The Good: Handling, function of components for price (value), compliance (for a hard tail). I really had a lot of fun on this bike and bested previous efforts put in on MUCH more expensive and lighter XC bikes.
The Bad: Nothing bad. The components are not the flashiest or lightest, but all worked great. The stem and bars were a little longer and narrower than I am used to, but maybe just right for this type of bike and intended purpose. The Reba was very firm, which was good in terms of going where I pointed it, but was a little harsh...probably just not enough time on it to get it dialed.
I have been riding bikes all my life and competing in mostly XC and enduro successfull...y the last few years in Cat 1.
I have owned or ridden many of the late model XC and enduro offerings, including the Trek Remedy 29er, Giant Trance SX 27.5, Santa Cruz Highball, SC Tallboy, Tallboy2 and Tallboy LT, and SC Bronson. My experience so far with the variety of wheels sizes we now have led me to the idea that 27.5 is more agile, fun, flickable and capable down, but that 29 is faster rolling and better uphill…i.e. that 29 is better for XC. In fairness, riding a 29lb 150/160mm Bronson back to back with a 26lb 100/120mm Tallboy2 (current personal bikes) is not a very fair comparison, so I was eager to ride a 27.5 XC bike.
Thankfully the Bike & Bean has a really nice demo fleet of carbon Giant XTC 27.5 bikes in a variety of sizes, including XL (my size). Score. So I took one out for a few rides: one was fairly flat, buff and fast, the other steep and rocky. Both I know well, have ridden dozens of times, and I have baseline Strava PR segment times that include all-out efforts on a variety of bikes, including a sub-22lb 29er carbon Highball hard tail and a sub-24lb carbon Tallboy2 full suspension. While the SLX/Deore/XT build with mid-weight alloy wheels w/ tubes, etc is not race-bike light, it is much more apples to apples then the 27.5 enduro bikes I have ridden.
So was my skepticism of 27.5 for XC confirmed or rejected??? REJECTED. Turns out 27.5 is perfect for XC, and my next XC race bike will also be 27.5. Nice too that wheels and tires will be able to share with my enduro bike.
The trails I rode were Rush Creek and Mt. Burdell area. The XC loop segment at Rush Creek is one I have ridden at 100% many times on light XC bikes. I am not currently on form (weight up and fitness good, not great), I had a pretty big week of riding, and there was lots of hiker traffic. While I went all out, I was not expecting to improve my KOM by 40 seconds! Sure there are some very subtle differences between the 29 and 27.5, each having slight advantages in different areas, but either can be perfect XC weapons.
My take is that the 27.5 XTC is more agile, has quick but stable steering, and was pretty compliant (for a hard tail). It was fun and playful, and accelerated quickly. MAYBE not as fast rolling on flats or long climbs, but maybe it just felt that way and was not in reality slower, and maybe that slightly slower rolling feel was due to not having tubeless setup carbon wheels on a top of line build race bike. I really liked how the bike handled, especially on tight switchbacks and more technical spots.
Although I am trying to stay focused on the bike as a whole, taking into account the build level, and not to review the groupo, I will say that the Deore brakes were really amazing. The SLX cranks/XT derailleurs and shifters were also perfect in function. Yes, they could be lighter, as could the wheels, which would make the bike faster, but the build was respectable and fun. Heck, I bested my time around Rush Creek on it, and my other big efforts have been on ~$10k pimped 29er race bikes. The Rockshox Reba fork was stiff-while it put the bike where I wanted it to go, which was appreciated, I didn’t have enough rides to get it dialed to be plush or sensitive to small bumps. Perhaps 120mm or just more time dialing the fork would have made it better. Racing Ralph tires were racy-probably not fair to judge them, as I have been riding big beefy AM tires for the last six months, and AM tires they are not. Lastly, the 680mm bars and 100mm stem were much different than the 711mm bars and 70mm stem I run on my current XC bike (50mm stem on AM bike), so that was an adjustment. I would probably ride it with those bars and stem for awhile to see if I could get to like it again, as it does have some logic for XC to get thru tight spots and get in a more aero position.
In sum, this little experiment really changed my opinion about what a XC bike should be and what 27.5 is good for. The Giant XTC 27.5 is a great carbon hard tail and excellent XC bike. I will be racing and riding a 27.5 for XC for the foreseeable future-maybe an XTC, maybe the 100mm full suspension 27.5 Anthem.