By Brice Minnigh
Photos by Sterling Lorence
Amid all the industry hubbub about wheel size, perhaps no other bike company has thrown its chips in with 27.5-inch wheels more resolutely than Giant Bicycles--one of the earliest adopters of the new standard, and a manufacturer that has reinvented its entire mountain-bike line around the ‘tweener’ hoops.
With the launch of the completely redesigned Reign and Glory 27.5-inch-wheeled models--respectively, its much-anticipated enduro and downhill bikes--Giant has completed its 27.5 mountain-bike line. As a testament to the company’s faith in its all-new longer-travel bikes, its designers decided to introduce them to journalists on the demanding trails around Pemberton, British Columbia--a mountain-bike-crazy valley community that lives in the shadow of the world-famous mecca of Whistler to the south.
Our eager crew of international journos--from the US, UK, Canada and Australia--was stoked to ride the new bikes on the rowdy trails in the mountains surrounding this quiet farming community. But we were even more keen over the prospect of taking the completely redesigned Reign 27.5 on an epic, heli-assisted alpine descent of beautiful Mount Barbour. Towering at 7,500 feet above sea level, and with unfettered views of the jagged, glacier-encrusted peaks of the Coast Mountains, the Barbour descent promised over 6,500 feet of wild-and-wooly descending--from the trail-less scree fields below the summit, past pristine alpine likes and down narrow, rock-filled singletrack to the valley far below. What better place to test Giant’s all-new enduro bike?
Sporting 27.5-inch wheels and a carbon front triangle with sleek lines, the new Reign has been redesigned from the ground up with feedback from Giant Factory Team racers such as Adam Craig--who proved his faith in the new bike by playfully shredding from the top of Mount Barbour all the way to the beer cooler far below. Giant says it held off on launching the new Reign until now because its designers felt that it needed some fundamental tweaks before it would be ready to take on challenging enduro courses all over the world.
“As we got further into its development, we changed it a lot from what the original Reign was,” said Silas Hesterberg, the man responsible for overseeing the bike’s long-awaited rebirth. “We made it longer, slacker in the front and shorter in the back, but there was so much trail in the front end that we felt gave it cornering characteristics we weren’t happy with.
“This was almost two years ago, so we ended up working with RockShox and built three different Pike forks with different offsets and just blind tested them with Adam (Craig) and our factory team and got their emotional responses. After testing all of the forks, all of their feedback was in line with one of the forks, so we pursued one with a custom offset. This Pike has a 46-millimeter offset, whereas the standard offset is around 42 millimeters. This was when we knew we had a home-run product.”
For the final couple hours of descending, the narrow trail spilled sharply down the mountain’s western flank, serving up extended rock gardens through chunky washes, off-camber root sections, countless hidden derailleur-destroying rocks and a series of tight switchbacks to the bottom. It was textbook all-mountain (ahem, I mean, ‘enduro’ riding), and provided an ideal proving grounds for the new Reign. Throughout it all, the bike felt balanced, and the suspension felt smooth through sections with successive squared-edged hits. The 27.5-inch wheels rolled with authority through speed-sucking patches of loose rock, and the cornering through tight switchbacks was notably effortless. In the Reign, Giant has produced a capable all-rounder that should be just as home on burly all-day rides as it is on Enduro World Series courses.
In terms of geometry, the new Reign’s angles are largely reflective of a modern all-mountain machine. The sensible 65-degree head angle instills confidence on steep descents and rock rolls, while the 73-degree seat angle allows for a comfortable climbing position. The 17.1-inch chainstay makes the bike snappy and maneuverable.
One other notable change to the new Reign is the retirement of the proprietary OverDrive 2 steerer tube sizing. OverDrive 2, which featured a .125-inch increase in the upper section of the tapered steerer tube, was designed to increase stiffness at the handlebar. Though the standard may well have increased stiffness, for the consumer it meant a diminished ability to personalize one’s cockpit. With a shortage of companies making parts to accommodate the increased width at the top of the steerer tube, buyers were often limited to the headset/stem/fork combo that came stock with the bike. For a bike that is designed for enduro/all-mountain-minded riders, the renewed freedom of choice is likely to be a welcome development.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a blast to hop aboard a brand-new DH sled, and the laps I was treated to on the new Glory 27.5 were a welcome treat, even if the trails we rode were perfectly manageable on the Reign. There’s no denying that the descending was markedly quicker, and the new Glory proved to be shockingly maneuverable--a reality that could be partially attributable to the fact that the aluminum package weighs in at a shockingly light 35 pounds. This is notable, especially considering that some companies’ carbon DH bikes weigh significantly more.
Developing the new DH bike around 27.5-inch wheels required a lot of trial and error, and the Glory was completely redesigned from the ground up around the larger wheel size.
“We were looking at what Danny, Needles and Marcelo (Gutierrez Villegas) needed to go faster, and we knew that 27.5 was going to be part of the equation,” said Kevin Dana, Giant’s global DH category manager. “We worked closely with them on the redesign. It was not about just building a bigger chassis. It was about building the entire product.”
While developing the new Glory, Dana and his team met up with Hart and Needles at Hart’s preferred training track in San Romolo, Italy. The goal was to get the riders’ initial emotional feedback without first providing them with specific information about the changes to the bike. Though this version of the Glory was not finalized and, in the designer’s words, “still felt a bit wonky,” by Hart’s third run he had effortlessly smashed out his fastest-ever time on the course by no less than two seconds--an undeniable sign that they were on the right track.
“One of the problems with our old bike is that it had a dead zone in the middle on repeated square-edged hits,” said Dana. “It was getting stuck, and wheels were getting destroyed. Now we have a longer eye-to-eye on the linkage with a new bearing up front, and that has helped smooth out the suspension.
“All the racers are totally behind the project.”
With Hart finishing third and Needles claiming 14th over the weekend at the World Cup DH stop in Mont Sainte-Anne, Quebec, it’s easy to see why they supported the move to bigger wheels.
Editor’s Note: Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more in-depth ride impressions on these two bikes. Bike’s editor, Brice Minnigh, is currently putting the new Reign through its paces on the vast network of rugged trails around Revelstoke, British Columbia.