Giant XtC 29er - £1695.00
It’s hard to ignore the rise of the 29in-wheels bikes. They’ve becoming increasingly widespread across the mountain biking landscape for the past couple of years, and when a company like Giant is embracing the concept, you know it’s something that demands you sit up and take notice.
Giant use ALUXX SL aluminium for the XtC with an oversized hydroformed frame built around its Overdrive head tube, allowing the use of a fork with a tapered head tube. In this case it’s a Fox QR15 fork, and so front end stiffness is guaranteed with this combination.
A huge Megadrive down tube contrasts dramatically with the slender and teardrop shaped top tube, and both butt up against a seat tube that gently curves around the rear wheel, allowing the chainstays to be made shorter and thus bringing the rear wheel closer to the bottom bracket. There’s ample mud clearance even around the big Maxxis Ardent tyres and the lack of a cross brace behind the BB further helps.
The XtC gets a smattering of Shimano’s SLX and XT with a 30-speed DynaSys transmission and powerful Shimano M445 brakes ensure the big wheels can be brought rapidly to a halt in a nice controlled manner. Most of the finishing kit; bars, stem, seatpost and saddle, wear a Giant logo and performed just fine, though the saddle was far from the most comfortable we’ve ridden in a while.
The ultra-wide flat handlebar in particular is a highlight, with a generous width for XC riding but without any rise the front end is kept low. We had no problems getting our desired ride position. Giant supply a couple of spacers beneath the short 90mm stem, which helps to keep the steering on the fun and lively side, but we found dropping the stem beneath the spacers gave the best setup for our style of riding.
Pedalling the XtC through the tree-lined singletrack in Bedgebury Forest, it’s hard not to be impressed. There’s been much talk about the differences between 26in and 29in wheels in the press and forums around the web, and while the differences are noticeable, they’re subtle. Where the XtC really excels is carrying speed over bumpy rippled trails.
The larger wheels make it easier to carry more speed into corners and berms, with confidence-inspiring stability, and while it’s slower to accelerate from a slow speed, we never found that an issue as often we would be travelling faster into, and through, the corner anyway. Momentum is a key factor here and is easily maintained with a slight adjustment of your riding style.
The wide bars and short stem (though you could go shorter) really help the handling. The geometry gives it a feeling very similar to 26in-wheeled bikes, and the front end geometry is perfectly honed: it’s easy to leverage the bike around even the tightest corners. Meanwhile out of the saddle lung-wrenching climbs display the stiffness of the frame, particularly from the stout front end with the bolt-through fork and tapered head tube.
The short stays and surprising grip from the Maxxis Aspen tyres, along with their decent rolling speed, makes the XtC an easy bike to carve through fast corners and get it banked over, knee down-style. In fact, the XtC’s handling characteristics are remarkably similar to the 26in wheel version of the same bike, albeit with a slightly slower response in both steering and acceleration.
I found myself warming to the XtC, really very quickly. It doesn’t feel razor sharp like its smaller wheeled cousins but devours trails with amazing ease and bags of speed. Based on our time with the Giant, they’ve built a fast and trail happy package that will please even the most cynical mountain bikers.
And if that wasn’t enough, Giant is working on a carbon fibre version of the XtC. Which, if this aluminium version is anything to go by, should be damn exciting.