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Giant Trance X 29 3 -- A Review

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Giant Trance X 29 3 -- A Review

Old 12-13-21, 03:56 PM
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Giant Trance X 29 3 -- A Review

Initial Riding Impressions:
Day 1: My first ride was just six paved miles home from the shop. The "spoke protector" (dork disc) hardly survived the short route, making me feel good about not starting right out on the trails. The seat was a little low, too, but not uncomfortably so; I was still settling into the short reach and long wheelbase, anyhow.

Day 2: I started the day by removing the loose spoke protector, then the handlebar reflector, the seat post reflector, both wheel reflectors, and four pedal reflectors -- better removed than littered on the trail. I slid the seat backwards in its clamp, leveled the seat, then raised the seatpost. I banded a Garmin mount to the handlebar and checked the tire pressure. Everything seemed ready to go!

I headed first for Spring Lake -- the park has about 11 miles of singletrack, much of which winds up and down steep, rocky, and loose limestone bluffs. Starting slow, I mimicked the lines I'd mastered on a rigid bike; gradually, I started to try more daring routes with taller ledges and larger boulders: the bike was far more capable than I was confident -- everything I tried seemed rather manageable. Some of the harder lines that the full suspension made possible weren't even faster, but sometimes, just more fun. At 5'10", the reach on the Medium frame initially felt a little short (but a Large, with an inch more top tube and 10mm more stem was much too large in the shop parking lot). It didn't take long to start getting comfortable though; despite the long wheelbase, it was easy to shift weight forward and backward -- and even easier once I tried the dropper post.

After riding most of the Spring Lake trails, I crossed town for Purgatory Creek -- though the creek trails are less hilly, they are much more technically challenging, with long rock gardens. The full suspension exceeded my expectations, keeping the wheels planted and taking the sting out of the crawl from rock to rock. I rode nearly 25 miles of singletrack. Water storage was clearly an issue, as I could only carry a 16oz bottle in the frame; thankfully, the city parks both have fountains. I was also concerned about tools and spares, which were currently pulling hard on the back pockets of my jersey; I'd prefer a toolkit stored on the bike. Lastly, the seat was still feeling a bit low and I had only used half of the front suspension travel.

Day 3: I was definitely sore from the previous days, but the weather was clear and drying -- the rocks would be offering more traction and I really wanted to keep dialing the rig. I started early in the morning by stitching a small frame bag for tools. I also let 5 PSI out of the fork, raised the seat a bit further, and checked the tires again - still 25 PSI. I set out aiming to ride just Spring Lake, but intending to focus on the hills. I didn't magically clear every climb. Some offs were, perhaps, technical errors: leaving the rear suspension full open on hard climbs, or attacking in too high of gears. A handful of failed climbs were simply fatigue -- and staunch reminders that the bike still weighed over 35lbs. I did clear many of the climbs though -- maybe not as quickly as on a hardtail, but confidently, smoothly, and comfortably. Unfortunately, the dropper post -- which I still hadn't really learned to use -- had started a precocious creaking, and the frame bag I had stitched sagged a bit closer to the shock than I was comfortable with. I wrapped up my ride and headed home with a new list of tweaks to consider.

Day 4: Before any more trail miles, I shorted up the frame bag and raised the seat a bit further; I was ready to ride early and decided to venture across town to Purgatory -- I was going to start at the top of the park, with the most technically challenging sections of trail in the city. With the minor adjustments, the dropper post was curiously silent again.

Starting down the trail, two black diamond sections -- steep and loose sections of the dry creek bed -- had me walking, but otherwise, I cleared more of the trail than ever before. The challenging bits also encouraged me to experiment with the dropper post. I learned I didn't need to slam the post all the way down all the time; just an inch or two cleared the way for quick fore-aft movements in the chunk and made pushing the bike around a bit quicker. Rather than sticking to the easier trails, as I would have on a hardtail, I ended up repeating laps on the hard stuff. I ended up with another day over 20 miles, and was finally starting to feel comfortable with the suspension, the dropper, and the modern frame geometry.

Day 6: After a much needed rest day, I set out for an adventure day on the Trance X: Milton Reimers Ranch Park, just outside of Austin. I packed everything up the night before, planning an early arrival to the trails (yet I somehow forgot a water bottle, at least I had a water-bladder in my backpack). Having never been before, I was excited to see what the park had to offer, and how the Trance X would manage. The day ended with over 25 miles of single track, and I was debating on riding more. There was a bit of cross-country trail throughout, and although heavy, the bike could still get up to speed. In other places though, the trails were ungroomed Hill Country: limestone ledges with a scattered layer of loose boulders to make it interesting. The Trance X went up and down with minimal complaint. By the end of the day, my knees were still a bit sore from the bumps going down and the torque going up, but my hands, feet, and saddle were all as comfortable as could be after more than three hours of pedaling. Reimers Park blew through most of the rear suspension, but the front suspension had only used up about 5 out of 6 inches of travel; that said, I never fouled up any of the drops and walked a few of the steeps on the first lap -- it's possible a rougher course or a quick mistake could bottom out the suspension, front and rear.

Components Summary:
The main investment, as I see it, was the frame itself -- since the Trance X 3 is an entry-level full-suspension, I imagined I would be slowly replacing components over time, and would have the opportunity to upgrade where necessary. Though I have little other full-suspension experience to compare it too, I can compare the 'modern' geometry against my old rigid, steel, 71 head angle with long chainstays: the Giant is more confident on the downs, with the rider's weight better centered on the climbs, and both are achieved while also maintaining an incredible amount of ground clearance (though I have been running the 'flip-chip' in its High Clearance position). Other details, like the cable routing and linkages are well thought out; the fork doesn't need a 'knock-block', since there is enough clearance engineered into the downtube to prevent any contact. I'm certain the frame is a bit heavy compared to some competitors, but I hope that the extra weight might translate to a more durable chassis.

The suspension parts were also big parts of the investment, and both front and rear shocks are performing well enough after a hundred miles. The Fox Float Performance model offers three suspension positions (firm, centered, and soft). Firm is near-enough to a lockout for pedaling to the trailhead, while the center position was all that I used for up and down at Reimers. Switching to soft is really comfortable for the chunky downhills on the Spring Lake bluffs, but it wasn't exactly necessary; often I'd forget to switch back to center, and trying to climb in soft mode only guaranteed a few pedal strikes. I am a bit mixed on the Rockshox 35 -- the fork feels rather capable on the big hits, but it isn't very responsive to smaller more repetitive bumps; of course, this could be a matter of settings and configuration -- I'll have to experiment more with the compression and rebound settings, as well as the air pressure.

No one should have to replace brakes on a brand new bike -- Giant did good to spec a reasonable brake setup for the Trance X. The Shimano MT420 has been an excellent starting point: the levers actuate smoothly and firmly, the pads have had a strong bite since the first mile, and the 203mm rotor on the front should be hard to overheat (and it's still an oversized 180mm on the rear).

I might have wished for a Shimano drivetrain (in addition to those brakes), but the SRAM SX groupset is hard to avoid in the current bike market. It's not the quietest, but it does shift up and down when told to. Sometimes, the noises are loud enough I have to wonder if the chain has slipped a gear, but even so, I haven't noticed any problematic ghost-shifting. I'm thankful that the groupset is, overall, a cheaper part of the complete bike package: it won't be so gut-wrenching to replace it once it is time. That said, I'm certain to get a few hundred more miles (if not thousands) out of the system, before any replacements come due.

The contact points are all Giant branded of course, but they are not bad in any way. The wide bars and short stem are par for the course these days, but at least you can always cut them down a bit if necessary (though I am getting comfortable with the nearly 800mm bars). The front end is a little stiff (as I mentioned with the fork), and it's not clear just how much the oversized 35mm stem contributes to that feeling -- it could be that moving to a more traditional 31mm stem could bring back a little bit of that small-bump compliance I have had on hardtails in the past. The Giant Romero saddle is suitable enough for a few hours at a time.

The most questionable component, so far, has been the Giant Contact Dropper Post. It works well enough, but the creaking that has come and gone (and come back) is enough of a reason to dislike it (it really is that obnoxious)! It can also 'lock up' a bit at times, resisting dropping even with the release-lever wide open and full body weight resting on it -- I've taken a few drops at full mast where I'd hoped the dropper would have helped me out (at least I am used to the old rigid seatposts still, so getting weight back wasn't too hard). It's clear after just a few rides how much a dropper post can make steep terrain more manageable and jump lines more playful; whether the Giant Contact ends up broken or warrantied, I may have to consider a better reviewed dropper post in the future.

Last of all, then, is the wheels. They are as heavy as the reviewers say! I don't mind, though, really -- I choose 'overbuilt' for most of my bikes, and these wheels fit the description nicely: cheap and dependable. Certainly, we could shave a pound or so off the bike with just a change of the wheels. Of course, the tires are overweight too -- the Minion and Dissector durable and dependable too, but they also climb right up the sides of loose rocks and on the way down, they catch traction on the teeniest ledges imaginable. The tires fit the package though; putting a "cross-country" tire on an all-out "trail" bike just seems ... wrong.

Final Thoughts:
I chose the Trance X 29 3 so that I wouldn't have to worry as much about being under-biked on the closest local trails. Even so, at 150mm front and 135mm rear suspension, I don't feel particularly over-biked either. I think the Trance hits a sweet spot: something less than and lighter than a typical Enduro Bike, and something much more than a typical Cross-Country Bike (does this mean it's a Trail Bike, or are we calling it Downcountry now)? It's a durable machine for the occasional 2-5 five foot drops, and would be happy to chew up a cross-country course all day long (or all season long). I'm happy to know that I'm not bottoming out every single ride, though I do come close. It may be an entry-level option, but it's a frame to grow with, to tune to your own style, and to keep coming back for more: I imagine we'll be seeing the Trance X around the trails for a few years to come.
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Old 12-14-21, 09:24 AM
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Nice review! I too just bought a Trance 29 3, but not the X version. Still haven't taken it out on a trail due to busy weekend schedule with kids.

I have noticed the heavy wheels when taking off while ride-wrapping some parts of the frame. Was very surprised to see that Shimano has sealed bearing hubs....and wow, they are loud.

I've been reading and watching other reviews that stated the Shimano MT420's were not necessarily much better than the Shimano MT200's since they don't have enough power. I will be interested to test this myself.

Now I understand why some reviewers have been replacing the Giant dropper post. Hoping mine doesn't creak as bad, but being a larger guy, am now worried.

I have to say though, this is my first dual suspension bike and am very excited to testing this bike out soon!
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