The time finally came (again) to have a big trail bike. This happens every now and then. The pendulum is always swinging. Sometimes you want to ride the 29er hardtail and sometimes the DH bike. Often, you want something in the middle…but what is that?
After 14 months on the Anthem 27.5 (mod), I wanted to start hitting trails a little differently. I wanted to ride with a little less savvy and a bit more aggression. I want to hit harder and have a solid bike behind me. I wanted some more rear travel for when things get loose, something like 125mm to 140mm. Even more, I definately wanted to run the fork at 160mm and have an even longer front center than the Anthem had. My old big bike had been sold last year after being ridden very little in recent years (not that that bike didn’t see tons of riding in the past) so I didn’t have anything in this class to draw from. After racing the Butcher at Sea Otter and another ride where it was really showing it’s age, I knew that the Butchers time was over. It’s amazing how dated a 2010 bike is now in the face of light, long travel bikes with big wheels.
I was tempted to get a Kona Process 153 but the sizing was a bit off for what I was looking for. Some of the pieces of the puzzle weren’t coming together for me and I couldn’t reconcile several factors. Still, the new Konas are amazing for what they are. Take a look as they may be perfect for you.
I ended up going with a 2015 Giant Trance 27.5, medium. Many people have referred to it as being almost the perfect trail bike. It’s an amazingly put together frame design. After all of the modifications I did, the bike really hits it’s marks. It looks like a war hammer…but a lighter and leaner war hammer than in years gone by.
Every bike fit is somehow different. It’s always funny to see the difference from one to another. Measuring them helps you see this. Like children, not one is just like the other. I had based my initial build of this bike on how my Anthem and the test Nomad fit. Of course, the bike wanted what it wanted and this is what I got after some testing. It may change slightly over time.
I’ve been using Anglesets on a few bikes lately. They help bridge a gap in current frame design and let me explore some interesting ideas. The key to the Angleset is knowing what they do. They move the wheel forward or rearward. Simple, eh? I moved the wheel on this bike full forward and it ended up being 10mm longer (with a larger wheel) than my 2013 Giant Glory DH bike. This puts my front center right in between what a medium and a large Nomad 3 are. Amazing that that’s where trail bikes are now.
Of course, setting up the handlebars properly means interference with the top tube. Many people shy away from proper handlebar placement for this reason but I learned long ago that this is not a smart way to go. It’s is an important concern but one to understand fully. I added this armor after taking most of my photos. After setting the bars exactly after test riding, the shifters could now strike the bars in a crash. Preventative medicine!
I ended up running a 80mm/-5 stem without any spacers (changed after photos and test ride) to get the handlebars in a nice position for trail bike use. I’m tempted to add a 5mm spacer but I’d rather err on the side of better climbing with a trail bike. I was looking for ‘just enough’ climbing quality rather than how the Anthem was run as a ‘very good’ climber. I’m certainly reserving a bit more for descending. By going with a medium frame and extended front center, I end up with a very aggressive descender and pretty good climber, much like using a large frame (racer style). The advantage to using the medium (instead of a large) this way is it allows me to still shorten the stem (like the GAP 45mm) for DH days, much like I did this weekend when we went to Pacifica. I get a killer downhill riding position that wouldn’t be possible running a larger frame. There is a method to the madness folks. I’ve got a huge amount of usable range in this frame.
Other Cool Things about the Trance
* Heli-coiled brake boss lugs! So rad! Totally aerospace style. This is what you see when you work on really snazzy stuff.
* Turns into a 160mm rear bike with removal of a spacer or shock change. The stock bike comes with a 200x51mm shock. Change that to 200x57mm and you have just gone from 140mm to 156mm, adding 16mm to the bottom of the travel. It doesn’t affect the initial height of the bike. There are special concerns with small frames and piggy back shocks so be careful.
Problematic Issues With the Trance
- The bike rides too high. Granted, I’ve only used it with the 51mm stroke shock. The 57mm shock will allow me to go deeper with 20mm more travel but the ride height as is still feeling high given I’m coming off a sorted Anthem. The Nomad 3, which is simply too low for casual use, starts its travel with a bottom bracket height of 338mm (with 2.2″ range tires). As I’ve got this bike set up now, the bottom bracket starts at 351mm. I’m figuring that 345mm is going to be a sweet spot but I’ll know more when I get the new long stroke shock in place and a few rides.
- Front derailleur housing routing is poor. I like using DM front derailleurs as they have superior routing with a stop built into the unit. The line is very protected from mud with that stop so close and the end pointing down. This bike doesn’t take advantage of this and forces use of the cam arm which could otherwise be cut off for clearance. The opening of the housing is pointing up, giving mud a lot of help into the line. I know that the routing is nice all in the down tube but I’m thinking that that a top tube run would have been better to take advantage of the improvements offered.
- Internal routing for stealth droppers is awkward and not super easy to run. It should be super easy to run. I had to remove the bottom bracket to get the line in place. It’s not a smooth run either with sharp tube edges clawing as I pull though, which sucks during service. It does work in in the end so I’m happy about that.
- Minimum of 160mm rear rotor. There are times that a 140mm rear rotor is preferered. This is especially true for less aggressive descender, riders in flatter areas, winter riding, and very light riders. It’s also nice when serious climbing is going to be the mission at hand (Downieville AM?). I don’t think it makes sense to rule out 140mm and it’s a bad trend. Luckily, I intended a 160mm for most of the use of this bike.
- The bastard DT RWS 142/12 skewer with Shimano e-thru threading is insane. I have no idea who thought this up but it fucking sucks. Use DT RWS or Shimano E-thru but don’t make proprietary parts for no good reason.
- The top tube is still too high. I still ended up needing to armor mine but it was very close. They just need to get it another 5mm lower or so.
- The stock Fox Evolution CTD shock that came on my bike didn’t allow going to 57mm stroke. A good reason to choose a model with Rockshox. It’s an ok shock for basic use but it doesn’t really go much further.
- A real OnePointFive head tube would be so nice on this frame. The 44/56 it has is nice and looks cool but a 49/56 or 49/49 would have allowed for far better use of the Angleset and reduced the upper stack.
Some notes on parts choices
- WTB KOM i25 rims: I’ve been using Stan’s Flow EX rims for a long time and have grown to trust them. I’ve always wanted a wider and lighter rim than the Flow EX but no options like that existed. Now one does and I’m going to give it a try. In building the wheels, they felt very flimsy and were tricky to get dialed in. They seem good after a few rides so I’m hopeful they work out. They definitely look cool. 25mm width at 438 grams is pretty bad ass.
- WTB Trail Boss 2.25″ tires: TCS Light, 778 grams. I really like the look of this tread pattern as a front tire. I might even try it as a rear. The tire itself doesn’t have the stiffness that I like in a tire (like the Continental’s casings). I don’t usually go with WTB tires but you never know when you might get a winner. It seems hard to find good 27.5″ tires in the 800-900 gram range.
- Maxxis Ardent Race 2.20″ tires: 3C/EXO/TR, 680 grams. The current standard in 27.5″ tires. I’ll be using a Crossmark in the rear once the EXO/TR version becomes available.
- SRAM XX1 Q156 cranks: I love these cranks and the Trance stays were just narrow enough to fit them. Amazing for a big bike. So cool! I was worried that I’d have to run Q165 cranks. Narrow cranks are so nice when I’ve got a lot of climbing to do.
- Shimano Saint rear shifter: This was simply about bling and being a pimp. FTW.
- KS LEV Integra 150mm dropper post: When I tested the Santa Cruz Nomad recently, I discovered that the new bigger bikes are ridden so much like DH bikes but without the rear travel, the rear of the bike moves a ton more. While a 125mm travel post would put me into the same position as I would have on my DH bike, the smaller bike needs even more clearance. This means that 150mm drop posts will be the new standard over 125mm. Even for less aggressive trail riders, at the local Camp Tamarancho Flow Trail, 125mm of drop is simply not enough drop on any bike for how the trail is ridden forcing fast guys to drop their dropper an additional inch. A 150mm dropper will eliminate this hassle. I usually use the RS Reveb post but it doesn’t have a 150mm option for 30.9mm frames. KS does. My initial impressions of the post are very good. Set up with 250 psi.
- KS Southpaw dropper lever: This wasn’t designed to be used with a front shifter but it still works well. It works great and looks fantastic. So much position adjustment. The KS post needs very little cable pull so the lever only needs to move a small amount.
- MRP 2X chain device: I usually don’t use a chain device outside of downhill but this bike came with this part on it and I decided to give it a try. Even though I run 2X on trail, I usually set up my drivetrain well enough that dropped chains aren’t an issue. Still, getting into much longer travel bikes ridden hard this will probably start becoming an issue. So far, the piece has worked flawlessly and with little intrusion or noise. Nice insurance. This OEM unit differs from the aftermarket unit as it doesn’t have any bash piece.
The stock Fox CTD shock is pretty lousy when using the bike in a broad range of conditions. For a novice, I’m sure it’s fine. I found that running the shock at 190 psi with a medium (0.4 in.3) volume spacer made a world of difference with the overall feel of the rear end. See the Fox Rulebook. The shock comes with a small (0.2 in.3) installed. It’s just not enough when hitting hard.
I decided to order a CCDB Inline for the rear to give me full control over the rear of the bike. I was torn between the Inline and the Rockshox Monarch Plus RC3 DebonAir shock but decided on the Inline because of the full range of damper adjustment. It’s a 200x57mm unit so the bike will have 156mm of travel but I’m going to be setting it up very progressively to keep it a lively climber that still takes big hits. Here’s a print of the shock.
If the leverage ratio is 2.745 (140/51) then with 57mm of stroke I should be getting 156mm travel (57*2.745). Not the 160mm claimed online but I will model the rear system to see what is happening soon.
I may try to short stroke the shock if the bike proves to still ride too high with the shock set for longer travel. It’s to hard to speculate at this point but I do know that the Nomad is simply too low for trail at 338mm. A 196mm shock would bring the rear end down 10mm. That’s what I mean about short stroking. Essentially, the same bottom point but lower top. Travel would reduce from 156 to 145mm.
Initial riding impressions
The bike seems awesome. It doesn’t climb as well as the Anthem did and it rides higher. That’s not to say it climbs poorly. It’s pretty good, just not super. Once the air pressure was worked out I rode a loop around Tamarancho with the damper fully open and it didn’t ride like a complete pig, a good sign as I typically rode the Anthem fully open. It’s a light bike that takes hard hits. It’s very stable and planted over anything. I’m really looking forward to riding it, especially with the new shock.
I do need some more time on the bike to try it in more variety and known hits. In a few months, It’ll be dialed.
THE BIKE IS LONG! Make no mistake, there are times when the length of the front of this bike is a handful but hopefully the rewards outpace them. Some tight descending switchbacks require 110% attention. Climbing tight switchbacks are less of a concern but do require honest bike handling skill to execute. I haven’t gotten a chance to ride the bike on some of our super tight Marin singletrack so I can’t say there but I expect it to work out well overall.
Why not just get a Reign?
The Reign is simply an awesome bike. I really like it. There isn’t much difference between a medium Reign and how this bike is set, except I can go backward (setup wise) easy. With this bike I really wanted to be more trail based rather than serious gravity. If I like, I can shorten the front end and reduce the travel for more pep. With the Reign, I’m definitely stuck into that line of thinking. I probably could have gone that way if a few details had lined up.
- I did install the CCDB Inline to the bike. I used the largest volume spacer to make the shock as progressive as possible. The results are a nice trail bike that takes big hits very well. I do have to use the CS quite a bit but that’s to be expected with a long travel rear bike.
- I also ended up taking all of the volume spacers out of the 160mm Pike to keep it working well on the trails around me.
- The bike is slightly higher than I would like but not what I would call ‘high’. I would just like it a little lower.