Coming from a five-strong lineup of Anthems, Advanced 1 is the second model from the top, one of two Advanced Anthems with the sexy carbon front end. There’s a women’s version too from Giant’s women’s specific range LIV – the LIV Lust is the Anthem’s sister, sharing the same appetite for fast cross country riding.
Also available in the Anthem family is the fun-loving SX range, a half step towards the bigger travel Giant Trance with a longer 120mm travel fork, a dropper post and a slightly more aggressive parts kit. We reviewed the 2015 Anthem Advanced SX 27.5 and had a ball riding it, check that one out here: Giant Anthem Advanced SX 27.5 review.
Before you read our full review, have a read of our first impressions of the Anthem (Flow’s First Bite – Anthem Advanced 27.5 1). Or for more on the whole 2016 Giant range, take a look at our highlights here: Best bits from the 2016 Giant show. And same from the latest LIV range: 2016 LIV.
The Anthem is a lean, low and sharp bike with a minimal 100mm of suspension travel, 27.5″ wheels and race-ready frame geometry.
Big carbon shapes join slim aluminium lines out the back, tied together by two widely-set floating linkages. Giant are the kings of carbon (or composite) manufacturing, their Taiwanese facility is enormous, producing high grade carbon versions of all their performance mountain bikes, even the new Glory downhill bike comes in the light and lively Advanced carbon. And with a lifetime warranty on all Giants, they are a sure bet.
Suspension: Giant have been running with their tried and proven Maestro floating link suspension design for quite some time across their entire range, and our experiences have always been fantastic. Providing a stable bike with just the right amount of suspension activity whilst pedalling, the Anthem doesn’t skip around when you’re hammering down hard on the cranks.
The lower shock pivot and main suspension pivot share the same axle, providing a wide and remarkably laterally rigid junction between the front and rear end. A heavy shove of the back wheel into a corner will show you that despite its low weight, it’s quite tough and feels super solid beneath you.
Geometry: We are talking about a race bike here, so it’s no surprise to see some pretty sharp numbers on the geometry chart. A 69.5 degree head angle when paired with the 100mm travel forks makes for a twitchy front end that wants for an experienced pilot, and the sharp 73 degree seating angle pitches you right over the front wheel.
Finish: Get up close to this Anthem and you’ll see yourself staring right back at you, the paint is smooth and glossy. The cables are housed internally through the front end of the frame for neatness sake, but they do enter the frame at an angle that makes them bow outwards, requiring a trim or they’ll rub your knees when pedalling out of the saddle.
Wheel size: The 100mm travel suspension bike category is overwhelmingly dominated by 29ers, but Giant are firmly (very firm) devoted to 27.5″ wheels.
There are still a couple 29er Anthems in the Giant catalogue, one in carbon and one aluminium. But the Anthem X 29 uses the older style frame without internal cable routing and has an older frame design that looks dated. Surely there are riders out there who want the bigger wheels, and Giant aren’t catering for them at present with their best offerings.
For $4999 there is a lot to like about this bike, especially with the new 11-speed Shimano XT, premium FOX Suspension and Giant’s lightweight carbon wheels.
Shimano: Shimano’s new 11-speed groupset won us over last year when we put it on long term review, the wide range single ring drivetrain and snappy brakes are a big jump up from the previous XT group, performing on-par with Shimano’s mega light XTR kit. Read that Shimano XT review here – Shimano XT long term test.
While the absence of a front derailleur certainly removes a lot of clutter and extra complication, there is a penalty to pay in terms of gear range. But the new Shimano XT Rhythm Step cassette with the 11-42 tooth range paired with the 32 tooth ring up front, we found enough gears for the steep climbs and only used the 11 tooth sprocket on the roads.
Shifting through the gears is remarkably precise and positive, the thumb lever may feel a little harder to push than a SRAM or older XT did but you will know what gear you are in thanks to a loud click and the gear indicator window will take the guess work out of it all.
The brakes are amazing, up there with the best out there. A light squeeze of one finger will give you all the power you need, delivered in a very controllable and consistent manner. There’s nothing to worry about when these brakes are fitted to a bike.
FOX: Straight from the first page in the FOX catalogue is the Factory level fork and shock, the top shelf kit in their category. With all the external adjustments and their finest dampers, the Anthem really is running the best on offer.
The Float 32 Factory fork uses a remote lever to control the three position compression dial, while we appreciate how well it works (and the ergonomic lever is a damn sight better than the older version) we just don’t go wild for remote fork lockouts. Considering how often we touch the rear shock settings, we’d prefer to have a remote going back to the rear shock rather than the fork, but that’s probably not the case for all riders. If it bothers you, an aftermarket conversion is available from FOX to ditch the remote and run the compression adjuster with a standard dial on top of the fork leg.
Out the back the tiny Float shock has a very useable range of adjustment that we would regularly take advantage of throughout the ride, it’s easy to find the right setting for the trails ahead with the flick of the blue lever. For such a tiny unit it packs some serious punch, taking the biggest hits without a worry and it is so insanely supple, working away quickly to absorb high frequency impacts effortlessly.
Giant PXCR 1C wheels: Giant are clearly investing serious time and brainpower into their in-house brand wheelsets, their road bike carbon wheels are gaining loads of space in the peleton, and these PXCR 1C hoops are a mighty hot addition to the Anthem.
The rim is certainly skinny, with a narrow 21mm internal width you can’t go too low on tyre pressure, but blimey they do roll fast! The 27.5″ Anthem with its light wheels and tyres accelerates from a standstill like a BMX race bike, getting you up to speed with little effort – this is one of the real positives of the smaller wheel in this category of bike, it just flies out of corners when you put the power down. Through the tighter singletrack where you’re constantly slowing and accelerating your legs will appreciate such a zippy set of wheels.
They even sound fast (in a good way), with that whooshing carbon sound echoing through them when you give them a nudge through a fast turn. They may be subtle in appearance, but know you’ve got lively carbon wheels on your bike when it’s time to pick up the pace.
Schwalbe’s Racing Ralph tyres use the Liteskin casing and Pacestar triple compound for a seriously light and tacky tyre, not amazing in the wet trails but certainly providing good traction on harder surfaces. Supplied with the bike is a tubeless kit, with valves and rim tape. Don’t go near trails without first fitting up the kit and ditching the tubes! Our test bike took a couple of rides before they really sealed up airtight, so keep an eye on them.
In one word – sharp. The Anthem knows its place on the trails and doesn’t give the rider any mixed messages, it’s a lightning quick handler and a rapid steering bike, that is best utilised in competent hands.
Climbing: Race you to the top! The Anthem is your express lift pass to the top of the mountain, a brilliant climber. It’s the combination of the roomy and low cockpit shape, overall lightweight, compression adjustable suspension and fast rolling wheels that blend a perfect concoction of efficiency to propel you up the climbs.
Don’t ignore the suspension settings, use them to your advantage. In the lighter compression setting the shock does bob about a little bit as your push on the pedals, so it’s worth familiarising yourself with what the little blue and black dials on the fork and shock do before hitting the trails. Your bike shop is handy for those face to face tutorials.
Climbing switchbacks is a real highlight on this bike, you can really get up and out of the saddle and yank on the bars as you crank on the pedals providing a strong position to use your whole body instead of just your legs. Where some of our test bikes get hung up and stall, we ripped around tight climbing turns without a worry on the Anthem.
Cornering: While the Anthem might fly around a worn-in purpose-built cross country race track, it’s no trail shredder and prefers to keep its tyres on the ground. Take it back country and off the beaten path and you’ll have to hold on tight and keep your wits about you, but cutting laps on a familiar and predictable loop of trail and it’ll match your hard efforts with speed in return.
While an experienced cross country rider will have no troubles, to others the Anthem could be a hand full to manage, the long and low cockpit tends to put you in a position that doesn’t exactly lend itself to tipping the bike over into a corner or helping you hook in with the side knobs of the tyres. It won’t respond so well to flamboyant or reckless riding like the Anthem SX or Trance does.
The 27.5″ wheels do great things to the bike’s agility, you can twist and weave through tight singletrack like crazy, and we were setting fast times through those stop-start trails with loads of tight turns.
Descending: The FOX suspension and the Maestro do a stellar job of gobbling up the rough trails, but if it gets steep, things get a bit nervous. The long stem gives the Anthem its top climbing marks, but it does put you right over the front when the trail points down, especially as there’s no dropper post to help you get your weight low. At the risk of sacrificing the bike’s ultimate climbing performance, you could experiment with a shorter stem to bring you up and back a little towards the centre of the bike, especially if the trails you frequent are steep or loose.
The Shimano XT brakes are solid insurance when descending. If you do come in a bit hot, they’ll rein it all in quick smart. The lever fits so perfectly under a single index finger letting the rest of your hand grip the bars securely.
What we’d change: The Anthem comes with a super-long rear brake and gear cable, and when we dropped the stem down on the steer tube they got even longer. When climbing out of the saddle our knees would knock the cables, so give it some TLC and lop a few inches off them.
If your trails are rough and loose, perhaps experiment with a shorter stem and a meatier front tyre for a little added confidence through the turns and down the hills.
Otherwise the Anthem is dialled and ready out of the box, Giant have done a great job dressing this one.
After a few weeks of riding we got to understand what this bike lives for, and we learnt to love the Anthem on trails that suited its competitive streak. But you really need to understand what you’re getting into if considering one: if you’re into racing, or riding buff trails you’ll love it, it’s an absolute rocket on fast race tracks. On the other hand if you’re less experienced and/or are keen for a bike that’ll be more confident on a variety of trail types or you want a rig to blast around for the fun of it, we’d suggest a test ride the Anthem SX or Trance too.
And the wheel size debate? Well, once on board, we soon forgot about the 29 vs 27.5 wheel size thing. Our time on the Anthem was spent ripping through singletrack so fast it was hard to believe we could have done it any faster, no matter what wheel size it had.