Giant have concentrated their efforts on totally revising and lightening the 4-5in Trance and 6in Reign for 2008, but that certainly doesn't mean the heavy duty Reign X1 frame is feeling out of date.
Chassis: Low centre of gravity plus lower standover height
Giant have one of the most advanced frame manufacturing facilities in the world and there's plenty of proof of that in the Reign X1 frame. Every tube is carefully shaped in some way to give the chassis enormous stiffness and strength, despite relatively slim tapering dimensions.
Cold forged sections are used extensively around the swingarm and shock mounts, including the shock cradle underneath the large hollow well in the down tube. With the shock penetrating through the middle, it means Giant can drop the whole centre of gravity of the bike and minimise standover height, too.
In practical terms, Giant's Maestro suspension bikes are some of the most reliable around. There's enough mud clearance in the back end for most tyres, and gear cable/brake hose routing is particularly neat. A plastic 'roost' guard protects the bottom of the shock too, making the fixed QR-only (not replaceable bolt-through or Maxle) dropouts our only gripe.
Ride: Shock, fork, brakes and steering combine for consistent control
If we had to sum it all up in a sentence, the Reign X1 is one of those bikes that feels totally right as soon as you're 'sucked onto the ground' by the coil sprung sag.
Giant's Maestro suspension is a superbly balanced all-round system. There's just enough pedal kickback to keep you totally informed about traction and keep the bike keen out of corners, wherever you are in the stroke. However, whether it's a low speed slam or high speed square edge, impact absorption when you drive through a big one is impressive.
It feels tighter than longer travel or longer shocked bikes, but we'll take its consistent control right through the stroke over wallow and vagueness every time. We actually prefer the linear ride of the DHX 3.0 coil over pricier DHX Air bikes we've ridden, too.
Braking is equally assured and well balanced, with no obvious skip or stutter, even on the wide variety of loose desert surfaces. The low centre of gravity, good frame clearances and just enough launch/landing feedback to 'pop' with, makes it a natural flier and park bike too.
The steering is as 'cock on' as the rest of the package. It's just slack enough to ride light-handed and relaxed through the nastiest boulder fields, and naturally rolled back to centre on the skinnies of North Shore-style sections. It's not so lazy that it tramlines past every turn or needs masses of muscle to haul its head round. Just shift your body weight, flick in a bit of counter steering with the short stem and then look for the exit as it rails round. The low set weight really glues the tyres into turns too, rather than threatening to high side like the GT Force 2.
Even with the coil suspension and workman-like kit it's still better than we expected on the flat. Obviously you're going to quickly run out of steam on a short, mid-30lb bike, but at least it feels like your pedalling is doing something, not just disappearing into a mass of mush. You are likely to catch the low set pedals regularly though, and the steering flops about on steep climbs, so downhill is definitely its favourite dish.
Equipment: well damped, accurate steering fork
With frame, shock and fork costing more than £1,500 to buy separately, Giant have had to work very hard to make a solid complete bike for under £2,000.
The updated Fox Van fork damping calms and controls situations with unflustered plush, however insane you feel like getting. The new tool-free 20mm axle system works really well too, giving exceptional steering accuracy and convenience.
WTB's Dual Duty rims can take some serious hammering, while Kenda tyres come in a Stick-E compound front/Dual Compound rear to anchor steering traction without dragging too much.
Even with relatively small discs, the Hayes Stroker brake is plenty powerful, more solid feeling and much more controllable than its Camino predecessor.
The bashguard-equipped RaceFace Ride DH crank is perfect for big drops, while the rest of the AM/XC mix is tough enough for most moments. The chain upgrade is a nice touch where it really counts too.