12 July 2010

bikefix Initial Review: Giant Trance Advanced SL 0 mountain bike

Giant’s new top of the line Trance Advanced model is finally filtering into stores across the country. After seeing it many times in magazines, I finally have one of my own. I had 2009’s top Trance too, but sold it when I heard they were going to make a carbon fiber version. It was a great bike and I don’t have anything against aluminum but that frame was a little too heavy for its travel and size. It was a nice excuse to get a new bike too. I need a lot of those excuses.

I have to admit, I was pretty excited to get this bike. On paper it looks like it is capable of doing triple duty as an XC race bike, a marathon race bike, and capable trail bike- all while weighing ~24 pounds right out of the box. It comes pretty tricked-out from Giant: Fox 32 TALAS RLC fork, Race Face Next SL cranks, XTR derailleurs/shifters, Mavic Crossmax ST wheels (not the lightest, although not heavy, but UST ready and very trail worthy), Avid Elixir CR Mag brakes, and a very nice Giant branded carbon seat post, stem, and handlebar. Although it comes with the respected Kenda Nevegal tires, they weren’t tubeless versions (which I require) so I tossed the Kendas in the tire bin at the bike shop and installed Geax AKA tubeless ready tires on a set of Crank Brothers Cobalt wheels- whose blue color nicely matches all the blue accents and parts on the Trance. The Cobalts are a tad lighter than the Crossmax’s but the AKA tires were a bit heavier than the Kendas so it was about a wash, weight-wise.

The first thing I noticed was that the Maestro suspension felt just like I remembered it- which is a good thing. The next thing I noticed was that this bike is pretty damn stiff. That is saying something because I’m heavy and the Cobalt wheels, while not flexy, certainly aren’t the stiffest set of hoops I could put on this bike. Giant has extensive experience with carbon and is one of the few companies that can control every aspect of the process. They wanted this bike stiff and light, and they succeeded. Part of this is no doubt due to the fork frame interface- otherwise known as the steer-tube and headset. This is the first time I’ve ridden a bike equipped with the new standard steer tube size of 1.5 at the bottom tapering to a 1 1/8 at the top. Just looking at it conveys a sense of strength that the straight tubes and headsets don’t. While riding, the front end feels incredibly stiff and well controlled. In its weight class, I can’t think of anything that comes close. The Fox fork is also a 15mm thru-axle, which is fast becoming the standard for XC and trail use (as it should) and that makes a contribution to the stiffness factor as well.

The Maestro suspension is one of the better virtual pivot suspension designs out there. I’m not a suspension guru but of all the virtual pivot suspension I’ve tried, the Giant’s Maestro and Santa Cruz’s VPP feel the best. The Maestro system seems to do everything well. It’s like a student who gets 90% on all their tests- damn good all around, but you could find other students who occasionally do better on certain tests. It climbs really well and the more you hammer the more efficiently it seems to leap forward, but the bike is hampered a bit by a low bottom bracket. I’m not sure the BB is that low unweighted, but because of its liner nature, the rear shock blows through travel fairly quickly and before you know it your pedals are hitting more rocks than you’re used to. Part of this can be blamed on the fact that the Trance encourages pedaling and momentum, so I find myself taking more pedal strokes through rocky sections than I typically do. As I mentioned, the rear travel is linear but towards the end it ramps up nicely and I have yet to bottom out harshly. It descends very well and the head-tube angle plays the safe bet between to twitchy and too slack at 69.5˚. This bike likes to go fast, up or down. The most awkward moments I’ve had on it are always at slow speed, particularly on climbs. When close to stall speed it is hard to start moving again compared to other bikes. I can’t account for this and I will continue to play with the suspension settings to see if that helps. It’s not that big a deal because I don’t get into that situation very often, but it’s just something I have noticed happening.

The Giant branded bars are excellent so far. They are very comfortable to my hands with a low rise and proper width of 690mm. I’m not going to comment completely on the seat post but at this point I’m not enamored with it. I need more time to play around with it too. This is the first pair of Avid brakes I’ve tried in awhile that didn’t have vibratory issues. They are strong, like most all Avids, and pretty well-modulated and perhaps a bit wooden- but still very good.

I was not expecting to like this Fox TALAS FIT fork given what I had read about it but so far I really like it. It will get a separate review so I won’t dwell on it here. Suffice it to say that it is doing everything quite well and seems plusher than Fox forks usually are.

The shifting is very good but the Race Face rings don’t shift as well as Shimano rings. We knew that though. If you have the guns, this bike is a good candidate for a 2x10 drive train. I’ll keep it as a 3x9 till 3x10 becomes available- I like granny gears sometimes.

I don’t get to ride too many of the direct competitors to this frame. Bikefix just isn’t important enough yet to get invitations to the press camps or get lots of loaner bikes to ride for a few months. So I can’t say exactly how well the Carbon Trance stacks up against bikes from players like Specialized, Trek, and Scott- but I’m guessing quite well. The Spez four-bar isn’t getting any better, single pivot frames like the Scott have well documented strengths and weaknesses, and the Trek Fuel EX… well I don’t know. Seeing as how Giant makes the frames for at least one of these other companies, and that Giant has more control over their carbon products than any other bike company out there, I’m guessing the Trance is at the top of the heap when compared to the others (they are all quality bikes though). In the end however, it’s how much the rider likes the bike that matters. To that end, if you like to trail ride and do some racing, or race and do some trail riding- the Trance Advanced SL 0 is probably one of your best choices. The Carbon Trance retails for a hefty $6,800. Of course, so do most of the all-carbon frames of this spec from any manufacturer (the same frame is available with an XT build kit for $4,900).

charlie

www.giant-bicycles.com

6 comments:

dave said...

What kind of events could you race on this bike? I guess Downieville, but seems like this bike would be a poor choice for most XC courses.

For $7k you could get a dedicated race bike that would be faster for XC AND a nice trail bike for banging around.

This is another one of those bikes like the Mojo that you see on the back of Range Rovers at the trailhead, owned by some slowpoke orthodontist. The MTB equivalent of Dura-Ace triples.

Love the blog, BTW, just not these ridiculous bikes.

Anonymous said...

What kind of events could you race on this bike? I guess Downieville, but seems like this bike would be a poor choice for most XC courses.

For $7k you could get a dedicated race bike that would be faster for XC AND a nice trail bike for banging around.

This is another one of those bikes like the Mojo that you see on the back of Range Rovers at the trailhead, owned by some slowpoke orthodontist. The MTB equivalent of Dura-Ace triples.

Love the blog, BTW, just not these ridiculous bikes.

bikefix said...

Dave,

The carbon Trance SL could easily be raced in cross country events around here. No, it wouldn't be as ideal as the the Giant Anthem (or a similar bike), but the Trance is more capable on rougher terrain. It's true that the Trance would be overkill for most folks in many parts of the country, but there are people who want one bike for both racing and trail riding and it's one they should consider. The Trance Advanced SL can do both but it errs towards the trail riding side. It would be a fine race bike for anybody racing Sport class. I imagine anybody in the expert class or higher will want a more dedicated race bike.

Of course it depends on where you live. This is one of the reasons bikefix always tries to mention that you need to consider your local trails. Our local trails can get quite difficult and the Trance's extra capability here is nice, but If you are talking about an xc course like sea otter, then something like a hardtail will probably rule the day. Heck, one could argue that a hardtail is all you really need for most riding, and the reality is that a good rider can get by on any type of bike. We can all see and feel differences between the different formats and designs though. I love hardtails, but I feel like I get beat-up more if I ride them on tough trails and I definitely go slower downhill on them (unless its fairly smooth). On the opposite end, I love big squishy bikes. They are slower uphill than a regular xc or trail bike, but give me the confidence to really do some scary (for me) maneuvers. Its hard to classify many bikes, especially for a completely unknown readership. In the end, the Trance is capable of racing, and it's capable of trail riding too, so that's what I said.

We do however realize that $7000.00 for a bike is considered ridiculous by many people (we are enthusiasts here though), but as far as these "ridiculous" bikes go: many of the observations we make about the highest level Trance model, can also be applied to the cheaper models in the same range. Giant makes a number of Trance models, many of which aren't so expensive.

I'm not sure why you equate speed with worthiness though. I routinely ride with people much faster (and slower) than me and not only are they good people, but we all still have fun. How fast you ride has little to do with anything other than racing, and it certainly doesn't diminish the enjoyment of the ride. Your generalization about expensive bikes and cars makes it sound more like you have a grudge against people who buy expensive stuff. I've never held someone's disposable income (or how they spend it) against them- just their behavior, and I've seen some real jerks from every class of life.

-Charlie

Michael said...

Well said Charlie!!! I'm the guy who enjoys this bike and the reason I sold my 2011 stumpy pro carbon for the 2011 advanced SL.. In my opinion the Giant Trance (I also owned the 08 Trance x1) is a much nicer all around bike and I've yet to find anything that compares in its class.. The 2011 advanced SL 1 I bought was upgraded free of charge to the XT dyna-syst which again may not be the double XX race set up but for me, paired with this bike, equals a very fun day of mountain biking. I'm a baggy shorts / t-shirt guy that just enjoy's trail riding and getting out doors. Although the 4" racer with his funny looking tights passes me on the climb, the carbon on this bike helps me at least stay with in distance of him so I can slap him on the ass when we are going down, which going down is the fun part, especially on this bike!!

Anonymous said...

Dave, meet Jack...you certainly don't know him.

Anonymous said...

Dave, meet Jack...you obviously don't know him ;)