Words: Matt Nauthe   Photos: Tim Bardsley-Smith

Giant has long held a reputation for offering highly functional bikes at value-for-money price points, which has seen them hold a large share of the market for many years now. The Anthem has been a staple in the range and since the mid 2000s and it has had many refinements and tweaks. Come 2017, it’s been stripped back and rebuilt, turning the previous XC thoroughbred into a more versatile short travel, lightning fast trail bike. At the heart of it, the frame and fork travel has been increased to 110mm in the rear and 120mm up front - an increase from 100/100 in the 2016 version. Geometry has been updated to sport a longer top tube, shorter chainstays, and a slacker head angle for greater stability at higher speeds.

Hub spacing has been upgraded to the Boost standard (110mm front, 148mm rear) and the Anthem also gets a through axle on the rear. This allows for stronger wheels to be built as well as improving the chainline and allowing the chainstays to be shortened to increase the liveliness of the ride. The addition of a through axle also stiffens the rear end of the bike considerably, which makes the ride more predicable in the rougher stuff and helps you to stick lines without the wheels flexing off line.

The Anthem 2 sits in the middle of the three-bike range. All use the same frame as a base with only the parts kit changing. The entry level Anthem 3 comes in at $2,499, the 2 costs $3,499 and the top-of-the-line 1 retails at $4,999. The 2 is the workhorse of the lot - the sturdy and reliable bike you can roll out of the shop and head straight to the trails without breaking the bank. Key upgrades over the base model are the dropper post, 1x drivetrain and the higher spec suspension components. The differences from the middle to top-of-the-range are all about the bling - carbon wheels & higher spec on the drivetrain - but these are not so much key upgrades as simply nice things to have.

Initial Impressions

Despite the changes that have been made for 2017 it still undeniably retains the trademark lines of an Anthem, which will no doubt be to the satisfaction of the diehard fans. The neon green on gloss black colour is bold and quintessentially Giant, with matching fork decals, rim stickers and saddle trimming all adding to the cohesiveness of the package. 

Under the hood the frame is still made from Giant’s proprietary ALUXX SL, double-butted aluminium. The Maestro suspension design at the heart of the beast has also seen some love with a new single piece composite rocker replacing the aluminium version of 2016. Aside from the fact it really looks the part, it is also half the weight and stiffer to boot.
Fox suspension components grace the Anthem throughout. The new-for-2017 Fox 34 Rhythm uses their FIT GRIP damper system, a simplified version of their FIT4 system. And by using 6000 series aluminium construction, Fox have allowed for a solid performing and reliable fork with only a slight weight penalty. There’s an upgrade on the rear suspension unit too, now using the Fox EVOL - a higher performance unit that employs a larger volume air can that reduces the force to initiate travel, providing added sensitivity and better small bump compliance. It also uses the trunnion mounting system which reduces the overall length of the shock without altering the travel. This is especially important on the smaller frames where space is at a premium. Bearings also replace the DU bushes at the shaft end mount that helps suspension performance by reducing friction as the shock pivots, as well as being more durable. 

The drivetrain is Shimano SLX, a solid no fuss performer that gets a boost to 1x11 for 2017. There are so many positives about going to this system which don’t need to be rehashed here, other than repeating that removing the front shifter/derailleur simplifies ‘using gears’ for people entering mountain biking for the first time and tends to be enjoyed by the majority of experienced riders too. Hydraulic braking power is provided the Shimano M615 units.

The addition of a dropper post is a great upgrade and also hints that this bike is ready for a little more rough and tumble than the Anthem of yesteryear. 

The only gripe I have is the bar and stem combo. The bars are quite narrow and have a funky upsweep that I haven’t seen since the mid 2000s, and the stem is a bit long with too much rise. They detract from the overall look of the bike and are the one sticking point on an otherwise thoughtful spec sheet. If they suit you, you’re set. If not, a bike fit at your Giant dealer will sort it out.

The only modification made for the test from stock was to set up the Schwalbe tyres as tubeless. Everything else is straight from the box. Shock pressures were set up as per manufacturer’s specs and once done this wasn’t touched for the remainder of the test. 

All said and done the Anthem 2 weighed in at 13.5kg with pedals – a respectable weight all things considered.

On The Trail

Although marketed as an XC ninja, it performs more like a short travel trail bike in my book. Its main objective is having some fun, getting out for a few hours, dropping the seat out of the way and hitting the local trails. XC ninja conjures up images of ripping round on a groomed course on a twitchy bike whilst your heart-rate is redlining. Maybe I am just being pedantic.

That aside, the Maestro system when left in the ‘trail’ setting is super efficient. There is very little pedal-induced bob when climbing, but it’s also supple enough to not feel harsh on the rougher seated climbs. The 27.5” wheeled Anthem chews up undulating singletrack and has a playful nature especially in the tighter terrain where the bigger wheels tend to bog down. With the shock being located so low on the fly, compression adjustments were only used when substantial climbs or descents were imminent. The new Fox 34 Rhythms were stiff and responsive, the damper worked well and the compression dial was easy to access and ‘lock out’ for those long, sealed climbs.
Top marks for the Shimano SLX drivetrain that functioned perfectly in some pretty atrocious muddy conditions I encountered during testing. Shifting was solid, never skipping a beat even when totally clagged up. The 30T chainring coupled with 11-42 cassette was spot on for the singletrack encountered, the entire range was usable and only started to spin out on the steeper descents when traveling faster than 35km/h. Investing in a second, larger chainring could be a wise move if you’re intended terrain is on the flatter side of things. The M615 brakes gave plenty of power throughout the test even with the stock resin pads.

The dropper is a real bonus for the Anthem and was used consistently throughout the whole test. It just adds an extra element to the ride when you are able to drop it so as to not have to back off when the terrain becomes that bit steeper or technical. It is especially good considering the mid-to-entry level nature of the bike, and the confidence that it gives newcomers to the sport. It did develop some stiction after consecutive days in the thick mud, but was still totally usable with just some additional downward pressure needed to get it to drop. A service would no doubt see it return to its former glory.

This bike would possibly suit some wider bars and a shorter flat stem. The wider bars increase stability and control at speed by creating more leverage and hence less input to handle the bike. The shorter stem would liven up the front of the bike to allow it to be picked up and guided about more easily.

As far as stock tyres go, Schwalbe’s ‘Performance Series’ were adequate, although the hard compound and lack of sidewall protection did feel a little underwhelming in the more rocky and slabby test conditions. Setup as tubeless for the test, we encountered no punctures - they did what was asked of them. If you have a few extra bucks it may be wise to invest in some aftermarket tyres with decent sidewall protection and slightly softer compound rubber, as your confidence will repay you many times over.

Overall, on more than one occasion I would get to the end of a trail and realise with some amazement that this is just a mid-level bike and then remember the complete package costs less than many frames on the market.

Our Take

The Giant Anthem 2 is at the point where value-for-money and performance intersect.The refined geometry coupled with solid component choices for suspension, gearing and brakes make it an ideal first ‘proper’ mountain bike or a bike for the budget-conscious weekend warrior alike. 

This is a bike that hasn’t skimped on the critical components and that makes it fun to ride. It is stable at speed and allows the rider to drop the seat to attempt sections that you might otherwise walk. Combined with a reasonable price tag, this a bike that should be serious consideration for anybody that is looking for an entry to mid-level mountain bike that plans to go off-road consistently and wants something that will help them ride on the great variety of trails we have in Australia.

Brand Giant
Model Anthem 2
RRP $3499
Weight 13.5kg (as tested
From giant-bicycles.com.au