Steep-angled 100mm-travel full-suspension bikes are normally great for tearing up between the tapes, but Giant’s Anthem X continues to tear up the rule book. Tweaks to the frame for 2011 make it feel like it spent the whole winter down the gym building muscle exactly where it makes the most difference.
The result is a totally ripped all-terrain athlete that’s equally inspirational in terms of ego boosting efﬁciency and scorching speed on startline or singletrack alike. Add benchmark trail kit and you’ve got an extremely versatile, extreme velocity machine whatever you aim it at. If you're more about GPS and maps than jumping gaps, and more likely to stick a race number on than shin pads, this bike is the outstanding option.
Ride & handling: Delivers an intense and inspirational ride whatever the terrain
It’s not the solidly sorted spec that continues to make the Anthem such a fast favourite; it’s the insatiably rapid and involving ride attitude. Looking at the super-steep head angle and relatively long stem you’d think this bike is something of a dinosaur, but its default setting of devastating speed makes this an alligator of a bike that’s still got no natural predators.
The snap-reaction steering takes some getting used to, with a tendency to twist the front tyre underneath you if you’re pulling too much front brake at low speeds. The longer stem is needed to keep it manageable as you get into a big ring spin and the trail edges start to blur.
The 25lb all-up weight makes acceleration and altitude gain addictively easy too. Even if a recovery pootle rather than predatory pursuit was on the agenda at the start of your ride it won’t last long. You’ll soon ﬁnd yourself snicking up through the gears, building speed in each one, then the next until you’re skimming down the singletrack and sprinting up climbs rather than dropping gears and dawdling.
Decent side knobs and that planted cornering precision of the longer stem means there’s no question of backing off in corners either. The new bike adds very noticeable extra fork and frame stiffness for even more accurate feedback and G force ﬁghting tenacity. We’ve lost count of the number of riders who’ve raved about how hard you can push an Anthem through turns or how many riders they’ve scalped by diving underneath them as they’ve slid out of a greasy corner.
Don’t underestimate the amount of control the Anthem wrings out of 4in of suspension movement either. While the colour-coded blue ﬁnish was the source of some love/hate debate, nobody complained about the performance of the Fox F11 fork. Up the climbs the next-to-grip lockout lever means you can stomp the pedals round as hard as you can without worrying about bounce and then open the fork for rougher stuff without even taking a thumb off the bars.
While the FIT cartridge makes it ﬁrm over small stuff (run the tyres tubeless if you want ultimate smoothness) its ability to swallow serious hits without coughing up control is outstanding for a race fork. A through-axle and tapered steerer means there’s no slur or deviation in the steering either opening up more cornering, off camber and overtaking opportunities than most forks.
The back end is similarly sorted, with the option to run a buoyant open setting of three different levels of ProPedal low-speed compression damping giving as ﬁrm or as ﬂuid a ride as you want. Ground clearance is an occasional issue but the Maestro suspension lets you keep the power on whatever is happening under your wheels, and traction is wonderfully consistent.
Rear end stiffness and damping composure mean no ricochet or need to ‘collect’ control even after substantial drops or sequential hits. The Maxxis CrossMark tyres are a lot tougher than most race rubber too, making rock rips less of a worry when you’re going off piste. While it’s no all-mountain cockpit setup, the little bit of lift and extra leverage from the mid-width riser compared to the traditional racer ﬂat bar makes getting the front wheel off the ground or correcting a slide a lot easier than normal.
Frame & equipment: Newly pumped-up chassis plus sorted parts spec
The big changes for 2011 are an ‘Over Drive’ tapered head tube, ‘Mega Drive’ oversized down tube and press-ﬁt ‘Power Drive’ bottom bracket. These mean signiﬁcant steering and pedalling stiffness gains up front. A two-piece linkage replaces the previous bolted linkage while a post-style rear brake mount saves bracket weight at the far end of the swingarm. So while the actual frame is no lighter it’s a signiﬁcantly stiffer proposition that builds a lighter overall bike.
In terms of kit, Giant have kept it simple. Shimano’s triple-ring XT might not be the lightest groupset – particularly compared to SRAM’s 2x10 setups – but it’s reliable and much longer lasting. The longevity theme continues with the tough XT wheels, which also add tubeless tyre running capability. Maxxis CrossMark tyres still surprise us with their combination of rolling speed and grip in all but the sloppiest conditions.
The Fox fork and shock combo is another control enhancing benchmark and Giant’s own-brand low-riser bar is a decent width for adding steering authority. The Giant stem and seatpost are good too, while Fizik’s long, ﬁrm second generation Tundra 2 is a great saddle for mileage-hardened hindquarters.