The fall in the Northeast Kingdom is undoubtedly one of my favorite times of year. It is the time where the air turns crisp, leaves become sort of an autumnal psychedelic feature and the pace of life resets to its indigenous slower pulse. The fall also signals something else that is the equivalent of Christmas to hardcore bike nerds and lustful bike owners alike, and that is next year’s bikes trickling into shops.
For years, XC bikes have had an elitist air to them, suiting only those masochistic, lycra clad athletes with shaven horse-like legs. These bikes were usually designed with one mission, to be as fast as possible (primarily uphill) at all costs. This was all well and great but it alienated a large group of riders, commonly referred to as “mere mortals”. These are riders that like going downhill confidently as much as they enjoying climbing to get the exercise they desire. Bike companies have finally taken note of this and adjusted accordingly resulting in a new, more versatile machine that has cleared the elitist air.
All Photos by Mark Clement
The Anthem has been Giant’s flagship XC race rocket since its inception in the mid 2000’s. It has been on the cutting edge of getting up hills fast but this year it came out it of its shell and got some arm muscles, a pair of shades, some ripped jeans and a kick ass mix tape. Giant took a relatively one sided bike and revitalized it by doing a complete redesign from the ground up. They made the bike slacker, longer in the top tube, shorter in the rear end, and lower at the BB while adding travel to the front and rear.
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Along with the geometry changes Giant added some technical features that compliment the Anthem’s new personality, most notably the Trunnion mount. If you are wondering what the Trunnion Mount is it is a “new shock mount produces a lower leverage ratio for increased pedaling and braking efficiency, plus a lower center of gravity and shorter chainstays for improved handling, climbing and agility.” – Giant Bicycles. This mount is also supposed to keep the shock extra active in corners where previous mounting systems could load the shock oddly and limit its suppleness. One final note on the changes in 2017 are that the Anthem had adopted boost spacing for both the front and rear axle to be able to add an additional level of stiffness.
For this test I am riding the Anthem Advanced 1 which prices in at $4,950 which is a large chunk of change, but it is also a lot of bike. This bike out of the box comes with a Carbon Front Triangle, Giant’s own Carbon Wheels wrapped in Schwalbe Rubber, Shimano XT 8000 Drivetrain (1X11) and Brakes, Giant Connect Dropper, and Fox Elite Suspension. Two pieces of this build to take note of that emphasize its progressive nature is the Fox 34 fork and the 150mm Dropper (on size large). This build is something that you could throw onto an all mountain bike and it would feel at home but is light enough for this XC bike giving it the personality of “I wanna be formal but I am here to party”. All together the bike weighed in at 25lbs for a size large sans pedals or bottle cage.
So How Does It Ride?
Whenever I throw my leg over a new cross country bike I automatically expect it to be a sublime experience that augments my lung function and lactic threshold because of how light and stiff modern XC bikes are, and Anthem did not disappoint. Between the frame and build kit you can feel an immediate transfer of energy from your legs to the dirt. I think the biggest difference between this bike and other modern bikes is it’s raw acceleration. Giant has held a hard stance on 27.5 since they released their first ones in 2014 and they continue to remain strong on that. I am not saying that 27.5 is the best wheel size because I am a sucker for a good 29er, but damn can 27.5’s turn it over.
When the steeps got rocky or rooty the anthem did not bat an eye. XC bikes sometimes feel as though they have less traction than some of their longer travel brethren. However, the Anthem felt in line with any all mountain or trail bike out there. The rear end contoured the ground scraping together every ounce of traction it could.
One of most impressive aspects of this bike is its descending prowess. Giant took a bike that was skittish on downhills and turned it into a confident and playful trail slayer. After putting some good miles on the bike I would say that the bike really opens up when you are pushing it. That is not to say it does not perform well at slow speeds but when you push it to its limit you start to realize just how capable this lightweight race rocket is.
The tire setup on the bike was “enduro” having a Nobby Nic in the front and Racing Ralph in the back. On one trip down Moose Alley my bike violently rejected the Racing Ralph which was a blessing in disguise. I ended up putting the nobby on the back and put a Maxxis Minion DHF in the front and that revealed a whole new level of fun factor for the bike.
Through the tight and twisties the bike handled like Joe Frazier, bobbing and weaving between the trees allowing you to take as tight of a line as you can stomach. Between the new geometry and the Trunnion Mount the bike really likes to switch directions fast and give you a tremendous amount of confidence and traction while doing it.
This year’s Anthem checked off so many boxes that it was really hard to come up with any gripes. If I had to put any to it it would be the long stock stem and the dropper post. The stem it came with was a 90mm and it may be totally appropriate for other large XC bikes but on a XC bike with a personality like it has it is a little passe. Giants dropper post is one of the most reliable and inexpensive posts out there with a lot of versatility (being able to be run internal or external) but what it lacks is durability in heavy mud. The dropper posts seals are susceptible to letting dirt and water enter them resulting in a slowing action of the post. The upside of having this post is that Giant is quick to warranty the post if you end up having seal issues.
On the fork I was maxed out on volume reducers and running 25% sag while standing. This gave me a comfortable feel on mellow sections of trail but enough support when things got rough.
In the rear I was running 30% sag while standing, this kept the bike spritely on the climbs and during accelerations but bottomless and supple on descents and rough terrain.
As far as tire pressure is concerned I found it was imperative to run the right pressure because the carbon rims do not allow the same compliance a aluminum set of hoops does. The magic number in the front for me was 23 PSI and 25 PSI in the rear during dry conditions and 21 and 23 PSI respectively for when it was wet.
Evolution does exist and this is a product of it. After years of one sided cross country bikes we are now seeing a new breed that will appeal to a larger spectrum of riders. Before, where folks may have had to choose an all mountain bike to get some downhill confidence they now have a lighter weight, more climber friendly option. The new Giant Anthem is a formidable player in this category that will leave you trying shake a shit-eating grin well into your second post ride beer.