by Marc Basiliere
November 18, 2013
27.5 wheels, 140mm travel, XT/SLX spec, nice price
27.5 wheels, 140mm travel, XT/SLX spec, nice price…
US Special Agent Marc B writes in from the Colonies.
When one of the largest shop-quality bike brands in the world makes a wholesale shift a new wheel size, it’s bound to attract attention. While the grumpy might be inclined to see the move as a sign of Giant’s participation in an industry-wide 650b conspiracy, the company maintains that the mid-sized wheels simply make sense from a performance and geometry perspective. Not as ungainly, sluggish, or flexy as 29er wheels but a but more roll-happy and stable than (the now expired) 26in standard, Giant hopes that 27.5in wheels can be most things to most riders. Analysis and marketing aside, settling on a single intermediate wheel size will make life easier for shops and manufacturers alike while making finding tyres simpler and and (we can only hope) end trailhead wheel size discussions.
For 26in fans (among which I count myself), there is some good news. At a mere 4% larger than 26in wheels, in many applications 27.5 wheels feel pretty normal. They’re not overly floppy or unduly sluggish. It’s easy to say that 650bs to corner better than 26in bikes- but likely has at least a little to do with these shiny new 27.5in bikes sporting shiny new tyres. When local Giant dealer Bikeworks‘ 2014 demo fleet arrived, I hopped in the queue for a couple of days on the new Trance 27.5 1.
At £2,300/$3,500, the top alloy-framed Trance has an impressive spec sheet. A Fox CTD TALAS/Float suspension duo provides 140mm of travel front and rear while the Shimano XT/SLX drivetrain and SLX hydraulic discs are excellent performers. Giant’s own-brand cockpit includes an on-trend 730mm low-rise bar, an Overdrive 2 stem (on which more more later), and a surprisingly comfortable colour-matched saddle. The Giant Contact Switch-R internally-routed dropper is a nice bonus, though our demo bike’s was defective from new (hence the Thomson seen here). Giant doesn’t publish the weight of their own-brand P-XC2 wheelset – the spec’s clearest cost saver – but the wheels and tyres are happily tubeless-ready.
Over a couple of days’ and roughly five hours’ riding, I can only relate some initial impressions- but they are quite positive. Between the CTD rear shock’s “Trail” and “Descend” damper settings and varying air pressures, I was able to find everything from relatively snappy XC performance to hovercraft-like bump swallowing. In smoother terrain, the bike seemed happiest with lower shock pressures and the damper’s “Trail” setting keeping bob in check. Technical trails exposed the limitations in this approach, as the low (13.25in unsagged) bottom bracket resulted in alarmingly regular pedal and chainring strikes. Higher pressures (110-115% of body weight) with the damper in “Descend” mode helped to keep the cranks out of harm’s way, encouraged pedaling through rough stuff, and didn’t result in excessive suspension movement.
With a 13mm bump to 140mm travel, 4% wheel size increase, and a slacker 67° head tube, the 2014 Trance seems to straddle the line between last year’s Trance and Reign models. An included MRP double chain guide (not fitted) reinforces this impression. According to Giant’s Andrew Juskaitis,
…the previous generation (Trance X) was designed with a more XC focus. Those days are over. Our Anthem series has become our go-to line for XC riders’ needs—be it race or trail riding, Anthem is the correct bike for riders seeking aggressive geometries and minimal weight. For the average ‘weekend warrior’ as well as the die-hard trail enthusiast, Trance should be their weapon of choice… to handle a huge variety of terrain.
Pointed downhill, the bike is impressively controlled and the suspension never once felt unsettled or caught off guard- something that could not be said of its pilot. Despite mid-length (17.3in/440mm) chainstays, the Giant was easy to toss around- though the rear wheel’s mass could be felt at times.
Straight out of the box, the Fox 32 Talas CTD Evolution fork is one of the best-feeling Fox forks I’ve ridden in some time. Weighing 10st/140lb, I ran air pressures as low as possible without the negative spring pulling the fork into its travel, but found little of the harshness that has long been associated with the Talas platform. Bigger and more aggressive riders may want for a more substantial fork, but for trail use the 32 is more than adequate- and anything bigger would have a noticeable impact on the price tag.
In an age of ever-wider bars, Giant’s Overdrive 2 system improves front end stiffness through the use of a 1.5-1.25in tapered steerer. When compared to the more common 1.5-1.125in standard, Overdrive 2 is said to improve “torsional steering stiffness” by up to 30%. Unfortunately, any additional steering precision went unnoticed (either the 32mm fork or the rider the weakest link here)- and comes at the expense of real-world practicality. Stem swaps require a bit of planning and anyone considering future fork upgrades should expect the stock model to fetch below-market money. Giant dealers should have plenty of Overdrive 2 stems in stock, but the non-standard bits are something to be aware of.
Aft of the head tube, nice touches abound: The au courant internal cable routing is accessed via nice, big rubber plugs and can be bypassed altogether for the rear brake. The rear disc bosses are 160mm post mount native and the suspension linkages are nicely sculpted. Giant’s graphics and colours coordinate well: on-trail comments were overwhelmingly positive. The DT Swiss 12mm thru axle threads into tidy dropouts and there is plenty of clearance around the stock 2.25in Schwalbe tyres. A high set of bosses (so positioned to clear burlier SX models’ piggyback shocks) make the bottle easy to reach- but difficult to remove on the fly. Careful cage selection (or a drill and some courage) might be in order there.
Without the specified dropper post but with a few scoops of Stan’s and some Eggbeater pedals in place, the large Trance 27.5 1 hit the scales at 28.5lb: neither light nor unbearable. The wheels undoubtedly make up more than their share of the bike’s heft and would be the place to start the upgrade cycle. It’s hard not to imagine that shaving a half-pound or more of rotating weight would really bring the Giant alive both on the climbs and in the air. The sub-6lb frame, on the other hand, is barely heavier than some carbon models and looks like a solid platform from which countless visions of the ideal trail bike might evolve.
What about those 27.5 wheels? While it wasn’t as though an angelic trail crew was laying ramps over every rock in my path, the slightly bigger wheels do roll through wheel-catching rocks and roots… slightly better than 26in wheels. In isolation, 27.5s may not justify the change from 26in- but really do work well as part of Giant’s overall package.