Do you know why this bike called Anthem? Because it’s designed for the podium! The anthem is the English term for the hymn played for those who stand on the podium. The story began when Giant discontinued the highly proven NRS XC competition full suspension model in 2006, and built a completely new machine based on Maestro’s virtual suspension design, released just the previous season.
The two Giant XC-oriented bike series could not have been more different: the NRS was designed in the era when riders were still sceptical of full suspension MTB bikes, fearing unwanted shock movement. Hence manufacturers did everything in their power to make the bike rigid while pedalling – both seated and standing. On the downhills the bike still showed its strenght, it more than made up for its additional weigh (2 lbs) by offering 95mm of rear suspension. But since the performance of the design was limited for the sake of pedalling efficiency, the 95mm felt more like 70.
As a stark contrast to the NRS, the original Anthem offered a completely active suspension system. By 2006, rear shock technology made great strides with platform dampening, in addition, an increasing number of MTB riders used full suspension setups in the marathons. The fear of rear suspensions being overly bulky and energy-hungry have more or less vanished. The “old” Anthem was a real thrill ride, it had 100mm travel, which in those days felt like 120, somewhat overpowering the 80mm forks of the time. And if you installed a good 100mm fork, the bike turned into a trail beast!
12 years have passed since its introduction, and suspension technology made great strides since. Shock travel and wheel sizes both grew. Still, much to the surprise of everyone, the Anthem 29er disappeared from the lineup in 2016. There remained the race-oriented Anthem and the SX trail model version with longer travel fork and a dropper seat post. This season there was a another twist in the Anthem story: only the trail version is available with 27.5″ wheels and a 130mm fork, and we see the return of the 29er, which is destined to be the competition machine within the model range.
But this new 29er is not what we used to know as Anthem X 29. While its ancestor was a student of classical music at the conservatoire, focusing mainly on strength and precision, the newcomer is a full-blown rock musician! It has no desire to roll on fire roads, the 2018 Anthem 29 is hungry for the technical singletrack. It is attracted to roots and rocks like a magnet! Even with its mere 90 mm rear travel – the shortest suspension ever for an Anthem – the Maestro system makes miracle of it. So let’s briefly look at the Anthem menu: what we get for 800,000 HUF!
The AluxX SL Aluminum Frame is a proven material from Giant’s own “witchcraft”, and it is also astonishingly lightweight. Development must continue, so the frame follows the modern trends by offering Boosts hub compatibility, thereby significantly increasing stiffness, which provides special benefits for such a lightweight frame construction. Although Anthem could have been made stiff enough using classic 142mm axles, one may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb! At the back, we find Fox Float DPS Performance shock, which performs its job most beautifully. Nevertheless I’ve experienced two problems using it:
1. I truly respect the Trunnion shock mount system, but for Anthem I would have been more pleased with a traditional English mount for the “Large” frame size. If such a setup was chosen by the designers, I would not have to reach down to the pebbles on the ground in order to operate the lockout – alias the “compression” lever. It felt like living in a three-storey house with the bedroom in the attic, but the only toilet is on the ground floor… and I simply didn’t have the inclination to go downstairs!
2. The low-speed compression on the Fox rear shock has clicks with three distinct positions: Open, Medium and Firm. In “Medium” mode, the shock moved so well, there was almost no need to turn to the fully “Open” mode. The “Firm” mode virtually closes the compression circuits but still leaves a small amount flexibility in the suspension. It feels like a small elastomer working inside the shock body with a rather uncontrolled movement. Here lies the my gripe: if you do not pedal smoothly, you start to bounce on the saddle. It’s like going at a high cadence with a flat tire. Fortunately in “Medium” mode, there is practically no suspension bob, so it’s rare that you really need to close the compression valve.
Nevertheless the rear shock works in perfect harmony with the Fox 32 Float Step Cast Performance fork, which is astonishingly “slender” by today’s standards. It looks lean even though it employs the Boost standard for the front wheel. Fox made space for the the Boost on the Step Cast forks by reducing the distance between the lowers, and by shaving off some materials on the shoulders and the fork ends. So by making all these modifications, they ended up with a pretty slim and light 32mm fork which compares favourably to the previous 32 series. No need to panic: despite the slender build, the stiffness of the fork is more than enough for this type of riding. Despite the excellent performance, I have one complaint: the FIT damping compression dial – which also provides the lockout – simply did not work. Presumably the oil level in the damper cartridge was low from the factory. This malfunction is not Giant’s fault, – as the saying goes – it happens in the best of families. In addition, it is a warranty issue, so it does not pose a great problem, just a minor annoyance.
The pedalling force is transferred to the wheels via a full 1×11-speed SLX drive-train – with the exception of the KMC chain – and everything works in perfect harmony. I cannot tell the difference from the incredibly high standard set by the new XT components, the SLX moves the chain between the gears with outmost precision, even under pedalling load. The question whether the 1×11 gear range is enough for you is another matter. For most riders it will be adequate. If you want to go wider, you can get the top-of-the line Anthem 29er “1” with the 12-speed GX Eagle!
The MT500 hydraulic disc is a non-series Shimano brake sporting the familiar Deore performance and price level. I really liked the short brake lever, which is quite similar to the one found on the SLX model. Braking in practice was as expected, and there was no problem with either power or modulation.
The own-brand wheel set is typically the part you might want to replace – the sooner the better, ideally right in the shop where you purchase the bike. Perhaps this Giant tubeless model will be the exception to this rule. Obviously it’s easy to find a lighter or stiffer aftermarket model from a specialist manufacture, but you would have to dig deep in the pocket for a significantly better alternative. The one found in the Anthem bearing a Giant logo proved to be a very successful price-oriented build,so it may be worth to take a chance with it. Of course some sacrifice was made concerning weight, nevertheless the rim is quite slender, hence restricting tire size to more or less the 2.2″ size in the factory configuration. Even that’s a little too tight for my liking: a wider rim would provide more confidence. The rims and the tires are tubeless designs, hence the bike comes with no tubes inside the tires, but there is a bottle of Stan’s NoTubes selant. So you’ve already saved a couple of bucks!
What were my overall riding impressions? Love at first sight! I used to ride an Anthem for many years, so I was glad to have the chance to test the new 29er. Our relationship began as I lifted “her”, and scale showed a slant 12.4 kilograms. It proved to be one of the lightest mountain in our group test, though it had to shake off a multitude of disadvantages:
– The frame is made from aluminium and carbon
– It’s a “fully” and not a hardtail
– The wheel size is 29er and not 650b
– And finally it’s size “L”!
The soul of every bike is the frame, the soul of the frame is the geometry. It is often said that geometry is not just the numbers or physics, but there is also a hint of magic. In this case, this is beyond doubt. The new Anthem 29er is destined for the new generation XC riding, where the downhills are technical and fast, thus it is not surprising to find a 69-degree head angle, shorter than average chain stays and a classic 73.5-degree saddle tube angle to keep a manageable wheelbase despite the long top tube. Hence manoeuvrability is not sacrifices for the added stability this new-age XC frame geometry brings. This is the recipe for perfect handling on the toughest XC courses, and incidentally it results in a machine that is ideal for marathon competitions and riding domestic MTB trails. It is possible to get carbon full suspension bike at this price level, but that might not actually have a lower weight, thanks to the Anthem’s excellent aluminium frame. The geometry of this bike is perfection in itself, the suspension likewise, and I believe these are the most important aspects for choosing an MTB bike.
How could this bike be any better? Well, it’s really just a whisker separating the new Anthem 29 from perfection, but that tiny gap is unfortunately present. My biggest complaint is the position of the rear shock’s compression lever. This frame is hungry for a remotely controlled shock, like the Fox Float DPS Factory. And although it’s user-dependent, I also missed the dropper post. Marathon riders will probably not need it, XC competitors will make their own decision: although here its not such big of a fad, as in many other countries. However, for anyone who wants to simply enjoy the bike, a good dropper post is highly recommended. And here comes the backlash: the 27.2mm seat post size in the frame seriously limits the choice of droppers. Obviously this size was chosen to cut weight and add some compliance to the post, but I would have preferred a diameter more common for droppers. But there is no need to panic, finding one is far from hopeless, and the frame is designed for internal remote control cables.
More information can be found on the manufacturer’s website.
Recommended retail price: 819,990 HUF.
Available size: S, M, L, XL
Frame: ALUXX SL Alumínium, 90mm Maestro Suspension
Fork: Fox 32 Float SC Performance, 100mm út, FIT GRIP, Boost 15×110 KaBolt, Tapered steerer
Rear shock: Fox Float DPS Performance, Trunnion Mount
Handlebar: Giant Contact Trail, 780mm
Stem: Giant Contact
Seat post: Giant Contact, 27.2mm
Saddle: Giant Contact
Shifters: Shimano SLX 11s
Rear derailler: Shimano SLX, Shadow+
Brake set: Shimano MT500 [F] 180mm [R] 160mm
Brake lever: Shimano MT500 I-Spec II
Cassette: Shimano SLX, 11-46T
Chain: KMC X11-1
Crank set: Shimano SLX, 32t
Bottom bracket: Shimano PressFit
Rims: Giant XC-1 29″, 21mm internal width
Wheel hubs: Giant Tracker Boost 15×110, cartridge / Giant Tracker Boost 12×148, cartridge
Spokes: Sapim Race
Tires: Maxxis IKON 29×2.2 60 TPI, TR/EXO, Tubeless