Carl Decker, thanks to his winning streak in the Downieville Classic All Mountain category from 2010 through 2014, became a marked man at that event. His broad skillset also represented a paradigm shift within cross-country racing. Where once it was all about lungs and legs, and bike-handling skills were not crucial, a gradual sea change has taken place and athletes like Decker have helped usher in a new ethos: that of hammers who can shred. Giant's Anthem has long been the brand's staple XC platform, and this latest incarnation shows that the company is paying attention to the changing times.
The new Anthem Advanced 1 gets a bump in travel, now featuring 110 millimeters of Maestro rear suspension (riding on a Fox Float Performance Elite shock) mated to a 120-millimeter Fox 34 Performance Elite fork. Bucking the industry trend of XC bikes shod with 29-inch wheels, Giant opted for smaller and generally more playful 27.5-inch hoops. The 68-degree head angle is at the sharp end of trail-bike geometry but almost slack in XC terms. Front-center numbers are similarly modest, and help keep the wheelbase on our medium test bike to a compact 43.3 inches. Shifting and stopping duties are handled by Shimano XT, and the split personality of this XC bike is showcased with Giant-branded composite wheels and dropper post.
Benefiting from some upgrades to the Maestro suspension– carbon rocker link, trunnion-style upper shock mount, larger shock body and the resulting lower air pressure and lighter damping rates–the Anthem did an exemplary job of soaking up bumps, while remaining active but indifferent to pedaling inputs. This is a surprisingly plush and agile race bike. One tester commented that it "feels like a BMX or slalom bike, NOT an XC race bike." The agility of the chassis and the small wheels allowed the Anthem to shine in tight, technical riding, but this came at the expense of high-speed stability. Our test crew was torn about this. One rider pined for the old 29er Anthem's stability, while the others thought it was so much fun that the smaller wheels might be worth the tradeoff. For riders who crave poppy mischief more than 100-mile finish lines, look no further.
Q&A with Andrew Juskaitis, Marketing Manager – Giant
With the rad-ification of XC, this bike seems well suited toward more aggressive riders and more fun terrain, so to speak. However, some of our testers are very much enamored of 29″ hoops, especially with XC racing in mind. Does Giant have any mixed emotions about committing so totally to 27.5″ wheels for this particular competitive arena?
When we committed our entire performance, off-road line to 27.5 wheel technology in 2014/2015, we knew we'd catch the most amount of flak for the XC category–i.e. our XTC hardtail and Anthem product lines. We understand that the majority of hard-core XC riders prefer the 29" wheel size over 27.5" for its superior momentum and rolling characteristics. We get it. But, when designing the 2017 Anthem series, we also realized that we would be pushing it to the far right of the spectrum–nosing heavily into "trail" category. Because of its trailbike-like qualities, we chose to keep it rolling on 27.5-inch wheelstock. Will this particular philosophy carry-on into 2018 and beyond?… let's revisit this conversation this upcoming spring…
Following along with the theme of neo-aggression, the Anthem is a quick handling, compact bike. The wheelbase is a solid two inches shorter than some of the other XC bikes of same relative frame size we were testing. This differentiates it from other bikes in this segment, but our testers had some sharply diverse opinions about bike fit as a result. Some welcomed the compact cockpit and playful handling, others felt it was difficult to really stretch out on the bike and breathe. You are not a small man, what size frame do YOU ride, and how do you feel the Anthem caters to the ergonomic needs of the modern XC racer?
HA! At 6'5", I'm right at the outer limit for a size XL. A centimeter taller and I'd probably be riding some other brand's XXL. That said, I'm a bit confused by your testers’ comments on the compact cockpit. The 2017 Anthem's toptube is 5mm LONGER than the outgoing (2016) Anthem. Yes, we spec'ed a shorter stem to compensate, but that's an easy switch (for those feeling "cramped.") At 23.9-inches (medium) the 2017 Anthem toptube length is almost identical to our core competitors' (Trek, Specialized) toptubes, so I'm not exactly sure where you guys are coming from? The shorter wheelbase simply comes from the fact that our competitors are most likely running 29-inch wheels and we offer 27.5…in order to run 'wagon wheels', you'll easily have to run longer chainstays (ours are a tidy 16.9-inches).
Did Giant redesign the suspension just so that people could say “trunnion” more often?
Another "Ha!" from me. Nope…we (along with a few of our competitors) chose to incorporate trunnion mount for three [bona fide] reasons: #1. Lower leverage ratio = lower shock pressure which translates into improved shock performance #2. Increased shock overlap–longer stroke shock in a same-size space means there's more shock bushing overlap which produces a stiffer overall shock #3. Frame stiffness–OK, this is the BIG ONE. Take a look at how the shock is now firmly integrated into the new composite upper linkage? Two huge bolts now anchor into the sides the linkage, thereby "cradling" it much more so than the outgoing two-piece linkage/top mount system. System stiffness is a big thing for us, and trunnion goes a long way to minimizing lateral frame "play."