This cutthroat cross-country whip took my preconceptions about XC race bikes and hacked them into a cool puddle of blood. It was my favorite of the four XC bikes in this year's test and ended up being one of the overall standouts.
It must be pointed out, however, that the buffed-out, twisty nature of the main Kingdom Trails network truly lends itself to lightweight, short-travel bikes with steep head angles. We tested all four XC bikes with their stock parts, resisting the urge to install dropper posts, and found them to be right at home on the high-speed dirt ribbons of Vermont's Northeast Kingdom.
But the Giant Anthem Advanced 27.5 0 seemed like it had been born on these trails, slicing through tight turns with surgical precision. The bike's 69.5-degree headtube angle allowed for ultra-decisive steering: All of our testers praised the bike's demeanor, with adjectives such as "stable" and "surefooted" being bandied about.
All testers agreed that the steed's XC-racer disposition was perfectly complemented by the 100-millimeter RockShox RS-1 fork, whose stiffness and torsional rigidity enhanced the Anthem's cornering capabilities. The result is a bike that begs to be smashed into corners, responding to such manhandling by batting the pilot out of turns like a pinball off a flipper. This prompted more than one tester to describe the Anthem as "playful"–a term that is rarely applied to XC race bikes.
The carbon SRAM Rise 60 wheels were stiff and light, but we couldn't help but wonder if the bike's ultimate XC potential would be further unleashed if it had 29-inch wheels. While we speculated that larger wheels could make the Anthem a more capable marathoner, the 650b wheels certainly contributed to its maneuverability in tight turns. We also noted how quickly speed returned after losing traction on steep climbs–something that also could be attributed to the smaller wheel size.
While the $9,500 sticker puts this model out of reach for most, Giant offers builds with the same composite front triangle at much lower price points ($4,800 for the 27.5 1 and $3,100 for the 27.5 2), and the frameset is available with a RockShox Monarch RL shock for $2,500
Q&A with Andrew Juskaitis
Before this year's test bikes rolled into our barn, we had questions about them–some of the same questions that you might be asking yourself when you start poking around at a new bike. Giant's Global Product Marketing Manager, Andrew Juskaitis, had this to say about Giant's razor blade of a race bike. –Vernon Felton, Bible of Bike Tests Moderator
Vernon Felton: When you guys were designing this bike, who was the ideal rider you had in mind for it?
Andrew Juskaitis: For Giant, the name "Anthem" has always been synonymous with 'XC racing.' When first launched in 2006, Anthem offered 3.5 inches of aggressive seat/headtube angularity mated to 26" wheels. Fast-forward to 2016, and you'll find the Anthem Advanced 27.5 0 to offer another half inch of additional front/rear travel, 27.5-inch wheels mated to slightly more relaxed carbon fiber frame.
XC racing? Absolutely…but as more and more riders seek a lighter "all-day epic singletrack" bike, Anthem responds with confident handling (69.5/73 head/seat angles) and 100-millimeter travel lengths. So, your test bike has two faces: one of a hard-core XC race bike, and one of a epic, all-day singletrack slayer–both riders who appreciate lighter weight, compliant composite frame and "reactive" handling.
VF: Are there conditions in which you feel this bike really excels and, if so, what specific design attributes of the bike make that so?
AJ: Technical singletrack, for sure. With the 29er version of the Anthem all-but-extinct, the 27.5-inch version excels in tighter conditions where "finesse" plays a more significant role over "steamrolling" over obstacles. Again, the 69.5/73 head/seat angles and short, 17-inch chainstays play a key role in this agility, but it's really the 27.5-inch wheels that take center stage in its performance.
VF: Are there any aspects of the frame design that you guys are particularly proud of? If so, what are they and why?
AJ: As always, we're proud of the fact that our own employees make our products, in our own factory. In addition, the balanced geometry, smart internal cable routing and custom-tuned shock valving are all key contributors to the overall performance of this bike.
VF: Are there any details/features on this bike that you think are particularly critical to its performance that might be easily overlooked by consumers at first glance?
AJ: Custom tuning the geometry to take advantage of 27.5-inch wheels is the key here. While Giant wasn't first to the 27.5-inch, I'd argue we were the first to fully commit to this "new" wheel size. Back in 2014, we committed 80 percent of our off-road line to it–with 100-percent commitment in 2015. It's not just about slapping 27.5-inch wheels on already established geometry, but starting from the ground up to build performance around this "new" wheel size. Anthem Advanced is a clear example of this philosophy.