The least expensive of Giant’s Anthem full-suspension race weapons displays truly stunning handling and overall speed, even at this low price point. However, the short fork can’t quite cope with what the back end encourages.
Giant’s short-travel, high-speed, homicidal-angled race bike has been around for a while now, and we’ve always rated it highly. This is a bike to buy if you want the trail to blur around you on every ride, whether on a race course or off-road.
Ride & handling: sharp as a razor, tight as a tourniquet
There’s shouldering room in the Anthem frame, but it’s going to have to be one absolute rooty/muddy/vertical swine of a climb to stop the Anthem pedalling straight up it. The longish stem, long top tube and narrow bars keep the nose firmly pressed down for steering traction. Out back, the Maestro suspension does an incredibly good job of sucking the rear wheel onto the ground for traction without any hint of bob, wobble or rhythm-breaking pedal kickback.
The overall result is that you’ll see the top of a lot of climbs you didn’t expect to. You’ll generally be alone too, because even at £1400 this is a light complete bike, and of the bikes we rode alongside it, only the Specialized Epic Comp could hold it when it came to putting the hurt on up a long haul.
A big part of the Anthem’s appeal is psychological speed. The light weight definitely plays a part, but Giant has played an absolute wildcard with the handling – and it has turned out to be the Anthem’s trump card. A 72° head and 73° seat angle, with super-short back end and wheelbase, should give the steering the same reputation as Sweeney Todd, but when it comes to close shaves it’s incredible.
The longer stem and skinny bars stabilise it just enough so it doesn’t flap around like the last trolley in Tesco, yet soon as you aim for a line, you’re totally locked in and carving within a millimetre of the apex.
On singletrack the Anthem gives you extra metres on every corner, and on race days you’ll be ripping through corners on rails when others are sliding into the straw bales.
For such a light bike it’s very, very stiff, too. There’s not even a hint of smear or sideways twang, however hard you push it, and unlike many light suspension bikes it doesn’t jump gears when you really jam the power down.
Add a suspension system that requires absolutely no moderation or compromise in terms of power application and braking, and the Giant is outrageously fast fun in every situation you put it in.
While the cheap, short fork will start spiking out and scaring you if you charge down steep steps or properly rocky stuff, the overall poise and descending confidence is equally improbable for this category of bike. On better-equipped versions we’ve regularly left behind bikes with another 2-3 inches of travel, thanks to the Anthem’s total manoeuvrability and agility. This bike has proved remarkably tough over the years, too.
The only thing you do have to watch out for is ground clearance.
With such a neutral suspension system it’s far less of a problem on the trail than it looks on paper, but expect to toe-tap occasionally in rutted/rooty terrain.
Frame: no change to successful layout
Giant hasn’t changed the Anthem frame at all for 2008, apart from wrapping it in a half polish/half paint design – which we reckon looks particularly great in gloss black and silver.
If we were Giant, we wouldn’t have changed anything either. Most bike manufacturers are still playing catch-up to Giant in terms of tubing technology and alloy alchemy. The hand-built Anthem frames are made from ultra-light tubes put together with superb consistency, too.
With everyone now moving towards slacker (69° or less) steering angles — even on general trail bikes — Giant’s use of a 72° head angle on the Anthem was unpredicted and unprecedented.
There’s no denying it works in this format, though, as the short fork doesn’t dive enough to make it scarily steep under braking, and the classic racer’s longer stem and narrow bars keep it stable at speed. It’s still an experience, but boy, is it a fast one.
The frame is straightforward and direct, rather than fashionably curvy, and it neatly manages to tuck the short-linkage Maestro suspension links and short-stroke Fox RP2 shock into the bottom corner. The impressively tight rear triangle locks down rear wheel tracking and power transfer with 90mm of wheel travel.
The rear-facing seat slot is prone to picking up filth, but otherwise we’ve run Anthems for well over a year with absolutely zero maintenance and no issues. Racers will be delighted to find room for two bottle cages and plenty of space for shouldering up climbs.
Equipment: only weight freaks need ypgrade
Race-weight fork and wheels are an obvious eventual upgrade, but whatever you upgrade to, keep the travel at 80mm to retain the spot-on steering balance. For now though, run it soft to suit the back end and use the handlebar remote for those steep, smooth climbs.
The only other gripe we had was with the chunky but not grippy tyres, although you can ignore that, because production bikes should come with Michelin’s excellent Dry 2 race tyres. Other key bits like the Hayes Stroker brakes and gears are great too, so it’s just a case of upgrading to lighter stuff later if you feel the need.
Summary: implausibly good fun
A £1400 race bike will always suffer compromises, such as the workable but weighty fork, and the tyres definitely need changing. Neither hides the fact you’re getting a truly exceptional race/high-speed trail bike that’s implausibly good fun on far more than just the race course.