The Anthem is a bike that truly spans the gap between XC-race and trail-fun.
Giant’s Reign and Trance range of full suspension bikes have long been absolute favourites here at MBR for their superlative handling, suspension and sizing. So putting the shorter travel, race oriented Giant Anthem 2 to test without drawing comparisons to its big brothers was always going to be difficult.
The Anthem made its name as Giant’s all-conquering XC race bike, firstly in 26” wheeled form before adopting the 29er approach. It came as a complete surprise when Giant dropped the wheel size to 27.5” and upped the travel to 110mm. This signaling of a change in focus, away from out and out XC racer to a more relaxed, trail friendly chassis won the Anthem a lot of fans (as well as losing some of the more die-hard raceheads) Also available in an Advanced carbon version, the standard Anthem 2 boasts an ALUXX SL aluminium frame, specifically built around a 120mm fork and the latest BOOST rear spacing.
Encore Maestro! The Anthem’s rear suspension sticks to the Maestro Link system that has proven so popular on the Reign and Trance. This uses a composite, one-piece upper link and sealed bearings to trunnion mount the Fox Float Performance shock. Providing 110mm of incredibly supple travel. Whilst it might not have the Kashima coating or compression adjustment, the Performance level shock still provides reliable damping and smooth delivery of the aforementioned travel.
To ensure the Anthem 2 comes in at a really competitive price Giant has specced Fox’s budget OEM only Rhythm 34 fork. Providing 120mm of travel, the 34 is much more of a trail fork than its cross country based Float 32 baby sibling. This Rhythm version is made from a lower grade 6000 series aluminium and uses the entry level GRIP damper .The GRIP damper is, on paper a lower spec than the higher end FIT4. However, it uses a similar sealed cartridge just with a spring loaded IFP (Internal Floating Piston) rather than the bladder cartridge of the FIT4. This provides a similar level of adjustability just at the expense of weight. As in keeping with Giant pushing the Anthem towards a more regular rider, it lacks any handlebar based remote lockouts.
Shimano’s SLX is the groupset of choice for the Anthem 2. SLX has long been the choice for budget conscious riders wanting the performance of XT or XTR but willing to put up with the added heft of the more basic materials. Even after months of abuse shifting has been faultless and the Shimano narrow/wide chainring has yet to unship the chain. An 11-42 cassette combined with a 30 tooth chainring provides a range of gears more suited to winching up hills rather than sprinting along the flats.
Shimano also provide the stopping power for the Anthem 2 with their non-series M615 brakes. These share a lever profile with brakes higher up the range but come equipped with the lower spec resin pads and their proprietary, budget stamped steel rotors. The rest of the bike is festooned in Giant’s own-brand kit, the highlight of which is the Contact SL Switch-R dropper post. If there ever was a component to signal the intentions of a bike, then this is it. It has been a reliable performer although play developed relatively early on in the test period (this seems to have settled down and hasn’t developed any further).
Judging on spec and geometry alone, you would be forgiven for thinking the Anthem had forgone its XC roots. This is probably the reason that many fast XC riders have basically ignored it over the last couple of years. If you haven’t ridden an Anthem recently then you are missing a real rocketship of a bike, as I found out pretty sharpish!
My typical test loop begins with a climb over a series of loose and rocky sections. Gradient is constantly changing and so it’s a great test of not only grip but also one of speed and handling. Typically this will have me grappling for gears and traction at times no matter the type of bike. But the Anthem has been one of only a handful of bikes that actually made me enjoy the climb. Instead of looking for easier gears, at times I was wishing for a bigger chainring up front to make the most of the seemingly effortless speed the bike gifted me.
Yep, even with ‘just’ 27.5” wheels it felt as fast as a normal 29er. The Giant Anthem 2 is also incredibly good at isolating and eliminating pedal bob or rider input that it rarely feels like you need to put the three-position shock in anything other than the open position.
And yet, point it down and it plays another ace. The combination of short fork offset, slacker (for a short travel bike) head angle, dropper post and a very progressive suspension setup makes the Anthem an absolute hoot. The benefit of the Maestro linked suspension is it gives an incredibly smooth, almost bottomless feel to the travel. This does however make the Anthem an easy bike to get into trouble on; it’s easy to forget it only has 110mm of travel!
Fortunately, compared to last year’s Anthem, Giant has increased the front end dimensions, stretching the toptube and upping the headtube length. This gives it a way more confident feel all round and much less like a super twitchy XC bike (even though it would be a ripper of a race bike!) Likewise, the handlebar is now a proper 750mm width for added control. The only real sticking points now are the too long stem and lower quality Schwalbe tyre carcasses. But at least the front tyre is now a Nobby Nic. With its more aggressive tread it’s a much better match.
So much more than just an XC race machine. The Giant Anthem 2 is a real Swiss Army knife of a bike. The beefed up fork and dropper post lend it real confidence as a trail centre smasher. Add to that the superlative Maestro suspension characteristics that make the Anthem feel like it has way more than 'just' 110mm of travel. As well as this fun factor it can still tear up an XC course, with a turn of speed that will surprise riders that might dismiss it for only having 27.5 wheels.