02 September 2009

bikefix Exclusive Review: Giant Trance X0 mountain bike

If you're a regular bikefix reader, you can probably guess what kind of bikes we tend to build for ourselves. While we're not normally big into racing, we do like to cover a lot of ground, which is often fairly rough and includes a good deal of both climbing and descending. There's a bit of exploring, sometimes more than a bit of pushing and maybe even a bit of getting radical. What was once called mountain biking is now called trail riding, and (until 2010's carbon fiber versions become available) the Trance X0 is at the top of Giant's Trail series.

When Charlie's wandering eye wandered elsewhere, I decided to adopt his Trance X0 (initial review here) and give it a good home. The most impressive new bike I've ridden this year was Giant's Anthem X2. Like the Anthem X, the company's Trance X series use Giant's Maestro suspension design- in this case configured to provide 5in of travel. Like many competing suspension designs, the Maestro uses a pair of short links between the front and rear triangles to achieve a conceptual (virtual?) floating pivot around which the rear axle moves. Like Ibis' and Pivot's DW*Link, Giant's links rotate in the same direction- VPP bikes (Santa Cruz, Intense) use counter-rotating links. What does this mean to the rider? Nothing, really- all of these designs have the ability to perform terribly or become a maintenance nightmare if executed poorly. When done well, however, these floating pivot designs can be tuned to react well to large and small bumps while all but ignoring chain- and rider-induced suspension movement. They can also be massaged to racer-boy stiffness or freeride plushness- in short, it would be a mistake to assume that all floating pivot frames ride similarly.

Looking at the build, the Trance XO is the thing of many trail riders' dreams. A 140mm Fox TALAS fork, full Shimano XTR drivetrain (including cranks and cassette!), Avid Elixir CR disc brakes, Crank Brothers Candy 2Ti pedals and bikefix Pick Mavic Crossmax ST wheels are clearly chosen with light weight and durability in mind. With honest-to-goodness 2.25in tubeless tires (tubed Kenda Nevegals come stock), sealant, a computer and Eggbeater SL pedals installed, the XO is ready to rock at a very reasonable 26.75lb. All of this high-end kit doesn't come cheap at $5,700, but unlike other companies' rides there are no house-branded parts to be found here- even the bar and seatpost are carbon fiber Race Face pieces. As usual, by manufacturing their frames (alongside others') themselves and buying a bazillion parts per year, Giant are able to offer a whole heck of a lot of bike for the money (there are two levels of XT-equipped Trance X at $2,800 and $4,200 and a Deore version starting at $1,500).

The Trance X's frame itself is a thing of beauty. As hydroforming becomes more commonplace, it's use is beginning to verge on gratuitous. Giant have clearly waved their hydraulic wand all over the Trance X- but here it works. The top tube, seat tube and down tube feature bends to accommodate suspension components as well as the rider's most prized possessions and the area where the top and down tubes meet the head tube are- to my eye- purposeful and beautiful. The finish itself is very cool as well. Roughly the top half of the frame is brushed aluminum, while the scratch-prone lower half looks to have been bead blasted. The transition cunningly and subtlely forms the Giant logo in a frustratingly hard-to-photograph silver-on-silver.

While I'll point you to my Fox TALAS and Avid Elixir reviews for more detailed bitching, the first order of business was getting the TALAS working properly. As much as I want Fox to come out with a TALAS that I love and want to ride, they have yet to do so. The 15QR thru-axle, however, is very cool and if adopted by a few more companies could well be the future of cross-country and trail fork-to-wheel interfaces. With that sorted (the Avids are noisy but work acceptably enough that I haven't done anything about them), it was time to get the Trance X's rear suspension dialed in for my riding style. Having spent a fair bit of riding time with the Fox RP23's ProPedal damping both on and off, with a wide range of air pressures, I feel like I've found the sweet spot (right where Giant said it should be). With the ProPedal off and my riding weight (sometimes 5psi less) in the air chamber, the Giant pedals well, is responsive on the descents and climbs pretty tenaciously. There is a bit of bobbing with the ProPedal off, but it doesn't feel parasitic at all, especially on rough trails. Giant recommend about 20% or .25in sag at the shock, which seems right about on. It is possible to run a bit less pressure and up to 25% sag with the ProPedal switched on (at level 1 for me), which provides a very plush feel but drops the already low bottom bracket even further and can result in harsh bottoming. Turning the ProPedal on with the recommended sag makes the bike feel racier, but at the expense of control, stability and climbing ability.

Speaking of climbing ability, the Giant has the most freakishly long head tube I've seen in a while. My large frame has a 6.5in head tube, which means that the shortest usable steerer is in the neighborhood of 8.5in. I've cut mine to 9in and have only one 5mm spacer each below and above the stem. Even with the low 3/4in-rise Race Face bars, it's difficult to get the bars to the level of the saddle. The high front end is somewhat at odds with the bike's otherwise cross-country long-top tube (24in) and steep-ish angles. While setting the 140mm TALAS to 120 or 100mm helps, it does take a fair bit of shifting forward to keep the front wheel from wandering on climbs. Of course, flipping the stem is always an option.

As I leant forward over the bars while climbing recently, I realized that the Giant really rewards riders willing to contribute a bit of body English. Once I understood that, the bike became a lot more fun. Despite having 'only' 5 inches of travel, it can be worked hard in rough terrain and the suspension seems happiest at high speeds. Like the Anthem X I rode this spring, the Trance X loves being airborne. It is very easy to launch of of little ledges and kickers and will land in the roughest patches without complaint. Even on smooth trails, I find myself winding it up and launching off of every little root or roller I spot. I would say that the Trance X is a better climber (cockpit issues notwithstanding) than the Ibis Mojo while being a better all-day bike than Pivot's Mach 5- and is more fun than either boutique frame. While in truly technical terrain it's not as capable a climber or stable a descender as Maverick's Durance, I could see the Giant being a better bike in the tight-but-loamy conditions of the East and upper Midwest.

When all is said and done, the Trance XO provides a fantastic ride. Racers and those on the East coast may want to swap the 140mm TALAS for a 120mm Reba in order to keep the front end down without compromising performance one bit. The Anthem X0 features a build that is close to my dream build and if budget allows, it's a lot of bike for $5,700. Lower-spec X1 and X2 models give up little (the X2 apparently comes in at 28.2lb), and can cut the final bill cleanly in half. Initially, I wasn't as blown away by the Trance X as I was by the Anthem, but looking back, that's as much because the Anthem X raised my expectations as anything else. Finding your ideal setup may take some experimenting, but it's worthwhile and will transform a good bike into an excellent one. Like the Anthem X, the Trance X can be tuned to work in a wide variety of situations, from long, shuttled Rocky Mountain descents to sport class races (especially longer or rougher courses), where the rider won't be able to blame weight or inefficiency if they don't podium. Really, though, it's at home on big, long rides- regardless of what your definitions of big or long are. If you're tastes no longer lean toward racing (or never did), the Trance X would be a great place to start. For me, it marks the return of the affordable, lightweight, do-anything mountain bike.




Faceless Ghost said...

Interesting comments about the bar height. It sounds like the headtubes will be significantly shorter on the L and XL Trances in 2010, so you're not the only one to have had that problem.

bikefix said...


I did notice that in some of the stories about the '10 Trances, but wasn't sure if it applied to all Trance X models or just the Trance Advanced (carbon fiber-framed) models... It would be a welcome change, for sure...

The Bikeworks Crew said...

I noticed all the 2010 Trance X's are coming with 120mm forks. Your X0 was the one model shipping with a 140mm for 2009, which was weird.
That will help drop the bar a bit.

Also, Giant has a handful of various Trance X's from 09 left at awesome prices. I just sold an X1 that we special ordered for well under $3,000. If you've been considering one, now is the time to jump, they have only a handful left of different models and sizes.

Anonymous said...

what do you think of this trail rider compared to a maverick durance?

bikefix said...

The Trance X comes as close to being a great all-around bike to the Maverick Durance as I've tried... The Trance often feels like a longer-travel bike than it is, which will appeal to a lot of people. It's not a reactive to chain tension which many people consider to be a holy grail- but I disagree. A bit more of a rearward axle path would likely make the Giant a bit better on small bumps (at higher shock pressures) and could help it climb a bit better. It's in technical climbing that I feel the Maverick has the greatest advantage- nothing else I've ridden climbs steppy, ledgey stuff as well. Of course money has to come into this at some point and there the Giant is a clear winner right up through the X1 model. For $5700, you could build a pretty badass Durance, though... marc