Giant was ahead of the curve when 27.5-inch wheels hit the scene. Same goes for the trend toward aggressive cross-country bikes. But combining the two into their flagship XC offering may actually have been a little too far ahead of the curve, so the 2018 Anthem 29 is here to correct some of that oversteer.
The renewed focus on big wheels is paired with a return to short travel. The 90-millimeter rear/100-millimeter front combination is unmistakably that of an XC bike. But like Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain and a handful of other modern philosophers said: All things in moderation, including moderation.
This is far from a complete rewind to the sketchy race machines of old. Despite the short travel, Giant aims to give you less buck on the bangs thanks to the trunnion-mount rear shock and its lower leverage ratio. And the chainstays are short, the bottom bracket is low and the head angle is a left-leaning-conservative 69 degrees. The reach isn't as long as today's batch of trail-bike frames, but the Anthem is designed with a slightly more classic stem length in mind.
The frame also has another classic in mind: the fixed seatpost. Though we rarely see XC bikes spec'd with droppers, the Anthem's 27.2-millimeter seat tube makes it difficult to opt for one on your own. The frame accommodates an internally routed dropper, but so far, only KS offers one in 27.2, and only with 100 millimeters of travel. There's also the externally cabled Thomson Elite with 125 millimeters. But the new Anthem was built for racers, and the majority are proud high-posters. Most win their races in the saddle, not out of it. And when in the saddle, a thinner post offers much more natural deflection and thus more comfort.
The 2018 Anthem Advanced Pro frames feature Giant's first carbon rear triangle since 2010. They've reasoned that, once reinforced enough to hold up to the gouges and impacts that rear stays will inevitably suffer on aggressive trails, a carbon swingarm approaches the weight of aluminum. But again, the new Anthem is not an aggressive trail bike. For those counting calories on the way to race day, the 120 grams you save is a worthwhile trade off on the $4,900 Anthem Advanced Pro 1 and the $8,500 Advanced Pro 0.
The $3,900 Anthem Advanced 29 does use an aluminum rear triangle, but features the same front end as the Advanced Pro. The $3,750 Anthem 2 is all-aluminum and asks the age-old question: Do you downgrade the frame for more cutting-edge componentry, or do you sink your cash into carbon and maybe settle on the parts? And within that debate are a few others: Fox 32 or RockShox Sid? SLX 11-speed or GX 12-speed? I can't answer that for you. And regardless, we only rode the Advanced Pro 0.
The new Anthem puts you in a classic XC posture. Even on my large-sized test rig, I felt appropriately stretched out compared to the extra-large frames I'm used to. And despite the low bottom bracket, the Anthem has a relatively short stack height. Before the ride left the pavement, I could tell this bike meant business.
Also before we left the pavement, I experimented with the dual remote suspension lever spec'd on both levels of the Anthem Advanced Pro. But once I found the dirt, I found no use for it. There's no harm in having it, just don't let it be a factor if you're deciding between the Advanced and Advanced Pro. On a 90-millimeter-travel bike with the Maestro linkage's talent for power transfer, I thought it climbed like a dream. In fact, I found myself going a tad deeper than Giant's recommended 20-25 percent sag. I appreciated the extra sensitivity on the climbs, and with such short travel it didn't significantly affect the geometry.
That geometry stood out on more than just the climbs. The 73.5 degree seat angle is conservative by today's standards, but there's no need to go steeper on a bike that sags so little on the climbs. Plus, it felt neutral and comfortable on the flats. And the low bottom bracket and slack-for-an-XC-bike head angle kept it comfy on the descents, though if my race circuit featured a lot of speed or steepness, I'd opt for a shorter stem and wider bars. And the descents proved some, but not all, of what Giant will be hyping about this bike in the coming months.
The fact that the new Anthem was to be built around 90 millimeters of travel was not a foregone conclusion. During development, Giant found that the trunnion mount's lower leverage ratio made it possible to mimic the small-bump-sensitivity of a progressive 100-millimeter rear end with less travel. The shorter but more refined travel allows the Anthem to avoid the unpredictable damping in the late stroke and the higher-than-necessary bottom bracket of traditional XC bikes. Once I found my sag, the Anthem's performance over high-speed chatter was indeed as good as any 100 millimeter bike I'd ridden.
But whenever I would forget its intended use, it would remind me. On big hits and medium mistakes, those 90 millimeters felt like 90 millimeters. Aggressive riders looking for a race-oriented bike that can also hang on their everyday trails should think twice about going for this year's Anthem.
But that's exactly what makes the new Anthem the perfect purpose-built XC bike. It makes no sacrifices in an effort to kill your quiver. It does what it does, and it does it brilliantly. Look for the new Anthems to be available early this fall.
First Ride: BMC Speedfox