Giant's Maestro suspension system has been tweaked to work across a range of different platforms, from long travel freeride machines to World Cup XC bikes. The Trance 2 sits in the middle of that range, with around 100mm (4in) of travel at both ends, and is designed to be comfortable and efficient for long days in the saddle.
Giant's manufacturing technology is among the most advanced in the bike world. The mainframe is a work of art, built from smoothly sculpted, hydroformed tubes. The down tube curves underneath where it meets the head tube to help disperse stress, while the slender top tube is low-slung for extra standover and supports an extra seat tube brace at the rear.
The really interesting stuff is happening around the bottom bracket. From the drive side, the Trance looks like just another single pivot bike with a linkage-activated shock. Scoot round the other side though, and you'll spot its secret weapon and Maestro's raison d'être: the extra linkage that gives it a floating pivot point.
The theory is that careful placement of the four main pivots gives a design that's independent of braking and pedalling forces. Sound familiar? It's a common claim among suspension designs, but our experience of the gamut of Maestro platforms - from long travel to short - bears out Giant's claims. It just works.
Translating all that clever pivot placement into real world metalwork involves some nifty design and welding, nestling the Fox Float R air shock in a large hole at the base of the down tube. It even has its own mini mudguard to keep off the worst of the front wheel spray. The swingarm is pretty straightforward, and neat touches like cutaway bridges keep weight down and stiffness up.
Backing up all this rear end technology is a RockShox Recon air-sprung fork. It's fairly basic, with only a rebound damping adjuster, but it tracks reasonably accurately through rough trail sections and patters willingly enough over most obstacles.
A frame this complex can't be cheap to make, and we'd expect to see a few componentry compromises. It's hard to find fault with Giant's choices, though. Easton EA30 finishing kit and Avid Juicy Three brakes aren't exactly range topping, but they work almost as well as the more expensive alternatives. The shallow treaded, round profiled 2.0in Hutchinson Piranha rear tyre is a slightly odd pairing with the square profiled, aggressively knobbled 2.1in Barracuda up front, although we've no complaints about how they work.
With its low slung top tube and airy cockpit, the Trance inspires confidence. The ride position is perfect - efficiently flat-backed for pumping out the miles, sufficiently upright for the passing scenery to be admired. Giant's claims to have tackled the problem of pedal-induced bob and brake-induced jack and lockout without special shock valving are largely borne out. The Trance is as immune to pedal-induced suspension movements as any system we've tried, rewarding hard effort with squirt-and-go acceleration.
And this efficiency isn't at the expense of small bump sensitivity. Unlike systems that place the emphasis on shock valving to reduce rider-induced bob, the Trance tracks accurately over all but the tiniest of trail obstacles. This subtle plushness gives it a noticeable traction and control advantage on slow, technical climbs. As the speed picks up and the hits come harder and faster, everything stays well behaved and predictable right up to and beyond the bike's limits. And that is the Trance's only downside...
With such a bump-responsive suspension system and a very linear spring rate right to the limits of its travel, it's relatively easy to find yourself in a situation that 100mm of travel - no matter how well behaved - isn't really enough to deal with. Ironically, it's the fairly basic fork that's likely to prevent this being a problem, by giving ample warning of impending doom. With a fork upgrade, the Giant Trance would be a formidable trail riding machine that'll flatter and push any rider's skills. As it is, it's simply very good indeed.