Giant Trance SX 27.5
Size Tested: [S/16]
Travel: Front: 160mm, Rear: 140mm
- Pike RC Fork
- Monarch Plus Debonair RT Rear Shock
- SRAM Guide R Brakes
- SRAM X1 Drivetrain
- Giant Brand Wheels
Reviewer Info: 5’ 8”, 160 lbs, grew up with a New England love of rocks and roots.
Test Location: Fells, Boston Area, Massachusetts
I recently had the opportunity to hop on a Giant Trance SX 27.5 for a ride in the Fells Reservation, just outside of Boston.
Caveat: It was a single ride and offered plenty of technical challenge, but no sustained climbing or descending. One good ride can tell you a lot about how a bike handles, but it certainly doesn’t allow for the customary, in-depth, Blister analysis. For instance, a quick suspension setup and fiddling with the bike’s ergonomics gets it most of the way there, but it takes days to really get everything running just right. Furthermore, differences like tire selection and tire pressure can have a huge effect on how a bike rides, and I didn’t have the chance to get to tinker with those variables.
But after the time I spent on a Giant Anthem SX 27.5 at Interbike, I was excited to get on another Giant SX bike. Each SX model features a longer travel fork than the standard spec, beefier components, grippier tires, and a shorter stem. These changes all add up to a bike that is oriented more towards excellent technical and descending trail manners, but potentially diminished climbing abilities.
At the outset of the ride I had a few questions:
- Would it feel like the fork was too long, and made handling sluggish?
- Would the choppered out Trance SX lose a lot of climbing ability?
- Would the rear end feel outgunned by the longer fork?
- How would it compare to the Reign and other bikes in its class?
The longer 160mm-travel RockShox Pike fork on the front of the bike has the effect of both lengthening and slackening the bike. It slackens the head angle from 67 to 66 degrees, and increases the wheelbase by 0.3 inches.
The bottom bracket also gets a bit higher, but Giant doesn’t provide that info in the geometry chart – they also don’t show that the longer fork reduces the reach by a little bit, and increases the stack height by a little bit.
Additionally, a shorter stem than the one found on the standard Trance bikes positions the rider in a more aggressive, descending-oriented stance.
Like the rest of the Trance line, the SX has internal cable routing and a press fit bottom bracket.
The 160mm travel fork made riding the Trance SX feel a little deceptive; when I looked down I could fool myself into thinking I was on the Giant Reign. However, within a few pedal strokes, I was stunned by just how much more nimble the Trance SX is.
I was riding a size Small frame, and in the past I’ve found Giant’s sizing to be true, meaning that a Medium would have been more appropriate for me. However, I’ve ridden a medium Trance in the past and I know that the nimble character I experienced in the Small isn’t entirely dependent on the size.
Putting a longer travel fork on a frame can have some negative effects and make the bike feel like it is choppered out. The handling can become slow and flop side to side, and the higher bottom bracket can make the bike feel unstable. To answer question #1 from above, neither of those traits were present on this bike. I wouldn’t have known that it wasn’t designed around the 160mm fork.
To answer question #2, the dual position fork can be adjusted down to 140mm of travel to aid climbing, but after playing with it initially, I never ended up using the feature because the bike climbed just fine and without significant wandering with the fork in the 160mm position. I did have to get over the front on steep climbs, but it never felt excessive.
The RockShox Pike performed like any other Pike I’ve had the opportunity to ride. It was supple over small bumps, stiff enough to steer well, and the RC offered little meaningful difference from the RCT3 for my uses (I don’t like fork lockouts).
At the rear, the Maestro suspension pedaled reasonably well. It wasn’t snappy, but it didn’t sap too much of my energy, either. Most VPP designs have a bit more snap, but the Maestro was snappier than most Horst link bikes. It responded well to rough terrain, but without any long descents on which to test it, I couldn’t get a great feel for how well it handled high-speed impacts on square-edged bumps.
The RockShox Monarch Plus Debonair shock was outstanding, as it has been on every bike that I’ve tried it on.
Answering question #3, I did occasionally find myself pushing through the rear travel, and it happened more frequently than blowing through the fork’s travel did. However, it didn’t bother me much, and given more time to play with suspension settings, I believe I could have dramatically reduced its rate of occurrence. It felt as though more air pressure would mostly solve the problem, and that a last resort of reducing shock volume could help. The Maestro suspension on the Trance does offer some additional resistance to bottom out, but definitely leans on the ramp up of the air spring on the Monarch to provide the bulk of the resistance to bottoming out.
Tires, Brakes, Cockpit
The version of this bike that I rode had the factory spec’d Schwalbe tires swapped out for Maxxis High Roller II and Minion DHF tires—personal favorites of mine. They don’t roll all that quickly, but offer predictable, aggressive grip. Paired with SRAM Guide brakes, they offered particularly good stopping traction.
The Guide Brakes are the first SRAM brakes in recent history that have swayed me from Shimano. They offer similar stopping power to Shimano XT brakes, but with more modulation. Importantly, they also don’t demonstrate the classic Avid warble or squeal. The lever shape also feels very similar to Shimano’s. If you blindfolded me, I’m not certain I could tell them apart.
The cockpit on the Trance SX is outfitted almost entirely with Giant brand items that performed well and disappeared from notice. The stock Giant Contact SL Switch-R dropper performed well for me. The Small I was on only had a 3” drop, while larger sizes feature 4” drops. Having previously run into problems with dropper posts that are too long for my legs, I appreciate that they match dropper post travel to frame size, but I think that they could increase drops by 1” across the board.
The wheels on the bike were also Giant branded items. They performed well and gave me no reason to think about them.
NEXT: Comparisons – Giant Reign, Santa Cruz Nomad 27.5 & Bronson, Etc.