First ride: 2018 Giant Anthem 29er

After a three-year hiatus, Giant’s Anthem 29er returns to the South African market with more technology, less weight and spec and pricing levels that blow its competition away.

Words By Aaron Borrill // Photographs By Robert Ward // Rider Ryan Lenferna

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The popularity of the 650b appears to be in decline, I’m afraid. Even the anti-conformist world of fast-paced downhill mountain biking is showing a definitive move towards embracing the benefits of the 29er. In South Africa, the demise of the smaller wheels has unfolded faster than in any other country, and it’s Giant – early adopters of the 650b recipe – who have felt the true brunt of this effect, with a notable dip in sales and popularity. Owing to global pressure from key markets around the world (including from local distributors Dragons Sports), the Taiwanese-based company was forced to do an about-face and re-introduce bigger wheels for the 2018-model year – a move it hopes will rekindle a string of lost disciples and put Giant back on the map here in South Africa.

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The Wheel Deal

The new Anthem is a striking thing to behold. While it stays true to its predecessor’s basic design traits, a slew of contemporary tweaks to its geometry have aligned it more closely with the ‘slacker is better’ ethos of its rivals.

“From a visual point of view, the bike doesn’t look like a typical XCO whip – it looks a lot more like a trail-orientated bike, and that’s what I feel it excels at.” – Ryan Lenferna, Mauritian XCO rider

Giant describes it as an outright racing bike; and as such, the alloy frame has been skinned out to make it thinner and lighter, while the introduction of a 27.2mm seat post aids in low-speed compliance, and weight saving too. It also benefits from a lower stand-over height, longer wheelbase and a relaxed head angle, for improved handling and climbing ability. Its agility is further bolstered by a shorter stem and reduced chainstays. Our test unit is the alloy Anthem 2 – painted in a fiery-red hue offset by black accents and details, it looks exquisite. It’s also exceptionally well-specced for its price point, and gets a Shimano 1×11 SLX drivetrain as standard fitment.

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Fast and fiery

While this is neither the range-topping alloy Anthem 1 nor the halo all-carbon Anthem Advanced Pro, it’s still pretty direct in terms of outright speed and precision. It does have a genuine trail bike feel about it (as do its rivals), a sensation accentuated by the ‘saddle-up-stem-down’ riding position.

Our guest test rider, Ryan Lenferna, loved the way the bike performed on the ups and downs of the Bloemendal MTB trails in Durbanville, Cape Town.

“The slack head angle paired with the short stem and wide handlebars makes for a super-fun and responsive bike that feels really capable on any trail. The Anthem’s attributes instil extra confidence in the rider, which is great for novice MTBers who tend to make mistakes.”

Like all XCO bikes that have adopted modern frame geometry, the Anthem is certainly better suited to the fast-paced confines of singletrack, rather than climbs – it’s a competent performer, but lacks the outright climbing efficiency of a stiffer full-suspension carbon bike such as the Scott Spark RC 900 (we haven’t tested the Anthem Advanced Pro yet). That said, it’s no slouch when the gradient kicks up – oh no. The Anthem dismisses trickier, technical climbs with relative ease and confidence, thanks to its shorter chainstays and forgiving 32T front ring/11-42T cassette gear ratios.

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Red, hot rollercoaster

A couple of downhill switchbacks are all you need to realise the Anthem’s well-rounded handling resume. From its relaxed head angle (69 degrees) and shorter stays to the longer reach and increased wheelbase, it’s been designed to consume singletrack as fast and with as little fuss as possible.

Controlled. That’s a word that keeps popping up, particularly in fast cornering manoeuvres – it’s so balanced, it’s just a matter of picking your line, dropping the outside leg, leaning into the corner and repeating. Lateral grip is in abundance, and never feels like it will relent. Much of this comes down to Giant’s famed floating pivot system, Maestro, updated for 2018 and 29er application. As the name suggests, the system hinges around a single floating pivot point, which in theory improves efficiency by nullifying pedal input forces such as suspension squat and bobbing.

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With 90mm of rear and 100mm of front travel, compliments of Fox, the suspension can be tailored to your preference; but the lack of any form of remote lockout lever means you’ll have tinker with your hand on the bars… Get this set right though, and the results are simply sublime – plush, compliant ride quality with sufficient small-bump damping. Stopping power could be better, but the standard Shimano stoppers are par for the course and price point.

And then there’s the boost hub spacing – standard on the 29er range, it results in stiffer wheels, added tyre clearance, and better handling.

“The bike felt super-responsive, and the suspension did actively work – giving a good pedalling platform when you dial in the power.”

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Nuts and bolts

After three years away, the Giant Anthem 29er has made a welcome return to the ultra-competitive XCO market. Does it have the hallmark attributes to win back lost supporters? We think so. It’s fast, versatile and appreciably well-specced for where it’s positioned in the range – not to mention its confidence-inspiring geometry, which is truly flattering in a serpentine environment. The Anthem 2 is a solid all-round package – and as such, is likely to be the volume seller, thanks to the R39 495 sticker price.

That said the range offers something for everyone – those with a penchant for speed should check out the Anthem 1 (alloy with carbon wheels), while the sub-10kg Anthem Advanced Pro will find favour with the bona fide racing snake or weight-weenie.

Giant is back – the Anthem is everything we hoped it would be,, and may very well have all the qualities to take the fight to – and possibly usurp – the segment’s leading players. Bring on the group test…

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