Although Giant are a global company, the Talon is a bike that’s been designed specifically with British trail riders in mind. Inevitably, given the meteoric rise in popularity of bigger wheel sizes, there’s now a 29er option.
There’s even a version with a built-in power unit and electric motor mounted to the down tube. But the 26in Talon – the bike that kick-started the range – lives on. Does it still have a place among the big wheelers?
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Video: MBUK test four hardtails from £700 to £849
Ride & handling: Ruthlessly efficient but comfortable
Two things dominate the Talon’s ride character – its wheels and its frame. Smaller wheels fidget around the trail more than bigger 29ers. Combine that with a frame that’s all about efficient pedalling over rider comfort and you’ve got a recipe for a very talkative bike.
All bikes ‘talk’ to the rider, transmitting vibrations and bumps from the trail via the tyres, wheels, frame and rider contact points. And hardtails talk louder than full-sussers, simply because there’s no spring between the rear wheel and rider. But the Talon’s uncompromisingly rigid chassis and smaller diameter wheels don’t so much talk about what’s going on under the tyres, as shout. Loudly.
If you’re used to a more forgiving ride – from bigger diameter tyres, rear suspension or a frame that’s a little more compliant – the Talon’s constant chatter will come as a shock. The good news is that thin tube walls help take the edge off the bigger hits, keeping things on the right side of harsh. You’ll never be in any doubt what’s going on down below, but neither are you likely to lose any fillings.
A frame this responsive demands to be ridden hard – and it’s here that the cracks start to show a little. The stem’s a tad too long for our liking – but that’s easily fixed. The fork is the bigger letdown. That’s not unusual at this price point, but the Talon’s frame is so eager to be thrashed it’s just crying out for a fork that’s capable of being pushed hard too.
While the RockShox XC30 doesn’t have any glaringly obvious flaws as such, it struggles to keep pace with successive high-speed hits – and doesn’t have a forgiving chassis or easy-rolling big wheels to hide behind. As a long-term upgrade prospect, though, the Talon has a lot of things going for it. With a shorter stem and a slightly longer, air-sprung fork it would make a great fun trail all-rounder.
Frame & equipment: Sorted chassis deserves a better fork
You only need to glance at the Talon’s massive, slab-sided down tube to realise that this is a frame that’s designed to be as efficient as possible. Curving gently away from the head tube and flaring to occupy the entire width of the bottom bracket, it’s an impressively rigid backbone off which to hang the rest of the chassis.
It also takes up a fair chunk of head tube real estate. And, since the top tube occupies nearly as much of the head tube at the join, that translates into a noticeably high front end.
Newer riders will enjoy the sit-up-and-look-at-the-view position, but it also means there’s less weight on the front wheel – which has implications for handling on everything from steep climbs to fast descents. Luckily, there’s an inch or so of washers under the stem to allow for some adjustment.
The rear end continues the theme of pedalling efficiency. Chunky stays feature flat sides and rack and mudguard eyelets for added versatility. Mud clearance is particularly impressive, thanks to curves in all the right places – an obvious sign that the UK’s typically claggy trail conditions have played a role in the design process and good news if you like to ride all year round, come what may.
Up front, RockShox’ entry level XC30 fork takes care of steering and bump-absorbing duties. There’s a preload adjuster to help cater for different rider weights, a lockout knob and adjustable rebound damping. While we prefer the easy adjustability of air over a coil spring, it’s about what we’d expect for the money. Unless you’re unusually heavy or light for your height, the stock spring is likely to be about right.
It’s fair to say that the Talon 2’s transmission is its greatest strength. Based around Deore and XT 10-speed components, it’s a slick and reliable setup that should stand up well to the rigours of year-round British riding. For the money, it’s impossible to fault – and it’s backed up by Shimano brakes too. The Schwalbe tyres work better in the dry than on damp British trails, though.
This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.