Ride & handling: Quick under power, stable at high speed, loves to carve corners
The frame's fairly lanky 462mm chainstays and 1,105mm wheelbase scream out stability, and the Anthem X Advanced 29er 0 definitely lives up to it, especially as it's also set fairly low to the ground. It's utterly confident at warp speed, it rails corners once you set a line, and steers very accurately on account of the stout front triangle and unusually oversized tapered steerer.
That being said, it's still surprisingly nimble on account of the 71-degree head tube angle so you can't be careless with your handlebar inputs, particularly at those same high speeds that the chassis seems to relish. We had no problems adjusting lines mid-corner or picking our way through a rock garden at high speed and you merely have to stay on the gas and rotate the bar a standard amount to whisk around tight uphill switchbacks.
There's still no getting around that long rear end, however. The Anthem X Advanced 29er is tough to manual and isn't as eager to bunnyhop as bikes with significantly shorter chainstays. On the plus side, though, those same long stays help keep the nose planted on particularly steep climbs and the bike displays little tendency to loop out under power – just keep turning the pedals and more often than not, it'll faithfully claw its way up.
Our test bike's light weight (around 23lb with pedals), excellent bottom bracket rigidity and highly efficient Maestro rear suspension design make for a particularly eager platform under power, too. It squirts forward enthusiastically when you hit the gas and there's no effort-sucking wallow when executing big moves on tricky technical climbs. Though the bike's standard RockShox RT3 rear shock incorporates both platform and lockout settings, we rarely felt the need to use these, even on long fireroad grinds.
Fitting to the bike's cross-country tendencies, the suspension performance out back definitely leans toward the firm side. It works well at sucking up bumps and it's very well composed but at the same time, it's not extraordinarily supple on stutter bumps – we can't help but wonder how much a roller bearing upper shock eyelet would improve things given the range of the Maestro upper link rotation. The suspension also feels rather progressive. We didn't encounter any particularly big obstacles on Backbone but even so, it felt like you'd have to hit something awfully substantial to eke out the last few millimeters of travel.
Steering is precise on the Giant Anthem X Advanced 29er 0 on account of the stout front triangle, 1-1/4 to 1-1/2in tapered steerer tube and 15mm through-axle fork dropouts
Frame: Stiff, light, confident
Giant shed a claimed 185g (0.41lb) from the standard aluminum Anthem X 29er by switching to a carbon fiber front triangle, while supposedly gaining seven percent in torsional stiffness plus a three percent boost in bottom bracket rigidity for a total claimed frame weight of just 2,200g (4.85lb). We didn't have an aluminum bike on hand for comparison but it's a solid feeling chassis so we've little reason for doubt, especially given the enormous tube sections such as the monstrous MegaDrive down tube, which spans nearly the entire width of the press-fit bottom bracket shell and 1-1/4-to-1-1/2in head tube.
We heard more than a few rocks kick up into the bottom of the down tube but there was no visible damage. According to Giant's global communications manager Andrew Juskaitis, the lack of an add-on guard on our test bike was no fluke. In addition to weaving their own carbon sheets in-house (the only major manufacturer to do so), Giant also blend their own resins and Juskaitis says a special impact-resistant blend is used here. Even so, we'd recommend buyers at least apply something like helicopter blade tape or Cantitoe Road's Shelter film.
Giant haven't bothered with a carbon rear end, instead carrying over the aluminum structure from the current Anthem X 29. According to off-road category manager Kevin Dana, the compact and fully enclosed rear triangle is already lighter and stiffer than typical four-bar or faux-bar suspension layouts and switching to carbon would only save handful of grams while adding an exorbitant amount of cost.
There's no through-axle on the Anthem X Advanced 29er for the same reason. Dana told BikeRadar that in-house testing suggested negligible stiffness gains and given Giant already use 12mm aluminum through-axle forged dropouts on other platforms – meaning a switch wouldn't have cost a huge amount of money – we're inclined to believe him. More importantly, rear end wag simply wasn't an issue during our test ride.
Giant's Andrew Juskaitis talks BikeRadar through the key features of the Anthem X Advanced 29er
Equipment: No carbon rear triangle but carbon wheels instead
Giant passed over carbon fiber for the rear swingarm but decided it was a worthwhile investment for the wheels – a choice we wholeheartedly agree with. Claimed weight for the pre-production Giant P-XCR Composite 29er 0 wheels on our test bike was just 1,430g and the roughly 420g rims are notably stiffer than aluminum hoops of comparable mass for more accurate tracking. They also worked with the front triangle to deliver an especially well damped and muted ride quality that we've only ever noted with carbon wheels.
We did find ourselves wishing for a broader rim profile, though, as the conventional 19mm internal width just doesn't allow larger-volume tires to flare out as much as we like or provide as much sidewall support at lower pressures as fatter rims. The 10-degree engagement of the DT Swiss-supplied star ratchet mechanism was quick enough, though, and produced minimal clatter.
Those living in rockier surroundings might want to think twice about the Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires. The excellent rubber compound is impressively grippy, they're ultra fast rolling and the drift characteristics are reasonably forgiving but as we've found in the past, the very lightweight construction is prone to catastrophic sidewall cuts. Save them for race day or just make sure to include some booting material in your pack.
Giant equip the Anthem X Advanced 29er 0 flagship with a complete SRAM XX group. It's a thoroughly tested and utterly familiar set of componentry so we won't repeat ourselves here but shifting was smooth and positive, and the World Cup edition brakes were clearly carefully bled as the levers were firm throughout our ride and power was more than ample with the 180/160mm (front/rear) rotors.
Aside from the firm-yet-comfortable Fizik Tundra 2 saddle, the rest of the finishing kit comes from Giant's own carbon fiber Contact SLR range. The carbon flat bar was refreshingly wide and didn't unnecessarily kick up the ride height, the huge square-profile stem remarkably stiff, and the seatpost was creak-free though also a bit frustrating to adjust for angle. Otherwise, though, we had no complaints.
The Giant Contact SLR carbon fiber stem uses an enormous cross-section for stiffness
Strong, light, cheap: pick two
The Anthem X Advanced 29er 0 may be a fantastic bike but it doesn't come cheap with a suggested retail price of US$8,900. Even the 'middle child' 29er 1 is $1,800 more expensive than the comparably equipped alloy version – a cost of about $10 per gram based on weight alone. Impressively, though, the Anthem X Advanced 29er 2 is a relative bargain at just $3,300 so buyers who prefer to upgrade over time will want to start there. Otherwise, for riders with deep enough pockets, there's little doubt which one to choose.