Reviewed by Steve Wentz, Joe Schneider, and Brandon Turman // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Brandon Turman
Dubbed the "Ultimate Trail Bike" and developed in conjunction with super-everything champion Adam Craig, Giant's 2013 Trance X 29er is the latest evolution of the original Trance X trail bike, but re-engineered for 29-inch wheels. The bike grew a little, sprouted bigger wheels, 5-inches of Maestro driven suspension, Giant's OverDrive 2 headtube, and the relatively new Contact Switch adjustable seatpost.
With the increased popularity of Enduro races, this bike comes at a time when people are searching for seconds, trying to best their opponents over a variety of stages and terrain. The big-wheel platform certainly has many benefits when it comes to flat out speed, so packaging them with a fair amount of travel could certainly yield a bike that really cruises. Interested to see just how fast this rig could go, we enlisted it for some trashing at our 2013 Test Sessions in Southern Utah.
Trance X 29 0 Highlights
- ALUXX SL aluminum frame
- 29-inch wheels
- 130mm (5-inches) of rear wheel travel
- OverDrive 2 tapered headtube
- 69.5-degree head angle
- 73-degree effective seat tube angle
- 13.25-inch bottom bracket height
- 17.8-inch chainstays
- PressFit bottom bracket
- 10x135mm QR rear axle
- Measured weight (size medium, no pedals): 28-pounds (12.70kg)
- $4250 USD
A bike is only as good as the material it's made from, which is why Giant invests a lot of time and energy in furthering their ALUXX Aluminum Technology. The ALUXX SL proprietary alloy used on the Trance X 29 is said to be 30-percent stiffer than 6061-series aluminum, allowing them to use less of it which results in lighter frames. At a claimed 5.9-pounds with a Fox CTD Float rear shock, the frameset is definitely in the competitive realm.
A series of extrusion, butting, and forming processes help boost the overall stiffness even further, which in turn lets Giant eliminate gussets in most areas. The radically shaped seat tube and a new "Single-Spar" swingarm design enabled Giant to produce a 29er with 5-inches of travel. What's Single-Spar? Instead of using the typical Y-shaped vertical member between the chain and seat stays like most of their bikes, the Trance X 29 uses only one spar on the non-driveside. This combo allowed them to shorten the chain stays to 17.8-inches, which is in line with many other 29er trail and all-mountain bikes. They're not short and they're not overly long.
Notably, the bike uses a traditional quick-release rear axle. While many other brands have incorporated a larger 142x12mm thru-axle design, Giant claims that the bike doesn't need it because there is no pivot located near the rear axle, which subtracts stiffness and strength from other frame designs. There's a chance that will change in 2014 due to consumer demands.
Suspension wise, the bike relies on Giant's tried-and-true Maestro platform. Four sealed cartridge bearing pivots and a pair of forged upper and lower links create a single floating pivot point said to improve pedaling efficiency by counteracting pedaling forces. Giant also claims that the floating pivot point remains fully active during braking.
Love it or hate it, also unique to Giant's new ride is the use of an OverDrive 2 headtube, tapering from 1 1/4-inch up top to 1 1/2-inch at the bottom. The increased 1/8-inch diameter of the upper cup/steerer tube is said to boost torsional steering stiffness by up to 30-percent.
For riders looking to run a chainguide, know that the frame lacks chain guide mounts. The use of a press fit bottom bracket also eliminates the option of running a BB-mounted guide. Some aftermarket options do exist, though, so all hope isn't lost.
Finally, cable routing can be achieved both internally or externally. Giant ships the bike with the rear brake mounted externally, so know that if you'd like to get the clean look, you'll have to cut and re-bleed your rear brake right off the get-go.
On The Trail
Now then, does the Trance X 29 live up to the self-proclaimed "Ultimate Trail Bike" tagline? We took to a variety of trails to find out. Brandon got his kicks on the varied yet sometimes technical Zen Trail, Joe did his best to get airborne on Barrel Ride, and Steve rallied the never-ending rock sections on Grafton Mesa. The combo of these three trails added up to a good bit of variety that any well-rounded trail bike should be capable of performing on.
Grabbing the bars, the cockpit felt comfortable. With the stock 90mm stem in place it's certainly skewed closer to a cross-country feeling than what we'd consider typical of a trail bike. In an ideal world, we would opt for a shorter stem - something in the 50-70mm range - but due to the uncommon OverDrive 2 steerer tube size we were forced to stick to the stock configuration. Even so, it felt pretty centered with a slight bias toward the rear, likely due to the 12mm rear offset on Giant’s Contact Switch dropper post.
Geometry came across as being really neutral in lots of areas and never felt out of place. At 69.5-degrees the head tube angle felt well balanced thanks to the 29-inch wheels. It wasn’t too twitchy and could attack some steeps, but was still nimble. The 13.25-inch bottom bracket height is on the low side of the spectrum, and only added to the bike's overall stability. The wheel base was about right - short enough to turn decently well but long enough to be stable. While playful at higher speeds, it certainly has a typical 29er feel in most turns.
When it comes to downhill and technical performance, the Trance X 29 is in a tricky spot. It rolled over all the nastiest stuff with ease and never once made us think we'd crash. No matter where we set the suspension, the bike felt efficient and firm, but not necessarily in a bad way. However, it's far from forgiving. Trail feel was communicated back to the rider in a big way, and we felt like we knew every rock it hit. Even though the bike has 5-inches of travel, it never really felt that way. It was an efficient feeling characteristic of race bikes that sacrifice a little all day comfort.
The bike wasn't confidence inspiring in the sense that we'd want to gap over large sections, but should it have been? The larger wheel size and relatively long travel platform did well just smashing into hits, and jumping most 29ers is awkward. While the Trance X 29 jumped predictably, we still preferred to keep it close to the ground for stability reasons, at least in the stock configuration. In general, we got the overwhelming feeling that it just wanted to go fast - it turned best at speed and the suspension performed in a similar manner.
Perceived weight was good, and the bike felt lighter than the 28-pounds we measured it out to be. It rolled quickly, we could hop it, jump it, and it would go where we told it to without hesitation. Out of the saddle sprints felt fast, too. It wanted to accelerate and it responded very quickly and well to pedaling inputs. There was hardly any bob, and we were always happy when we turned over the cranks.
The Trance X 29 climbed well, likely due to the neutral nature of the bike and good body position. Traction was never an issue, gearing was good and the bike was never the limiting factor on making it up a grade or not. Like most 29ers, slow speed tech sections were sometimes a bit twitchy.
Relying on a mix of FOX suspension, Shimano XT bits and Giant's own parts, the bike's build spec was solid and there wasn't much we'd change given the opportunity. In-house components include Giant Contact TR handlebars, OverDrive 2 Contact stem with titanium hardware, P-TRX 29er 1 wheels, and theContact Switch adjustable seatpost.
Even with a 12mm rear offset and limited 100mm of travel, the Contact Switch dropper post was a solid performer. Action was smooth and reliable, if only a little fast on the rebound. In addition, the cable was easy to adjust, and the lever was compact and tucked away well to prevent damage in the event of a crash. The Fi'zi:k Gobi XM saddle complemented it well and was comfortable.
Drivetrain performance was solid, and we never dropped a chain despite the roughness of the terrain we were riding. While there was some chain slap, the rear derailleur clutch could have been easily tightened to prevent it. Other than a bit of chain slap every once in awhile, the only other noise was some internal cable jiggling. Annoying, but tolerable.
Shimano's XT brakes were powerful and consistent right from the get go - even with a 180mm front and 160mm rear rotor. However, on one of the longest downhills, there was a little bit of fade. Letting off and applying the stoppers hard a few times fixed the issue. They worked well otherwise.
The 2.25-inch tubeless ready Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires were just like the other parts of the bike - they communicated when we were pushing the limits of good taste, and that was a good thing for sure. They seemed to do a very good job across all terrain types.
In an effort to save weight, Giant opted to use the smaller FOX 32 Float CTD fork instead of the newer 34mm option. The loss of stiffness due to the smaller stanchion and chassis diameters was noticeable in rough sections. Along with a shorter stem, this is one change we'd make early on if possible.
Long Term Durability
The bike held up well to our short term abuse and we didn't see any glaring long term concerns. Along with everything else, the wheels proved to be sufficiently stiff after a good beating.
What's The Bottom Line?
The Giant Trance X 29 0 is good at a lot of things. In fact, we'd say it's among the best American-style Enduro race bikes out there. It just wants to go fast, won't kill you pedaling up, and will keep you honest going down. The wheels certainly add to the feeling of the Trance X 29 being a fast bike, providing some noticeable rollover and traction gains. Given it's versatility, though, the bike does make some concessions and we wouldn't recommend it for someone who likes tight, jumpy trails. We think it's ideally suited to riders who enjoy the 29-inch platform or cross-country riders that want a bigger, more capable bike.
There's certainly potential for it to be the "Ultimate Trail Bike," but in our eyes it'd require a minimum of a few component changes out of the box. With a stiffer fork and shorter stem in place, the bike could easily turn into a rocket ship, improving the bike's feel in tight and technical situations and coaxing us into more bad decision making while heading down the toughest sections.
Cruise over to giant-bicycles.com for more info.
Bonus Gallery: 30 photos of the 2013 Giant Trance X 29 0
About The Reviewers
Steve Wentz - A man of many talents, Steve got his start in downhilling at a young age. He has been riding for over 17 years, 10 of which have been in the Pro ranks. Asked to describe his riding style he said, "I like to smooth out the trail myself." Today he builds some of the best trails in the world (and eats lots of M&M's).
Joe Schneider - During the day, Joe's busy solving complex mechanical engineering problems. When he's free, he's out crushing miles on his bikes and moto. He raced cross-country for several years, made an appearance on the Collegiate National Champs Omnium, turned Pro, and more recently shifted his focus to enduro.
Brandon Turman - Brandon likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike and talk tech. In 13 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. Nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy.