Giant haven’t gone quite as crazy for 29ers as some brands, but they've still got a healthy big-wheeled range for 2012. The XtC Composite 29er 1 is the cheaper of two carbon ﬁbre models. If you want a fast, smooth, mile-eater, look no further.
The XtC Composite 29er is a joy to ride and is one of those bikes our testers ask to hang on to for “just one more lap”. On really tight trails with lots of braking and accelerating, a similarly light 26in bike may prove faster, but the way the Giant carries speed through most turns and over rough sections is almost magical.
Ride & handling: In a word, inspiring. Racy yet user- and trail-friendly
As with most high-volume carbon frames, the Giant’s chassis tends to amplify noises, with shifts into the smaller chainring being accompanied by a loud thwack. You get used to it. The real surprise with the Composite 29er is how comfortable it is. We’re used to 29ers making minor trail imperfections disappear, and carbon ﬁbre can be used to deliver impressive shock absorption, but rarely is it as marked as it is here.
Even impacts from drops magically disappear somewhere in the frame between wheels and pedals – launching the short run of steps on one of our test loops resulted in a smoother landing than on some full-suspension bikes. The presence of a Fox F29 fork helps a lot – it’s markedly superior to the RockShox Recons found on most bikes at this price.
When it comes to handling, the XtC is very much a cross-country bike. By now, the idea that 29ers are ponderous and slow-steering has been well and truly put to rest, but the Giant reinforces the point with a light feeling on the helm and lightning-fast changes of direction. A look at the numbers makes this not all that surprising – it has a short wheelbase and steep head angle.
It’s not at all nervous, though, with the smooth-riding wheels and frame putting you at your ease. No one took to the Giant’s handlebar setup, though. The wide, ﬂat bar is just the ticket for compensating for the extra front end height of a 29in wheel, but the Giant bar supplied has very little sweep and just doesn’t feel comfortable. We’d swap it for a nine-degree bend.
Frame & equipment: Excellent lightweight, smooth-riding frame and fork
Giant’s Composite construction is used on their entry-level carbon ﬁbre frames, with Advanced and Advanced SL coming in at the higher end. Composite frames were state of the art not very long ago, though, and the technology still yields a light, stiff yet comfortable chassis.
The most notable feature of the Composite 29er is the truly enormous rectangular-section down tube. It uses the full width of the press-ﬁt bottom bracket shell and maintains most of that width all the way through to the head tube – there’s not much point putting a Crud Catcher mudguard on as the tube’s so wide you’d hardly see it.
The big theme continues aft of the bottom bracket, with chunky rectangular chainstays. Unusually for a hardtail, the stays are asymmetric. The left-hand one takes the traditional direct route to the dropout, while the right-hand one drops down from the bottom bracket to take a lower line. This arrangement lets Giant use a big cross-section while still being able to ﬁt it between the tyre and chainrings, an area that’s particularly crowded on 29ers (especially with 2x10 transmissions).
A bonded-on steel plate protects the carbon stay from chain suck damage. Up front there’s a tapered steerer, 15QR Fox F29 fork – good to see on a carbon bike at this price. Somewhat inevitably, the rest of the spec takes a bit of a hit, but you’re still getting decent SRAM X7 bits. Putting the budget into the frame and fork makes lots of sense – most of the other stuff will wear out and get replaced anyway.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.