Looking at the spec, you might expect some slightly more flash kit from a brand as big as Giant, but the detail is where the Talon really scores. The frame is genuinely as good as any other alloy hardtail we’ve tested and it’s loaded with practical touches. Add spot-on cockpit and tyre choice and you’ve got a bike whose impressive overall performance easily eclipses the weak links in its kit choice.
Ride & handling: Sorted UK-specific trail bike for under a grand
Mountain biking in the UK has come a long way since the days when we just trundled along bridleways or raced round a field. Purpose-built trail centres with switchbacks, berms and jumps have pushed technical demands and expectations into another league. They’ve created a whole new set of bike design priorities too, and just putting riser bars on race bikes or a triple chainset on a jump bike isn’t good enough anymore.
UK-focused manufacturers like Marin, Saracen and Genesis have had it sorted for a while, but Giant are the biggest brand to produce a bike designed specifically for our tough, super technical riding habits – and they've done a damn good job, too.
Giant have worked very hard on the ride position of the Talon as well as the construction of the frame. The shorter top tube, a steep seat angle that pushes your weight forward and a 75mm stem create a radically short ‘sit up and beg’ ride position.
The 29lb weight (with pedals) means road climbs are best approached with patience, but then – unlike Giant’s XTC bikes – the Talon’s not designed with podiums in mind. Where the Talon really starts to show its claws is the moment you pull off the fireroad and hit the singletrack.
The short stem and proper width riser bars create exactly the sort of cockpit you have to upgrade to on most bikes in this price range, and it’s the access point to pitch-perfect handling: fast enough to snap react when a big rock comes lying out of nowhere on pitch black moorland singletrack; deft enough to catch a sliding front tyre mid-corner; but still steady enough not to get bullied off-line or trip up when the only way is straight through.
The short overall frame length also gives it great whip around the trees and boulder hop agility that outshines most cross-country style rides. That said, we were still very glad of the Shadow rear mech when we ran gritstone apex boulders closer than we should have done.
The fact that Giant have specced proper DTC dual-compound rubber (with a hard centre and soft shoulder) lets you really rip it about far harder than the plastic lookalike tyres you normally get at this price.
Despite the tyres only being 2.1in, rather than the 2.3in we normally favour on hardcore hardtails, there’s not as much hammer as we expected coming from the back end. It’s still ‘tab keys’ rather than ‘space bars’ sideways when you clobber the big stuff, but you’re not risking your spine staying in the saddle.
The vertical compliance and in-line stiffness from the rear end, combined with the steep seat angle and super tight mainframe makes it an outstanding technical climber despite its weight.
Even hitting stuff blind it’s composed, accurate and consistently cleans the crux moves that other bikes (even full-sussers) can fail on. The seatpost head can be shifted between two positions to add a bit more length and to slacken the seat angle if you find it too steep and cramped.
Frame: Quality chassis that's well worth upgrading
Giant’s XTC hardtails have always offered really good build quality for the price, and the new Talon certainly doesn’t drop the baton on frame quality.
The smoothly scooped integrated head tube is backed up by flared and tapered main tubes to lock down tracking accuracy, there’s plenty of standover clearance for ‘abandon ship’ confidence and the forward-facing seat slot keeps filth out in true UK custom-build style.
There’s enough mudroom to run a 2.3in tyre on a dirty day, and windowed dropouts add a bit of class in the bottom corner. The flattened rectangle profile seatstays also take much more sting out of the rear than you’d expect for an alloy hardtail.
There are even rack bolt holes, which are perfect if your bike needs to be on briefcase toting duty too. In fact, spray this bike up differently and you wouldn’t blink if someone told you it was a £500 boutique frame. You get exactly the same frame on the £425 Talon 3 too, making it a fantastic upgrader’s choice.
Equipment: Cost-cutting is evident in budget fork and own-brand brakes
While the frame and handling are superb for the money it’s not all glory. The RockShox Tora air fork is a simple and reliable unit, but there are better forks to be found on other bikes competing at this price.
This shows in a regular clunking top-out, whatever you do with the rebound adjuster. An extra inch of travel on top of the 4in you get would also make a big difference when you’re smacking straight into stuff or landing a launch, and would lift the low bottom bracket high enough to stop you clattering cranks and toes so regularly.
The new own-brand Root brakes are ironically wooden so they need both patience and a firm pull to decelerate in a decisive way; luckily, the Talon has the handling and ride quality to let you get away with using them as little as possible, but if this was our regular ride we’d be upgrading both fork and anchors as soon as possible. Clocking in at 666g (with seatpost), the chunky ‘room for two’ WTB saddle is another hefty bit of kit we’d swap out as soon as we could.
On paper we would probably want an external bottom bracket (BB) chainset for this price too but the Shimano unit feels stiff enough and, from experience, the old-skool BB will actually last longer than external cups, and the Alivio hubs should last for ages as long as you adjust and regrease them regularly. In other words, this is a bike equipped for long-term hard trail use in our uniquely evil climate.
Guy Kesteven: "Unless you're throwing thousands of pounds at a bike there will always be some price-imposed kit limitations, and the Giant Talon is no exception. However, the very fact that we're gagging to fit a smoother fork, better brakes and shed some weight from it before taking it out again, rather than just boxing it up and sending it home, shows that Giant have got the frame feel and handling just right."
Giant’s UK product manager Dave Ward says: “We made the Talon because trends and where people ride have changed. More and more customers are riding trail centres and don’t want a long, steep, racy hardtail anymore. The global product managers told us we didn’t need this bike until they visited the UK at the end of June last year. Kevin Dana, the global mountain bike category manager, came over and spent time talking to UK dealers, press and riders, then pushed the button on the project, working with the list of requirements we’d drawn up.
"Our three key aims with the Talon were to build a range that feels right on the trail. We also wanted to get the spec right, then work out the price, rather than the other way around. We wanted to use graphics and finishing kit that gave them a different appearance to existing models in our range. The design team has worked really hard to combine construction technology with cosmetics. The fluid forming and the design of the top and down tubes where they meet the head tube is a particularly nice job. We also deliberately engineered the extra compliance into the back end so riders don’t get too beaten up.
"At 100mm, the travel is shorter than some competitors but the frame is used over a wide price range, and the range of 120mm forks available OEM is limited for sub-£600 bikes. The frame will take a 120mm fork without a problem. There’s future potential to build a higher spec bike too, if the demand is there.”