Giant's Anthem X 29er may be new for 2011 but it's already won a world championship, albeit an unofficial one. Carl Decker took victory in the 2010 Downieville all-mountain event on a prototype version.
The bike’s 25(-ish)lb weight was considerably less than that of most of his competitors' rides, allowing him to pull away from everyone on the cross-country race’s opening climb. The 4in of Maestro suspension and the big wheels then helped him maintain that advantage over the course of a long and punishing 45 minute descent, and then again during the following day’s super-D style downhill.
Giant Bicycles were slow to jump on the 29er bandwagon – in fact, for a while the brand might have even been considered anti-29er – but the Anthem X 29er is poised to be one of their hottest bikes for 2011.
Riding the new Anthem big-wheeler
After just 40 minutes on the new 29er, we can comfortably say that it rides much like any other Anthem X. In fact, its handling characteristics are remarkably similar in almost all respects, save for a slightly dulled steering response. For many riders – especially those who aren’t bike handling wizards – this could be seen as an improvement.
The Anthem X 29er has the potential to be one of Giant's hottest bikes in 2011
Unlike many first-generation 29ers, the Anthem X big-wheeler doesn’t have a super-steep head angle. It’s similar in that respect to Scott’s new Scale 949 29er, and with both bikes their fairly normal (ie. similar to 26in-wheeled bikes) angles seem key to their excellent handling manners.
When it comes to pedaling, the Anthem X 29er again performs just as one would expect of an Anthem chassis. There’s a slight bit of pedaling feedback on super-smooth terrain or road but once the bump frequency increases this gives way to suspension performance that seems to efficiently support the rider and offer good bump absorption.
The aluminum ALUXX SL chassis gets all of the major improvements made to Giant’s Anthem X 26in bikes including an OverDrive tapered head tube that’s further exploited by Fox’s tapered steerer F29 FIT RLC fork with 100mm travel and 15QR through-axle. This stout front end provides precise steering and instils confidence.
The OverDrive head tube gives the Anthem X 29er great steering precision
Down below, the PowerCore press-fit style Shimano bottom bracket shell provides a wider attachment for the down tube and a wider bearing stance for the main pivot, while also making the system easier for Giant to manufacture, not to mention slightly lighter. Overall frame stiffness seems adequate.
While the bike has similar handling traits to the 26in Anthems we’ve tested, it felt sluggish under straight-line acceleration, even compared to other 29ers. We think the Giant branded, traditionally laced wheelset is to blame. The wheels flexed noticeably and, with 2.1in tires and tubes, felt downright heavy.
While the bike we rode was built for Giant’s demo fleet – complete with its name, Barbie, on the seat tube – its specification closely matches that of the Anthem X 29 1 production bike, with a Shimano XT drivetrain, Avid Elixir CR brakes and Fox RP23 Boost Valve shock. For the bike's US$3,675 (£2,950) price, the package seems reasonable value.
Giant's bikes feature matched cable housing, brake lines and custom anodization
For cross-country racing, especially on the domestic US circuit, 29in wheels are becoming the norm rather than the exception. While it was once just Gary Fisher’s evangelists out there on them, the big-wheeled bikes are now winning the biggest races.
Maybe 29ers are less whippy, maneuverable and fun in the air, but for the shaved leg racer types they’re proving plenty fast. Even with the impression of sluggish acceleration, the Anthem X 29er leaves us intrigued. We hope to gain our own race experience on it in the coming season, but maybe with a slightly fancier wheelset.