Does the new 29er Anthem Advanced go back to its XC racing roots?
The Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29 is Giant’s short (90mm) travel, carbon XC race weapon. Matched to a 100mm fork it delivers almost trail bike handling.
Giant has been playing with the identity of its long-standing short travel machine for several seasons now. Its evolution can be read almost as a history of mountain bike fashions. From emergence as a precocious XC race machine it followed the trend for bigger wheels. Then came the rebellious teens, festooned with more travel, smaller wheels and massive bars. Like most good offspring, as soon as it came of age it realised that it’s creators might just have been right all along.
So now Giant has come almost full-circle with the ‘new’ Anthem. The new 29er, 90mm travel, XC race bred Anthem. But one with trail bike aspirations.
Giant has borrowed, for better or worse, a lot from its road division in terms of the frame design of the Advanced, carbon framed Anthems. It looks the least like a modern MTB with a wide-open front triangle. Great for fitting bottles but standover clearance is reduced in comparison. The Pro does have a full carbon frame, compared to the carbon front/aluminium rear triangle of the lower Advanced model, helping make it nearly a kilogram lighter.
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 Elite shock. Despite ‘only’ having 90mm of rear wheel travel the Maestro system helps to give the Anthem are very active and engaging ride feel. For the Pro version, Giant has utilised a joint-action, handlebar remote lockout to control the suspension. linking both shock and fork enables the Pro to maintain a more balanced ride aspect and from a riders perspective, makes it much easier to adjust the bike to maintain efficiency no matter the terrain. This is one area that the Pro shows it’s benefits over the standard Anthem Advanced model.
As with most brands, Giant match the suspension fork to the shock. In this case a Fox 32 Float SC Performance Elite running 100mm of travel. Despite it being one rung below the full-on Factory edition forks it still uses the top end Fit4 internals to provide supple and tuneable movement. The narrow stance of the Step Cast design keeps weight down and helps make the fork one of the lightest XC forks on the market. Fortunately it manages this low weight without giving too much stiffness away.
SRAM’s GX Eagle seems to be the drivetrain of the moment. It’s everywhere you look and on bikes spanning a range of niches. The shifting on SRAM’s ‘budget’ 12 speed is almost faultless, it never missed a beat throughout the testing period and has a super-positive lever action. The only nod to budget constraints is in the aluminium Truvativ Stylo 6K Eagle crankset. It somehow looks a little out of place when you look at the carbon festooned everywhere else on the Anthem.
Giant add a little more XC racing focus with the speccing of their in-house XCR carbon wheelset. Running on Boost spacing, the carbon rims add a little stiffness and take away a little weight. The relatively wide, hookless rims are also setup tubeless from the box and changing tyres/re-inflating tubeless is a breeze. Running Maxxis Ikon tyres they prove to be super fast rolling and provide stiff tracking.
One area that takes the Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29 away from the XC circuit is in the cockpit setup. Giant has fitted the Anthem with a whopping Control 780mm handlebar. Normally found on longer travel machines, it provides the Anthem with reassured and confident handling. This certainly helped make the Anthem one of the best descending short travel bikes tested. The stem is also a tad shorter and more upright than on other similar XC machines. Measuring in at 80mm on the large frame size, it gives the Anthem a more upright, trail bike position rather than a lower, aggressive XC stance.
Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29 performance
More than with most XC race bikes it takes a few rides to really tune into how the Anthem rides. It doesn’t feel like anything else with its dichotomy of trail-bike aggro position and XC race travel and kit. In someways the Anthem is almost too ‘fun’ to be a proper XC race bike. It lacks the taut and efficient ride characteristic that is normally associated with XC, instead replacing it with an almost magic-carpet like suppleness thanks to the exceptional Maestro suspension design. On the one hand this does make it way more versatile and enjoyable to ride outside of the tape. But on the other, it feels a little too soft and less urgent when it comes time to mash on the pedals.
All is not lost if you are considering the Anthem as a race machine. The linked suspension lockout enables you to engage that more efficient position required for most racing without needing to run the shocks too hard. Also the very light overall weight and stiff, fast rolling wheels and tyres make it less fatigue inducing over longer races.
The Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29 has to be one of the most versatile race machines on the market. The mix of trail-bike handling and XC weight makes it a real blast as a short travel, every-day use machine.But its versatility is also its downfall. As a true race bike, the Anthem lacks the urgency to truly be the best.