Giant's new 120mm travel Trance X 29er 0 may have 20mm more travel than its more XC-oriented stablemate but it also has a more agile feel thanks to some key geometry refinements.
Ride & handling: Smooth but still able to tackle tight corners
On paper, the new Trance might seem like just an Anthem X 29er with an extra 20mm of travel. But look a little closer – or merely ride them back to back – and you quickly notice it's anything but.
Giant has trimmed the chain stay length on the Trance X 29 by just over 10mm, lending a tighter and more compact rear end that's noticeably more maneuverable despite the extra travel and slacker front end. In fact, Giant claims the new wheelbase is less than 15mm longer than the original 26in wheeled Trance X.
With the rear axle now tucked further beneath you, it's much easier to loft the front wheel over obstacles, manual through water crossings or pivot about the back end through uphill switchbacks. This makes for a distinctly playful feel that caters well to riders who prefer to fly up and over trail features instead of around them. In fact, one editor (alas, from another publication) rolled nearly the entire last 3km of our test ride on just his rear wheel and noted how easy it was.
Giant perhaps rightfully anticipates that Trance X 29er riders will be descending faster than those on the Anthem X 29er, and the front-end geometry has been slacked a full two degrees to 69 degrees.
In addition, the bottom bracket is quite low, so while you'll need to be mindful when pedaling through rocks and roots, the low center of gravity and long front center make for an ultra-stable, do-no-wrong feel when attacking tricky downhill corners or highly technical features where you'd normally be wary of going over the bars.
As we've frequently noted in the past, Giant's excellent Maestro short dual link suspension system continues to deliver the goods. It offers a supple feel off the top, a lively mid-stroke and superb big bump control, all while providing great efficiency when putting the power down and achieving excellent balance between the front and rear.
True, there's a touch of squat when you're clawing your way up really steep pitches, but it's not objectionable and is easily remedied with a flick of the lever on the Fox Float CTD Boost Valve rear shock.
The new Trance comes with Fox's Climb/Trail/Descend technology
Add in the generously proportioned 2.25in Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires and the overall feel is akin to an alcohol-fueled monster truck: big and burly enough to crash recklessly through rough patches, powerful and quick enough to soar over obstacles, but still light enough to do donuts about the front wheels.
Naturally, there are some downsides in certain situations. Those same long front and short rear centers yield a weight bias that seems a bit more rearward focused than usual. While that makes the bike feel invincible at times, it can make it hard to get enough weight onto the front wheel at slower speeds to get the tire to bite on loose ground unless you shift your body a little further over the bars.
Editors on site were slamming saddles forward almost across the board, and most of us were also requesting shorter stems – the bikes felt rather long for the stated size.
Giant will offer the Trance X 29er in an impressive five sizes, from XS to XL, but it would be best to swing a leg over one to verify the fit. And don't be surprised if you end up going down a rung. Notably, team rider Adam Craig stands at 1.8m (5ft 11in) but rides a medium Trance X 29er.
We've got mixed opinions on the bike's new internal routing, too. While it lends an undeniably tidy appearance that's also easy to clean, initial setup on the rear brake can be a bit of a hassle. Thankfully it's optional. We also suffered from incessant housing rattle during our test ride. In fairness, other editors we spoke with didn't seem to have the same issue, so we'll suss this out further once we've got a test bike in hand.
At 12.85kg (28.33lb without pedals) for the complete bike, the Trance X 29er 0 isn't exactly featherweight but is respectably light for the category, particularly as it includes a dropper post as standard.
It might not make for the best cross-country race bike, but that's not what it's meant for. Considering the distinctly remote location of our test riding area, we were certainly comfortable knowing our bike wasn't built with a bevy of ultralight gear, and we don't expect long-term durability to be much of an issue.
Frame & equipment: Giant's latest bag of tricks and fantastic Fox suspension
Not surprisingly given the company history, Giant's new alloy Trance X 29er platform is full of aluminum fabrication wizardry. That includes radically hydroformed ALUXX SL butted aluminum tubing and the company's usual laundry list of technical features: an extra-oversized OverDrive 2 1 1/4in to 1 1/2in tapered front end, a PowerCore wide-format bottom bracket shell with press-fit cups, the correspondingly broad down tube and sealed bearing pivots for the Maestro rear suspension.
While some may regard the swoopy front triangle as looking a little funny, there are good reasons behind its shaping. The curvy S-bend down tube provides clearance for both the huge 29in front wheel and a water bottle cage. The conjoined top tube and down tube lend a stronger front end, and the radically kinked seat tube helps provide that compact rear end while integrating the pivot points for the shock linkage in one efficient package.
Giant has also switched from its traditional dual-upright rear triangle design in favor of a single vertical spar on the Trance X 29er. According to Giant global communications director Andrew Juskaitis, the single spar retains the fully enclosed rear triangle's usual rigidity but was the second major key to tucking in the rear wheel as it's also offset to the non-driveside.
Claimed frame weight is 2.63kg (5.8lb) for a medium with shock.
Despite the bike's versatile intentions, Giant continues to stick with standard quick-release dropouts for the rear wheel. According to Juskaitis, Giant's in-house testing revealed no stiffness benefit from a through-axle on the fully enclosed rear triangle – the same argument Santa Cruz engineers touted for several years. Santa Cruz has since relented due to marketing pressure, and Giant will likely do the same eventually – but not for 2013.
Also missing from the Trance X 29er lineup is a carbon 'Advanced' version. But given Giant's predictable development cycle, it's a virtual guarantee for 2014. Surprisingly, Giant has also decided to kill off high-end 26in-wheeled Trance X models for 2013, at least for the US market. Though the company wouldn't confirm as such, we'd say a 27.5in version is another lock for the following model year.
Save for the Australian market, which gets an ultralight '00' model with SRAM XX and RockShox suspension, the top-end Trance X 29er 0 will come with Shimano's fantastic Deore XT 2x10 group – one of our favorites for its mix of performance, toughness, and value.
Also included are Fox's latest CTD Adjust suspension components front and rear, for a reasonably lightweight package that we expect will offer excellent long-term durability without totally breaking the bank. Suggested retail price for the complete bike is a reasonable US$4,250. Giant will include its own P-TRX 29er 1 trail wheels for the new Trance X 29er 0, too.
We weren't able to push our test bike to its limits during our one-day session, but Giant's claims of improved lateral and rotational stiffness due to wider flange spacing and more direct spoke exit angles seem reasonable for now. At the very least, it's worth noting that the big wheels didn't feel annoying flexy and the wide-format rims (28mm external, 24mm internal) gave good support to bigger trail tires.
Our bike also came with inner tubes but the rims' solid outer walls allow for easy tubeless compatibility – which would also lop off several hundred grams from our tested weight.
Giant includes its own Contact Switch dropper seatpost, with 100mm of air-sprung movement and a tidy bar-mounted remote. Seatpost action was smooth and appropriately quick, and the easy-to-operate cable actuated remote takes up little room on the bar. We did note a little more wiggle in the seatpost than we'd prefer, though, and some riders might want more travel.
The Giant-branded Contact forged aluminum stem and matching 720mm-wide, low-rise aluminum handlebar felt suitably stiff for the intended application. We couldn't quite get on with the bar's somewhat odd bend, though. There was an agreeable amount of backsweep but also a lot of upsweep. Nevertheless, we'd prefer smaller sizes of the new Trance to be fitted with a flat bar, to bring the grip height down to a more reasonable level.
The Trance X's unusual bar is unlikely to suit everyone
Giant will have production models in stores in a few weeks and we expect our own test sample to arrive around then, too. If our initial impressions hold true, it should be a cracking bike to toss around long term.