19 Jan 2018

The bike we've been patiently waiting for from Giant is finally here, a cross-country race bike with... wait for it... 29" wheels. Yay!

The not-so-minor details

Product

Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29er 0

Contact

Giant Bicycles Australia

https://www.giant-bicycles.com

Price

8999

Weight

10080

Positives

Race-ready 29er.
Fast rolling and ultra-efficient.
Supple Fox suspension.
SRAM Eagle drivetrain.

Negatives

On/off suspension lockout, nothing in between.
27.2mm seat post restricts dropper post options.

The new Giant Anthem 29 is finally here; we’ve wanted this bike for a while now, this is the bike we needed from you, Giant. Thanks for listening!

Hammer time! Laying down the power aboard the Anthem was amazing, so fast.
Giant has finally produced the XC race bike we’ve been waiting for.

Welcome back, Anthem 29!

Back before the wheel size thing dominated discussions and confused everyone, Giant Anthems were everywhere at the races; they were light, fast, affordable and always really well specced. But over the past few years, Giant stubbornly stuck to their guns by only producing 27.5″ wheel bikes. In the meantime, other brands began to make really great 29ers and gained major ground on the biggest brand in Oz.

Yes, we are pumped to see this bike come to fruition. We know it’ll be a welcome sight for the keen mountain biker that pushes their fitness and loves to lap around the race track.

While Giant went all-in with 27.5″,  the rest of industry seemed to finally figure things out with 29ers. Frame geometries and handling characteristics improved and component manufacturers overcame their teething issues – mainly weight problems – and 29ers eventually became the staple choice for cross-country racers due to their rolling speed. Even Nino Schurter – an advocate for smaller 27.5″ wheels – couldn’t resist the momentum and finally went full 29er.

The Anthem name diversified and went through a bit of a reformation during that time too, taking a half-step toward the Trance, Giant’s all-rounder trail bike. The geometry got slacker, travel got longer and many people bemoaned the fact the Anthem seemed to be abandoning its XC racing roots. We reviewed an aluminium version of the 2017 Anthem, check that out here. It turns out Giant were repositioning the 27.5″ Anthem just to make room for the new 29er version.

Yes, we are pumped to see this bike come to fruition, we know it’ll be a welcome sight to the keen mountain biker that pushes their fitness and loves to lap around the race track, hooray!

What’s new with the Anthem 29?

Everything! While still based on Giant’s long-standing Maestro suspension design, the frame is entirely new for 2018, and it looks one million bucks. Sleeker lines than we’ve seen before, cleaner finishes with crisp new graphics and on-point colour matching give the new 2018 Anthem 29 an extra fresh look. The cable management and seat binder system helps clean up the whole package.

There are five Anthem 29 models available here in Oz, with two carbon models (the top-of-the-line $8999 version we have here and a SRAM-specced $5999 version using the same frame). The three aluminium versions range from $2999 to $4999, so, plenty of choices. Taking a closer look at the range will reveal some very appealing bikes for the cash. With great value and well-considered spec for the dollars, the new range is a sure bet.

The one-piece rear end is super trim, smooth shapes and a narrow profile give the bike an air of allurement.

Tell me everything about this new Anthem 29.

For the full rundown on the new bike and the background on the design, jump on over to our coverage of the official launch at Giant’s headquarters in California last year; New Giant Anthem 29!

Oh, that fork! The new FOX 32 SC.

The FOX 32 SC Factory fork is completely marvellous, it is so supportive and stable yet so sensitive, an ideal scenario for cross-country racing.

The way the fork handles the terrain is a great highlight of the bike.

The ‘Open Mode Adjust’ feature is a valuable adjustment; with a few turns of the dial the fork will limit the way it will react to slow movements, so you can still jump up and lean on the bars to sprint away out of the saddle without the front suspension bouncing around wildly, but it’ll still respond to bumps to help the bike from skipping around or deflecting interrupting your direction. The way the fork handles the terrain is a great highlight of the bike.

Read more about the FOX SC in our full review here: FOX 32 SC Factory fork review.

On/off suspension, what about the middle guy?

With the fork having such a useable range of adjustability (with Open Mode Adjust) it’s a pity the rear end only has an on/off lockout.  So much of the time when we ride cross-country or trail bikes, we spend the bulk of our riding time with the shock in the middle compression setting, or ‘trail mode’ as it is often referred to.

On the Anthem, the remote lockout lever gives the rider immediate access to the shock to lock it out, but it’s either fully open or fully firm –  you forgo a useable pedalling platform setting in between on and off. We’d prefer the two settings to be ‘trail and off’ or ‘on and trail’ rather than just on or off.

The new FOX remote lever is very easy to access and light to actuate; we just wish there was more options than on and off.
The tiny little FOX DPS EVOL Factory shock with remote lockout, driven by a stout little one-piece carbon link.

Our gripes with the fork and shock lockout aren’t easily rectified. It’s not merely just a case of fitting a standard shock-mounted lever and taking off the remote and cables to the fork or shock; it’s a different system.

We’d prefer the two settings to be ‘trail and off’ or on and trail’ rather than just on or off.

In fairness to the new FOX system, the lockout lever is particularly ergonomic and is much lighter to push than in years past encouraging more regular use. The cables could do with a trim, and you could even ditch the barrel adjusters to clean it up aesthetically. This might mean more work to get the right cable tension, but it can be done.

Let’s take the Anthem 29 to the race track!

The Anthem 29 is 100% built for cross-country racing, on paper the frame geometry numbers look right on the money. When we hit the dirt, our expectations were met faster than we could say “GO!” – this thing is quick! Stomping on the pedals hard had us winding up the speedometer with brilliant efficiency, and hitting the remote lever on the smooth sections of trail and tarmac practically turned it into a hardtail so you could mash away even harder and not worry about losing energy to the suspension.

Hot summer days ripping laps on the Anthem, locked into position and hunting out more speed.

The Anthem 29 holds terrific speed, staying off the brakes through the singletrack it rolls with such little resistance, you feel very fast on this thing.

A long, outstretched position has you sitting comfortably on the saddle with open shoulders and when standing there’s loads of room to move around. The long reach and tall front end had our backsides firmly planted a lot during a lap of the track, we were reaching with our arms around through the corners, so we experimented with dropping the fork pressure and increasing pressure in the rear end. This propped the bike up and forward more, for a more aggressive cornering position over the front end and had us riding out of the saddle more often.

We love the saddle, way more comfortable than the one on the Giant Reign we’ve been testing, we pushed it forward on the rails a touch to get closer and lower over the front, to get more comfortable with the seated climbing position. We also flipped and lowered the stem for an extra aggressive climbing and cornering position. That’s what this bike is all about; attacking speed and fast corners! If you want all-day comfort and confidence on wilder trails, you could leave the spacers under the stem and keep the front end tall, or better yet check out the longer-travel Giant Trance for an option.

The bars are fairly wide; we’d suggest new owners consider trimming down a centimetre or two unless you’re particularly broad-shouldered, it’ll help speed things up in the twisty stuff.

The Anthem 29 holds terrific speed, staying off the brakes through the singletrack it rolls with such little resistance, you feel very fast on this thing.

Once we got comfortable with a lower front end, we began to ride the front end very aggressively through the turns.

Just 90mm of travel? Short-changed, or just right?

The 90mm of travel surprised us, it doesn’t feel any shorter than a 100mm travel bike, even though we can’t recall the last time we rode a bike with less than 100mmm. We made sure the rebound speed wasn’t too fast, or the bike would bounce back hard after G-out impacts. Keeping the rebound speed slower stabilised the pedalling when the shock was open, also.

Part of Giant’s reasoning behind building the Anthem 29 around only 90mm of travel was that they believe many 100mm race bikes in this category don’t actually use the full 100mm of claimed travel. A frame with dedicated 90mm of travel and its associated moving parts can be packaged into a smaller space to achieve the desired geometry, weight and stiffness. That all sounds pretty fair to us.

It felt smoother and more active than we’d predicted. The new generation FOX DPS rear shock is super-supple and very sensitive off the top of the stroke, helping keep the bike composed through braking ruts and rocky sections.

Dropper post limitations, oh damn.

Building the frame with a 27.2mm seat post in our mind is a massive fail, whether you run a dropper post or not, speccing a 27.2mm post rule out the vast majority of dropper post options. Sure you can still get a 27.2mm dropper post, KS, for example, make one in the small size, but c’mon folks!

At the World Champs in Cairns, we lost count of how many dropper posts there were on cross-country bikes. Even the top pros, like Julien Absalon and Yolanda Neff for example, were running them. If they appreciate the benefits of lowering the saddle for a descent, then surely the punters will too! Admittedly, a thinner post is traditionally more compliant, which is why you see them on a lot of hardtails, but on a dual suspension bike…?

Super SRAM Eagle.

This top-end Anthem 29 comes specced with the brilliant SRAM Eagle XX1 with a 34-tooth chainring for high top-end speed; it might be a bit too tall for a mid-pack rider during a multi-day stage race, keep a 32-tooth handy if the hills are looming. We found ourselves in the lowest gear on the steep climbs of our local XC race track, and we are remarkably powerful bike riders here at Flow… (ha!)

Ah, sweet, sweet Eagle we love you.

10.08kg, nice.

10.08kg is mighty impressive out of the box, trimming the bars, steerer tube and lockout cables it might even be closer to 10kg for extra kudos in the race pits.

A 10kg bike is always going to be a breeze to climb on, but it’s more than just low weight that helps the Anthem on the way up.

Nice bits from Giant.

All of Giant’s best parts are here, and so much carbon! The seat, post, bars, stem, rims are all Giant’s own gear, and it all hit the mark for this bike intended use. Any upgrade areas? Not really, it’s good to go.

This Anthem 29 is supplied with tubeless tape, valves AND sealant, chapeau Giant! For what might seem like a small inclusion to the whole package, it wins big points from us.

Sensible rubber, the Maxxis Ikon is a great dry conditions tyre, keep a spikier one in the gear bag for wet races though. It’s 100% tubeless ready too, nothing missing for a proper setup.

Verdict.

Yay, the Anthem 29 returns to the front of the race pack with a brilliant race bike that will serve the speed-hungry racers with a valid range of options. The top-shelf model we tested is a real winner, we can’t fault its design and ride character, and the high-end parts are spot on for the cash. We might have sounded a bit harsh on the on/off FOX lockout system and lamented the 27.2mm seatpost restricting the dropper post options, as it sure won’t bother everyone. The new Anthem 29 is tops.