Giant 2008 Press Camp

I just returned from Giant Bicycle press camp, which took place on June 28th – 30th, 2007 at the Northstar at Tahoe resort in sunny California. Although Giant unveiled a new full-suspension model and significant weight-saving changes to existing model, the camp was not all about technology. in large measure it was about people. The people at Giant USA getting to know the press corps, and vice versa.

While Giant Bicycle is indeed a huge global force in bicycle manufacturing, Giant USA, headquartered in Newbury Park, CA, is small group of bicycle enthusiasts who are responsible for the company’s sales, product development, marketing, administrative and parts/accessories departments. Spending three days riding bikes, talking bikes and breaking bread with the mountain bike crew from Giant USA felt the same as hanging out with any group of passionate bike riders. If I had any pre-conceived notion that Giant was some sort of “foreign” company, after attending camp I came away with the notion that Giant not all that different than the USA bike companies that develop and market their products domestically, and manufacture them overseas. Not a shocking revelation, but worth mentioning.

Now, the bikes.

The press camp focused on three series of mountain bikes that have received new lightweight frame makeovers for the 2008 model year: the 4.2-inch travel Trance, the all new 5-inch travel Trance X and the 6-inch travel Reign. On all three aforementioned bikes, the suspension is still essentially the same Giant Maestro Platform as in the past, but the three models received substantial weight reduction and rigidity improvements via modifications to their frame designs. Giant flexed its metalworking muscle and used custom hydroformed tubing to form structural modifications that eliminated or reduced the need for heavier forged frame elements. Here’s a look at the Trance X0 bike that I got to ride for two days.

Another noteworthy change is the Maestro’s new lightweight co-pivot design, which minimizes weight by using one shaft to secure both the lower linkage and bottom of the shock. As shown in the photo below of the Trance X0’s rear suspension, the system looks clean and uncluttered.

Below are some tech highlights from the presentations on the the three 2008 models that involve re-designed frames.

Trance (4.2 inches of travel)
Trail bike application.
Frame 250 grams lighter than 2007 version (8.8% reduction).
10.5% stiffer than 2007 version (mostly as a result of improved headtube stiffness).

Trance X (5 inches of travel)
Bigger hit trail bike application.
Frame 244 grams lighter than 2007 Trance (4.2 inch frame), yet has 5 inches of travel.
13.75% stiffer than 2007 Trance.
Only 200 grams heavier than aluminum Anthem frame (3.5 inches of travel).

Reign (6 inches of travel)
All-mountain application.
Frame 738 grams lighter than 2007 version (21% reduction).
23% stiffer than 2007 (mostly as a result of improved headtube stiffness).

After the tech presentations, each journo received their Trance X0, which they’d get to ride for the next two days. The guys from Giant dialed in my front and rear shocks, then I headed to the Zephyr lift with the rest of the crew for a few runs down Northstar’s trail system.

Northstar has a variety of terrain, from XC to full-on DH gonzo. Fortunately Giant had pre-marked a sweet down-the-mountain route that had just the right combination flowy, twisty singletrack and rocky technical sections to properly acclimate oneself to a 5-inch travel bike. Speaking of the bike, the $3500 MSRP Trance X0 comes decked out with a Fox 322 F120RL fork, Fox Float RP23 rear shock, Shimano XT Rapidfire shifters, XT front derailleur, XTR top normal rear derailleur, XT Cassette, Avid Juicy 7 brakes (180/160mm F/R), Race Face Deus XC crankset and X Type bottom bracket, Mavic CrossMax ST wheels and Kenda Nevegal tires, to name a few key components.

Out of the gate I felt a bit out of my element in the loose the “moon dust” and sandy corners, but it didn’t take me long to feel comfortable with the Trance X0’s handling. The 69.5 degree head angle seems well suited for a trail bike with 5 inches of travel. The bike links turns with ease and the steering response falls in a nice “middle ground” of neither slack nor twitchy.

After a few runs, I started getting used to the “loose” soil conditions and was able to let the bike run a bit more freely. The payoff was 5 inches of bump eatin’ fun. The Maestro suspension does a great job of providing a “bottomless” coosh that makes it feel like you are never going to run out of travel. The rear suspension never produced any harsh “ramp up” feeling.

The suspension feels fully active, even when clamping on the binders. While braking through the rough stuff I paid attention to the suspension performance and could not detect any brake-induced suspension lockout. That ‘s a good thing.

Though I did not do a great deal of pedaling on day one, I turned the cranks enough to realize that the Maestro rear suspension does a good job of resisting pedal-induced bobbing. While seated, the suspension remains relatively unaffected by pedaling forces. Pedaling out of the saddle is a different story, and that’s the only time I felt the need to flip the switch on the Fox RP23’s pedal platform (to combat the bob).

Over the years I’ve learned that second day on any test bike is usually better than the first. By the second day the “newness” of the bike has worn off and my instincts are more in tune with the bike’s handling. And so it was with the Trance X0 on day two, for our mostly-downhill 10-mile romp on the Tahoe Rim Trail. Our segment of trail was made up of beautifully flowing singletrack with occasional drops, step-ups and technical rock challenges. It also included many awesome vistas, such as the one shown below.

I pushed my limits as much as would have were I on my own bike, and I rolled through the day unscathed, other than a terminal case of “big stupid grin on the face.” I’ll have to admit that I normally don’t ride bikes with more than four inches of suspension, and this road trip to the Trek an Giant press camps was my first “quality time” on 5-inch travel bikes. Going in, I was a bit nervous that the 5-inch bikes would be a bit of “overkill” for trail riding, and better suited for “hucksters.” But I’m happy to report what many of you more adventurous souls have know all along, the 5-inch travel “trail bike” category is hot and getting hotter. It might be a bit hackneyed, but “if I could only own one bike”, it just might be a sweet-riding 5-inch travel trail bike like the Trance X0.

For more eye candy, check out my Giant Camp photo gallery.