Blowing off some of our work on Sunday, we visited Bicycle World and Fitness in the Rice Village (Houston, TX) and came away with one of their demo bikes: the GIANT XTC 29′er 1. This is the top of the line model of hardtail 29′er from GIANT and we were very impressed with the bike.
The claimed weight from Giant is around 25 lbs (depending on frame size). We had the Medium frame at our disposal. We took to the trails at Memorial Park, brought along a small video camera and a fully rigid 26′er singlespeed (pretty much the polar opposite bike) to see how the supposedly slow handling big wheels fared against a razor sharp fully rigid 26′er. The results were impressive. The singletrack out at the park is known for being excessively rooty. This causes a lot of trouble on the 26′er, requiring frequent line adjustments and careful choices. The response (in part thanks to a new chain and chainline adjustment from BW&F) from the 26′er was sharp as expected, and heading down descents was a little hairy, but with some butt hanging off the seat weight shifting went as usual.
Enough about small wheels, you all want to hear about the 29′er right? Simply put, this thing rocked. We were able to throw power at the descents and with only minor shifts in weight, continue to lay the power down throughout the descent. This bike sinks like cement sneakers. Don’t think that it’s climbing prowess is affected either: when heading up the short rooty climbs that characterize the trails at Memorial Park, the bike laid down the power perfectly. It had the grip of a full suspension 26′er with none of the pedal bob or lost power, since the hydroformed aluminum tubing was working overtime to put every watt of power from the crank into the dirt.
The steering on the Giant was slow and predictable, compared to the nervous steering of the 26′er. This didn’t seem to hinder it in the twisty sections at the back of the “Green Trail.” Rather than steering with the hands, the bike felt very motorcycle-like, responding with telepathic like prowess to movements of the hips, and utilizing the wide 29′er specific bars developed by Giant to maintain a solid and clean line. This bike is very comfortable leaned way over and powering through turns.
The bottom bracket on the Giant felt a bit low, however. Part of the stability of the bike may come from this placement, and although the tendency with a big wheeler is to just roll over everything, occasionally when hitting a sudden stair-like rise in the trail, a little bit of bunnyhopping coercion was needed to smoothly transition the whole bike over the obstacle. Still, when doing this the big wheels were able to provide ample grip to throw the machine over anything in its path.
We like big wheels. We like a good value, too. At around $2100 list price, the Giant XTC 29′er (XTC 1 model with a fox fork) represents a very good bargain as far as race ready XC rigs go. If you have $2100 burning a hole in your pocket, I present to you a fantastic way to spend it. We were sad to return the bike, and I’m sure it will bring you lots of smooth rolling big wheeling smiles.