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Oh man, nothing quite like a promo video with a clean-shaven Carl Decker to get an XC racer's pulse throbbing circa 2016. No mustache, no dropper, no problem. (And by the way, did you catch his melancholic ode to trunnion mount?! Had me laughing uproariously.)
Although -- without double-checking myself -- I'm 90% sure that Decker won Downieville on an Advanced SX with 130mm RS-1 and a Magic Mary up front that summer? Which spoke to Giant's confusing double-model situation, at least as it played out at my local LBS at the time, which happened to be a Giant dealer: there weren't many customers in our neck of the woods who were interested in a non-29er XC bike (shorter women and pre-teens aside), so the race Anthem in 27.5 didn't sell all that briskly. But nor were there many folks hunting for trail/all-mountain bikes who would settle for a frame with only 110mm travel, so the Advanced SX was a rare sight, as well. (Actually, I remember doing a three-stage enduro race -- in the early phases of enduro racing in this area -- with a guy who was running a 100/100 Anthem with a Fox 32 that promptly lost most of its damping after the first stage. He finished pretty well, all the same.)
I have to ask, though, what makes you associate these early Giant forays into downcountry territory with bikes like the Smuggler, Process 111 or Phantom? That seems sort of like giving Giant too much credit -- they weren't (and, ahem, aren't) pushing the envelope on geo or thinking outside of the established industry norms in nearly the same way as Transition/Kona/Banshee. Looking past brand differentiation (I don't think anyone wanting a sub-27lb., almost-as-quick-pedaling-as-an-XC-bike in those days would have even considered Transition, let alone Banshee!), there's a certain type of rider who fits well with a contemporary over-forked XC bike like an Epic Evo or Blur TR, vs. the rider who clicks with a new Stumpjumper, Tallboy 4 or something even more ponderous-climbing like an Optic. (Which also speaks to the popularity of the Spur, and to a lesser extent the new Element, shooting the gap between the "long-travel XC" and "short-travel trail" categories, or whatever the heck you want to call them.)
On tires: great point about triangulating between sketchy XC rubber and heavier trail-worthy tires. I've been disappointed with many of these tweener, ~850-950g tires but the new Wicked Will has hit the mark for me. I've got a front/rear set of them in the SuperGround casing (865g) on my XC bike, and one in SuperTrail (920g) on the rear of my singlespeed, both Addix Speed compound (though I'm desperately hoping Schwalbe releases the Soft version here in the States eventually). They're not the best in the wet but the aggressive siping across the top lugs helps them skate by OK. The rolling resistance is pretty dang low, though, and when they do break traction in looser stuff it's fairly predictable and not too surprising.
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