The alloy Anthem X is one of the few bikes that totally dominates its class. Very few 100mm-travel rides come close on performance, and none do on speed for spend. The brand-new carbon fibre Advanced adds an extra dose of the X-factor for those lucky enough to be able to afford it.
Ride & handling: Short travel and extra bulk enable you to command the trail
The Anthem's handling has always set it apart, but Giant’s testers weren’t happy with the results until they halved the weight difference and massively increased front-end stiffness.
They’re not joking, either – the short-travel tapered steerer fork and massively oversized front end put pinpoint precision right into the palms of your gloves.
On every ride, we blitz down to the singletrack in eager anticipation, carving and screaming through every recently dried corner in a shower of roost. This bike gets your bars on the deck, tyres sliding, and your neck straining round looking for the next berm or lip.
In fact, the Advanced SL 1 and the alloy Anthems make a complete mockery of the overweight 100mm-travel bikes that claim they’re designed that way for a more aggressive feel on the trail.
Frames with100mm of travel just don’t get any sharper, snappier, more sure-footed or more addictively agile than the Advanced SL 1. We’re not surprised that Giant Pro racers Oli Beckingsale and Adam Craig have fitted their bikes with QR15 screw-through axle forks to create the ultimate steering machines.
Any worries you might have about wheel or brake weight will be left as far behind as other riders, too; the traction control of the Maestro rear suspension rips a hole in any race pack or social ride.
Immediate acceleration, outstanding handling balance and pinpoint accuracy replace brake dabs with pedal stabs. Every slight ripple or lip becomes a kicker or carving hook that will help you sculpt maximum speed and entertainment from the trail.
Though you’ll need to back off across big rocks, you’ll be amazed at what 100mm of well-controlled travel can cope with. While our fork sample is notchy over small bumps, its control down steps and technical descents under hard braking is outstanding. The cornering abilities are no different.
The back end sucks up drops and lets you manual through mayhem without losing composure. Short travel means no wallow, hesitation or big changes in handling, letting you put the hammer down again immediately with only the low bottom bracket occasionally interrupting pedalling.
All in all, the Advanced SL 1 is an astonishingly accurate, inspiringly agile and well-controlled ride.
Frame & equipment: Contact SLR bars stand out from the crowd
Aside from the material, the biggest structural change between the alloy Anthem and carbon Advanced SL is the use of a tapered overdrive head tube. There’s also an absolutely massive box-section down tube and oversized press-fit bottom bracket. In contrast, the triangular top tube tapers from a huge 65 x 45mm to 45 x 30mm ahead of the slightly extended seat tube.
The single-piece carbon rear end is also bulked up in terms of tube dimensions, although curved stays keep ankle clearances safe and you’ll still be able to squeeze a 2.25in tyre in. Dropouts and lower linkages are alloy, while the top rocker gets the full carbon treatment.
Long-haul riders and night racers using bottle batteries will be pleased to see belly as well as down tube bottle mounts. The bolts are red and anodised to match the headset covers, grip collars and spoke nipples.
While the 9.9kg, £5,950 Advanced SL 0 is a full SRAM XX race screamer, Giant have taken a very simple ‘open a box of XT over it’ approach to the SL 1. On the plus side, that means trail-tough wheels and powerful brakes, but they could certainly have gone a lot lighter and racier. The recent move to Maxxis CrossMark tyres gets a thumbs up too.
If the supplied spec bothers you, you can always build your own from Giant’s Advanced SL frame kit. But, at £2,500, it’s not the cheapest way to go. There’s only a £1,200 price difference between the similarly specced alloy and carbon X1 bikes compared to a £1,505 discrepancy between the framesets.
Back to the bike, and Fox’s 100mm forks are much lighter this year. Every Anthem X in the range – right down to the £1,400 X4 – gets a Fox fork and shock as standard. Giant’s Connect and Contact homebrew kit is rapidly establishing a great reputation with our testers, too, and we’re particularly impressed with the Contact SLR carbon bars.
Good bars and tyres are at a premium on a bike as fine as the Advanced. The story goes that Giant actually intended – and initially built – the carbon frame to be 400g lighter than the alloy one.