Trail Testing Giant’s Anthem X Advanced 29er

Thoughts from our first ride aboard Giant's new carbon 29er

Giant Bicycles equipped each editor at the press launch with a top-of-the-line Anthem X Advanced 29er. Each of the bikes weighed in at 22 pounds and was draped in a custom (in other words, not exactly stock) SRAM XX kit.

By Vernon Felton
A week ago I posted a quick summary of Giant's newest addition to its mountain line—the Anthem X Advanced 29er. In a nutshell, Giant took their best-selling, full-suspension bike to date (the Anthem X 29er) and replaced its aluminum front triangle with one made of carbon. The result: a loss of 185 grams and, according to Giant, a seven percent boost in steering stiffness and there percent boost in pedaling stiffness. Giant will soon (as in just a few months) release three of these carbon-framed models, which range in price from $8,900 to $3,300.

For a low-slung racer, the 29er version of Giant's Anthem X is surprisingly capable in rough conditions. Carl Decker rode the aluminum version to victory at both the 2010 and 2011 Downieville Classic All-Mountain World Championships.

How does the new bike ride? I can tell you because Giant handed each editor a top of the line Anthem X Advanced 29er 0 and told us to slather on a whole lot of chamois cream…we had a good ride ahead of us. That ride turned out to be a 28-mile section of the Backbone Trail, one of the best trails Southern California has to offer. An added bonus? Recent rains were considerate enough to also give some much-appreciated grip to trail that normally resembles concrete with a couple tons of kitty litter strewn across the top.

Sections of Backbone are arid and brushy. Other portions drop down into lush canyons. There are creek crossings. Mazes of poison oak, some rocky sections and a few, fast straight-aways clogged by cast members from "The Biggest Loser" reality TV show. Seriously, we ran into the entire cast of the Biggest Loser. It wouldn't be Southern California, if it wasn't surreal…

But I digress.

Giant is adamant that even though the Anthem X Advanced 29er has the haircut and job resume of a cross-country racer, it's a more versatile machine than all that. Yes, it has just four inches of travel. Yes, at 22 pounds, it's unbelievably light. The Anthem X Advanced 29er, however, also has one of more supple suspensions on the market working for it and that, right there, gives the bike a surprisingly calm and controlled demeanor when you are time-warping through the rough stuff, sending rocks aflying, and humming the theme song from The Dukes of Hazzard.

It's been said that adding a 29-inch wheel to a bike is like adding another inch of travel to it (a four-inch travel 29er, folks say, feels like a five-inch travel 26er); there's something to that, as the ease with which the bigger wheels roll over obstructions can give you the impression that you're sitting atop more travel than the spec sheet suggests. The Anthem X 29er, however, has Maestro working for it as well.

What is Maestro? Two short links, two triangles and a pivot point that changes as the bike cycles through its suspension. Sorta like a second cousin to VPP.

Maestro is the marketing handle for Giant's short, dual-link suspension design. If I had to describe Maestro, I'd characterize it as a lot like VPP or DW Link, but with a bit less pedaling efficiency and, generally speaking, better small bump compliance under pedaling loads than either of those competing systems. Or to put it simply: smooth but a bit squishier whilst pedaling than some other virtual pivot point-ese bikes.

So, back to the point here… Small, chattery sections of trail? You see them, brace for them, and then wonder where the hell they went, because they just sort of disappear into some Bermuda Triangle that floats beneath the Giant's tires. I recently tested the aluminum Anthem X 29er for Bike magazine and came away with similar impressions. The difference between the carbon and aluminum versions is that the carbon had a slightly smoother (almost "muted") feeling up front. Perhaps part of that can be attributed to a particularly well-tuned fork, but since the bike was also ghostly quiet, I'm guessing the carbon main frame had something to do with it.

Giant's Anthem X 29er W is the first full-suspension 29er built specifically for women.

At just 22 pounds, it doesn't take much muscle to get the bike flying. While some other designs offer more anti-squat than the Anthem, pedaling efficiency is still pretty damn good. In fact, I wound up riding with the RockShox Monarch shock set to "open" for 90 percent of the trip. Climbing traction is superb with the shock fully active.

Is the carbon Anthem X stiffer than its aluminum sibling? Dunno. I'd have to ride the bikes back to back on the same trail on the same day before I made any judgments and, in truth, I tend to trust standardized deflection tests more than I do test riders' opinions. I can say, however, that the Giant's stiffness to weight ratio is impressive. For a bike this light, it tracks pretty damn well.

The lack of pivots out back add up to a stout structure (triangles are, as shapes go, damn hard to deform) and when you mate that solid triangle to another triangle constructed from massive carbon pipes, you don't get much of a chance to bitch about lateral flex because it just ain't there to bitch about. This, for the record, is one of the reasons why Giant opted to stick with the standard quick release, instead of equipping the bike with a 142×12 through axle. The other reason was cost—putting a through axle out back would have added a few hundred to the new bike's price tag.

For the record, I personally prefer through-axle set ups to the traditional open drop out/quick release combo, because through axles simply offer a tidier and more secure way to attach a wheel to a frame. I wish every mountain bike had `em. That said, at least the Anthem X Advanced 29er isn't a bike that cries out (because of flex reasons) for a through axle.

This was the score at the end of our press launch: 1 cold beer, 4,200 feet of climbing and about (I forgot to turn on my GPS a few times) 27 miles of trail covered. Not bad for a first taste of the new bike.

So, yeah, I liked the Anthem X Advanced 29er. Which is saying something as my preferences lean towards longer travel bikes. Sure, readers might be thinking, you should like a bike that costs nearly nine grand. A bike that expensive should ride like a dream, cook you a quiche every morning and solve millennia-old disputes between Middle Eastern countries.

Fair enough. I couldn't agree more since I will never be able to afford a bike like that either. Fortunately, you don't have to be a banker or an Olsen twin to own one of the new Giants. You can get the same carbon frame (and that's really what we're talking about here) built up with pretty damn respectable parts for $3,300. Sure, the base level bike weighs four pounds more, but 26 pounds is still damn light for a full suspension bike and, clearly, you can upgrade your rig over time if you have a tendency to obsess over grams.

The new bike in action under longtime pro, Carl Decker.

In short, Giant's latest addition to their line improves on a bike that, clearly, a whole lot of riders already liked. Looking for a new rig this season—something that can handle anything from XC races to a Super D? You should check one out. Still pining instead for something with some more travel? Keep your eyes peeled because the odds are good that Giant will be making something with big hoops and a carbon frame…and a bit more squish before any of us get much older.