Bikes are a big investment and a major commitment. I mean, you pick one, then you’re stuck with it–it has to be the right one. It has to ride well, be just the right weight, look cool, and do everything you ask it to.
I used to blog a lot, and year after year my most-read posts were bike reviews. It’s no wonder why!
My most read review was that of the Giant XtC Composite 29er, with over 20,000 views. I had received a pre-release model to cruise around on and wrote the review right away. People wanted to know. My other reviews were of the Giant Anthem X1 (26er) and the Anthem 29er. I was riding on the Giant Mid Atlantic Team at the time, and these were my race bikes. However, now I ride whatever I want. Here’s what I have:
The Anthem Advanced 27.5 1 (let’s call it the ‘new Anthem’) was the bike I was waiting for. I can compare it to every other Anthem model because I’ve owned every single one-had the very first model in 2006, which had 3.5″ of travel and a 71 degree head angle all the way to the 2016 Anthem Advanced SX.
This one is the best.
The biggest change for the new model is the geometry. The head angle is slackened out to 68 degrees, which makes the wheel base slightly longer (feels more stable at speed!) and puts the wheel slightly more in front of you (easier to handle on steep descents since you can more easily get your weight behind the front). This was a much-needed update, but is mostly due to the type of riding that is in fashion now which is enduro-style, even for XC riders; flow trails and steep chutes seem to be what people enjoy riding and the higher speeds benefit with the updated geometry.
I’ll say now that I loathe this style of trail, but I do enjoy riding fast, which means I further appreciate the new geometry. But I digress…
Fortunately with this slacker head angle, Giant didn’t make the same mistake as with the Trance (2016 and older) which had a high BB. Rather, the new anthem has a nice low BB. What this means is that the bike/rider has a lower center of mass, which makes cornering feel much more intuitive. Of course, while it’s low, it’s not too low, and I really don’t hit my pedals on the trail much. This also means that the bike doesn’t overly demand upper body work during climbing, which is usually the case of high BB, slack bikes….they just feel washy and rubbish on climbs. This one is good for all-round riding!
Overall, these improvements make the bike ride much better as an all-round bike. It certainly doesn’t ride like an enduro bike–which is good, especially for me. I find that by being a smaller rider, a big travel enduro bike is too much, and mostly comes down to the physics of bicycle maneuvering (transferring momentum). The had angle is also not as slack as an enduro bike, which then also means it’s not going to feel as stable at speed or on steep descents. This is also not really a bad thing, and maybe comes down to the type of trails you ride.
On the other hand, it takes some big tires in it–I fit some dual-ply 2.4 sticky High Roller II on the bike and raced it in the local enduro. Interestingly enough, I did better on the Anthem than I did on my Reign the year before…
I’ve taken it on some pretty steep and fast trails, and it felt pretty good. The suspension is active and feels like there’s plenty of movement. Sure, it’s not as good as the Reign on the steep trails, but maybe this sin’t a bad thing? Unless I’m heading for all but the steepest of trails, I’m more than happy to take the Anthem.
This new geometry feels OK racing XC. I’ve done some local XC events as well as the 85km round-Taupo event. The bike didn’t hold me back!
Generally speaking, the new Anthem isn’t as easily to pilot on steep ascents as, say, the 2014-2016 Anthem, which had a 70 degree head angle. Maybe this can be remedied by a longer stem? This would shift the rider’s weight more forward and towards the front wheel, which might make climbing more intuitive and less like you need to horse yourself over the front.
I run the stock 60mm, which is OK given the slightly longer top tube on the new bike. This is also fashion, but I’ll admit it does feel nice when I’m out riding with the lads. Stem length is probably best chosen relative to your size and how you fit on your bike; there’s no perfect stem length. I actually ran a 70mm stem for the last XC race I did, which made the bike feel a lot more racey. I was surprising more over the front end than I thought the 10mm change might do, and it was perfect for the flat, twisty track.
The handlebar width comes down to personal preference, but the stock 750 is about my upper limit. Might be good for you! I’m going to cut mine to ~720mm.
The suspension has also been changed, but these aren’t major differences. The 110/120 is only slightly more than the normal 100/100 or 100/120, and to be honest it feels the same as the others did. It’s smooth, and I do like the Fox stuff (my first time riding it in 10 years!). The axle are bolt on, which means you need to carry a tool. I found this annoying enough that I traded with my friend Seamus so I could have the qr axle. The bike has Boost hubs and I can guarantee you won’t notice the difference in stiffness; I’m not sure what the marketing goal is there. Similarly, I don’t notice any difference with the Metric shock. I think this change is more to allow frames to be made slightly differently, which could prove to be beneficial for newer geometry. The Fox 34 is smooth, and it can be run pretty hard. It’s pretty much at its limit on long DH trails: the oil heats up too much and the damper isn’t designed for this type of rough riding. On 95% of XC trails, it’s great!
Overall I find the stock saddle to be great, though it did take a few rides to get used to (like any saddle). Again, this is often personal.
The dropper post is great and I’ve always loved the cable actuation and serviceability of the Giant posts. No complaints.
I definitely hate the new Nobby Nic tires. I swap between 2.25 Racing Ralphs for XC and 2.4 High Roller II for general riding. It feels more purposeful with those combinations.
The major benefit is that the wheels are carbon, which is a huge upgrade to aluminum wheels and is something you will notice right way. They are stiff, which means they will go where you point them and track where they are.
I guess that leaves us with the XT kit, which is pretty good. The brakes are OK, but the 11-46 cassette is clunky. the jumps at the higher end are just too much, and I’d be happy to swap for an 11-42 or even 11-36 to have better shifting through the easy range. I ended up swapping the cranks for some carbon XO I had laying around, but this was mainly because they matched the paint 🙂
The weight on the bike is around 12 kg (depending on tires), which is about average. You could probably lighten it up by changing the wheels or removing the dropper post, but it kind of takes away from the bike as a whole.
Overall, I’d say this is the best Anthem yet. The geometry suits more of an overall kind of riding. I enjoy racing it and enjoy riding all types of trails with it. Unfortunately, it’s not really a quiver killer, but it gets close if you are happy to swap your tires around. If I could really have only one bike, this would probably be it.