We had a first ride on Giant's new 120mm-travel Trance X 29er 0 trail bike in August 2012, in the remote wilderness of British Columbia, Canada. We've logged nearly five months of trail time since then, through an unusually mild Colorado winter. Overall, our initial impressions have held up: big wheels, fat tires, excellent suspension, and great geometry add up to lots of fun.
Ride & handling: Gobbles up trail but more of an endurance runner than a sprinter
Giant has done well on the frame geometry, particularly considering it's the company's first trail-oriented 29er. Even with the huge wheels and long expanses of frame tubing, the Trance X 29er 0 feels admirably maneuverable through twisty sections of trail, and is an eager companion with lots of 'pop', readily launching up and over rocks and roots or even wheeling across dips as needed.
We credit much of the bike's playfulness to the relatively short chain stays, which at 452mm are actually 10mm shorter than those on Giant's more cross-country oriented Anthem X 29er.
While the shorter rear end aids nimbleness, the long front center, low bottom bracket, and fairly slack 69-degree head tube angle lend fantastic stability at high speed.
When conditions (and traffic) allowed we rocketed confidently through sections of singletrack, with the meaty 29in tires steamrolling over smaller obstacles and the low center of gravity offering a securely planted feel through fast corners.
Steep, technical descents with lots of rocks and drop-offs were especially easy to attack – just point and shoot and let the bike do the rest.
Unless you have a lift (or shuttle) handy, however, those grin-inducing downhill sections have to be earned. Thankfully, the Trance X 29er 0 does well with that, too. The respectable 12.49kg total weight (27.54lb, medium, tubeless, without pedals) and efficient Maestro rear suspension design help, but even so, the 4.10kg (9.04lb) of rotating mass (wheels, tires, sealant, rotors, and cassette) make the bike more of an endurance machine than an all-out sprinter.
We only tossed the Fox Float CTD rear shock into full lockout mode on extended pavement sections, otherwise finding that the Trail setting sufficiently calmed things down. Especially hard efforts are met with a tiny bit of squat, but otherwise the Trance X 29er 0 aptly claws its way up long grinders and short, steep pitches alike.
Once up and over the top, the Maestro rear end simply excels. The initial stroke is a touch firm but still quite sensitive, the mid-stroke is well controlled and lively, and there's excellent bottom-out resistance. More importantly, the matching Fox CTD fork and shock dish up a balanced feel front to rear, so we were never caught off guard by one end acting differently from the other.
Extensive hydroforming throughout the aluminum frame keeps the Trance X 29er 0 reassuringly rigid. There's little side-to-side movement under power, and the rear wheel faithfully tracks the front in most situations.
We did experience some front triangle twist in fast, technical sections with lots of rocks, though. Giant might grace the custom Fox fork with an extra-oversized 1 1/4 to 1 1/2in steerer but it's worth noting that the surrounding head tube and adjoining top tube and down tube aren't any bigger than usual.
Giant's OverDrive 2 system crams a huge 1 1/4in to 1 1/2in steerer inside the head tube
Rider position felt appropriate for the application, with the short head tube (just 104mm on our test bike), thin headset cone, and very low-rise handlebar offering up an acceptable amount of drop for aggressive trail riding.
But despite the claimed 73-degree effective seat tube angle, we still found ourselves slamming the saddle all the way forward on the rails to get our usual position. The top tube feels longer than claimed, too.
Swapping to the aforementioned shorter stem took care of the cockpit but some might find the resultant weight balance somewhat rear-biased on the trail. Indeed, it was occasionally tricky to get enough weight up front on steep climbs. For the most part, though, it's a good formula for general trail riding and hooning around.
Frame: Radical hydroforming and a slight tweak on the usual Maestro formula
Given Giant's manufacturing capabilities, it's no surprise that the Trance X 29er 0 frame is extensively hydroformed throughout, with nary a round tube to be seen. The S-shaped and trapezoidal-profile down tube creates clearance for the front wheel and room for a bottle inside the front triangle, while the slightly dropped top tube yields lots of crotch clearance.
An extensive length of both tubes are then TIG-welded together before meeting the tapered head tube to further reinforce the front end and prevent crumpling on hard landings.
The seat tube is perhaps the most dramatically shaped, with its kinked profile directly incorporating the upper suspension link pivot without the need to weld on extra bits. Down below is Giant's usual press-fit bottom bracket, for use with 24mm-diameter spindles.
Forged upper and lower suspension links rotate on sealed cartridge bearings to a similarly TIG-welded rear triangle. According to Giant, the tighter rear end required a switch to a single, offset reinforcing upright between the seat stays and chain stays (instead of the company's usual twin spar setup) but we didn't notice any sacrifice in stiffness as a result.
Likewise, we didn't notice any off-putting rear triangle flex under heavy cornering loads, despite the lack of a thru-axle. Giant claims the fully enclosed design doesn't require one, and while that might be true we still expect to see a switch in later models, if only due to public pressure and wheel availability.
Routing is internal throughout, including for both derailleurs, the dropper seatpost, and even the rear brake – although the latter will have to be disconnected, fed through the frame, and rebled post-sale as Giant runs it underneath the down tube from the factory. We didn't bother for testing purposes, but what we couldn't ignore was the incessant housing rattle. While Giant includes well-placed entry and exit ports, none of the housing is otherwise secured inside the frame.
Internal routing makes for a clean appearance but the housings rattle annoyingly
Given how quiet everything else was, this was annoying to say the least – and heaven help you if you don't run a piece of housing liner over the old cable and through the frame before yanking out the old lines.
Actual weight for our medium-sized frame was 2.72kg (6lb, including rear derailleur hanger, water bottle bolts, and seatpost collar). That's on par with carbon fiber 26in-wheeled trail bike frames from just a few years ago. Good stuff.
Equipment: Awesome Deore XT gear, good wheels, and superb Fox suspension
While Australian buyers have access to a no-holds-barred Trance X 29er version with SRAM XX, the rest of the world's top offering comes with Shimano's fantastic Deore XT gear. Save for the extra weight, we doubt many people will be upset.
Shifting on the 2x10 drivetrain is as you'd expect from Shimano (which is to say flawless), even with the inclusion of a KMC chain. The transmission runs quietly, front and rear shifts are positive and reliable, and the Shadow Plus one-way clutch on the rear derailleur does a great job of minimizing chain slap and improving chain retention – a critical bonus as there are no ISCG tabs on the frame and the press-fit bottom bracket cups won't accept one.
Also, potential buyers shouldn't be wary of the 2x10 gearing. Giant's product managers have wisely specified a lower 38/24T combo up front to compensate for the increased rollout. One minor issue is the integrated Shimano Ispec shifter mount, which cleans the cockpit up but limits shift lever adjustment.
As we've noted in the past, braking performance is absolutely brilliant. The stubby levers offer fantastic ergonomics and excellent feel while the forged aluminum calipers add outstanding power and control. The inclusion of three-layer Ice Tech rotors aid in dissipating heat, although we wished for the matching finned pads, too. In fairness, though, we never suffered any fade during testing, which included plenty of long descents (as in 300m+ of continuous drop).
Save for the generally comfy Fizik Gobi XM saddle and custom-for-Giant FSA Orbit tapered headset, nearly all the build is from Giant's house brand.
That said, the P-TRX 29er 1 wheels are closely related to DT Swiss's own XR 1450 Spline 29, except with a wider DT Swiss-made rim that's better suited to the versatile, 2.25in-wide Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires.
The 28mm-wide tubeless rim is well suited to trail use
The wheels are reasonably light at just under 1,800g (claimed). The solid outer rim wall makes for easy tubeless conversions with the included valve cores (you'll have to add your own sealant) and they feel reassuringly solid on the trail.
The rims proved tough, too. Despite bottoming a few times on square-edged rocks, we didn't suffer any dents. Rear hub internals utilize DT Swiss's durable star ratchet driver mechanism, too, and Giant has upgraded to the faster engaging 36-tooth ratchets.
Also coming stock is Giant's 100mm-travel Contact Switch Remote dropper seatpost. The air-sprung design is admirably smooth, the tidy remote takes up minimal room on the bar and is easy to actuate, and the concealed cable anchor is a boon for weather resistance (although a pain come replacement time).
We didn't have any reliability issues with the post this time around, but previous incarnations have been hit or miss. Hopefully Giant has finally worked out the kinks, as it's a nice piece of hardware.
Otherwise, the rest of the Giant kit seems up to snuff. The low-rise aluminum bar is stiff in your hands, with a comfortable bend, although 720mm seems at the lower limit of what we deem acceptable for the category.
As already mentioned, the stock stem was rather long for the genre, but it's surprisingly light at 139g and the huge, square-profile extension is very stout. The 1 1/4in steerer definitely limits stem options, though.
Finally, there's the issue of price. While it might seem like a lot for an aluminum trail bike, the Trance X 29er 0 comes well equipped and, more importantly, its performance belies the fact that it's Giant's first 29er trail bike.
Minor quirks aside, it's a fantastically fun rig, and if budget allows it's a safe bet that Giant will release a carbon version next year. Stay tuned.