Giant Bicycles made a bold move this year by committing most of its line-up to 27.5 wheels. From hardtails to full-suspension, across the board you’ll see the middle wheel size. Though Giant didn’t totally eliminate 29ers this year (you can still find one or two versions each of Anthem, XTC and Trance, compared to a total of about 28 different 27.5 models) it has been spoken many times that the company is in the process of phasing them along with 26ers out completely.
While the Trance Advanced 27.5 with 5.5 inches of travel became available initially, we were able to secure the very first 4-inch travel Anthem Advanced sent to the U.S., Giant’s flagship cross-country race bike. Yes, it’s pricey, but as outfitted, it showcases Giant’s advanced carbon technology and ability to also make high-end accessories from the resin material, from the cockpit bits to a remarkable wheelset with carbon rims. The Anthem line starts at $2,250 for the aluminum-framed 3 model.
Editor’s note: This review originally appeared in Dirt Rag #175 (thus the snow photos). If you want to read all our in-depth reviews as soon as they are available, order a subscription today. Ok, back to the review…
Frame and geometry on all Giant’s 27.5 models are specifically engineered to match the wheels size with no holdover parts from previous 26-inch or current 29er models. The carbon front triangle has redesigned internal cable routing ports to totally eliminate rattling, a PressFit bottom bracket, and the massive OverDrive 2 headtube (which requires Giant’s own stem specific to the 1.5 to 1.25-inch taper).
The seat tube is drilled for internal cable dropper post routing but this model doesn’t come with one (curiously, the matching women’s specific Lust Advanced 0 does.) The aluminum rear triangle sees the addition of cartridge bearings in the upper shock mounts to increase suspension sensitivity on smaller trail scree as well as convertible dropouts so you can choose between 135 or 12×142—it comes set up as 142.
I made the conversion to 29ers over five years ago and immediately found that the big wheel’s ability to track and float over the worst rocks and roots served as a well-needed crutch for my somewhat questionable technical skills, especially in the East. As such I had a bit of trepidation committing to the Anthem full-time during our testing period. Turns out that was all for not. The Anthem Advanced is one of the most capable cross-county bikes I’ve ever ridden.
Though I’ve always been a fan of the company’s Maestro suspension, both on a 26 and later a 29er, the 27.5 has a flair and attitude neither could match. Most notable is how balanced the bike feels compared to the 29er. Giant achieved this by shortening the chainstays by over an inch compared to its 29er and lengthening the front center to retain nearly the same wheelbase.
When we tested the Anthem 29er we said it had “mullet” handling—clean and tight up front, and long and flowing in the rear. Thanks to its 71-degree head angle, the bike initially turns quickly. However, due to the long chainstays, the rear wheel wasn’t always keen to follow the front’s lead. We also noted that the handling would likely be more intuitive with a little length trimmed off the chainstays.
By doing just that with the 27.5 version, there’s a very “in-the-bike” feeling over rough, technical terrain—all I had to do was lean back and get low to cross the nastiest rock gardens. The front wheel never had a tendency to drop into holes or get hung-up. It’s also quick handling without feeling twitchy or unpredictable at any speed—the front wheel goes right where you point it with a sense of urgency and precision.
As speeds increase the Anthem felt snappy and quick like a 26, but again, its geometry felt perfectly balanced without the worry of dropping a wheel into a hole or getting snagged. Also appreciated is a 15mm thru-axle on the RockShox SID XX fork, which increases front-end stiffness even more.
After a month on the Anthem I added a dropper post and this further amplified the bikes ability to descend as well or better than most cross-country race bike out there. Because the complete bike is already so light if I race it this year I’ll unquestionably keep the dropper post in place.
Climbing, the Maestro suspension provides a good deal of anti-squat under power with the RockShox Monarch RL shock in the open position while still being tender enough early in the stroke to keep the rear wheel planted for optimum traction. The 27.5 wheels along with its light weight kept the Anthem feeling lively in or out of the saddle. Long fire road climbs we’re easily chewed up with a quick switch of the shock to the locked position.
Parts selection no doubt played a roll in the Anthem’s near perfection. The SRAM XX1 drivetrain performed flawlessly though the front ring tends to pick up and hold more leaves and grass than a double (this didn’t affect performance) and there’s a small but annoying trait that when you’re stopped with the chain in the 42 cog and pedal backwards a few rotations the chain will come off the ring and fall onto the bottom bracket shell though this never happened while riding.
Giant’s carbon Contact SLR components are as functional and light as they are beautiful. The P-XCR0 carbon wheels feature DT Swiss hub internals and Giant’s own carbon rims, which sealed up tubeless easily. The wheels so far match the respected offerings of Specialized’s Rovals, which puts Giant in the same position now of supplying almost everything in-house on its machinery.
After all this gushing and praise it might sound like I’m claiming 27.5 is the Holy Grail of wheels sizes, even for cross-country. That’s not quite true. There are more than a few exceptional 29ers that I’d love to ride at a moments notice, and will ride often throughout the year. There’s no denying that the larger hoops can carry speed better and float over rough smoother.
What I am saying is Giant nailed it with its dedication to the wheel size. The Anthem Advanced is a potent race bike skewed towards those who want a bike that feels more like a 26. It’s about a pound to a pound-and-half lighter than most production 29ers in the same price range (most of that coming from the smaller wheels) so if you constantly accelerate rather than flow this may be the style of bike for you.
- Price: $8,250
- Sizes: XS, S, M (tested), L, XL
- Wheelbase: 43.3 inches
- Top Tube: 23.4 inches
- Head Angle: 69.5 degrees
- Seat Tube Angle: 73 degrees
- Bottom Bracket: 12.5 inches
- Rear Center: 17 inches
- Online: giant-bicycles.com