***This bike was updated: See here***
I broke. I needed a faster bike. I got my ass handed to me at Annadel State Park a few weeks ago by a couple guys on tight FS 29ers. I was on my heavy Butcher. Proabably the worst tool for the job of XC dash and run. 26″ wheels with trail tires mounted, coil springs, and long travel. I had to work so hard up the hills. I was breaking. Worse than the climbing issues was the slow exit acceleration (weight and chop) out of corners going down Lawndale. It was time for a lighter, faster rolling full suspension bike.
I really wanted to keep the rear wheel travel to a minimum in my bike choice. 100mm is fine for real mountain biking but it’s amazing how hard it is to find a non-29er with travel that low. It seems everyone these days wants way more than they really need. The Giant Anthem is one of the few that gets things right.
As Giant was out of stock of the Anthem 27.5 frameset in medium, I procured a 2014 Giant Anthem 3 27.5 from Fairfax Cyclery. This made a bit of sense as I had the need for some of the parts on the complete and I had some parts ready to swap in.
The short notice and timing in the holidays meant a few scattered QBP orders. Thus, I rode the bike a few times giving it a bit of a patina that I don’t usually show on fresh bikes in my posts. The bike benefited in setup by me riding it at China Camp, Tamarancho, UCSC, and Mt. Tamalpais – essentially a perfect shake and sort for the bike pointing out strengths, weaknesses, and changes that were needed to have the end result be essentially the perfect NorCal bike. It’s light (for what it is), it’s set up to go fast up the hills and down them too. Long climbs and hard descents are no problem for this little devil. The best description for it came after riding the big and hard chunder and drops on the Dead Camper and Chupracabra trails behind UCSC. I said, “It rides like a little bike, but I don’t have to slow down because of it.” Pretty cool.
So, the Anthem has a nice tight ass. 100mm of multi-link rear wheel goodness. I wanted this bike to be able to climb really well and it does. I’m a good enough rider that I really don’t need more than 100mm in the back to get the job done going downhill. It’s enough to keep the rear wheel tracking and it takes the edge of off the bumps. Especially in Marin, long travel can be more of a problem than an asset. Sweet.
The front of the bike was a big issue. It’s a bit short and steep. 100mm up front is just too little for hard hitting. I would prefer a fork travel minimum in the 130-140 range. I also want the bike to be really low. I like that as it works best up, down, and around corners. Not too low, but no higher than it has to be to keep from bouncing pedals off rocks in pronounced and dangerous ways. I swapped out the stock Rockshox Recon Gold RL 100mm fork for the Rockshox Pike 120mm fork. The Recon is a nice enough fork but I had the Pike (@90 psi, 2 tokens), it’s sick, and it’s built for rough play. I also installed a Cane Creek Angleset with a 1.5 degree external cup. The external cup raised the front end but the slacker angle brought it right back down. Final measures of the unlaided bike were 67.25 degree head angle, a 698mm front center, and a 331mm bottom bracket height. Let’s just say that this is a trail eating badass front end now. The bike was completely transformed in how it can attack the trail. I will say that I wish that the bottom bracket was 5-8mm lower as it’s really at the upper limit of what I’m looking for but it’s not ‘high’, just that it could be a skoch lower.
You’ll probably notice that the Rockshox Pike fork isn’t officially offered lower than 150mm in 27.5″ wheel size. Bringing the fork down to 120mm took some problem solving but it’s something that just about anybody can accomplish. I got a new 120mm rod for the stock Recon fork during all the ordering. This will be a great fork (as will the wheels) for an upcoming singlespeed project and also a good swap out fork for XC race day use like Sea Otter.
The stock Rockshox Monarch R rear shock is crap. I really wouldn’t be too worried about it even though I was really hoping to squeeze a piggy back shock like the Monarch Plus into the frame. The problem with the shock is that it’s either broken or so under damped as to be useless for anything other than as a spring. I’m exaggerating, but I’m doing a lot of bouncing around right now with the 180 psi that I’m running and the rebound fully closed. The shock says it’s tuned as a low compression and mid rebound but something is off. Sorting this out will take place over the next week or two. If it isn’t broken, it could surely use a mid compression and high rebound. The shock rate is 2.6 overall, but it is a slightly progressive system. It goes from about 2.85 at the beginning of the stroke to about 2.58 at the bottom. Obviously the chart below sets up some vagaries. A medium tune, but for compression or rebound? Why did my shock come with a low compression tune? Argh!
I may just start by swapping out the fluid in the shock as my needs right now is “more”. The service manual cites the fluid as “RockShox 3wt suspension fluid” which is most probably an ISO 11-14 range fluid. Some Red Line (Light, Yellow) ISO 18 could be the ticket in the short term.
The cranks that I swapped into the bike really make a crazy difference. I replaced the crap SRAM wide low end cranks with a pair of SRAM XX1 Narrow Q156 cranks with a NSB 2x spider and Race Face Light Bash. The gears were spaced in 1.2mm inboard to give a touch more room for the front derailleur to clear the arm and the Light Bash was ground down to clear the crank arm. This is a seriously trick setup and ‘just’ shoehorned into the full suspension bike. Essentially, it feels like I’m pedaling a road bike. Any narrower and I’d be bumping the frame with my ankle. The Giant’s chainstays are nice and narrow giving me perfect clearance from the crank arms ends. I haven’t tried pedaling with knee pads yet but there’s a far outside chance that that will be an issue. I love it thought.
A note on carbon cranks. They are cool, and light, and expensive…. but they have issue. The big one being that it’s a very abusive environment for a sensitive material. This assumes you ride real trail that leaves deep gouges on you bike. Something to consider. I’ll be keeping an eye on these as they get worked over.
In the next few weeks, I will be looking at some sort of retention setup for the little ring as you may have seen on some of my other bikes. The light bash holds the chain from falling outward off the big ring but something needs to hold the chain to the little ring…although in four serious rides I have seen zero hint of a dropped chain.
Speaking of chain retention, I bounced between a few gearing options while setting up this bike. In the end I chose the 36/24, 11-34, mid, clutch that you see for a couple of good reasons. It’s just a little easier to pedal than some of the gearings that I’ve been running in the past few years. I’m looking to push myself a little harder on some of the steeper hills and some low range will help. Following a few other small reasons, this gearing worked very well with the rear end of this bike, the derailleur, and the chain length to keep very good tension throughout the gearing range. It’s noticeable on the trail just how solid everything is running. I’m pretty happy with it but I honestly haven’t had a good opportunity to spin out the high gears and find if there is a real problem there. Hopefully, I’ll know in the next few weeks.
The brakes are 180/160mm f/r. Nothing fancy right now as I’m scavenging to get by until the new Shimano SM-RT99 Ice Tech rotors begin shipping in the sizes I need. Just a few more weeks. Shimano brakes are just so amazingly good!
When making the changes to the bike, I weighed the stock front wheel and compared it to the new fancy wheel shown here. A 240 gr. weight savings was realized. Obviously, the Giant rims are probably the culprit along with straight spokes and brass nipples. No contest against a Stan’s Crest rim, alloy nipples, butted spokes, and a DT 240s hub.
The rear wheel is still stock. 135mmx5TA. An interesting interface that Giant is doing that I like considering it makes use of older and cheaper hubs. I’m waiting on a set of upgrade dropouts to convert to 142mmx12TA. This wheel will end up being a Stan’s Arch EX rim and Deore XT hub with butted spokes and alloy nipples for great low weight and cost.
You may notice that the front rim and rear rim will be Crest and Arch EX from Stan’s. The Crest rims are very light and really not appropriate for rear use for anybody but the lightest riders. It’s ok in the front. The Arch EX is a nice rear rim for light setups that should allow for unrestricted shredding.
Because of the work done on the front end of this bike, I’m able to choose a riding position that isn’t just good up hills but down as well. The long front let’s me get ahead of the cranks a bit without putting my weight past the front of the bike. It’s pretty incredible to be doing 5 foot drops in an aggressive XC position but it works! The following print reflects the bike in an unladed state.
For many people, such low handlebar heights can cause real problems in a crash in how the bars strike the top tube. I figured out a nice little solution that I’ve already posted on here.
The dropper post on this is a Rockshox Reverb Stealth A2. 125mm is fine and it would be difficult to justify anything more. For an example, the low position I attain with this post is identical to what I use on my DH bike. As I’ve got two of these, I’ve learned quite a bit about how to set them up and get the bleeding of them. They are a bear to bleed as you have to juggle the setup oddly around the bike. Once done, the system is just awesome. I recommend them to folks but there are honestly one or two competitors that work very well.
A while ago, a friend and I had discussed the sides that a remote should go on. We both agreed that the rear controls should go on the right and the front on the left. That worked fine for a while but the prominence of 1X front drive has opened a position on the left for the dropper post and it has become the default side for that control. I made that change for this bike. It’s always good to use convention when ever possible (provided the reason is good).
In my second ride on the bike, I slashed the rear Schwalbe Racing Ralph 2.25″ tire in a casual rock garden. I’m really not impressed. Granted, Schwalbe warns the user that these are not suitable for durable use, and these versions are the cheaper ‘performance’ line, but I would have expected a little better in a race type tire.
Handlebars are cut to 730mm. I’ve tried wider but this is pretty much as wide as you can run in Marin but still results in smashed fingers. Some people run wider bars here, but they don’t ride fast on trail.
The bike weighs 29.19 pounds. It’s not a super lightweight but it’s very efficient. It’s got inner tubes in the tires that push the weight up but they work well holding the air in. I tend to have issues with tubeless setups.