What was offered in its place was an Anthem, the shorter travel cross country variant of the famous Giant Maestro suspension design. Why not? I'm not the XC sort, and haven't actually ridden an XC bike in a while, so I was particularly curious how far they have come.
I picked up the brand-spanking new Anthem 27.5 1 from Dragon Sports and was immediately taken aback by the bright blue on white paint scheme. And the enormous stem. Even as un-XC oriented I am, it still confounds me how long stems are used so often. The Anthem has 100mm of travel front and rear on Fox suspension, 650b wheels and runs an almost full XT drivetrain. Giant components fill in most of the other gaps.
SpecificationsPrice: R30 300
Frame: ALUXX SLGrade Aluminium, 4" Maestro Suspension
Rear shock: Fox Float CTD Performance
Fork: Fox Float 27.5" CTD Performance, 100mm Travel, 15QR ThruAxle, OverDrive 2 tapered steerer
Brakes: Shimano XT, 160mm front/rear
Shifters: Shimano SLX 2x10
Cassette: Shimano HG81 11x36, 10 sp
Crankset: Shimano XT 2x10, 26/38
Bottom bracket: Shimano PressFit
Front derailleur: Shimano SLX
Rear derailleur: Shimano XT Shadow+
Chain: KMC X10SL
Handlebar: Giant Connect SL TR 730mm, Low Rise 31.8
Stem: Giant Connect SL, OverDrive 2 90mm (swapped out for a 60mm version)
Grips: Giant lock-on
Headset: Giant Internal Overdrive
Seatpost: Giant Connect SL, 30.9
Saddle: Fi'zi:k Tundra 2 w/ Manganese Rails
Pedals: N/A (used FUNN Bigfoot flats)
Wheels: Giant PXC2 27.5 rims on Giant Tracker hubs with sealed bearings (F) QR15 ThruAxle, 135x5 QR
Tyres: Schwalbe Racing Ralph 27.5x2.25 EVO Folding Tubeless Ready
FrameGiant claim that this is their lightest alloy full suspension frame they have ever produced. I can't argue that point, as on our scales the Anthem weighed in at 11.6kg. Along with this was the fact that the frame was really stiff for an XC oriented bike. Very stiff in fact. This is surely down to the heavily hydroformed tubes and solid rear triangle. The down tube in particular is quite massive, something that wouldn't have been amiss on a free ride bike not too long ago. What helped on both counts too, is Giant's co-pivot design, where the shock mount on the frame is concentric to the lower linkage mount. This means that the shock and linkage mount share an axle, saving weight and improving stiffness.
The headtube is a Giant's Overdrive system and goes hand in hand with the Overdrive steerer tube on the Fox fork. It tapers from 1 1/5" at the bottom to 1 1/4" top, instead of the industry standard 1 1/8" at top. Giant says this improves stiffness by up to 30 percent. Whether this justifies the pain in trying to find an aftermarket fork or stem when you're looking for an upgrade is another story.
All of the cables and hoses are internally routed and made easy via big holes and rubber inserts. Something that immediately got my attention on the Anthem was the dropout system. It's got a quick release in the back in the form of a through-axle. No springs, but a DT Swiss threaded quick release that screws into the frame. You can even upgrade it to a 12x142mm system by changing the metal inserts of the dropouts. Clean and simple. Giant have got something here.
ComponentsOn paper there's very little to find fault with the components on the Anthem 1. In real life there were a couple of things that stood out as potential for upgrade. Starting with the good ones though, the Shimano drivetrain was great. Simple and effective. While it's easy to be spoiled with a 1x11 SRAM setup, there's no denying that a 2x10 works really well. The XT and SLX combo worked wonderfully, and while I believe it is a whole lot easier to have only one chainring in front, the option of the extra gears does help on the ascents.
The XT brakes worked without a hitch, providing fade-free stopping every time. They did have a tendency to grumble a bit at very slow speeds, like ambling around a parking lot, but once going properly this never happened.
This was my first experience with a press fit bottom bracket, and I assumed it being a new bike, there's always some settling in to be done. So I attributed the slight grease leak at the BB to this, as it didn't actually affect the performance of the BB.
As I said above, the Connect SL stem was much too long. And also, as I said above, finding one aftermarket is a giant pain. Thankfully, though, Dragon Sports had an identical stem, but in 60mm for me to swap out. Surprisingly, the handlebar was a decent 730mm wide, kudos to Giant for speccing something wide enough. But the Giant Connect SL handlebar never quite felt right, the sweep angles just feeling off. It would have been much better, I think, to go with an already industry accepted bar, as the in-house brands version seem to often lack the fit and finish of the companies who specifically make bars.
I was not impressed by the Fox suspension units front and back. The fork took an especially long time to settle in, and never felt smooth in its travel. It also only felt okay when running 50psi, which is minimal. I eventually put 70psi because it kept running through its travel too quickly, but it always felt harsh. The rear shock on the other hand would blast through its travel with 120psi in it. It did feel better, and fairly plush, but also a bit squishy at times.
The Giant wheels were probably the only in-house components that I liked at all. They were nice and light and took impacts well, but tended to flex a bit. The free hub could also do with more engagement points, especially during technical climbs.
Lastly the tyres. I would not condone using Schwalbe Racing Ralphs unless you converted your wheels to tubeless, simple as that. The pressure needed to run them with tubes makes them have virtually no grip. Once we converted the wheels to tubeless they were tolerable, but still pretty bad on grip.
Going upThis is where an XC bike should excel, in fact it should be the highlight of its performance. For the Anthem 1 it certainly is a great aspect of its performance, but unfortunately, it didn't seem to be its best. On long gradual climbs I found the best was to switch the Fox CTD to Trail, set a desired gear, sit and just pedal. You could tackle any length of climb like this without needing to stand up at any point. This was no doubt helped by the 11.6kg weight. Standing up would bring undesired movement in the rear suspension in the Descend setting, so the Trail setting was needed to counter this and still keep traction. This may not have actually taken any power away from forward momentum, but it still didn't feel good. So it was great that you never felt the desire to stand up.
Technical climbs needed more forward planning, though. Because the front end felt so light and the rear end was so short, you had to choose your lines perfectly or risk the front wheel wandering. You couldn't just point the bike up a rooted slope and pedal your way up. By keeping your weight forward actually needed to use that light front end and pop the front up particularly steeper sections. This takes more effort than you would want to use going up. The light weight of the Anthem did help this immensely, but it was then let down by the Racing Ralphs and their lack of traction.
The fork was pretty useless outside of the Descend setting, so that's where it stayed for climbing too, and it helped with traction in this setting anyway.
DescendingDescending was where I was most surprised with the Anthem 1, because it came alive. The short rear end coupled with the low height of the front made the Anthem a very agile bike. Unlike some XC bikes it was not twitchy, even with a steeper head angle than I'm used to. It actually helped manoeuvrability in some cases, allowing you to avoid obstacles and change lines mid-corner.
The Maestro rear suspension was a delight too, handling rough section without a problem. After almost every section of trail I went down I noticed that I had used all of the 100mm of travel. It never once felt like I bottomed either end of the bike suspension, but it sure indicated otherwise. Like I said above, the Fox Performance fork never felt right to me. I could never get it feeling smooth or plush enough, even with a minimal 50psi in. It also never felt balanced with the rear end.
While it may have hindered climbing, the light front end was great for going down and mid-trail shenanigans. You could hop obstacles easily and small jumps were always sought out on the trail. The Anthem was always willing to play. If you got a bit rowdy, though, it could bite. Your feet in particular. The really low bottom bracket let the Anthem rail corners wonderfully, but would have you knocking your pedals like crazy if you even thought about pedaling around rocks or roots. I was running flats on one ride and smacked a rock so hard that a pin actually tore out of the platform. No fixing that, I'm afraid. And once again, the Schwalbe Racing Ralphs let the bike down with the monuments lack of grip. I had to run as low as 1.6bar to get any traction out of them.
In the endThe Anthem 1 27.5 isn't your run of the mill XC bike. Climbing, I wouldn't say, is it's forte, although it does this well enough. It is the closest I have have come to witnessing an XC bike that is more oriented to descending than climbing. Let me reiterate. It is no slouch on the ups, but because of the low BB (which is a pain), short wheelbase, and active rear suspension design, its descending capability outshines its climbing every time.
It is a great bike, even with it's component downfalls. And one thing that I always noticed was that I was smiling after every ride, looking down at the thing in surprise. It's a fun bike, no two ways about it. If I were to change two things about it, though, I would raise the BB by an inch and I would lose all the in-house Giant components. The wheels might last a while, but the lack of engagement points on the rear hub would drive me crazy. It's a great little bike, and perfect for someone who doesn't need too much suspension travel but still wants to let loose on the way down.