2023 Giant Reign Advanced
It’s been 4 months since I received the Giant Reign Advanced Pro 1 test bike. I introduced the bike and provided my first riding impressions in the first look article. In this review I’m sharing my experience riding the Reign, mostly in my backyard trails in the Comox Valley but I managed to squeeze in a week on the North Shore before returning the bike.
Conditions during the test period were mostly warm and dry with trails getting increasingly dusty and blown out. Things improved slightly towards the end of the test when a little precipitation brought back nearly forgotten concepts like grippy dirt and slippery roots.
At the start of the test I was a bit dazzled by all the options: three geometry positions, 29/27.5 mullet compatibility, all the adjustments on the Fox dampers. My life was made simpler when a wheelset we had lined up to review and use to set the Reign up as a mullet got delayed. So in the end I just rode the Reign as it came out of the box as a 29er, and focused on the two geometry positions that make the most sense in 29er configuration: Low and Mid.
Earlier this month the new Reign scooped up a second Enduro World Cup win so it is obviously a very fast and capable bike. I'm afraid I never came close to testing the limits of the Reign and I never expected to. Regardless I think I got a good impression of the Giant Reign's character and capabilities and what type of rider it is for.
Sizing and Fit
At 187 cm (6' 2"), Giant's size recommendation puts me right in between L and XL. While I leaned towards L in the past, lately I've been exploring longer reaches and wheelbases and I requested an XL.
It took some fine-tuning of the cockpit to achieve a comfortable fit and good weight distribution over the bike. I replaced the stock Giant bar and grips with a PNW combo that provided a little more rise and backsweep as well as hand comfort.
I also ended up sliding the seat all the way forward on the rails to achieve a good seated climbing position. This effectively gave me a virtual seat tube angle around 80 degrees which worked very well for me.
Please keep in mind that upsizing to an XL likely affected my experience on the bike. Especially considering the chainstay length is the same across the entire size range, my riding impressions may not translate 1:1 to the smaller sizes.
The Fox 38 Performance Elite fork and X2 Factory* shock both have all the adjustments you can think of and can therefore be a little intimidating to set up. I started out setting sag at 20% up front and 30% in the rear and using Fox’s recommended damper settings. This immediately felt pretty good and in the following weeks I only dropped the air pressure in the fork by a few psi and made minor adjustments to the damper settings.
I was coming into the test feeling pretty strong and with this setup I especially enjoyed how the Reign’s suspension performed on fast chunky trails. The bike felt firm but stayed extremely composed on consecutive hits and gave the impression of floating over rough terrain. My confidence increased by leaps and bounds and I spent a dreamy couple of weeks wondering if this is how an EWS pro feels when they are racing.
As the hot and dry summer progressed, riding conditions deteriorated with trails getting extremely dusty and blown out. Fatigue set in and I lost my momentum of the early summer. At a slower pace and riding more timidly, the suspension started feeling a bit harsh. I spent weeks making adjustments in an attempt to find a more forgiving ride. I was moderately successful but it never felt as good as before.
Towards the end of the test period we got some long overdue rain, grippy dirt returned, and I overcame my fatigue. I went back to the earlier, firmer setup. My riding improved again and I enjoyed a few more weeks feeling fast.
Clearly the Reign is an enduro bike and as such is meant to be set up and ridden like one.
* The Pro 1 comes stock with a Fox X2 Performance Elite which is identical except for the black anodized coating instead of the Factory Kashima.
The Reign pedals very well and feels surprisingly light on the climbs. Initially I found it would sink into the rear travel a bit on very steep pitches and I would occasionally engage the climb switch on the shock. Once I had my cockpit setup figured out and the seat slammed forward on the rails, the problem disappeared and the climb switch was left unused for the remainder of the test.
On complex technical climbs involving steep step ups the Reign is excellent in the Mid position but in the Low position I found these situations more difficult. Intuitively the bottom bracket height made the difference for me but the difference in head tube angle may play a role as well.
Overall the Reign is a very good climber for an enduro bike.
Although not what this bike is made for, even in enduro races you may have to traverse over flat or rolling terrain to link up the good stuff. It can be tedious on a burly bike but not so on the Reign. As said it pedals very well and while it’s far from a cross country bike, riding cross country trails on it didn’t feel like a chore. Especially in the Mid position but in Low it wasn’t bad either.
Flow and Jump Trails
The Reign was fine on flow trails but I found the experience a bit muted, for lack of a better word. I generally find flow trails more exciting on smaller, more agile and poppy bikes. Possibly this is where upsizing to an XL was a trade-off and an L may have been more fun. I found the difference between the Low and Mid position was the least significant on flow trails.
I did feel confident enough on the Reign to work a little on my jump skills in the bike park. It’s not super poppy but on the other hand it provided plenty of margin for error on my less than perfect landings. My jump skills are still pathetic but I can’t blame the Reign.
The Reign started to shine for me on moderately technical descents, let’s say where blue square meets black diamond. As an average rider this is where I feel confident enough to let the brakes go and lean into corners aggressively. That feeling of going fast while being in control, when time seems to slow down and your brain is totally focused. Good times.
The Reign also did quite well on slower, more technical descents. The geometry and the composed suspension gave me plenty of confidence on challenging features. Interestingly I found the Mid position to be better than the Low position in very technical terrain. Again I suspect bottom bracket height is the main factor here. The length of the XL was felt on tight switchbacks but overall it was not a huge issue.
Unsurprisingly, the Reign feels most at home in fast rough terrain. With the right suspension setup it’s unfazed by high speeds on chunky trails. Especially in the Low setting it just wants to go fast and straight and it requires a strong, skilled rider to handle it at such speed. On good days it was awesome but when my riding was off it sometimes felt like a struggle.
Old vs New
The Reign has been the most burly trail bike in Giant's line up for many years but the last iteration was remarkably conservative with "only" 146 mm travel and middle-of-the-road geometry.
I have a lot of time aboard a 2020 Reign Advanced and to me it has always stood out as an excellent all-round trail bike, if not an all out enduro monster truck. It rides light and its rear suspension feels firm and snappy, resulting in amazing climbing and poppy, playful descending. On the other hand it is rather unforgiving when the going gets rough.
The new Reign returns to its burly roots and handles fast chunky descents with a lot more composure than its predecessor. It's more stable at speed, especially so in the Low setting, and the suspension is better at eating up big consecutive hits. On the flip side it feels less poppy.
All of this is not surprising as it is more in line with expectations in this segment. What amazed me the most about the new Reign is that, despite the added burliness, it still manages to ride fairly light and barely gives up any of the previous generation's pedalling performance. In the Mid position it actually comes pretty close to the all-round character of the old Reign although with a bit less pop and more margin for error.
The Reign was mostly pleasantly silent for the duration of the test: no rattling cables, no squeaky pivots. I did occasionally experience some feedback from the rear end in the form of light vibration and noise. Since it only happened while charging at speed through rough terrain I wasn't able to identify the source. It was minor enough not to bother me.
Between the 35mm bar, 38mm fork stanchions and carbon wheels, the front end felt rather stiff. The frame itself felt neither too stiff nor too flexy too me. To put this in context, I typically find myself preferring a bit more compliance than the average rider.
Switching between flip chip positions is a quick and easy job although if you're sensitive to fit you may want to adjust the tilt of your seat, brake levers, shifter and dropper remote which adds some hassle to the process.
The downtube storage compartment was a little disappointing. The narrowness of the opening and the neoprene pouch meant that pretty much none of the stuff I typically carry would fit. I'm pretty sure I could make the storage compartment work if I were to buy tools and spares specifically selected to fit but the easy option of continuing to wear my minimalistic pre-packed Evoc bum bag won.
“It's an understatement to say that the X2 has a mixed reliability record among the NSMB test crew. We'll see how this one holds up.”
It was with a sense of foreboding that I wrote the above in the first look article and unfortunately my apprehension was justified. About 6 weeks into the test the X2 started making loud squishy noises on each compression and was quickly diagnosed with emulsification in the damper.
After a rebuild* the X2 performed well for about 2 months until it let out a single long slurping sound halfway a climb. It didn’t sound good but I didn’t immediately notice any performance degradation. Eventually as I tweaked damper settings to different trails, it became apparent that the shock had lost all rebound damping. Since I had the rebound set up pretty fast anyway the bike was still rideable but in specific situations the rear end would buck a little which didn’t inspire confidence.
Fox has redesigned the X2 for 2024 and is replacing faulty 2023s under warranty. Word on the trails is that so far it’s turning out to be much more reliable. When the X2 works it’s a great shock so let’s hope that we can soon put this episode of failing X2s behind us.
* Shout out to Arrowsmith Bikes in Nanaimo for the quick turnaround on the X2 rebuild!
The Fox 38 Performance Elite GRIP2 fork was simply excellent. The Fox X2 Factory rear shock, when it didn't blow up (see above), performed very well too. The recommended set up for both provided a great base setup and I found making further adjustments based on trail feedback fairly intuitive, with each adjustment resulting in a small but noticeable change.
The SRAM GX Eagle mechanical drivetrain worked fine for the duration of the test. As predicted in my first look, the combination of the 32t chainring and 10-52t cassette left me wishing for closer gear spacing at the low end. 30t with 10-50t would have had my preference.
The Shimano SLX M7120 brakes had a very minor case of wandering bite point but were otherwise flawless with excellent power and modulation without any noise even on non-stop top to bottom bike park laps. The basic stamped RT-66 rotors did not give me any trouble.
In terms of casing choice the Maxxis Assegai EXO+ MaxxTerra and DHR2 DoubleDown Maxterra tire combo was spot on for me with a nice level of damping and support. While the MaxxTerra compound was sufficient in the dry summer conditions, the few times it rained I very much longed for the stickier MaxxGrip on slippery wet roots and rocks.
While I typically prefer the comfort and traction of a good aluminum rim, Giant's carbon TRX2 rims are among the better feeling carbon rims I've ridden with a nice balance between snappiness and compliance. They also shrugged off a several hard rock impacts. I think I could live with these rims! I found the Giant rear hub less impressive. The freehub occasionally skipped a tooth which didn't inspire confidence.
Finally, the TranzX 200 mm dropper post was flawless during the entire test but I did wish for a little more drop at times due to the forward seat position I ended up with.
Traditionally Giant bikes have always been great value but I feel like this is less the case with the current Reign range. In terms of spec, the Advanced Pro 1 hits the sweet spot but at 7,999 CAD / 6,800 USD* its price doesn’t stand out much from some of the competition. For example, a comparatively spec'd Ibis HD6 is in the same ballpark.
Moving up, the Advanced Pro 0 (13,299 CAD / 12,500 USD) is a bit of a head scratcher. At that price level, I suspect a prospective buyer probably wants to see a boutique brand name on the downtube.
Moving down, the Advanced Pro 2 (5,699 CAD / unavailable in the US) and the aluminum Reign 2 (4,299 CAD / 3,600 USD) are not bad but compromise on suspension spec.
The aluminum Reign 1 with Fox Performance Elite suspension would probably be my first choice but Giant offers this model only in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
Here in North America, a min-max operation using the Reign 2 or Reign Advanced Pro 2 as starting point could be an interesting option for value-oriented buyers.
* Currently on sale at 6,460 USD which is slightly better.
The Reign was both the easiest and the hardest bike I’ve tested so far. The easiest because it was exactly what I expected and hoped it would be: an aggressive enduro bike with excellent suspension performance. The hardest because, well, I’m just not that aggressive of a rider so I had to step out of my comfort zone and I had to be at the top of my game to get the most out of the bike.
I think I managed to get a good feel for what the Reign is capable of and what it does best. Giant delivered a well-balanced and versatile enduro bike that feels most at home on the kind of terrain you might expect in an Enduro World Cup. It would work extremely well as a privateer's enduro race bike or as a strong rider's only bike on the North Shore (or locations with similarly challenging terrain). It does quite well in mellower terrain and on flow trails although that’s not where it shines.
The Advanced Pro 1 has a great spec that doesn’t leave much to be desired but the elephant in the room is the X2 shock. Unfortunately this is not the first bike we've seen the X2 fail on this year and this is something to keep in mind. I'm certain Giant and Fox will take care of their customers running into issues with the X2 and if you are looking to buy the Advanced Pro 1, I would discuss this up front with the shop.
Shock troubles notwithstanding, the Giant Reign makes a convincing return to the enduro forefront and if you are looking for that kind of bike it’s an excellent platform worthy of your consideration.
More information at Giant Bicycles.
Location: Comox Valley, Vancouver Island, BC
Model Year: 1980
Height: 6'2" / 187 cm
Weight: 176 lbs / 80 kg
Inseam: 35" / 89 cm
Ape Index: 1.005
Riding style: Zenduro(TM)