The Giant Trance has been a stalwart of not just Giant's mountain bike range, but Australian trail riding. Adam Fernyhough takes the latest Trance to the slopes, to see where it's at now.
Words: Adam Fernyhough
Photos: Robert Conroy
Giant, you’ve probably heard of them. Maybe because your local bike shop sells them, or your mate rides one or more likely because they are by far the biggest brand on our shores. Realistically, as a brand, you can’t escape them, their bike range is immense, caters for all and covers all the genres. Their mountain bike range continues to evolve, embracing innovations and trends while going through a constant evolution of technologies, geometries and styles. The Trance exemplifies this stand, with the 2017 model being its most progressive design of the perennial trail slayer yet.
The new model is a far shout from it’s original, 26” wheeled grandfather, introduced way back in 2005, then adopting 27.5” wheels in 2013 for the 2014-year range, briefly going 29er only, then settling back in at 27.5”. The 2017 Trance range covers aluminium and carbon frames. This particular model, the Trance 1, is the top spec aluminium framed model, featuring a build kit from Fox, Shimano and Giant’s in-house Contact SL brand.
First Impressions of the latest Trance
The 2017 frame has considerable changes over the previous model in terms of materials, sizing and geometry to deliver the trail-eating package that I had the pleasure to ride. Most noticeably is the more compact linkage system, featuring a one piece moulded carbon rocker linkage and new ‘metric sizing’ rear shock with its trunnion top mounts. OK, don’t be scared by another standard, cynically created by the bike industry to force you into buying a new bike. The advantage of metric shock sizing is that by using trunnion mounts on the upper shock body, the eye to eye length is reduced for the same size shock, this can create a smaller linkage which still gives the same amount of shock travel as the previous standard sizing.
The carbon rocker link is a distinctive feature and gives a clean appearance, similar to the bigger travel Reign, except that it’s a lighter, one-piece carbon item. The compact linkage theme continues with a shorter chainstay, almost 5mm shorter than the 2016 model. The bike also sits 5mm lower at the bottom bracket, while at the same time the front end of the frame has grown by 10mm increasing the front wheelbase and reach of the bike. Seat angles and head angles remain the same, respectively at 73.5 degrees and 67 degrees, while the fork travel has been increased from 140mm to 150mm. In theory this means that at full compression the head angle goes steeper than the previous model, due to the longer travel shock, like I say, in theory.
The Trance 1 features a Boost hub standard with 148x12 rear and 110x15 front on the 150mm travel Fox 34 Performance Elite fork. Internal cables for shifter, rear brake and dropper post disappear into the front triangle and again into the rear swing arm to serve the rear mech, while remaining external on the swing arm to serve the rear brake which is attached via a post mount to complete the up to date standards of the frame. The press fit bottom bracket also has ISCG tabs if you require further chain security.
As stated, the Trance 1 is the top spec aluminium frame model, and the parts selection does not disappoint. Featuring full, and I mean full, XT M8000 11 speed group set, with no skimping on lower spec unseen or unnoticed items such cassette or discs. The 11-46 tooth cassette gives a huge range and is matched to a 32 tooth narrow wide chain ring which requires no chain guide. Personally, I think a 34 tooth would be a better choice as it’s easy to spin out 32-11 on even a level fire road. XT M8000 brakes matched to 180mm rotors front and rear provide fantastic stopping power from the perfectly small levers with reach adjustment easily achieved, even with sweaty, gloved fingers.
A Giant Contact SL adjustable seat post is cable operated and gives 125mm of drop on the medium sized frame, actuation is smooth, precise and locks in any position in its range. The post performs well but did develop some play which was accompanied by an annoying rattle when riding at speed out of the seat on an otherwise very quiet ride. I also felt that 150mm of drop would have been better in some situations when the going got steep and fast.
Giant have used their Overdrive 2 headset sizing, which allows larger top bearings in the headset, however, they do now utilise a ‘regular’, 1 1/8th to 1 ½” tapered steered fork, which makes any future stem changes easy. At the front of the cockpit sits Giant’s Contact SL 750mm low rise alloy bar and 60mm stem. Interestingly the stem is an Overdrive model, fitted with a sleave to fit 1 1/8th steerers, I couldn’t get comfortable on the stock 60mm stem and changed it out for a zero degree, 50mm aftermarket unit.
The well-balanced suspension feel is achieved through running Fox units both front and rear. A Fox 34 Performance Elite fork with Fit4 damper, lever-less ‘Kabolt’ 15mm axle, stealthy black stanchions and with 150mm travel give an impressive combination of steering precision, controlled damping and impact performance. With an adjustable air spring on the left and a 3 position damping setting on the right leg, with a further soft to firm dial to tune when in the open setting gives a wide range of tunability to the rider without making the process too complicated. Over the past few years, Fox have managed to engineer their big and small hit compliance to give a true all-round fork with this 2017 model and showed great promise in the first few rides.
The rear end is handled by a Fox Float Performance Elite, with an EVOL, LV air can and trunnion mount, again in stealth black. With the same type of adjustment as the fork I found it very easy to get an even feel to the bike’s suspension platform. The shock combined with Giant’s latest version of their Maestro suspension system offered sublime stiction free performance, solid traction and an almost imperceptible feel of reaching full extension, meaning no top out when taking small airs and larger gaps.
And now, the icing on the cake, the wheels, Giant’s own labelled TRX1 carbon wheelset, which consist of 33mm wide carbon rims on Giant TRX hubs (with DT internals). If there is one stand out feature on the Trance 1, it must be, its wheels. The 33mm wide (outer width) carbon rims make a dramatic difference to the weight, feel and responsive nature of the bike and gave a perceptible responsive feel when accelerating, corning and climbing. An alloy frame with XT is always going to make a reasonable overall bike weight, but the addition of the carbon wheel set brought the test bike down to a sub 12.7 kg weight, set up tubeless, with pedals ready to ride.
Wrapped around the rims are a Schwalbe Nobby Nic, Trailstar, 27.5x2.35” on the front and Nobby Nic, Pacestar out back. Both featuring ‘Snakeskin’ and ‘TL Easy’ technologies which easily converted to tubeless with the valves supplied. Although initially suffering from slow leaking the tyres managed to seal to the rims after a few rides and were happy to stay on at sub 30psi tyre pressures.
Taking the Trance to the trail
For my first ride, as usual, I kept to my standard, local trails, as in doing so I can get a definitive gauge on how the bike is handling my familiar terrain. Initially riding with the out of the box tube set up, the large volume tyres gave a good performance but secretly promised better with a change to tubeless. I managed to hit the suspension set up pretty well perfectly first time out with 165psi and 75psi rear to front for my 80kg weight. Straight off I found the bike to chew up tight singletrack, corners and tech lines, while still giving great acceleration out of corners and a solid feel on climbs. The 32 tooth chainring soon gave speed limits to connecting fire roads, particularly as Shimano ‘only’ offers an 11 tooth sprocket at its highest option.
Overall shifting on the XT drive train felt a little clunky compared to a SRAM 10-42 set up, particularly at the lowest ratio when the sprockets jump from 37 to 46 tooth. Really Shimano, you should have changed the top 2 or 3 rings to accommodate the 46 tooth rather than just replacing the previous 42 tooth option.
At singletrack speeds the Trance performs extremely well, giving a long-travel cross-country bike feel without feeling too twitchy or racey. In larger terrain the cross-country feel felt a little restrictive when pushing hard and certainly pushed its limits when we headed to Thredbo for a full weekend of riding. Of note Giant market the Trance range as ‘Trail’ bikes, leaving the longer legged Reign to fill the ‘enduro’ genre.
After hitting some prolonged descents the Fox suspension loosened up which made my initial rear set up feel too soft while the front felt a touch too stiff. A very small reduction in air pressure in the front let the fork perform better in terms of traction yet still had reasonable big hit capabilities. Stranglely, the stanchions show 160mm from seal to crown, but full travel is 150mm, making it look like you’re not getting full travel when in fact you are, which is worth noting when setting up the fork.
In full open mode both front and rear suspension give a predictable loose and plush feel, particularly when the compression damping adjustment is wound open too. When pushing the bike to its outer limits both units heat up and this plush feel became a little too loose and soft. A quick flick to the mid setting gave a bit of body back to the damping and lessened the rear shock bottoming out so much on big hits. As with any suspension set up, it is worth spending some time and scratching a few notes on the workshop wall to get the best out of them.
The overall view
Personally, I enjoyed the all-round nature of the bike but it just didn’t feel rowdy enough when pushed, I think either staying with a 140mm/67 degree combination or slackening out the front to a static 66 degree head angle would put it more in line with modern frame designed with a 150mm fork. To get the full drift and slide feel the Trance needs a few more mm taken off the chainstay and the bottom bracket lowering a touch. As such, riders who are already running very progressive geometry may find the bike a little too tame. However, if you are looking for a long travel XC feel, with great technical trail ability, you won’t be disappointed by the ’17 model Trance.
Giant have certainly pushed the progressive edge of the Trance for ’17, yet still kept it on the ‘trail’ side of ‘enduro’, which is exactly what the bike is marketed for. The Trance is a fantastic all day bike, backcountry adventurer and ideal ride for anyone who is past the tethers of traditional XC riding and want to venture into more technical terrain. For anyone riding a previous year Trance, who is looking for a more ‘aggressive’ style, they will certainly be impressed with the changes, with the only downside being that you’ll be picking bugs out of your teeth from grinning all day!
Model Trance One
Weight 12.7kg (as tested, inc pedals)