Jumping onto the Giant was akin to getting a shot of adrenaline straight in the arm
Twelve months have passed since we last tested the Stance. In that time, Giant has switched the accent colour on the frame and fork from blue to green and made some subtle changes to the specification — specifically, the stem is now 10mm shorter and the handlebar is 30mm narrower. The world’s biggest bike manufacturer has taken one step forward and two steps back.
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At first glance, the 120mm travel Stance looks pretty much like any other Giant full-suspension bike. It sports Giant’s signature fluid-formed aluminium tubing, and a vertical shock position that’s driven by a rocker link set-up. At the opposite end of the RockShox Monarch R shock, the Stance also benefits from the weight saving afforded by Giant’s Co-Pivot technology, that sees the shock and main suspension pivot share the same mounting hardware.
Look a little closer, however, and you’ll notice that the lower-link, that plays an integral part in Giant’s Maestro suspension, is absent. Instead, the Stance uses a single pivot design in conjunction with flex points on the seatstay to eliminate the need for additional pivots at the dropouts. This reduces weight, complexity and cost. Hardly surprising then, that the Giant Stance is 0.5kg lighter than the closest competition in this test and almost 2kg lighter than the GT.
A key part of the weight saving on the Stance is the 120mm-travel RockShox XC30 fork. It’s the only fork on test to sport alloy upper tubes, rather than steel. And with its slender 30mm legs weight is further reduced — all of the other forks come with beefier 32mm uppers. The obvious downside of the lightweight fork is that there’s an appreciable reduction in stiffness and steering precision, compounded further by the smaller 9mm quick-release dropouts.
Travel gradients on the body of the RockShox Monarch R shock mean getting the sag dialled in couldn’t be easier. Sorting the rebound damping proved a little trickier, and we suspect this is due to the additional spring force stored in the alloy seatstays when they flex.
As a cross-country bike, the narrow 690mm bar and longish 80mm stem offer an acceptable aerodynamic tuck for bombing down fire-roads or pottering along towpaths. As a trail bike, however, they dramatically reduce control and confidence on all but the most sedate terrain.
The triple chainset is also a bit dated, and with no clutch in the rear derailleur we had to resort to sticking the chain in the big ring just to increase chain tension and help keep it from derailing. The non lock-on grips proved just as tricky as the chain to keep in place.
In terms of application, travel and attitude, the GT and Giant are the most closely matched bikes in this test. Out on the trail however, the Giant feels tighter, lighter and way more responsive. In fact, jumping off the GT onto the Giant was akin to getting a shot of adrenaline straight in the arm.
The high was short lived however, as it didn’t take long to reach the limits of the spindly RockShox XC30 fork. Even with its wider range of damping adjustment, the XC30 couldn’t keep up. It made the whole bike feel flimsy, and heavier riders will really struggle with confidence on faster trails.
Fitting a shorter stem helped with the mind games, as it allowed us to get more weight over the rear wheel on steeper descents. This also helped overcome the initial resistance of the Flex Point suspension around the sag position, improving both traction and comfort.
The rearward shift in balance also meant that we could ride the Giant harder than before, but then the fork felt even more overpowered. Given the choice, we’d forgo the weight savings of the RockShox XC30 fork in favour of the stiffer Sektor. Then again, maybe we’re losing sight of the Giant Stance’s true calling, as an entry-level cross-country bike.
Giant has the focus of the Stance firmly fixed on XC. And as an XC bike, it’s by far the best option in this test. It’s light, it pedals like stink and the generous frame proportion make it a comfortable companion for chalking up the training miles. Also, with an XL size option, it’s still one of the best options for taller riders with £1k to spend. It could be so much more, however. With a wider bar, shorter stem and a beefier fork, the Stance could be a short-travel trail bike with rapid acceleration and a tight, reactive suspension response. Maybe next year...