18 November 2008

bikefix Quickie: 2009 Giant Anthem X2

note 04.20.09: After a couple of months' riding, our in-depth bikefix Exclusive Review of the Anthem X2 is right here!

To celebrate their first year in business and their new relationship with Giant Bicycles, our favorite bike shop recently decided to host a trailhead barbecue and demo day. I decided to take the opportunity to get reacquainted with my singlespeed, see the boys and to take a spin on several of Giant's 2009 full suspension and road models. Of the bikes I rode, I felt that the most drawn to was the company's new Anthem X2.

New for 2009, the Anthem X platform was designed by Giant with Vermont's annual Mount Snow mountain bike race in mind. Mount Snow is known as one of the more technical and difficult courses on the professional circuit. Essentially a slightly longer travel, less twitchy version of their race-only Anthem, the Anthem X happens to be the company's lightest aluminum full suspension frame to date and as such is probably better suited to not just technical races but also to the kind of riding that most of us do on a regular basis. It's been a while since I'd spent much time on full-on race bikes, but I thought I knew what to expect: a light, fast bike with a nominal (but not particularly active) amount of rear wheel travel. I was only partially correct.

Now, the four bar arrangement that Giant calls Maestro bears some similarities to those used by Santa Cruz and Ibis. That said, the location of each of the four pivot points is critical and can have a huge impact on the way that these bikes ride- if you've ridden one, you haven't ridden them all. In the past, I haven't gotten on great with virtual pivot-type bikes, especially when paired with platform damped shocks. They've been efficient, sure, but harsh over smaller and high-speed bumps. As both the rear suspension and the rear shock attempt to filter out (ignore) forces caused by the rider (moving around, pedaling- that sort of thing), they typically also keep the suspension from properly reacting to the kind of smaller, high speed hits that can be very fatiguing over the course of a ride.

With the Fox F100 RL suspension fork and Float RP2 rear shock set up by Dan using Giant's recommendations for my weight, I set out to do a loop I'd just completed on my single speed. When the shock's ProPedal damping is switched on, the best way to describe the Anthem X's feel would be "taut" and certainly "racey." It is very responsive to pedal inputs and thanks in part to a reasonable weight and fast Michelin XCR Dry2 tires, the Anthem X wanted to hammer. It didn't feel like a hardtail, but there wasn't any real sensation of wasted energy either. With a steep-ish 72ยบ head tube angle, the Anthem X wanted to be steered rather than leaned into turns, but that was a fairly easy adjustment to make and felt natural within about 15 minutes of riding. The Dry2 tires were very predictable and the boxfresh Fox F100 fork felt pretty darn good, without the high-speed harshness I've come to expect from their TALAS series. The front end seemed a bit high, making it somewhat difficult to keep weight on the front wheel, allowing it to wash out somewhat. The Race Face Evolve XC bar and stem and the tall carbon headset top cap should take much of the blame here, though, and can easily be changed out by your dealer.

Speaking of the parts, I should mention that the $2,900 Anthem X2 comes with a complete Shimano Deore XT group, including the fantastic crankset, shifters, brakes and Shadow rear deraileur. There are no house brand components on the Anthem X2 (or many other of the company's bikes). Sure, a house brand saddle or cheap hubs could get you an XTR rear deraileur- which would of course be toast the first time the bike ingested a stick or was blown over on a windy day. The WTB LaserDisc Lite hubs are lightweight and have proven very durable on my own bikes, the Mavic XM317 rims are great to see and the Race Face Evolve finishing kit seems decent (though the bars are on the narrow side). Heck, the wheels are even laced with double-butted spokes. It's rare and refreshing to see a full XT bike without any sketchy or heavy parts tucked away anywhere.

With the RP2's ProPedal damping turned off, the Anthem X2 became the kind of bike that I could ride all day, for most riding. With just enough (4" of) active (but still very efficient) rear suspension, quick handling, and solid parts pick, the Anthem X2 would make a great East Coast woods bike. While things are a bit rockier in these parts, many riders still seem resistant to the idea of a 5in bike for cross country- for them the Anthem X would also be fantastic. For me? I'd be tempted to swap the F100 fork for an F120 or Rock Shox Reba 120 and a wide low-rise carbon bar to mellow out the handling just a bit more without compromising climbing or XC speed. It'd still be a great bike for the occasional race but a bit more at home on those days spent on the backside of beyond. Overall, though, it looks like Giant have done their homework and produced a bike that will serve a huge number of riders well.




Si said...

what is the weight of the x2?

bikefix said...

According to the shop, it weighs 26.5lb with crappy old Kore pedals but without sealant in the tubes. mb

Matt said...

Darn good pickup for Bikeworks. There are a few shops in ABQ that will stock a high end Giant roadie, but the mountain bike market was never above entry level stuff. After watching Josh Tostado rip up a Giant Anthem the last couple of years this bike has cred.

Justin said...

chuck on a set of xt tubeless wheels, with Maxxis crossmark tires, and the bike weights 24.9lbs. incredible, totally stock with the exception of the wheels!