I’ve been on the new Giant Trance 29er for 9 months and it’s time for a review.
This bike is long-awaited from Giant, and is their first try at a progressive–or at least 2019 standard–29er mountain bike.
It looks good on paper, and I put this bike through the ringer in XC, Enduro, hike-a-bikes and full-on DAQ.
Here’s the story.
MY HISTORY WITH THE TRANCE
This bike is a far cry rom the first-generation Trance, but it ticks a lot of the same boxes. The original Trance from 2005 had 100mm of travel front and rear, and was designed as a kind of do-it-all bike. I used that bike for a lot of my trail rides at the time, and even used it in a 24 hour race where I sprinted to second overall [yes, a sprint after 24+ hours!]. Back then there were very few dropper posts around, and I didn’t have one. The bike was also not that different from my Anthem XC bike, albeit a little slacker in the headtube.
And of course, the wheels were 26 inches.
But really, I loved the bike because I could do pretty much whatever riding I wanted on it.
And I fell in love with the idea of having one bike to do everything on.
And then in 2013, the original Trance 29er came out. This bike came out at the original peak of the 29er craze. The wheel size had just burst on to the scene, but nobody knew what to do with the bikes. At this time, the geometry of 29ers really was poor and the tyre choice was slim—and that’s when 29ers got a horrible reputation. The original Trance 29er was no exception to being horrible—this bike was too high, too short and too steep. I rode it pretty well in some local XC in Pennsylvania, but it was a pretty poor choice for my first EWS race in Whistler, BC. The bike felt good nowhere, and I went back to two bikes.
In 2015 though, I once again used a Trance Advanced 0 as my ONLY bike for the season. I used the same bike to ride to a top-10 overall at the 5-day Trans NZ Enduro as I did to win 2x XCO national series races in the Senior Men category, with the only thing changing being the tires. I sometimes changed the fork, too.
The bike had 27.5 inch wheels and was light enough for amateur XC with a pair of Racing Ralphs. The bike’s geometry for XC was very good with the fork travel reduced to 120mm, since this increased the headtube angle to ~68°. I actually loved the bike for XC since the pedalling platform was pretty good, even for 140mm in XC. Plus dropper posts were now the norm, so I felt like I could be really aggressive in XC races.
But for Enduro, the bike sucked. With 140mm up front, the bottom bracket was a bit high in combination with the relatively slack 67° headtube angle. This made the bike wash a bit when climbing, and I had to make a serious effort to stay over the front. It really took a lot of energy to climb.
And things were probably worse when descending, especially since the Trance SX was on offer, which had a longer travel, 160mm fork [and higher-still bottom bracket]. I went as high as 150mm in the front, but then the bike was so high that cornering was extremely clumsy. And even worse still, the top tube was a bit short, so straight line descending wasn’t that great either.
I started to lose hope in the quiver killer.
Was there one bike that existed that could do it all?
Then this year, the Trance 29er came out. Was this THE one?
On paper, it looked perfect. The headtube angle was an intermediate 66.5°, the bottom bracket met current standards, and the wheels were the right size.
I was pretty excited to see if this bike could be IT!
TRANCE 29ER RATIONALE—WHY IT MIGHT BE THE ONE
We need to get one thing straight: not everyone needs more travel. And that’s actually one reason I was excited to try the new Trance: with travel sitting at 110/130, I felt like this bike could make up where the trail bike couldn’t.
Yes, 160mm of travel is nice when you are going fast, but not every trail or every kind of terrain is fast. My home trails in Palmerston North, New Zealand were really fast, but when I wasn’t going flat out—or when the trail wasn’t pointing straight down a hill—the bike felt sluggish. So if I wanted a better all-around bike, I needed a bit less travel.
What is important, IMO, is geometry. With trails around the world getting fast[er] and flowy[er], we need longer wheel bases and slacker headtubes to feel safe. The slack headtube angle puts the wheel in front of us, and helps us to put our weight where we need it when we need it there. And a lot of times, good geometry can make up for having less travel.
So everyone might think they need a 65 degree head angle because this is what Pinkbike is saying, but at lower speeds on less-steep trails, a long and slack bike is a bit of a burden to maneuver. This made the trail bike I had pretty poor at XC, and not an ideal single bike for me.
And with less travel and a moderate headtube angle, I liked the looks of the Trance 29er.
So you might be like me: more travel might not be the answer for your riding style or local trails—especially if you want only one bike.
Is 130mm enough travel for you? This is actually the question I get the most! I would say that for most riders, this is plenty of bike. The geomtery is very good, and with short travel the bike is nimble enough to have fun on every kind of trail.
Read on to see how my thoughts.
I had recently been messing around with going a size up on my bikes, and decided again to go with a medium size Trance 29er 1. This stretched me out a little more, and the idea was that I could get my weight over the front end a bit better. I’m very glad I got the medium.
Out of the box, the bike felt great. I slammed the stem since the head tube length was a bit taller than I was expecting. Normally Giant uses the same headtube for a medium and a small, but now the medium shares the same head tube as the large. So even with the stem slammed, the bars are still a little higher than my saddle. I don’t actually notice it. I kept on the stock 40mm stem.
The seat tube is relatively steep, but to get the same feeling at the pedals I needed to push my saddle almost all the way back on the seatpost rails. I also tipped the nose of the saddle down a little to take the pressure off on our long climbs. Plus, once the bike settles in to its sag, the saddle is pretty much even anyway.
With this setup, the bike feels perfect to me!
On my first ride, I felt right at home on the bike. The bigger wheels did what they were supposed to and helped me feel planted and stable and felt great on the corners.
The wheels were really supported by the low bottom bracket, and I really felt in control all the time. The head tube angle put the front wheel where it needed to be, and with my fit I had a perfect amount of weight over the front.
We have some VERY steep trails in New Zealand, and I did start to get a bit worried since the geometry of the bike wasn’t as aggressive as my previous trail bike. I mean, at 66.5, the head angle is plenty slack, so why was I worried? I suppose it has a lot to do with the media telling us we NEED 160mm and a 65 degree headtube! But my worries were all put aside on my first ride on the technical terrain.
We have one trail in particular that I was interested to try. This one cannot be named and is not meant for mountain biking. You can’t ride up the trail because it is far too steep—you must carry your bike. The views are amazing and the trail has no flow; it is difficult to say the least. Many a rider has approached the trail and walked more than one section on the way down.
So I took my brand new Trance 29er, pushed it took the top, and bit my nails nervously before dropping in.
But would you believe it if I told you I hit every line? That’s right, even on a super technical trail with lines I previously walked with [they really are THAT tech] a 160mm travel bike, I hit without even blinking on this short travel bike.
It was then that I knew that myself would be the only limiter on the Trance 29er.
And this is where I start to support short travel. The travel did not once limit me on a technical ride, nor on my local trails going really fast.
The only time I started to feel really under-biked was on super fast AND super technical trails in Rotorua. These trails are pretty notorious, and my friends are really fast. So there were a few times and a few trails where I felt a bit under biked with the short travel. You can really only smash in to so many successive holes with 110mm of rear wheel travel before the bike starts to slow down and the suspension stops helping you.
But really, these trails and rides and super rough conditions were the exception rather than the norm, and I’ve been happy 95% of the time with my one bike.
Climbing the Trance 29er was a treat. And we climb a lot in New Zealand. The geometry is balanced, and I never felt like I needed to lean overly forward, which saved me energy. There is no bob to speak of and I never even thought about pedal bob on the Trance 29er until now.
I also spent a lot of time riding the bike in Canada and the eastern USA. These trails are [relatively] slow and technical, and the bike felt great. It wasn’t too long, nor was it too slack nor too low…it was about as perfect as it could be.
Overall, the Trance was nimble, but confidence-inspiring and playful. It felt good going pretty fast and going pretty slow—and everything in between. When I need to bunnyhop, I can without the hardest all-out effort of my life…but still it feel great on steep, white-knuckle chutes.
And here’s where I reminisce on the original Trance and wish that they had been like this the whole time…
RACING THE TRANCE 29ER
Enduro is still really popular, so let’s start there. I’ve done two endure races on the Trance 29er—one was our local Enduro with 20 minutes of descending over 6 runs, and the other was the 3-day NZ Enduro.
For our local enduro race, the bike was perfect. Even with only one gear. What can I say about the bike? I didn’t need anything else—and really I felt I would have been over-biked with any more travel. And of course, the one gear thing helps with pacing 🙂
For the NZ Enduro, the bike was, erm…interesting. This is well-known to be the most terrain to race on, and really I can’t imagine the trails being any more difficult to race on. The trails are very technical and very steep. And the conditions are diabolical if they get wet.
And it rained.
I used full downhill Maxxis DHR II tyres, and they were a great choice. But the combination of being a little bit under-biked an equal amount under-skilled, and the bike just wasn’t a great choice.
I did have a few good stages—pulled off a 14th on one of them—but really, I just spent a lot of time off the trail climbing back up the bank. The damper in the suspension is not good enough to deal with a lot of friction at once, and after a while a 130mm trail fork is pretty much just a pogo stick—and the rear shock was probably suffering even more. Pogo sticks are probably not the greatest for control, especially over long stages and days.
So in that race, the bike was really not in its element.
But in XC, the bike was pretty good!
I raced it singlespeed most of the time, and besides swapping to a 60mm stem and more narrow bars, the only thing I changed was the tyres. I didn’t have any 29er XC tyres, so I traded some 27.5 stock to one of my athletes. I ended up with a Maxxis Ardent Race that I put in the rear, and a pretty aggressive Specialized tyre that I put up front. This took the bike’s weight down a little and made it roll really fast. It actually changed the bike so incredibly that it felt like a totally different weapon!
I raced this bike pretty well, and got a podium in the Vet category in a Wellington XC race. This course was either up or down as many XC races in NZ tend to be, and having the single speed really helped me since I had to stand and suffer. In this race I didn’t feel like the bike held me back other than a few extra kgs compared to the XC whippets. (Do I mean on me or on the bike?…)
I raced the bike with the same setup in the North Island Championships, and finished fourth. I never felt like the bike held me back, even with 150m of climbing every 5km lap.
I really like buying a bike and being able to use it off the shelf. Since this is a longterm review, I’ll let you know everything I changed—but I’ll let you know at the end what could go without changing. Here is a list of the original parts anyway.
The GX Eagle 12 speed is just OK. This was actually the first thing I changed because I never could get great shifting when I went back to gears. I felt like the bushings in the derailleur were good for about the first month or two, but then I was annoyed enough to switch to singlespeed. Once I was over the SS, I put the GX back on, but it wasn’t any better. I swapped to X0 11speed, and that was better for a while. But after a few months of that, I’m moving to XT. It’s in the mail.
The Guide R brakes were OK, and I got the pistons warrantied when they were sticky. In that time, I put on some Magura MT5 brakes with fresh rotors, and I don’t think I’ll be going back to the old brakes. The stock rotors were 180f/160r, but it’s worth picking and choosing different sizes.
The stock Giant-branded cockpit has been fine. I chopped the bars to 750mm and kept the stem with no complaints. But I have since swapped to Race Face bars to drop a bit of weight. The dropper post is great—I don’t even think I’ve changed the cable but once, and the reliability of the new model is leaps and bounds above what Giant previously stocked.
The Giant TRX1 carbon wheels are pretty good. Tubeless inflates easily and I’ve never broken them! Win! But I think the engagement in the rear hub is not great, and it makes a lot of noise when the big cassette moves back and forth in the rough terrain. Of course, it only annoys me in the same terrain where I feel under-biked, so this might not be an issue on your trails.
And I just want to celebrate those stock Giant grips for a moment—they are great! The seat was also great.
The suspension is pretty good, and I’ve kept up with service. I’d much prefer some RockShox, but the Fox is pretty nice. They definitely run out of damping ability after a while on a really long descent, but that is to be expected with this level of damper. I’d say overall the suspension works as expected and as you want!
If you ride a lot, you will probably end up changing the drivetrain. You might expect this, but it annoys me! Bikes keep getting more expensive and parts seem to have shorter lives! I did ride this bike a lot—probably on average 6 hours per week (sometimes much more, sometimes much less) since I got it—but the original drivetrain really didn’t spend that much time on the bike at all before it felt like the original integrity was gone. It would probably be worth upgrading to an X0 derailleur, but these are getting pretty pricey. And while the GX Eagle cassette is pretty heavy, it works fine and I’d probably keep that in lieu of a new chain dangler.
The brakes were also only just OK, and this is something I only noticed once I got new brakes with new rotors. If there’s one thing I noticed from my experience with the brake power meter though, it’s that rotors make such a huge difference. So if you feel your brakes are performing poorly, get some new rotors and try again. After that I’d get some of the budget Magura brakes, since they are vicious!
So if you get the Trance 29er and you don’t ride excessively and you like those stock brakes…you might never change a thing 😊
HOW ABOUT THE WEIGHT OF THE TRANCE?
With all these mid-range components and an aluminium frame, you might expect the Trance 29er to be pretty heavy.
I guess heavy is relative?
Fully stock and set up tubeless, my medium Trance 29er 1 weighed 13.5 kg. This wasn’t horrible! I never felt like it was a tank, so that is good.
If you wanted to lighten up the bike, the cranks are a good but expensive place to start. Those GX cranks were flawless, but they are pretty heavy. You could get some new carbon cranks for a few hundred dollars, or upgrade to a carbon power meter like I did.
With this particular model though, it’s a bit of a rabbit hole when it comes with upgardes to make the bike lighter. With nothing being super light as-is, you’d spend a lot of money getting the bike down to a super light weight. A better option might be to buy the more expensive model from the start.
Really though, weight isn’t the most important thing. If you really want to save weight, it’s probably cheaper to purchase a training plan for $59 and lose 1-2kg of fat EASILY!
CHANGE THE TYRES TO CHANGE THE BIKE
One of the best things about using one bike has been feeling the transformation from changing just the tyres. I swapped between trail tyres to full DH casing tyres to intermediate XC tyres to full XC tyres—and every time the bike felt different.
If I were going to pick one set of tyres to stick with, it would be 2.4 DHR II with EXO+. These are on the way, and I expect them to be lighter than the DH tyres, but have more grip than the 3C compounds.
IT’S NOT XC OR ENDURO
Of course, the exception to this is if you are not going SUPER fast. Be honest with yourself and figure out what your demands are on a bike. Is it raceable? If you are operating at a lower speed, this could be the PERFECT bike for you for absolutely everything! And if you just want one bike to ride everywhere, then the Trance 29er is probably it.
The Trance 29er is a mountain bike. If you regularly race either XC or Enduro, this is not your bike. It will do OK at everything, but will not be great at anything… except just riding.