by David Gould
March 10, 2014
The view from the saddle after several months
The view from the saddle after several months
It’s now been the best part of a year since the Giant Trance X 29er 1 became my long term tester.
In that time, I’ve had the opportunity to put it through its paces on some fairly demanding rides. As parts have worn in (and out), I’ve come to form a clearer view of the bikes strengths and weaknesses and now have a real sense of where the bike excels.
By way of brief overview, my hope for my long termer was that it would be a bike that was capable of handling steep and technical terrain whenever I wanted to get my big mountain mojo on, while being equally adept at all day cross country adventure rides where the only limit was the amount of food you could carry to keep going. Courtesy of a proper summer reminiscent of the kind you remember from when you were a kid, I was able to test the bike to its limit.
In my on-going quest to ride the Munros, a trip up Buchaille Etive Mor proved to be enlightening. As arguably THE iconic Scottish peak, ubiquitous in Colin Prior photos and pretty much every other image that visitors to Glencoe return with, it’s not an obvious choice for a ride. Steep sided, almost impenetrable looking on first acquaintance, my friend Donald and I took advantage of a bluebird day to see whether there was good riding to be had.
The carry up, although tough and somewhat scrambley at times, was despatched with relative ease. Although not made from ‘on trend’ carbon, the Giant’s lack of heft made for a pain free carry onto the ridge. Cresting the middle peak, we looked down the trail only to see lines that looked improbable at best. Dropping saddles for the descent, we tentatively picked our way down. Despite a challenging mix of loose rock, slidey gravel and banks of snow, the Giant’s 29er wheels and Nobby Nic tyres proved an effective combination in rolling over some particularly tricky sections. Getting down to the bottom, I turned and laughed in that slightly nervous way of having just ridden down a downhill trail on an XC bike. My prejudices would have had me believe that a 120mm forked bike with XC wheels would struggle on such terrain but the opposite was true. Whether it was the longer wheelbase that comes with 29ers or the large wheels aiding traction, the Giant was immediately proving it’s worth and versatility.
As the ride progressed and my confidence grew, it became clear that it was my skills that would be the limiting factor and not the bike. Perhaps the most telling comment was, when after one particularly steep and exposed corner where we rode past a couple of walkers, Donald said how he felt compelled to follow me on a section he thought we would both be off and walking down. From a man who has a genuine downhill pedigree, I took this as a compliment not of me but the Giant.
Another day, another testing ride
Fast forward a few weeks and a trip to Kinlochleven to explore the Mamore Mountains highlighted the Giant’s genuine pedigree.
For those who don’t know it, the climb on the West Highland Way from sea level up to Mamore Lodge is something of a test piece. A heady mix of exposed bedrock, stone pitching and loose rock makes for a difficult climb on even your best day. Always one for riding even when walking would be as quick, I approached the climb more in hope than expectation. However, as I winched, grunted and thrutched my way up the climb, I came to appreciate how capable a climber the Giant is. Sections that have defeated me in the past fell by the wayside. Rounding the very last corner, I was on a high having cleaned a climb I had never done before. Unfortunately, I was found wanting as an ill-timed hop led to an immediate pinch flat and loss of traction. Victory was yards away but not wanting to shred my tyre and spoil the ride, I accepted the inevitable and allowed defeat to be snatched from the jaws of victory.
With a long wheelbase, and chainstays that don’t conform to the current vogue for shortness, one might be forgiven for thinking that tight, switch backed descents might prove to be the Giant’s achilles heel. However, when descending from our target for the day , Binnean Mor, the top section of Swiss style, hop your back wheel round switchbacks, did little to upset the Giant’s composure. Once again, the bike had confounded my expectations.
In normal XC mode, the Giant has proven just as capable. A week in Aviemore gave me the opportunity to give it some beanz and blast around the woodland singletrack of Rothiemurchus and Inchriach. Cranking down, the Giant quickly gets up to speed but unlike my regular 26 inch wheeled full susser, it manages to retain its speed for perceptibly longer. Twisty singletrack is particularly rewarding when ridden hard and fast with a bit of body English being all that’s needed to get the best out of the bike.
Good but not perfect
Inevitably, spend long enough riding a bike and you’ll find faults and the Giant is no different.
In my last report, I wrote about my concerns about the Press Fit Bottom Bracket. Sure enough, after several more weeks of creaking, groaning and increasing play, I removed the SRAM one that came with the frame and replaced it with a cheaper Superstar Components alternative. Despite costing substantially less, it’s held up considerably better than the stock one.
The dropper post has continued to work throughout, though has developed a fair degree of side to side and fore to aft slop that would give me cause for concern for its long term reliability. Despite developing play in its pivots after only the first few weeks of riding, the rear mech continues to work although compared to my default Shimano set up, the chain, cassette and rings have worn out in about half the time of a comparable Shimano set up. In a first for me, I’ve even managed to snap teeth on the rear cassette! With the drivetrain now worn out, it will be interesting to see how the replacement Deore groupset I will be fitting fares in comparison.
Continuing the theme of wearing out, the bearings have now developed a significant level of play that riding through bumps is met more with a clunk than a buttery smooth squish as was previously the case. Next stop is a new set of bearings to get things back to normal.
All of the above are par for the course of owning a mountain bike. Ride stuff and it wears out. However, the one component that has disappointed me are the Avid Elixir 3 brakes. When they worked, they stopped me which is all one could hope for. Unfortunately, knowing when they were going to work became something of a lottery. Over the test period, they’ve required several re-bleeds and did on more than one occasion leave me to complete a ride with at least one brake being out of commission.
Problems seem to arise when the pads wear down. My suspicion is that air is getting into the system at the caliper when the pistons are pushing the worn pads against the disc. Things reached a bit of a head when the Giant required another re-bleed, so I opted to ride my Salsa Beargrease, itself equipped with Avid Elixir 5’s. On a descent, the rear brake failed completely resulting in an end of bar / thigh interface and inevitable dead leg. Cue one unhappy rider who still had to ride some 10 to 15 miles to get home. With the Elixir brakes having failed on both bikes, when I got home I removed them from both bikes and replaced them with Shimano. I’m loathe to criticise parts too harshly and I could well have just been unlucky but on this showing, Avid Elixir’s won’t be appearing on my bikes again any time soon.
So what next?
Well, there’s a spanky new Deore drivetrain that’s waiting to get fitted.
The replacement Deore brakes have already proven their worth – strong, reliable stoppers whose performance is easily a match for their more expensive brethren. Interestingly, Giant have switched their spec on the entry level 2014 2 model to include a Deore groupset so I’m looking forward to seeing how it compares with my experiences of SRAM. For 2014, Giant have jumped head first into the wheel size debate and thrown their considerable weight into 27.5 as being their go to wheel size, while making noises about potentially dropping 29ers after 2015. To my mind, this would be a great pity. With the exception of the brakes, in the Trance 29er Giant have come up with a bike that manages that rare trick of being considerably more capable than it appears at first glance.
Love or loathe its looks, but dismiss it as just another full suspension bike at your peril.