Despite a thorough revamp for Giant's popular Trance, there's still room for improvement
Three-time winner of our entry-level suspension bike test and 2011’s mbr Bike of the Year to boot, the original Giant Trance X was a truly amazing package. It has been starting to look a little long in the tooth, however, so for 2014 the trusty old Trance X went under the knife.
In addition to the ‘X’ tag having been chopped off, the frame now accommodates 650b hoops. Travel has also been pumped up by 13mm to 140mm. The top tube has been nipped and tucked to provide better standover clearance, while the head angle has been slackened and the front end stretched to improve stability at speed.
Other less obvious procedures see the addition of 142x12mm rear dropouts for a more solid rear end (even though this model used adapters for a quick-release rear hub) and the now compulsory internal routing for a dropper post. ISCG tabs on the BB for fitting a chain guide are also a first for the Trance.
Combine all of the improvements with the finest tooling and metallurgical wizardry in the business and the new Trance 27.5 is a real head-turner. It’s also a very different bike to the original.
One carry-over from the old design is Giant’s signature Maestro twin-link suspension. Giant claims that the 27.5 4 delivers 140mm of rear-wheel travel just like the more expensive models in the new Trance range, but this simply isn’t the case. Without getting too technical, the in-house Giant shock has a shorter stroke than the shocks fitted to the more expensive bikes, and as such it delivers less travel. We only discovered this when struggling to find a good suspension set-up — we fully deflated the shock to double-check, as we thought we may be running the suspension too soft. We weren’t. By how much is the travel reduced? It’s hard to say exactly using only a workstand and tape measure, but it’s around 15mm.
Up front, the O-ring on the SR Suntour fork indicated that we weren’t having any problems getting the full 140mm, but the action of the fork was nothing like as sensitive or as composed as the RockShox Reba fitted to the Canyon.
We loved how the new flatter-profile saddle on the Trance gives you something to push against when climbing and stops your soft bits going numb on longer rides. That said, even with the seatpost chopped down, we struggled to get the saddle low enough on really steep technical descents due to the kink halfway down the seat tube.
At the other end of the cockpit, we were less impressed by the narrow 690mm handlebar and fat grips. And, given the new longer, lower, slacker frame geometry the 70mm stem felt overly long too, causing the steering to feel floppy when climbing. Other black marks against the Giant’s build kit include the more clunky Shimano Alivio shifters and that groupset’s nine rather than 10-speed transmission.
With arguably the best riding position and frame finish, Giant could have walked this test, but we struggled with the rear suspension and handling from the off. No amount of fettling with the shock resulted in a set-up that we were 100 per cent happy with. So while we’re all for simple shocks with fewer knobs to twiddle, it needs to be the right shock for the bike. Not getting the full 140mm of travel wasn’t a big deal for us; it was more about how the bike felt.
Climbing while seated, the suspension was reasonably neutral. Stand up, however, and the rear suspension didn’t seem to know whether it was coming or going. It certainly didn’t help matters that the shock was topping-out, and with no clutch rear mech to silence the chain, the Giant sounded and felt like a sack of spanners on the rougher trails.
Even though the new Giant 27.5 4 has better geometry and sizing than the original Trance X, we’re not convinced that it’s actually a better bike. That’s because Giant has made too many compromises on the build kit to deliver the higher spec frame at the old Trance X price. To make this bike shine, it really needs a better shock, or at least one that delivers the claimed 140mm of travel. Add a RockShox fork and a 10-speed drivetrain and you’d be making real progress — and you get all of that as standard on the £1,499 Trance 27.5 3.