- Giant VT
- £1,100 (frame only)
- 0115 977 5900
In the weird and wonderful world of mountain bike categorisation, there’s a breed of bike that manages to evade all pigeonholing efforts. Some genres are obvious – downhill, XC race, trials. Then there’s slightly woolier but still fairly clear ones – the hucking end of freeride, long-forked trail hardtails. And then you’ve got bikes like Giant’s VT – heavier than XC bikes, not as beefy as DH/freeride bikes, DHesque suspension travel with XCish angles – that don’t really fit into any category except that catch-all “all-rounder”. It’s intended as the bike to have if you do all sorts but can only have (or want) one bike – not as good at the specialists at the extremes but packing broad-based competence. Or to put it another way, the sort of thing that we used to just call a “mountain bike”…
This is a 2003 VT frame, of which Giant UK brought in just 50. But the 2004 edition is, as far as we can tell, the same other than the graphics. The frame only is £1,100, or you can choose fully-built VT2 (£1,500) or VT1 (£2,350) options. We built ours up with stuff that was lying around, so this is just a test of the frame.
Giants have never really been “cool”, but we can’t figure out why. Probably something to do with being the biggest bike manufacturer on the planet, though – mainstream’s never cool. But the product has always been good and sometimes great, and anyone who reckons that all the innovation comes from the small players is way off mark.
The thing that first strikes you about the VT is all the swoopiness and tubing manipulation that’s going on. Giant calls its tube-shaping process FluidForm – it’s essentially the same hydroforming process that’s been used for years to make bits of aircraft and turbines and things. In a nutshell, you get your tube, you pop it into a closed die that’s the shape you’re aiming for and then fill the inside of the tube with high-pressure fluid that forces the tube to form the shape of the die. That’s how they get the ridged top tube and the front gusset – it’s not welded and smoothed, it’s part of the tube.
Attached to the front is a big headtube to suit an integrated headset. The frame package comes with reducers to fit a regular headset should you so wish – we put an FSA integrated one in, despite not really being huge fans of them. Conventional headsets have always done the job, after all. Still, the integrated option gives a clean front end and you can get the bars a bit lower if that’s an issue for you.
It’s at the back where the really interesting stuff happens, though. Or more precisely, in the middle. Giant’s marketeers have fallen over themselves trying to describe the VT’s rear suspension, calling it a “single-pivot four-bar”. There’s also some blurb on the Giant site that gets really carried away: “The four-bar’s position isolates the rear wheel from the suspension linkage pivots, creating a nearly vertical axle path that virtually eliminates pedal kickback and minimizes unwanted flex” is just nonsense, really.
What you’ve got here is a single-pivot swingarm with a linkage-driven shock. The swingarm pivots just behind and slightly above the bottom bracket (there’s a stub tube to mount the front mech on) – despite what Giant says about a “nearly vertical axle path” all the rear axle can do is move in an arc about the pivot. But axle path is only half the story, and Giant’s rocker linkage allows them to tune the leverage ratio on the shock throughout its stroke with finer control than would be possible if they just stuck the shock straight on to the swingarm. The design also puts the weight of the shock low and central in the frame.
Single low pivots are usually very plush and have fairly minimal pedal feedback, but also tend to be quite mushy. Countering the mush is where Manitou’s excellent Swinger SPV shock comes in. The Stable Platform Valve lets you tune out bob at the expense of a little bit of small-bump performance if you run it at maximum. The linkage maintains a fairly linear suspension performance, but you can make it ramp up at the end by adjusting the shock should you so wish. The system also has two shock mount positions for 5 or 5.7in of travel – all in all it’s a pretty versatile setup but be prepared to spend some time dialling it all in. We’re big fans of Manitou’s handy sag-setting guidelines on the shock – push the O-ring down, sit on the bike, get off, check the position of the O-ring against the guidelines, adjust as necessary.
One drawback of the Swinger shock is that the piggyback chamber that houses the SPV gets in the way of a descending seatpost if you want to drop your seat. We’re pretty sure that this frame was designed so that you could drop the seat past the shock – if it wasn’t for the piggyback it’d clear, and there’s a shaped bit on the vertical bracing plate on the swingarm that appears to be designed to clear a well-dropped post – so it’s a bit of a shame that the shock has limited seat adjustment. The seat “tower” has quite a nice touch, though. It’s angled back slightly further than it would be if it were a continous tube running from the BB, so raising the seat makes the cockpit slightly longer allowing a pleasing cockpit length for taller riders.
You’ll be wanting a Camelbak for all-day rides – there’s only one set of bottle bosses and their position under the downtube makes them more suitable for light batteries than bottles. And if your epic bike forays involve a fair bit of carrying you won’t get on with the VT’s frame design.
It’s a love-or-hate bike lookswise. Plenty of people think it’s spectacularly ugly, some think it’s got a pleasingly purposeful line. We rather like it but it’s certainly an acquired taste. Still, you can’t see it when you’re riding it…
In common with most other frames of this sort of travel, the VT’s no featherweight. The claimed weight of 5.7lb appears to ignore the shock – you’re looking at around the 6.5lb mark and a built weight knocking on the 30lb door. So you approach a climb on it with some trepidation. But there’s no need to worry – this bike climbs better than it has any right to.
There’s a bit of long-travel wander on the ups, making this a bike that really benefits from adjustable fork travel or lock-down to help it hold a line. But the rear suspension’s sensitive enough to ensure gobs of traction and the SPV works a treat to keep things stable. You’re probably not going to win any hillclimbs on the VT, but you never feel like you’re fighting it either.
With all the attention being paid to platform shocks’ anti-bob properties, it’s easy to forget another important benefit. The shock’ll only compress until the pressures either side of the valve equalise. Which in practise means that over bumps the shock compresses as much as it needs to, but no more. Conventional shocks tend to overshoot and rely on the rebound damping to stop things getting out of shape, but the SPV is amazingly composed even with nearly minium rebound damping dialled in. Less rebound damping means a faster suspension action and no risk of packing down. On fast, rocky sections the VT has the fast, lightly-damped feel that we love without the occasional rebound kick over big hits that we usually just put up with. It’s very planted, and the slight wander at slow speed turns into confidence-inspiring accuracy going faster.
It encourages you to keep the power on over all sorts of ugliness, but trying to do so occassionally results in pedal strikes – the bottom bracket’s not as high as it could be. It’s not too bad, but you need to be aware of it and be ready to time your pedal strokes appropriately.
Handling is definitely biased towards the faster, sweeping stuff. It’s not bad in the twisties, but you have to work at it – get it set up for a corner right going in and you’ll be fine, but it’s not a big fan of changing line part-way through. We took it for a couple of sizable Peak rides and it was very much at home up there – if that’s your sort of riding, this is your sort of bike…
We had a lot of fun on the VT. The rear suspension performance really is impressive, with the Manitou shock giving a lot more back in terms of pedalling stability and big-hit control than it takes away in small-bump sensitivity. We’d prefer some more bottle mounts, a seat you could lower all the way and a shock in a slightly more mud-friendly location, but the ride’s a blast and the price, while not an utter bargain, isn’t unreasonable.