Words by Chris Giuliano | Photos by Nathaniel Peek
2014 brings something new
There something very different about this Giant Anthem. I know you’ve all noticed it and I want to give you my opinion on the subject before I get on to talking about things that don’t matter as much, such as how the bike rides and how the componentry performs. So let’s jump right in…
Giant have dropped the ‘X’ from this Anthem! This, my friends, is great news. That ‘X’ has bothered me for years. It harks from the days when Giant had two Anthems and the ‘X’ denoted the one with more travel, but since then there has been only one model of Anthem for the last five or so years the ‘X’ has been redundant. The ‘X’ is also dropped from the Trance 27.5, but both Trances and Anthems retain the ‘X’ for the 29er models.
It’s pretty. Very pretty. In the flesh this bike is an amazing blue and ultra-white that turns heads. In fact, if you walk into a Giant dealer you will see some of the best colour-schemes I’ve seen on bikes, and in most cases it is not the high-end model that is the best looking. The XTC 27.5 2 has beautiful Porsche Gulf Racing livery, and the carbon/flouro yellow Defy, the blue/purple Lust 27.5 2, and the bronze Trance SX 27.5 are all great looking bikes.
My first riding impression wasn’t as positive. One weekend I went out and rode my XTC 29er Composite around the 10km loop at Sparrow Hill (top gate and back on the longer loop, but no Heavy Cow) and pushed myself, wanting to compare times with my forthcoming ride on the Anthem 27.5. So come the following weekend I threw a leg over the Anthem and set off at pace hoping to fall in love with this pretty young thing, as I had with my Anthem 29er. Unfortunately, it was a terrible first date. A gale was blowing and the forest offered no protection, and it seemed like no matter which direction I was heading I felt the wind against me. Just as it does to a small child, the wind put me in an angry mood and soon everything about the bike and the ride was wrong and I hated everything and everyone. To my utter surprise I recorded a slightly faster time than on the hardtail, even with the wind. A weekend or two later I came out for a third time in favourable conditions and obliterated my PB. So, early on I learned, this bike is fast.
My next few rides were pre-work training rides doing laps of Mount Ainslie and Mount Majura. The Anthem climbed very well, and again, I started breaking the records I had set on either an Anthem Advanced 29er and an XTC 29er Composite hardtail. The climb from the log gate at Majura Pines all the way to the road at the radar station, the Mineshaft, is a 1.5km dirt climb of 200m vert whose grade approaches 30% at times. I have never climbed it so easily. I found the hardtail XTC suffered from loss of grip, and both it and the Anthem 29er tended to wheelie in places no matter how far forward on the seat I was. On the Anthem 27.5 I haven’t failed to clean the climb in daylight.
Over the next few weeks I rode the Anthem at Bruce Ridge, Jindabyne, Thredbo, Kowen, Stromlo, Jerra and Tuggeranong Pines. And it performed beautifully in all those places. I really do think that four inches is the perfect amount of travel for the majority of Canberra trails. It is enough to take the chatter out of roots and small rocks until the obstacles get to a size where body-English is needed, and then, its lighter weight makes it so easy to pick up and over obstacles. The Anthem is designed as an XC race bike – it is not a downhiller – but it is capable enough to make it down everything I’ve pointed it at. I’ve piloted it down the steepest rocky sections of Tuggeranong Pines I could find and I was impressed at how stable and how well it rolled down and over obstacles. It is definitely more ‘pick your line’ than ‘point and shoot’, but it is capable of making it to the bottom of some gnarly descents without feeling that it is at its limit and is going to rattle itself and you to death. Not once did I feel an ‘over the bars’ moment coming. I just feathered those brakes and let her roll. I also rode some of the trails between Thredbo and Lake Crackenback Resort for the first time and there were many instances where I would come to an unknown corner with a little too much speed. The Anthem was very stable and hard to upset in the corners, so if I kept my wits about me and my fingers off the brakes I was able to get a foot-out drift going rather than skid to a halt. When I came to a rocky ledge where I found myself in the wrong gear at the wrong time, I was able to drop a cog or two and muscle my way up. It really is a fun and inspiring bike. Not only was it fast, I found out it was fun too.
A few years ago when 26” was the only choice I test rode an Anthem on the rough and rooty trails of Majura Pines (sigh…). I ended up buying a 5” travel Trance instead because that Anthem was just shaking my arms and hands to death. This 27.5 Anthem feels like a totally different bike to the 26” and I think if I had the choice at the time, I would have gone for it. Apart from the bigger wheels, the angles are a little slacker. It is a bike you can spend a long time on at speed and the onset of muscle fatigue comes way before any sign of hand- or butt-pain. The bigger wheels are smoother on the trail when compared to 26” wheels.
At the release of the 2014 bikes Giant issued a bunch of nerdy geometry charts in an attempt to teach us the superiority of the 27.5” wheel. They say the 27.5” wheel rolls better and grips better than a 26” wheel, and it accelerates better and is nippier through the corners than a 29” wheel. Reading between the lines, any advantage over the bigger/smaller size is a disadvantage over the smaller/bigger size, respectively. For example, I did a back-to-back at Bruce Ridge with a 29” Anthem that was running the same tires at the same pressure. Did the 27.5 roll over chatter as well as the 29er? No, it didn’t. Did it nip through the trees better? Yes, it did. At Sparrow, being used to a 29er, I nearly went off the trail on the inside exit of the corner twice before I got used to the quicker-turning habits of the 27.5.
The Anthem 29er is like a freight train. You get a head of steam up on it and it just maintains and maintains that speed. It is a very, very impressive bike, and as I said, I fell instantly in love with it. On the other hand, the 27.5 is whippier, nippier, pumpier and jumpier. I could not see myself taking the 29er to a set of trails where jumps abound, yet I’m waiting for forthcoming races to be over so I can put some flats on the 27.5 and work on some of the bigger jumps I’m currently bypassing. This bike will do that and also be competitive at an XC race the next day. Fun and fast.
I don’t think you can get a better suspension platform than Maestro. You can get a different one, and even a more expensive one, but there isn’t a better one. It doesn’t bob under pedalling, it doesn’t lock up under braking, and it gives climbing traction up a hill, smooths out bumps, and increases braking traction. What more can you ask of it?
This bike has Fox suspension front and rear, with both ends having CTD (climb, trail, descend modes). The ‘Climb’ mode is very stiff and is best for smooth fireroads and asphalt. I tried using the ‘Climb’ mode on the sort of steep rocky seated ascent where efficiency takes a back seat to grip. The forks were bumping against embedded rocks and putting me off my line and popping up the front wheel. The rear lost its suppleness over the same and I kept breaking traction. ‘Trail’ worked much better on such climbs, which is great because it means fewer instances of having to flick from one mode to another, though shock and fork can be changed easily on the fly. ‘Descend’ mode makes the front end dive under brakes and I think for all but the most horrible descents I would just keep it in ‘Trail’. I’ll note that the guys I ride with that love the Trance 27.5 are setting their suspension up so it performs best in the ‘Descend’ position. If that’s what it takes, I’ll just leave it in ‘Trail’, and set it up in ‘Trail’ mode. You can twiddle all you want, but I’ll set and forget. When it comes to PSI I run my weight in pounds in the shock and my weight in kilos in the fork as a rule of thumb and that works well. Harder chargers and those wanting a better race setup will run things firmer.
The drivetrain is mostly Shimano XT and is a 2 x 10, my favourite. Giant have made the bike more wallet friendly by speccing STX shifter pods and front derailler, but the XT is where it really matters: the crankset, the brilliant clutch rear derailler (a game changer and chain quietener), and the incredible XT brakes. Everything works well and performs without distracting you from the task at hand – enhancing your physical and mental wellbeing.
I usually change stems, bars and seat whenever I buy a new bike, but on this bike I kept the cockpit exactly as it was except for a shorter 60mm stem (note that I run a shorter stem than most). The Giant Contact SL bars are 730mm which is the perfect width for me. The Fi’sik Tundra seat is pretty comfy and was narrower than my favourite seat, which means it passes through my legs easily when I get back behind the saddle on steep descents. I’ve been on it three hours at a stretch and feel, pun intended, no reason to change it.
For me the only downside with the specifications were the tubes and tyres. The tubes were very thin and the sidewalls on the Schwalbe Racing Ralphs are also thin and I pinch-flatted on two trails I’ve never pinchflatted before. I changed to non-UST Maxxis CrossMarks with a ‘ghetto tubeless’ setup and can now get through rock gardens without a problem. Surprisingly I even dropped 50 grams a wheel in the exchange, if you care about such things.
Speaking of weight, the bike was under 12kg out of the box without pedals, but with XT pedals and ready to ride it is at 12.2kg. It’s not in weight-weenie territory, but it’s not bad. Incidentally that is the same weight as my carbon Anthem 29er with a light American Classic wheelset, so there’s a weight (and dollar) advantage in going to 27.5 wheels. If that’s not light enough for you, try the Anthem Advanced 27.5 1 as it has the lighter carbon frame, a lighter wheelset, and full XT. Normally I’d go for the carbon version but it is matt carbon finish, which doesn’t bring out my German-heritage eyes like the blue and white does. I’m very happy with the choice, and with the money saved I can get another set of pimped wheels to stand out from the crowd and perhaps drop some weight. I’d also like to add a dropper seat post when the new internally-routed Giant Contact Switches are available aftermarket. They are worth the weight penalty in my both my head and my heart.
If you are worried about pulling the pin on going from 29” or 26” to 27.5, don’t be. There was a big difference for me when I went from 26 to 29, but obviously the change was not that great going from 29 to 27.5. I think the best way to make the switch is to buy a complete bike that has everything you want out of the box, like this bike, and therefore you won’t have to worry about any compatibility issues with different wheel sizes, odd stem sizes, and tapered steerer tubes.
This is a great bike. It is fun to ride, and it is fast, and being fast makes it even more fun to ride than merely being fun. I’ve had many Giants, of all three wheel sizes now, and they’ve all been brilliant bikes. I’d like to have kept them all so I could test the nuances of each, but something tells me the Anthem 27.5 would be the bike I would reach for the most because I think it just has the best blend of everything I want in a bike. I didn’t love it at first, perhaps because it really wasn’t different enough to cause an initial ‘wow’ response, but with time I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a truly wonderful bike, and every now and then it does make me go “Wow!”. I think “Wow!” because I just flew through a chicane of trees at Bruce in a way that the 29er could never do. I think “Wow!” because I am sustaining a pace through Sparrow that would have had me out of breath on a 26” bike. And these and other ‘Wows’ are piling up with every ride. For Canberra riders, this Anthem 27.5 1 is a great choice for the money.
Jump on in. The water’s fine… once you get used to it.
Demo an Anthem 27.5 from OnyaBike Woden today
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