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2014 Giant Trance Advanced SX 27.5: Reviewed

Sweet, Sweet Evolution

Words by Todd Hellinga. Photos by Morgan Taylor.
March 20th, 2014

Without a doubt, one the most popular trail bikes in Whistler over the past years has been the Giant Reign. A burlier bike for cross country riders, or an xc bike for the more aggressive set, it was a bike that served many purposes for many different types of riders. That being said the Reign wasn’t without its shortcomings; with its lighter weight componentry and rear suspension that tended to regularly blow through its travel on larger hits, it definitely favoured a more finesse style.

Giant’s move to the 27.5 wheel size saw them dropping the Reign altogether, although the change allowed them to update the entire platform. The goal? A bike capable of handling the terrain and riding on the more aggressive side of the spectrum, but one that was also light enough to handle the steepest and longest of climbs.

The Trance Advanced SX (preview HERE) ticks all the right boxes in that regard: modern slacked out head angle with a travel adjust fork to lower the front end when climbing; a stiff carbon mainframe coupled with an aluminum rear end; and drivetrain options for a front derailleur, chain guide, or the provided 1x set up on the test bike. A dropper post, and short(ish) stem and wide(ish) bars round out $5699 CDN package that provides a great out of the box value that’s shred-ready compared to many models in the same category – but does the ride live up to the hype?

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From wet days on the Shore to frozen Squamish and unusual dust bowl winter in Pemberton, the Trance SX saw a wide variety of technical terrain.

Receiving the bike in late fall, I took advantage of the great early-winter-non-winter weather and packed in as much riding as possible since the ski hills were less than enticing with their lack of precipitation. Rides on the North Shore, in Pemberton, and in Squamish over the course of the test saw the bike in a wide range of conditions from wet to dry to frozen, and on a variety of trail types from steep, raw and gnarly downhills, to fast and flowing cross country. After spending two seasons on a Reign it quickly became apparent that this bike was an improvement in nearly every way over that classic model.

Giant opted for a combination of both carbon and aluminum when it came to designing their new frame. The carbon mainframe’s sleek, clean lines replace the overly swoopy tubed era that came before, and the satin black combined with internally routed cables exudes stealth and simplicity. The mainframe also features Giant’s Overdrive 2 headtube which claims “up to 30% more torsional steering stiffness” and features 1 1/4” top and 1 1/2” bottom bearings – and with it another proprietary standard.

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Gloss decals on satin black and internal cable routing make for a sleek and clean machine.

The mainframe also features ISCG-05 chainguide tabs, pressfit bottom bracket, a direct mount for a front derailleur if you so desire, and water bottle mounts in the right place on the top of the downtube. A small unobtrusive guard on the bottom of the downtube also provides protection from the rocky chunder that typically gets hurled at that area.

The rear swingarm assembly is aluminum and features a rear dropout system compatible with the supplied 12x142mm setup or 135mm QR if you have a badass old style hubset kicking around that needs to be used. The 12/142 noticeably increases the overall stiffness in the rear end and is much improved over the old QR only option. Giant also went with an integrated rubber chainstay wrap, which is a nice touch.

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Giant has tweaked the Maestro system yet again, and it’s a marked improvement over the previous generation.

One of the Reign’s biggest shortcomings was always the more cross country (trail) oriented suspension, usually with 32mm stanchions and non-piggyback rear shocks. The lightweight bias always left more aggressive riders feeling a bit under-gunned: it was easy to overwhelm the linear rear suspension, and the flex in the front end could be rather disconcerting at times.

It’s nice to see Giant upping the ante on the Trance SX by moving up to the Fox 34 Talas and Float X CTD Factory suspension. Moving to a larger stanchion fork means the front end feels much more confidence inspiring and improves the handling significantly. Additionally the Float X really suits a bike of this nature much better than a non-piggyback model.

The improvements to the rear shock help improve the overall characteristics of the Giant’s Maestro suspension, as the increased compression damping helps keep the bike a bit firmer in the initial part of the travel while pedalling and climbing, while still retaining the ability to remain fully active when hitting roots and rocks. Small bump compliance also feels much better compared to the Reign, likely helped by the move to cartridge bearings in the upper shock mount. The Float X handles big, hard hits well, providing a nice smooth ramp up without super high air pressures – resisting the harsh bottom out that was all too common on the Reign.

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The Trance SX is so easy to loft and float through technical sections and over rollers, searching out dips and rises along the way to manual and double and transfer.

Jumping on a new bike is always a bit weird and seems to take a while to dial in the ride characteristics. and handling traits, but what blew me away about the Trance SX was at how little it took to feel really comfortable on this bike. Fair enough, it’s not that different on paper than the Reign. The old parking lot bounce test felt pretty good, reach and sizing felt very comfortable and neutral, and getting rolling out onto the trail things felt pretty good to go right from the start.

The first thing I noticed was how much livelier the bike felt than the Reign. There seemed to be just more pop and response to pedalling inputs, even with the CTD shock full open. I found that the Reign at times feel a bit mushy, unless you were running a lot more air pressure in the rear shock than was typically wanted. With the Float X firming up compression a bit the bike really just want to go fast when you got on the pedals. Poppy, fast accelerating bikes can often be a bit harsh on those low speed rocks and roots; Giant claims that the move to cartridge bearings in the upper link mount helped improve the small bump compliance, and I’m inclined to agree.

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High speed launchers to big flat landings were no problem for the Trance SX. The solid frame and suspension platform handled big hits and high speeds very reliably, using full travel but without the harsh bottom outs I was so used to on the Reign.

The bike seems to be able to damp out trail inputs without getting bogged down in the travel, allowing the rider to really keep the bike’s momentum up – even on steep climbs. One of my favourite characteristics of the Reign, or more generally the Maestro design, is the “hand of god” climbing trait. Being a fan of challenging technical climbs that require both finesse and power applied in the appropriate amounts at the right time, the ability to maintain traction and momentum is appreciated. The Trance SX maintains this trait, and if anything enhances it a bit.

While the bike is no slouch climbing, I still can’t help but feel like the combination of effective seat tube angle and setback seatpost is a bit slack for my preferences. I definitely prefer being more over the bars for steeper technical climbing to keep the front wheel on the ground and tracking where I need it to be. Even with the seat pushed far forward on the rails I was reaching and sliding forward on the seat more than I would have preferred in certain situations. That being said I felt more comfortable on the Trance than the Reign, and overall felt that I didn’t have to adjust my position on the bike fore and aft as much to keep the front end down on steep climbs, especially with the travel adjust fork.

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The poppy nature of the Trance SX made it easy to reach out to landings that maybe looked a little far, and remained active under pedalling, allowing one to get a quick couple pedal strokes into the take off of jumps, or when accelerating out of corners.

On rolling, technical trails the Trance SX rolls very fast, and has no trouble maintaining, or generating, speed. The enhanced responsiveness really allows a rider to pump rollers and terrain, and seek out backsides for little transfers and double ups and really makes for a really fun ride. As much as some people may roll their eyes, I also believe the 27.5 wheel size does help in this regard, keeping the wheels from getting hung up in deeper holes or on square edge obstacles. The increased frame and fork stiffness also lets you get instant response from steering inputs and put the bike exactly where you need to.

Pushing the Trance SX hard into corners also was a joy. It loved to be stuffed into berms and had a great tendency to really fire out of corners with lots of speed, and you could easily get back on the pedals and get that immediate burst of speed that helps so much in maintaining momentum. Even under power the suspension remains active and supple, easily soaking up both small and large bumps. I regularly also found myself really trying to reach on longer doubles and other trail features, and the bike handled the more gorilla gooning without a whimper.

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I was thankful that someone at Giant Bicycles Canada was thoughtful enough to replace the useful Rock Razor spec’d rear tire with a Hans Dampf. Wet conditions late fall on the West Coast always means greasy rocks and roots, and the extra tread was very appreciated.

I found fast rooty and rocky trail a lot of fun. This bike is able to handle those rougher conditions so much better than the Reign ever did and carry speed through really rough terrain. Even when things get steep and hairy, the bike’s overall handling characteristics are such that you aren’t worry about your gear. You know the bike will go where you want it to, hold a line, and handle whatever you need to throw at it while you get down.

Component Notes

While I covered off the component notes in the preview, I would be remiss to not briefly touch on a couple of the more salient points in that regard.

While Giant’s house brand Contact remote adjustable seatpost works satisfactorily, it wasn’t without its quirks: pick up the bike by the seat on a hike a bike, or to get over a log, and the post extends to your full and upright position – meaning you need to engage the lever and push the seat back down before hopping back on. No, not a deal breaker, but sometimes it’s nice not have to do an extra step. The shorter 100mm travel of the post also proved somewhat limited, and combined with a two bolt seat clamp device it was a chore to adjust the post height lower for long, steep descents. I would likely look to replace this with a longer travel version for more aggressive descent oriented riding.

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Giant’s Contact dropper post functioned well throughout the test, but was not without nitpicks.

The SRAM X01 drivetrain is highly sought after these days, and for the most part it delivered as advertised. I never dropped a chain off the front ring, and I did find that it provided crisp and accurate up and down shifting. However, there were instances when the chain seemed to jump around on the cogset. On fast rough descents there was a tendency for the chain to rattle down a few cogs necessitating a soft pedal or two to get things back on track, and when ratcheting the cranks while climbing steep technical bits in the biggest cogs the chain would sometimes derail on the backpedal, causing a loss of momentum and dab for fear of breaking things if I tried to power through it.

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A clean design and modern drivetrain technology help deliver a quiet, mostly reliable, drivetrain. I did experience the chain skipping around on rough descents and on the occasional backpedal in the big cog, but it never dropped off the front ring.

I’m willing to chalk that up to wet weather riding with a narrow 11 speed chain, although chats with people also on this drivetrain indicate similar issues, so, who knows? The finish on the crank arms is also rather weak and showed significant wear; I’d get some protective tape to cover that as soon as I rolled out of the store.

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27.5 wheels, a 140-160 Talas fork, and Float X add up to a confidence inspiring evolution of Giant’s mid-travel bike.

Throughout the test period, I really enjoyed all of my rides on this bike and really feel like it performed really well in a wide variety of conditions with no weird traits or issues that would have otherwise prevented me from having anything but a great time on every ride. The value, combined with Giant’s great warranty service, will ensure that anyone purchasing this bike will be well covered for the years following the purchase, always a nice touch in case something should ever go wrong.


140mm rear end with a 160 fork? Seems like a pretty capable combination…