Giant's 6in-travel Reign falls in between their 5in Trance and 6.7in Reign X models, both of which are more regularly seen out on the trails. After spending the better part of this season on the Reign, we think it's been mistakenly overlooked; it's an impressive bike to ride.
It's light (6.31lb for a medium frame), reasonably durable, an exceptional pedaler and great value, especially if you buy it as part of a complete bike (the 2011 Reign 1 with Shimano's SLX group is listed at well under $3,000). And with just a few small modifications – namely shock tune and a chain guide solution – it would be worthy of a five-star rating.
Ride & handling: Almost perfect
For a 6in bike, the Reign's geometry – 67.5° head angle, 17.2in chainstays and 14in bottom bracket height (with 160mm fork) – is spot-on for a reformed cross-country racer turned trail rider. It's slack enough for steep descents but still climbs well even when the trail gets steep and loose. In essence, it holds its own anywhere.
We tested the bike with both fixed-travel 160mm and adjustable-travel 150mm forks, and while the latter seemed to suit the overall purpose of the bike – think rugged back country adventure rather than pedaling freeride – we preferred the bike with the bigger fork, which slackens the head angle a little less than a degree and raises the bottom bracket by roughly a quarter inch.
No matter what we did with the Reign, from aggressive descending to all-day adventure riding, we always had fun. We rode it at Trestle Bike Park in Colorado on numerous occasions and even raced it in Ross Schnell's enduro event there. Travel and stiffness were admirable given the speeds we rode it at, the jumps we hit and the weight of the frame; in fact, we only had one problem with the Reign during these more more abusive sessions – its lack of chain guide mounts.
Giant's 2011 Reign is one feature short of a perfect spec – a chainguide solution
Sure, there was a little bit of wander in some of the fastest G-outs, some drift in high speed berms, and at the end of a 15-minute race run the shock would become less consistent (heck, it's a cross-country damper), but in all cases we were impressed at how the Reign held up. Like many of the trail bikes we've tested this year, it took us into territory and situations that would likely have been better served by its big brother, the Reign X, and yet it managed to get us through.
What can be improved? We've mentioned the chain guide issue and we'll continue to harp on that in the frame construction section below, but in terms of the overall ride, the single biggest improvement will be the specification of Fox's Adaptive Logic rear damper for 2012. We tried the Reign with both a 2011 RP23 shock and the 2012 Adaptive Logic version, and in both cases we felt the need for extra compression damping, particularly during rowdy descending.
With both dampers we found ourselves using Fox's ProPedal platform damping to support the shock and keep it higher in its travel. The advantage of the Adaptive Logic shock is that you can pick two different ProPedal settings to switch between on the fly (we used '3' for climbing and '2' everywhere else) instead of just having a choice between one ProPedal setting and having the shock fully open.
Giant could probably also spec a slightly higher Boost Valve pressure, especially if they decide to use super-slippery Kashima coated shock shafts for 2012. We found the 175psi setting slightly light and feel a 200psi Boost Valve setting would better the overall performance. That said, most of our criticism of shock tuning relates to descending and Giant's dual-link Maestro design definitely keeps pace with VPP and DW-Link bikes in terms of balancing activity, pedaling efficiency and seeming 'plushness'. We spoke to Giant's marketing manager, Andrew Juskaitis, regarding the matter and he informed us that Giant will bump the compression tune of the rear shock from medium to high as well as spec' the Adaptive Logic model for the 2012 season; welcome news that remedies our criticism.
We rode the Reign with 2011 and ’12 Fox RP23 shocks
Frame: The epitome of alloy manufacturing
Our Reign frame weighed 6.31lb with its damper, derailleur hanger, seat clamp and headset cups – damn light for a 150mm-travel alloy bike. That weight, and the fact it's achieved without too much compromise, highlights the impressive abilities of the manufacturing hulk that is Giant. The Reign's Aluxx SL tube forming, shaping and forging is second to none, and the welding is on par with the industry's best. There are small touches too, like carrying the weld bead for the upper post mount through the seatstay so as to better distribute braking forces through the beer-can-thin stay.
Giant have given the Reign all of the bells and whistles their engineering department have developed over the past few years as well, including their OverDrive tapered steerer, MegaDrive rectangular down tube and, unfortunately, their PowerCore press-fit BB92 bottom bracket shell. We say unfortunately because it's the press-fit bottom bracket that makes the Reign incompatible with a full chain guide.
We keep harping on this issue because, although the number of riders who'll want to run 1x10 drivetrains on the Reign is small, this bike is perfect for a single ring setup. It's light enough to plod up hills with a 34- or 36-tooth chainring paired to an 11-36T cassette, and it has enough suspension travel and aggressive enough geometry to knock the chain off a bare ring. The likes of Truvativ’s X-Guide and MRP's 2x would nicely complement its capabilities but can't be fitted.
Giant's OverDrive head tube will accept a larger 1-1/4in upper diameter steerer for 2012
There's one additional trade-off that we bumped up against in our time on the Reign: durability. The lightweight tubing just doesn't hold up against rock strikes and crashing as well as something thicker. During testing we kicked up a soup-bowl sized rock at roughly 20mph that inflicted a dent on the down tube that concerned us enough to email a photo to Giant. Their assessment? "You should be fine – even with a dent that size. Consider it ‘work hardening’ of the aluminum." However, they did say: "If it was composite, you’d be out a bike."
We used our Reign frame as a test mule for gear reviews throughout the season, regularly swapping forks, shocks and wheels. The latter varied in weight from under 1,600g to over 1,900g, with rim widths ranging from 19 to 21mm. We didn't mind the extra weight of the heavier sets as the stiffness and extra girth was readily noticed.
We ran a short stem (50mm) and wide bar (740mm) throughout the test, and brakes also remained constant, with a 180mm front/160mm rear rotor combination. We tried double and single chainrings, with an 11-36-tooth cassette. We also swapped back and forth between multiple remote-adjustable seatposts, concluding that you need a 5in-travel (125mm) model to fully appreciate the Reign's trail prowess.
RockShox will offer a 4in-travel Reverb post for 2012, but the Reign requires the 5in model available now
For 2012, the Reign frame will not change, so our main criticism regarding the lack of a chain guide solution will remain. Giant will, however, upgrade complete bikes with OverDrive 2 steerers that taper from 1-1/4in-to-1-1/2in, and are said to increase steering stiffness by 30-percent. For the Reign framesets, Giant will add their own remote, adjustable height seat post to the package cost.