The list of what we like about the Giant XTC SLR 29 1 is long; it starts with up-to-date geometry and ends with us scoring it 10/10 and judging it one of the best XC hardtail bikes out there.
Few bikes impress us as much as the Giant XTC SLR 29 1 has. It’s one of the best hardtail mountain bikes out there when it comes to XC racing or long-haul marathon munching. So good, in fact, it scored a rare 10/10 and is our pick for the best cross-country hard tail we’ve tested.
Need to know:
- Giant Crest fork uses a stout 34mm chassis to deliver 100mm of controlled travel
- Wet weather performance of SLX/XT transmission could be improved with a Shimano chain
- Wider Giant in-house rims are ideal for higher volume tyres
- Available in four frame sizes, with very generous reach measurements
With a noticeable move to the lightweight, short-travel full suspension Anthem platform for XC racing, Giant’s carbon XC hardtails have slipped quietly out of the range. So if you want a Giant XC race hardtail, you have only one option in the UK: the aluminium XTC SLR 29 1 at £1,599.
Fully overhauled and relaunched in 2021, the Giant XTC sports the most up-to-date frame in this test. And according to Giant, it’s the lightest aluminium hardtail frame that it has produced to date, the 12.29kg (27.09lb) bike weight the lightest in test and reflecting the weight savings achieved by Giant’s sophisticated ‘microscopic grain manipulation’ and top drawer ALLUX SLR aluminium tubing.
The aim was for a class-leading stiffness-to-weight ratio. And Giant has delivered. As such, the underlying quality of the latest evolution of the XTC is not just a relevant bike in its stock form, but the frame is of such high quality that it is a realistic platform for future upgrades, and one that could confidently go elbow-to-elbow with riders on carbon race-orientated hardtails.
One model, one colour, four sizes, all running 29in wheels. It’s a simple formula but first impressions were very promising; the sleek frame design with every tube varying in shape and profile make it more than fit for purpose. And with none of the rack and kickstand mounts that are present on the Trek X-Caliber 8 and Cube Reaction Pro, the focus of the Giant XTC SLR is crystal clear.
Only the shallow slope of the top tube raises an eyebrow and adds a more traditional aesthetic to the XTC. However, if you’re lining up for a 12 hour marathon or ultra-endurance event you will appreciate all that space in the front triangle to fit two large bottles and a frame bag.
As expected, this latest evolution is designed to be single-ring-specific and you can run up to a 36t chainring on this frame if you have the horsepower to turn a big gear. The stock bike has a more sensible 32t chainring and married to the 10-51t Shimano 12 speed cassette, the gear ratios felt bang on and reflect the bike’s faster-paced intentions.
Like all of the hardtails in this shootout, we tested the Giant in a size XL – the largest size available, whereas the three other bands in the test all offer a XXL. That’s not the whole story though.
The XL Giant is designed to fit the tallest of riders, it comes with a 90mm stem and a layback seatpost which does give a stretched seated position when combined with the rangy 665mm top tube.
Factor in the longest 480mm reach, and the XTC has noticeably more progressive dimensions than any of its rivals XC So if you’re in between sizes, shortening the stem and fitting a seat post with an inline head is a great way to reel in the stretched riding position. That or you simply down size for a more traditional XC fit.
The headline act on the XTC is the Giant Crest fork. It’s the first bike to roll through the doors at MBR equipped with it. The Crest is built around a bigger 34mm chassis, a size you’d normally see on a trail fork, but Giant stays true to the default XC travel of 100mm. Naturally it ticks the boxes for all the modern standards: Boost 110mm hub spacing, a tooled bolt-thru axle, tapered aluminium steerer and external damping adjustment.
It’s produced in-house by Giant and has the stature, finish and aesthetics of a premium brand and feels like it’s in another league from the entry-level RockShox models on Trek, Cube and Scott, which all run the popular air-sprung RockShox Judy fork, with a basic TurnKey damper and skinny 30mm steel upper tubes.
There’s also a handlebar mounted remote, which we fitted between the left grip and the brake lever clamp. It doesn’t have as light a lever action of the Scott RideLoc remote, or the build quality, it sits easily to hand and is intuitive to use.
In addition to making bikes, Giant also manufactures many of its premium components and the house brand wheels fitted here are another highlight on the XTC. The 28 spoke count reflects the usual thinking for lightweight wheels, but the 25mm inner width is a shade broader than most XC rims, which in turn give the tyre a wider footprint.
The frame and fork also have ample clearance for high volume tyres, and these mid-width rims feel like the sweet spot for wider tyres and carry only a small weight penalty. Maxxis Rekon Race tyres are a sound choice on this hardtail making it an out-of-the-box XC weapon, and just like the Trek they’re supplied tubeless ready from the factory.
In fact, the only Giant brand hardware to let the side down were the slide on grips, that came loose on our first wet ride.
With a bang-up-to-date frame, a modern take on an XC wheelset and the Crest fork adding stiffness and composure, we expected a stellar ride from the Giant – and it didn’t disappoint. Being the longest bike here, in wheelbase, reach and top tube, we thought those rangy dimensions might just dampen the urgency and manoeuvrability of the XTC. But once we’d carefully dialled in the fit, we soon got comfortable and tuned into the pace.
Just like on the Scott, the riding position and stance of the bike immediately give the impression you’re riding a high performance hardtail. The advantage the Giant has is the Crest fork, which is a step or two above the RockShox Judys on the other bikes.
As such, linking up flowing singletrack corners is a dream, with the stout 34mm fork chassis adding accuracy and confidence to line choice. When hitting trails peppered with roots the more refined damping of the Crest fork meant pressing on rather than holding back was the natural choice, maintaining both speed and focus.
Cross country riding has a strong emphasis on climbing and with the Giant being the lightest bike in the test, it goes up as well as it goes down. The longish 438mm chainstays keep the rider centred, resulting in a well-balanced position and the XTC is as happy winching its way up a technical gradient (even with the race-focused stock tyres) as it is with the fork locked out hauling up a fire road climb.
All that’s really missing on the Giant XTC then, is the move to proportionally shorter chainstays on the sizes S and M options.
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First impressions are important, and after the very first ride we knew the Giant XTC SLR would be fighting it out for the top spot. And just like the Scott, there’s a feeling of racing pedigree that’s trickled down from the pro-level models. Add Giant’s excellent Crest fork for laser sharp steering accuracy, a purposeful wheelset and some fast rolling tubeless rubber and you have a recipe for a startlingly fast yet forgiving aluminium XC hardtail. Yes, it’s the most expensive bike on test but it’s also the most focussed. So as an XC race bike or long-haul marathon mile muncher, Giant’s latest XTC is a winner.