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First Impressions: 2018 Giant Reign

This new enduro toy is more capable at (almost) everything

 

Before the Enduro World Series existed, the Giant Reign was an all-mountain, do-everything sort of bike. In many ways it retains that identity. But at its core, the Reign has become a purebred racing machine, thanks to extensive development work done directly by Giant Factory Off-Road Team. The first materialization of these efforts came with the fully rebooted 2015 Reign and Reign Advanced, bikes that felt more like a mini-downhill rigs than beefed-up trail bikes. With 160 millimeters of travel and a 65-degree head angle the bike climbed okay, although it wasn't the most efficient in its class. But holy bejeezus did it descend—which, of course should come as no surprise considering it was designed to be raced on what are essentially downhill courses by some of the world's fastest athletes.

If there’s anywhere you want your trail bike to be a mini-downhill bike, it’s on the chunky steeps at the base of Blackcomb.

When it was time for the Reign to get an update, Giant again turned to its Factory Off-Road Team for development. "We had a few main goals to improve on an already successful race bike," says team manager Joe Staub. "For the most part, our team riders were happy with the overall geometry of the Reign, but with resounding feedback that the front-center should be lengthened. Most of our team riders were moving up a size, which was corrected by adding 15 millimeters of reach to each size. From there, we focused on suspension."

The Reign’s front end got some significant and welcomed geometry updates for 2018.

The goal was to lower and flatten the leverage curve for overall better feel and performance. The bike still rocks 160 millimeters of rear-wheel travel, but went from a 57-millimeter stroke to a 62.5 millimeter, thanks in part to the employment of a trunnion-mounted shock. "The trunnion mount gives us more real estate to run longer, more controllable and consistent shocks," says Staub. "Lowering and flattening the leverage rate also achieved a wider sweet spot in regards to sag, which adds another level of control." The previous Reign was more sensitive—if you weren't right at the perfect sag, it would feel either too plush with little support at the end of the travel, or too bobby and bucky.

This year’s Reign went to a longer, trunnion-mount shock. It features a lower leverage ratio, allowing you to do more pushin’ through its cushion.

After numerous test sessions, development meetings and test mules, the riders were happiest sticking with the relatively slack 73-degree seat tube angle. Nearly every recent bike in this category has a steeper seat angle than its previous version, but Giant chose not to mess with it. Staub explains: "The changes we made with suspension allow the bike to ride higher in its travel, resulting in an effective steepening of the seat angle compared to last year's bike. This accomplished what our riders were looking for in climbing efficiency without shrinking the roomy cockpit we'd just created by increasing reach."

He also explained that, like pretty much all suspension designs, Giant's Maestro system has limited flexibility with layout and pivot placement, both in terms of staying within its patent and delivering the desired ride characteristics. "Things can get very expensive and time-consuming when you go outside your box. We got what we were looking for out of the new Reign, which was to create the fastest enduro race bike we could, without needing to go down that rabbit hole." It's tough to tell a dude like Giant Factory Off-Road enduro specialist Josh Carlson that his seat angle is too slack when he's blasting past you like you're riding backwards.

Giant had its reasons, but the Reign’s 73-degree seat angle felt slack by today’s standards.

But then again, most of us don't ride like pros, and most of us need all the help we can get on both climbs and descents. I happen to like where brands are going with the steeper seat angles. They put me in a position that helps me get over the bars and keeps my weight in front of the shock instead of squatting it in its travel.

This was our main complaint with the Reign while testing it on Whistler’s technically challenging Yummy Numby and Comfortably Numb trails. On steep climbs, you have to work harder to get your weight forward to prevent the shock from squatting more than desired. It's nothing new—nearly every bike from three years ago had this kind of feel—but a bike such as the current Specialized Enduro doesn't make you jab the tip of the saddle into your taint to get up steep climbs, as used to be the norm. That's the seat angle talking.

When compared to last year's Reign, though, the new version is a vastly superior climber. If you're a Reign fanboy or fangirl you'll notice a major improvement on this front. The leverage rate changes and stock RockShox Super Deluxe and Fox DPX2 shocks that come on various Reign and Reign Advanced really do help mitigate unwanted sag and bob and add a more supportive feel throughout. But the factory riders have another advantage here: they get better support—literally. Their handbuilt, custom dampers allow their team-issue Reigns to ride even higher in the travel, according to Staub, who has experience with both stock and tuned shocks on the bike.

The increased confidence achieved by the Reign’s updated front triangle was essential when rolling into the rocky chutes on Whistler’s Comfortably Numb.

There are a couple models, the carbon Reign Advanced 1 and aluminum Reign SX, that come equipped with remote lockouts attached to RockShox Super Deluxe coil shocks. I also got to experience a lockout, although it was on a build that isn't available in the U.S. The bike I rode, the aluminum Reign 1, features the lockout on an air-sprung Super Deluxe, that, when activated on the climbs, did help keep the bike upright and pedaling efficiently. On smoother trails, it was a definite advantage, but it wound up being much too firm for the nonstop tech of Yummy Numby and Comfortably Numb. I would have preferred a softer climb mode for better tracking, which I'm pretty sure the coil versions do have.

Like the Reign that came before it, this version descends extremely well. Fit-wise, it's for sure better. With a 40-millimeter stem, the 473-millimeter reach on the size large felt comfortably roomy, and the resulting increased wheelbase made the bike feel balanced and able to maintain momentum even on flow-challenged sections of trail. I'd call the Reign's 435-millimeter chainstays mid-length at this point in time, which makes sense if you're trying to build a race bike. The Reign finds a happy balance between being quick-footed and planted. Meanwhile, the suspension was supple and responsive, without any blown-out-La-Z-Boy-feel deep in the travel. Pointed downhill is where the Reign truly comes into its own.

The new Reign is more playful than its numbers may indicate. Its eagerness to be twisted and slid at your will pairs well with its 27.5-inch wheels.

Of course, a couple hours on the 2018 Reign isn't enough to form a full opinion, so I'll refrain from making broad categorizing statements. But I can say this: If you already love the Reign—and there are rightfully a lot of you out there—there's even more to love about the new one.

giant-bicycles.com/reign

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