Whisked off to the South of France, Sanny gets to put in some quality ride time on the latest e-bike offering from Giant. Is it amour at first ride or a polite non merci? Only one way to find out.
Pics by Sanny and Damien Rosso Photographe
When it comes to full suspension e bikes, it’s fair to say that the approach being taken by manufacturers can be split into two distinct camps. On the one hand, there is the lighter is better school of thought where motor power is reduced thus allowing the use of smaller and lighter batteries. Less weight to carry around should, in theory, make for a more natural riding experience. Specialized and Orbea are notable in adopting this approach with some of their model lines. On the other hand, a focus on a more powerful motor and larger capacity batteries can make for a different kind of eMTB experience. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.
For me as a rider, I am always looking for a happy medium; one that gives me enough extra oomph when I need it and sufficient battery capacity to make multi hour epic rides in the mountains a possibility without compromising the handling ability and overall feel of the bike. An eMTB that handles like a boat anchor can have the greatest motor ever and the biggest battery but if the ride isn’t up to scratch, the whole experience is rendered pointless.
If I am brutally honest, I am the cycling equivalent of Goldilocks; albeit without the criminal record for breaking and enter and animal cruelty. I want my e-bike to be just right. Anything that is just a little bit off will ultimately drive me to distraction; a fact that is exacerbated when one factors in the price premium that can be paid for even a mid-range eMTB these days. Flaws that I can accept in a £500 hardtail can become unforgiveable when you start adding extra zeros to the price.
With this in mind, I pushed myself to the very front of the queue within Singletrack Towers (like Hogwarts without the fancy uniforms nor the magic but with a lot more Muggles) when the opportunity arose to test the latest offering from Giant in the form of their Trance X Advanced E+. On paper at least, it offers the promise of blending power and performance into a lighter weight package than previous generations of e-bikes from the brand. Having tested the 2020 eMTB offering of the Reign E + as a long term test, I was genuinely intrigued to see how the Trance E (as I’m going to call it from now on to be a little less of a mouthful) could build and improve upon its’s harder hitting sibling.
My experience of the eMTB model of the Reign E + was mixed –it offered exceptional battery life, Giant’s tried and trusted Maestro suspension system, more power than I ever need in the form of an utterly reliable motor system and coupled it with a really neat control system. However, a high overall weight combined with what I found to be an excessively long back end and low front end meant that I never felt as comfortable on it as I would have liked. Throw in a low slung motor that was susceptible to ground strikes and I was left feeling that it was a bike that added up to less than the sum of its parts.
Rocking up at a specially selected secret test location somewhere in the South of France, on initial inspection, it was immediately clear that the Trance E is a very different beast to the Reign E + I had put through its paces. Despite sporting 29er wheels instead of 650B, the differences are startling. A redesign of the linkage system to make it more compact meant that the back wheel no longer looked like it needed a taxi to get anywhere near approaching the seat tube. A quick weight check using the wholly unscientific “standing in the car park with legs apart aaaaand….LIFT!” approach failed to induce a hernia in a way that my control sample Reign E + always seemed to threaten.
Speaking with the engineers from Giant, the substantial weight saving has been achieved in part through switching from alloy to a composite carbon one where the front triangle is moulded as one continuous piece. Saving several pounds puts them in contention for receiving the Weightwatcher’s E Bike “Slimmer of the Year Award” in my book.
Power to the people!
Turning to the motor, Giant have continued with their collaboration with Yamaha in co-developing their Syncdrive Pro system. While lighter than the previous generation of motor, the big news is that it is substantially more compact while also upping the torque output to 85Nm. I have to admit to nearly doing a wee jig for joy when I first saw it. I really liked the previous iteration but it had a fairly fundamental flaw in that the motor sat proud of and below the chainring. Compared to the likes of offerings from Shimano and Bosch, the lower slung position on the frame rendered it vulnerable to rock, root and trail strikes.
On one particular technical ride on the 2020 Reign E +, I found myself reducing the sag on the front and rear shocks in order to prevent the motor from sustaining serious damage. I’m not a heavy rider but I do like my steep, rocky and technical trails. Worrying about damaging your motor doesn’t make for an optimal trail riding experience. However, as you can see from the pics, Giant have gone to great lengths to address this and increased ground clearance by a whopping 34mm. How this translates into on the bike ride feel you can read about below (Spoiler: Massive improvement!) but from a purely practical perspective, anything that better protects the motor from damage is a platinum plated very good thing in my experience.
Offering up to 400% assist, Giant continue to give the rider the option of optimising the power output settings using their “RideControl App”. While riding, you can vary the power output using the integrated RideControl three button control unit. So slim line as to be barely noticeable, it fits unobtrusively between the grips and brake mount. There is even an option of fitting a second control unit on the other side.
Instead of having a vulnerable LCD power display, Giant have integrated the power display and power button into the top tube of the frame. Coloured LED lights indicate the power mode and amount of available power that is left. Smart Assist comes as standard and is Giant’s approach to offering an automated power delivery system that changes with the terrain in order to help the rider optimise their efficiency without drawing unnecessary power from the battery.
Genuine green credentials
From an environmental perspective, the collaboration with Yamaha signals an approach to warranty and repair that I would be keen to see adopted industry wide. As consumers, we are almost conditioned to assuming that if a motor fails, it will be either replaced with a brand new motor or we will buy a new one. Repair doesn’t seem to come into the equation. To me, this does not make sense. We wouldn’t expect to replace a car engine if something like the starter motor breaks. We would just have the part replaced, tested and be on our happy way again. A default position of motor replacement is environmentally unsustainable.
Recognising this, Giant have developed an in house service facility where its engineers have been so closely involved in the co-design of the motor system with Yamaha that they are now teaching Yamaha personnel how to diagnose and repair any motor faults. As such, this reduces the need for motors to be shipped across the world and thus produces less waste. When it comes to e bikes, consumer support is a significant consideration in the purchase process. Knowing that the company you have bought from has the skills, knowledge, experience and desire to get you back on the trail is something I applaud.
Plush bouncy bits
In suspension terms, Giant have refined their Maestro suspension system in order to reduce the length of the back end (more on that later). The Trance E retains the dual linkage and four pivot design that has seen successful service for a good number of years in creating a single floating pivot set up designed to deliver a simultaneously active and efficient suspension system. It’s definitely evolution over revolution but when you have a system that works, it’s hard not to agree with the approach.
As an industry, we went through some pretty crappy designs in the early years but back then, experimentation was the key to finally arriving at the answers we sought. Designers did not always get it right (Orange’s X1 URT suspension bike or Trek’s elastomer donut based full susser that was like a pogo stick with wheels “springing” to mind – ahem!) but they learned from the experience and eventually succeeded. We are now at a stage where designs are being refined and for a consumer that is no bad thing. There is something reassuring from buying a product where the design is so good that you can track its progress. The Maestro system is to my mind an excellent example of that. 140mm of travel out back is mated with 150mm up front. Not so long ago, this would have qualified as approaching ultra-long travel 29er territory. Now it seems like the norm for a trail bike.
Dilithium crystals to full, captain!
In the spirit of more power is better, Giant have upped the capacity of their integrated battery system to 625Wh; up 125Wh (or an extra 25% maths fans). Utilising Panasonic battery technology, when the batteries do inevitably reach end of life, the batteries can be returned to be recycled. To my untrained eye, the battery pack looked no bigger than the previous model although I didn’t ask to confirm that so don’t take that as gospel. If 625Wh isn’t enough for you then you can add an Energypack Plus range extender that gives you an extra 250Wh of power.
We’re not finished yet!
Giant promote the Trance E as their trail bike that blends performance, power and flat out fun. To this end, in the spirit of versatility, they have incorporated a flip chip that allows you to adjust the head and seat tube angles along with the bottom bracket height. Low is designed for fast, aggressive terrain while the high position is designed for a more XC-oriented ride position. I was riding a large and this gave the following numbers when moving between low and high chip positions.
|Seat Tube Angle
|Head Tube Angle
Throw in ample clearance for 29 x 2.6 inch tyres and Giants’ Integrated Tubeless Wheel System and you have an awful lot to get excited about.
In terms of available models, there are three in the line to choose from. All of them feature the same composite chassis with forks and rear shock duties being taken care of by Fox. The motor and battery technology is identical across the range thus your choice comes down to what your budget is and how fancy you want your components to be. Oh and of course colour! A Giant Contact Switch dropper comes as standard where drop varies with frame size – S 125mm, M 150mm and L / XL 170mm) while Maxxis provide the tyres – Assegai 29 x 2.6 foldable, tubeless, EXO, 3c Max Terra front and Dissector 29 x 2.6 foldable, tubeless, EXO+, 120tpi, 3C rear.
Trance X Advanced E + 2
The basic (and having seen it in the flesh, it really is anything but)Trance X Advanced E+2 comes in a starry night colourway which to my eyes looks like a deep blue with subtle sparkling highlights throughout. A Fox 36 Float Performance is matched with a Fox DPS Performance EVOL large volume rear shock. The drivetrain is a Shimano SLX 12 speed set up, the brakes Deore 4 piston affairs while the wheels are Giant’s AM 29 Tubeless models. Finishing kit comes in the form of Giant’s own in-house components.
Trance X Advanced E + 1
The middle of the range X Advanced E +1 comes in Panther Green. I didn’t know panthers came in green but every day is a learning day. Suspension technology takes a big jump up with Fox 36 and Float X shocks incorporating Fox’s Live valve technology. In the very simplest of terms, the system actively monitors the terrain a thousand times per second and automatically adjusts the suspension within 3 milliseconds.
I won’t even begin to pretend that I know how it works but just like the man who owns the sausage factory, I don’t need ( and probably better not to know either!) how they make them but just that they are made and do what sausages are meant to do.
Drivetrain is courtesy of Mr and Mrs Shimano with a 12 speed XT gear and brake set up (levers being Deore) while the wheels are again Giant’s own AM 29 30mm inner width numbers.
Trance X Advanced E+ 0
Top of the tree and the one I got to hammer for a day and a half is the Trance X Advanced E+ 0. It is probably the magpie in me but this is the nicest looking one in the range for my money. The two tone blue looks bloody lovely. I really do have an unerring ability to be attracted to the most expensive bikes.
Running through the spec, the fork is a Fox 36 factory Live Valve model with 44 mm offset and 110mm Boost 15mm QR while the rear shock is a Fox Float X Factory Live Valve. Shifters, rear mech and brakes are from the Shimano XT range while the cassette is an SLX number.
When I questioned this, the Giant engineers (from the company, not their stature obviously – I’m no Lilliputian) informed me that in their experience, SLX cassettes are much better able to handle the extra torque generated by an e bike. Having run SLX cassettes for years, I can personally attest to their longevity so this seems like a very sensible move.
Wheels are Giant’s e-TRX 29er, tubeless ready, 30 mm in carbon while the crank arms are also carbon unlike the other two models in the range which are made of 4130 steel.
In terms of finishing kit, as you would probably expect from the a company as successful as Giant, in house does not mean in any way inferior to branded components. The handlebars are 780mm carbon numbers while the stem is a Contact SL 35 mm affair. Grips are Giant’s Tactal Pro-E single lock-on design while the saddle is Giant’s Romero SL. To round things off, a full tubeless kit is supplied as standard.
Enough with the pre-amble and introducing the range, how does it ride?
The short version
Great. Really bloody great.
The longer version
When riding any new bike for the first time, it can be the smallest of details that can set the tone from the very start and colour your judgement, both positive and negative. Indulge me for a moment but I’m going to start with the saddle. As every kid who watched the kid on the telly advert buy a bike through the Yellow Pages only for his dad to proclaim “I were right about that saddle” can attest, a comfortable saddle can make or break a bike ride. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have taken out a test bike only to return home with chafed chalfonts. It’s not unknown for me to cast a so called ergonomic saddle into the circular file after a single ride. Gingerly placing my buhoochie on Giant’s Romero SL, I was instantly taken by the shape. There were no obvious pressure points and everything felt as it did on my own go to saddle of choice. “I think I may just like this” I mused and so it proved. Chatting through the saddle design with Joe from Giant, he told me how he had been involved in its development for the best part of two years. Clearly, it had been two years very well spent.
With sag set up for me courtesy of suspension guru and all round good egg Chris from Fox, I set off on the woodland trails for an afternoon shakedown ride as part of a larger guided group. A mixture of road and off road climb through dense, mature woodland on bone dry, dusty trails with a side serving of loam, concealed roots and exposed limestone made for a perfect introduction to the Trance E. Clicking up and down through the power settings, I liked how close to hand the controller was and how uncluttered the bars felt. It was literally just a slight movement of my left thumb. A gentle press and the power change was instantaneous. As someone who likes to power up technical climbs and who occasionally grips the bars with a Vulcan Death Grip, sorry nerve pinch for all you Trekkies out there, I did occasionally find myself pressing the button by accident. However, after a couple of hours, I had adjusted to the position thus it never became an issue.
With a simple power display on the top tube that changes colour to match the power setting, I never wished for a fancier LED display to tell me cadence, speed, watt hours or any other largely unnecessary information that only serves as a distraction from the ride experience. For me, riding is all about feel and sense of surroundings. I don’t need a small screen to dictate to me. If I wanted them, I could have installed the App but I didn’t so I didn’t. In this case, simpler is definitely better. It also means that there is no expensive piece of electronic screen gubbins to break should you turn the bike upside down to fix a puncture. Go on, admit it. You know who you are.
Power to the people – part 2
Partnering with Yamaha, Giant have adopted a different approach to much of the industry by developing their own motor system. Different does not always necessarily mean better but in this instance, I think it does. With a revised design that has made the motor system substantially smaller and lighter than the previous generation, I think Giant have a very viable alternative to systems from Shimano, Bosch and Specialized. Power delivery is instantaneous. As soon as you touch the pedals, you can feel the assist kick in smoothly into forward motion. There is still the slight pedal feedback I felt in the previous version when track standing but it wasn’t in any way disconcerting. Motor whine was barely noticeable when pedalling up and down off-road trails. Giant claim the system is quieter than before and I am inclined to believe them.
Cycling through the power settings, I found that I quickly setting on Eco or the second power setting for almost all of my riding. Having bags of power to hand is great but in practical terms, even on a couple of steep and rocky climbs which demanded maximum concentration, I didn’t feel any great need to use it. Maybe it is the frugal Scotsman in me but less power means longer run time means less money spent on battery charging! For the purposes of the test, I did play about with the SmartAssist mode and it does exactly what it says on the tin but I eventually went back to the fixed power settings as that is my preferred way of riding e bikes.
The only time I felt any hesitation in the motor was when powering up a particularly steep climb and putting a lot of power through the pedals under too high a gear. Hitting the button to up the power, the motor didn’t change until I backed off slightly. It was a one off but did not cause me any concern. Frankly, if I am in too high a gear and not pedalling at a reasonable leg speed, I don’t want a motor to change under such a high load for fear of causing damage.
How it rides – the important bit
Hitting a couple of steep step ups, I did notice that as soon as I stopped pedalling, the bike felt like it was slowing up a tad and losing a little momentum. I suspect that this was more a feature of the extra timber that an e bike carries compared to a normal bike and I was able to adapt quickly to it. In terms of climbing prowess, I reckon Giant have played something of a blinder. While the old Reign + was a stable climber, the Trance E feels much more capable of being popped over obstacles and making sharp changes of direction. The shorter stays and noticeably lighter front end help counter the extra weight of a motor and battery set up. I had the bike set in the high, XC flip chip setting for the duration of the test and for me, it felt absolutely spot on. I felt centred on the bike without being unduly low at the front. Being able to manual with relative ease was a particularly nice feeling meaning that I didn’t feel that I had to compromise my riding style to any great degree. Instead of planning ahead for the next technical move, I was able to instead concentrate on enjoying the ride without having to think about how I was going to get up, over or round whatever trail feature I was next faced with.
On longer, flatter XC sections, the bike felt all day comfortable. Having a saddle that did not feel like a razor blade no doubt helped but neutral ride position coupled with immediately comfortable grips made for a very pleasant experience. While the fashion is for long, low and slack, I value comfort above all. A bike can be great in one particular area but if it isn’t comfortable to ride, I struggle to see the point of such a trade-off. Fortunately, Giant have nailed this.
On the descents, a mix of fast and flowing coupled with tight, steep and tree lined, I found the position to be Goldilocks good. There were no strange handling quirks. I could ride with pressure on the front wheel without feeling that I was being pitched forward. Sharp changes of direction were achieved with subtle shifts of body position and weight. The lack of heft meant that I could brake later than on some e bikes I have ridden in the past. Not quite normal bike late but a lot closer to it than I was expecting. Lightening the front end was remarkably easy. Heck, I could even bunny hop it. As an overall package, the Trance E handled exactly as I hoped it would. I would liken it to a Subaru Impreza Turbo in that it is arguably way more capable than the vast majority of riders who will swing a leg over it without punishing them for not having the handling chops of Fabien Barel. It has no nasty surprises in store and can be ridden by pretty much anyone. In my experience, that is something that is often easy to claim but much harder to deliver on.
On the second full day of riding, we headed out into the hills high above Nice for a proper XC day out in the saddle. With a lunch stop after about three hours of riding what felt like mainly up, I still had over 60% battery life left. As I munched my way through a really rather fine al fresco pizza, my bike was recharged for me. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed as I would have preferred to see how long the battery would last but lost the opportunity to do so. However, based on my previous experience of the Reign E, I have no doubt that the Trance E would beat the already impressive battery life of the previous generation.
I have to admit to some trepidation when it came to this first rides test. My previous experience of the Giant Reign E had not been the entirely positive experience I had hoped that it might be. My overriding concern was whether Giant would take what they had learned from the previous generation of e bikes and address them. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. The Trance E is an altogether very different and dare I say far more capable bike than I could have possibly hoped for. The riding position is absolutely spot. It is immediately comfortable and proved its worth after a long day in the saddle. Power delivery from the Yamaha motor is smooth and consistent. It definitely feels best when pedalling with a reasonable cadence. In handling terms, the Trance E felt light and balanced. There was no need to have the power of an East German power lifter to get it up, over, round and down trail obstacles. The spot on geometry and lack of weight made for a really enjoyable ride experience.
As for Fox Live, I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Throughout the ride, I never felt any need nor desire to mess about with the shock settings. The suspension action felt as smooth and subtle as I have come to expect from the Maestro system. For me, it remains up there as a favourite suspension platform that has stood the test of time. Whether Fox Live contributed to that, I wouldn’t like to say. This isn’t me sitting on the fence or trying to be obtuse. I am an evidence led kind of guy and would prefer to do a side by side, trail by trail comparison of two identical bikes, one with and one without the Fox Live system. Perhaps it’s the fact that I never noticed and didn’t have to think about the suspension working is evidence of the system working exactly as intended? It was plush when I wanted it to be and efficient when I needed it. Isn’t that how suspension should be? Not noticing it means that it is working to the very best of its ability.
In terms of all the other stuff (wheels, drivetrain, brakes etc), I’m barely going to mention them. All you need to know is that they all worked flawlessly during the day and a half of testing. There were no creaks, groans or rattles. The gears changed quickly and efficiently while I was never left wishing for more powerful brakes. The dropper moved up and down easily with zero side to side play and the tyres seemed ideally suited for the terrain I encountered. Nuff said.
Three things I liked
The Yamaha motor – smooth, quiet and efficient.
The handling – all day comfortable bike that can handle almost any terrain you can throw at it with a really playful feel.
The saddle – at last, an OEM saddle that you can ride all day with a smile on your face.
Three things I didn’t like
Erm, nothing save the fact that I only got to ride it for a day and a half and the model name is a bit of a mouthful. This bike demands a long term review as I would be keen to see if it delivers on its considerable promise.
So there you have it. An e bike that hits peak Goldilocks not too warm, not too cold, just right levels of goodness. Well done, Giant. Your Trance X Advanced E + is a cracker and should be on a very short list of e bikes for the discerning trail rider looking for their next ride. Coming from the slight disappointment of the 2020 Reign E +, the Trance X is a very different and to my mind far superior beast. To my delight, all the issues I had have been systematically addressed. It is easily a match for my current favourite e-bike, the Canyon Spectral ON. I really wasn’t expecting that but sometimes in life, surprises can be a good thing.