- Giant XTC NRS3
- 0115 9775900
With all the brouhaha about new supsension designs like Santa Cruz’s VPP, Marin’s Quad and Specialized’s Epic, it’s easy to forget that there’s been a bike offering hardtailesque smooth-trail climbing and sprinting with FS downhill plushness for a few years now. Giant’s NRS (No Resonance System) design has been quietly doing the business largely unchanged for ages. So how does it stack up against the new wave opposition?
It’s a little-known fact that Giant is one of the biggest bike manufacturers in the whole of the wonderful world. They started out manufacturing frames for other people (and indeed they still do), but soon branched out with their own range. What this means for the end user is a really good frame for the money, because unlike most manufacturers Giant actually own the factory that the frames are made in.
The NRS3 frame is built from Giant’s proprietary AluXx 6013 tubing. It’s highly-manipulated stuff, with swaged-in gusset-style shaping up front. The front triangle is a pretty stout bit of kit, and looks good in the “raw” finish. Out back is the NRS suspension. It’s essentially a chainstay pivot, four bar linkage design, but it has a couple of interesting tweaks to give the bike its unique ride characteristics. The most obvious difference is the hugely extended dropouts to give unusually low and forward-set chainstay pivots. The shock linkage allows adjustment of travel, with 75 and 95mm options. All of the rear suspension pivots run on sealed cartridge bearings. The shock is a Giant own-brand air unit with adjustable rebound damping, a downspec from the SID Dual Air shocks found on bikes higher in the range.
The geometry of the rear suspension gives an axle path with a tighter radius and hence more rearward movement in the early part of the stroke than, say, an Epic. You also get more chain growth towards bottom out. That’s combined with a shock that’s intended to be set up with essentially no sag to create a bike that on smooth surfaces runs topped-out but requires only the smallest of bumps underwheel to leap into action. That’s the theory, anyway…
The headset is a recessed unit. It’s a headset style that hasn’t really caught on, but Giant are quite fond of it. You get bottle mounts above and below the downtube and a quick-release seatclamp completes the frame picture. Other than the shock, the same frame is found on the other models in the NRS range right up to the £3,000 NRS Air, so it’s a pretty good deal at a three-figure price tag.
Kitting out a full sus bike to hit a sub-£1,000 price point is always going to be a compromise. But Giant have done a pretty good job here. The fork is a RockShox Pilot, an inexpensive SID derivative. It’s clearly not a match for more sophisticated forks, but it has competent (and adjustable) damping and the slimline looks are entirely at home on the racy NRS.
Wheels comprise anonymous hubs laced to Mavic X139 rims and shod with fast-rolling Hutchinson Python Airlight tyres. They wouldn’t be our first choice, particularly in sloppy conditions, but on firmer trails they’re confident performers. The hubs aren’t disc-compatible, a shame given that the frame and forks are.
Brakes are from Avid, while Race Face cranks drive a Shimano Deore/LX mix transmission. Bar and stem are respectable Titec items along with the seatpost which is topped with a decent WTB Rocket V saddle. Giant also chuck in a bottle and cage. Special mention to the carbon fibre headset spacers and top cap – no big deal weight-wise but a nice touch. And it’s always good to see a couple of spacers under the stem, giving at least a little scope for height adjustment.
There’s nothing here that demands immediate replacement, and nothing else in this price bracket springs to mind as offering substantially better value. There’s certainly plenty of upgrade potential, though – that three grand NRS Air we mentioned earlier teams the same frame with a SID Team and full XTR…
Hop on the NRS and charge up a smooth climb and you’d swear you were on a hardtail. The suspension doesn’t move at all from pedalling. But encounter bumps and the shock comes to life. It’s not an on-off sensation such as the Epic’s BRAIN gives you, it just moves fluidly from poised-and-ready to actually doing stuff. Where it scores over the Epic is in its sensitivity to the smaller stuff. The BRAIN shock on the Epic won’t get out of bed for anything less than a 1g hit, which we found kept it locked out over all sorts of little pattery stuff that we’ve got used to suspension absorbing. The NRS, though, swallows it up but keeps a hardtail’s directness. The suppleness is largely down to that distinctly rearward axle path we mentioned earlier, and also relies on the shock being set up with just the tiniest whiff of sag (like 1mm or so). The Giant shock on this model isn’t quite as effective on this bike as the Dual Air SID on its more expensive siblings – the adjustable negative spring on the SID unit allows you to perfectly balance the main spring so it takes less oomph to get things moving. The NRS3 is still highly effective on the little stuff, though.
As with all things, there are compromises. Part of the Giant’s zip under power is down to a fair bit of chain growth throught the travel, which tends to bring the suspension back towards its topped out position if you pedal hard. It’s a little like a single-pivot bike although the effect is more modest. This, along with the absence of sag in the system which prevents the wheel from dropping into dips and hollows, means that you don’t get the uphill traction benefits of some suspension bikes if you’re cranking uphill. It’s no worse than a hardtail but it’s not really a great deal better either. The no-sag thing also makes the NRS slightly below par on steppy descents. Most FS bikes will drop the rear wheel through their sag down a step, retaining a fair degree of composure for the rider. The NRS, however, will drop bodily off the first step in a sequence and just absorb the impact. Subsequent steps are handled better. It’s not a problem as long as you’re ready for it…
It’s a great handling bike, though. Earlier NRS bikes leant a tad towards the short side, but our medium test bike packed a full 23in effective top tube. Combined with a middling length stem and pleasingly-shaped bars, the cockpit works out very nicely. The whole thing has “neutral” and “balanced” written all over it. If you push hard in corners you’ll detect some flex from the long dangly dropouts out back and we’re not going to pretend that the Pilot fork is the stiffest thing in the world, but really it’s nothing we found troublesome. If you’re a big, aggressive rider it may be more of an issue, but then you’re probably not in the market for a bike like this.
All in all we found the NRS to be a valuable ally in most situations. It’s not at its best in really gnarly rocky stuff but it’s very predictable and flows beautifully in the twisties. We had a lot of fun riding it and you can’t ask a great deal more than that. And if you fancy a plusher ride at the expense of a bit of get-up-and-go, just let a bit of air out of the shock…
We’re amazed that we don’t see more of these bikes out there. The NRS design is among the best blends of hardtail zip and suspension comfort that we’ve encountered. The compromise is that the suspension doesn’t offer all of the control and traction advantages that some bikes offer, but if your priorities are going (and feeling) fast without getting too beaten up then one of these should definitely be on your shortlist.