Giant has historically had some thoroughly decent full suspension bikes in its range (the NRS and VT bikes in particular are deservedly popular), but what it’s never had is a suspension system that it can really call its own and use across a load of different bikes. Most of its competitors use the same design across multiple travel platforms – Specialized has FSR, Marin has Quad-Link, Santa Cruz has VPP etc – but over the years Giant’s accumulated a bit of a mish-mash of four-bars, faux-bars and single-pivots.
Hence the new Maestro system, which will be available in the UK in the next few weeks in 4, 6 and 8in flavours. The design features short links between the main frame and the swingarm, and at first glance looks a bit like a VPP. However, Maestro’s links both rotate in the same direction, rather than VPP’s contra-rotating links, and the effect at the axle is very different. It’s got a bit more in common with Dave Weagle’s DW-Link design (as seen on Iron Horse bikes) or, looking further back into history, Schwinn’s old Rocket 88.
Giant had a five-point checklist when designing the system. It’s all familiar stuff if you’ve read any marketing blurb for suspension in the last decade – no power loss, no brake influence, no pedal feedback, linear spring rate, best traction. And we’ve heard Giant’s “no compromises” spiel before too. Let’s be straight here – there’s no such thing as a “no compromise” suspension design. Everything’s so inter-related and there are so many variables that it’s essentially impossible. But what you can do is find a really good compromise.
What Giant has done is arrange its linkages so the rear axle moves vertically (generally perpendicular to chain tension and thrust forces, so it shouldn’t care much about those) through most of its travel, tucking in slightly at the end to minimise chain growth and hence pedal feedback and bob. One of those key compromises is chain growth – given the number of gears on a mountain bike you can’t eliminate it in all possible gears, but Giant reckons to have minimised it in the ones you actually use and minimised it more in the ones where you’d feel it the most. Can’t argue with that, really. The designers have also worked hard to actually get all the available travel out of their shocks, tuning the rate curve of the linkage to suit the rate curve of the shocks to end up with an essentially linear complete system.
Then there’s braking. The effect of rear brakes on suspension systems is a hotly-argued one, and we don’t mind admitting that we’ve never seen an explanation that we (a) understand (b) makes sense and (c) correlates with what actually happens on the trail. Giant’s explanation has a lot of lines and equations in it (briefly, the idea is that the forces on the back wheel under braking have a net resultant vector that passes through the instant rotation center of the suspension design – you following this?) but the proof, as ever, is in the riding.
Fortunately we had the opportunity to go for a spin on some entirely agreeable rocky trails in the south of France. The 30degree heat and sunshine certainly made a welcome change from the actual product presentation, which took place in a cave. No, we’re not making this up. Anyway, the cave gave us our first look at the actual bikes. The 4in ones are called Trance, the 6in ones are Reign and the big 8in beasts are Faith. They’ve all got a distinctive look, and we’re particularly taken with the Trance and Reign’s “shock basket”, a forged piece at the bottom bracket that holds the bottom link forward pivot and the bottom of the shock. Tidy. There’s plenty of evidence of Giant’s manufacturing expertise elsewhere, with the now de rigeur hydroformed pieces and general neatness.
Out on the trails the first thing that struck us was how easy these bikes are to set up. We’re used to fiddling around with shock pumps and things for ages to get suspension bikes working how they’re meant to, but these are a doddle. The Trance in particular is almost a no-brainer – bodyweight in psi in the shock, couple of clicks of rebound, done. Yes, you can carry on fiddling but that gets you 95% of the way there straight off.
And it’s a hell of a 95%. These are excellent bikes. The suspension works a treat in all the ways that matter – it pedals excellently, and there’s just the merest whiff of chain growth to hold the back end up when you start mashing out of the saddle (but not so much that you can feel it kicking back at you over bumps). It feels smooth and composed, and we’re pleased that even the longer-travel bikes manage to be plush yet a bit communicative – they don’t just Hoover up sections of trail and leave you none the wiser as to what it is you’ve just ridden over.
Complementing the suspension is the well-sorted handling on all the variants. The more travel you’ve got the more relaxed the bike is, but they all feel nimble without being attention-seeking and solid without being heavy. The 6in travel Reign is probably our favourite – there doesn’t feel like much of a weight penalty over the 4in Trance considering the 50% more travel, and it’s a very capable bike. The 8in Faith is great fun – we spent most of our time on it either giggling or making engine noises – but you’ll need a fair bit of bottle to seriously challenge it. And yes, they’re good under braking. Final judgement will have to wait for proper tests on home ground, but we’re seriously impressed so far.
Entry level for Giant’s new technology is the Trance 4 at £899. At that price, something’s got to give, and in this case it’s the brakes – Avid SD5s are perfectly good rim brakes but they’re still rim brakes. The frame’s the same as all the other Trance bikes, so it’s well worth upgrading. The shock’s a Float R, the fork’s a Manitou Axel Comp and you get Truvativ cranks, Shimano Deore/LX transmission, Easton finishing kit and some SPDs.
Moving up the range, the Trance 3 (£1,250) gets a RockShox Duke fork, Hayes SOLE disc brake, slightly posher Easton bits and other little tweaks like Mavic rims. There’s some amazingly-specced bikes out there for £1,650, but the Trance 2 is up with the best of them – RockShox Reba SL, Race Face Evolve X-Type cranks, Evolve seatpost, stem and bars, LX/XT transmission, DT hubs, Hayes HFX-9 brakes and Time ATAC Alium pedals. Top of the Trance tree is the Trance 1, with an RP3 shock, Fox Float RL fork, Race Face Deus cranks, bar and stem, RF Next carbon seatpost, XT/XTR transmission, Mavic CrossMax XL wheels and Hayes brakes with carbon levers for £2,500.
It’s worth noting that all the Trance bikes are available in sizes from 14.5 to 22in – I’m 6ft and was happy on an 18, so the 22 should fit the bill for any really tall riders who’re struggling to find something to fit.
The Reign bikes start at £1,250 for the Reign 3 (Manitou Swinger 3-Way shock, Splice Elite fork, RF Ride XC cranks, LX/Deore transmission, Hayes SOLE brakes, Easton bits and those Time pedals again), moving up to £1,750 for the Reign 2 (Nixon Elite fork, Evolve cranks and things, LX/XT transmission, HFX-9 brakes) and topping out at £2,500 for the Reign 1 with Nixon Elite Platinum fork, Evolve cranks, Deus bits, CrossMax XL wheels, XT transmission and Hayes HFX-9 brakes with carbon levers.
Big-travel Faith bikes kick off at £,1500, with the Faith 3 packing a Manitou Metel RP shock, Marzocchi Drop-Off twin-crown fork, Truvativ Hussefelt cranks and pedals, Hayes SOLE HD brakes and Deore/Alivio transmission. If you can find another £499, the Faith 2 features a Manitou Swinger 6-Way shock, Marzocchi Jr T fork, Race Face Evolve DH cranks, SRAM X-7 transmission, HFX-9HD brakes and Easton finishing kit. Again, £2,500 is the top of the range, and the Faith 1 has a Fox DHX4.0 shock, Marzocchi 66RC fork, RF Diabolus cranks, LX/XT transmission and Hayes HFX-9 HD brakes.
There’s also frame-only options – £799 for the Trance, £899 for the Reign and £1,250 for the Faith. It’s all good-value stuff, first riding impressions are great – Giant looks like being on to a winner here. Full tests soon – in the meantime you can have a gander at all the bikes at www.giant-bicycles.com.