30 December 2008

bikefix Initial Review: Giant Trance XO

I have been eager to spend some quality trail time on a bicycle from Giant for a while now. Unfortunately our local dealer was more businessman than bike enthusiast, and I refused to go into his stores. Recently though, Giant pulled out of this chain of stores and opened in a couple smaller shops that know what they are doing and love bikes (full disclosure: I have an interest in one of the new dealers). Apparently loving bikes and knowing what you’re doing in the bike business can go together. No longer repulsed by the dealer, I ordered a Trance XO since it is Giant’s interpretation of the "trail" bike (my kind of riding) with 5.5 inches of travel in the front (adjustable downwards via Fox's TALAS fork) and 5 inches in the rear.

The 2009 bike arrived within a week of ordering and had an unbelievable spec: Crossmax ST wheels, Fox 32 TALAS 140 (QR15), XTR cranks and drivetrain, RaceFace carbon bars and seatpost, Thompson stem, Fizik Gobi XM saddle, Crank Brothers' (OEM only) Candy 2ti pedals and Avid Elixir CR brakes. With it''s balance between light but durable parts, I think this is one of the best factory spec’d bikes I have seen for our trails here in New Mexico. The only nods to price in the spec' were non-tubeless Kenda tires. If you follow my reviews, you know that I think tubeless is absolutely critical for our terrain. Not a big deal- I just threw on a pair of UST tires and off I went.

My first ride was on a local trail that we test all our bikes on. It is an awesome trail that is hard without being too hard and long enough that you get some real saddle-time. It also has many different types of trail surface: from solid rock to rock gardens, loose gravel over hard pack to blue groove [Blue groove is clay that has been packed down and dried. Basically it's as hard as cement. I had to look it up. marc]. The Trance performed very well on the first ride and it was obvious that this bike favors aggressive out-of-the-saddle efforts. Actually, let me revise that (it tricked me): it encourages those efforts. The Trance XO is super-efficient when you put the power down, so there is no noticeable penalty for out-of-the-saddle mashing. I say encourage, because the bike is quite happy to chug along in sit-and-spin mode too. That isn’t the case for a lot of bikes that are aggressive climbers. The Trance is supremely well-balanced too: on slow-speed technical sections, it felt very competent and sure-footed. The slightly steep (for a trail bike) head angle of 69.5˚ was helpful in this regard, preventing the low-speed floppiness that much of its competition exhibits.

The long high-speed downhill that has multiple rock gardens seemed to show the Trance’s one weakness. The front felt harsh at speed, my hands would get tired (they never do on this trail) and I felt at the edge of control. This was the first ride though so I made some setup changes to the suspension, I replaced the grips on the bar, and installed a shorter stem. I am happy to say that the changes made a big difference. The most important change was probably the front shock pressure, though I only changed it bit. The grips were also a big factor as the originals had me gripping the bar too tightly. The second time out was much better, but the front was still just a bit harsher on the high-speed descents than some of my other bikes. It was totally controlled though, and I was abl e to descend faster than before, but I was still working harder than usual to manage it. I’m going to attribute this trait to the Trance’s head angle and the Fox fork. Only on the gnarliest of high-speed trails will this trait be noticeable and for most people this is the level of responsiveness they are looking for on tamer terrain- but I prefer to go as straight as possible and let the suspension do more of the work. A different fork might completely change this for me since Fox's TALAS forks tend to be some of the less-plush out there. I will eventually switch forks and report back. For now I've got it dialed in for 95% of the ride- and the other 5% is still pretty damn good.

The border between riding categories is very blurred these days, and the Trance is closer to the cross-country side of trail riding than the all-mountain side. Presumably, this was to keep the Trance from being too similar to the Reign series (Giant's all-mountain/freeride bikes) and while this was a good idea, I’d like to see the Trance X series get a slightly slacker head angle and perhaps a smidge more travel, but that may just be a product of my riding style and the vast amount of technical riding around here. Giant did their homework and crunched the numbers right though: the Trance is probably the ideal trail bike for most parts of the country. In the areas of the USA/world where the trails have that mix of technical sections and high speed descents, it is only at a slight disadvantage to the longer-travel slacker-geometry trailbikes available and is still one of the best choices I have ridden to date. I think that the ideal rider for the Trance is an aggressive XC rider who wants to move up to a "trail" bike without sacrificing the cross-country efficiency and responsiveness he is used to. The Giant Trance XO retails for about $5,700. The entire Trance X series shares the same basic suspension design and starts at $1,500.



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