After some extensive wheel size analysis, Giant has declared itself sold on 650b, with 29ers and 26in bikes taking a backseat in its 2014 line-up.
Spearheading the new direction is a range of reinvented low-slung Trance 650b bikes, where the 1is the top-end aluminium option. In addition to the change of wheel size, travel has jumped up from 127mm to 140mm, so even though Giant has dropped the X tag, the Trance packs more punch than ever before.
The swoopy, hydroformed frame gets a much more relaxed head angle for better high-speed stability(66.3°) and this, combined with the long back-end, means the Trance is easily the longest bike in the test, with a whopping 1,180mm wheelbase on the size Large.
Giant’s signature Maestro suspension linkage pumps out 140mm of travel and is controlled by an entry-level Fox Evolution shock. A three-position CTD adjuster fine-tunes the low-speed compression damping for climbing, trail riding or descending.
Up front, the Fox 32 fork has a matching CTD adjuster but the additional Talas feature lets you sharpen up the geometry for climbing by reducing fork travel by 30mm to 110mm. it’s a massive bonus on a bike with slack geometry but we never managed to find an ideal set-up for ripping. Also, despite Giant’s Overdrive 2 fork standard that promises extra rigidity (but requires a special 1.25in to 1.5in fork steerer) the 32 fork with its spindly upper tubes felt a tad twisty and didn’t do full justice to the bike’s potential.
You can’t reasonably expect or need more quality than SLX brakes, a Shimano XT chainset and a matching XT Shadow Plus rear mech on a £2k bike. You also get an MRP 2X-Guard and a neat rubber chainstay protector, so the Giant offers a quiet ride with 100 per cent reliable chain retention.
The Giant Contact Switch-R dropper post functions well (and is internally routed for 2014), but the 100mm range of adjustment simply isn’t enough for a 140mm-travel bike – on the steepest test tracks, the saddle was getting in the way.
Aluminium P-XC2 rims and nicely machined Giant hubs performed great – they use a cheaper 135mm QR on the rear but the wheels are lightweight, fast spinning and well tensioned. The same can’t be said for the Schwalbe Nobby Nic Evolution tyres: we had multiple pinch flats every ride before the Maxxis control tyres arrived.
The 725mm handlebar isn’t wide enough for most. Also, the stock stem is too long and in an about-turn for Giant, it’s hard to get the handlebar high enough for steep trails, even using all of the headset spacers.
Giant’s Maestro suspension’s DNA is instantly noticeable on the trail and there’s a fair amount of suspension feedback even with minimal sag and firmer CTD shock settings, but this doesn’t seem to interfere with efficiency too much. The Trance still rides light and excels at winching up steep technical ascents.
The Trance is also a capable descender, but, despite the plushness at the start of the suspension, it never feels ‘bottomless’ or supremely confident on rocks and in mud. The lurching Talas fork doesn’t help either.
The Trance is far from flexy but doesn’t have the stiffness of the Kona or Lapierre, or their ability to slam in and out of rough bermed corners. The ‘soft’ suspension feel also affects playfulness and the ability to engage rapid shifts in direction.
So, while the super-slack geometry makes for secure feeling at high speed, it also steals some steering precision. The long 440mm chainstays place weight a tad forward and this especially noticeable when compared to Kona. Overall, with the stock set-up we didn’t feel as nimble or confident when attacking as on other bikes.
The new 650b Giant Trance has slacker angles and more travel than before, but offers quite a conservative ride in some ways. It’s great for munching up singletrack, ideal for a big day out and a superb climber, but it left us feeling ‘satisfied’ rather than ‘stoked’ on the steeper, faster trails.
It’s the lightest bike by some margin though, and the parts package trounces the competition too. So, while our heads told us Giant ought to win this test (and it may well be the best option for less aggressive riders), our hearts said otherwise. There are other bikes on test that were simply more fun and inspiring to ride on the best bits of trail.