-135-millimeter rear travel, 150 front
-Maestro dual-link suspension design
-Fox Live Valve damping
-Fun, lively handling
-Top shelf componentry
-Live Valve adds versatility to otherwise burly intent
-Live Valve needs further refinement to really shine
-It ain’t cheap
Giant has positioned the Trance range as the brand’s designated “do-it-all” trail family, and amends each model with a barrage of suffixes to denote specifically how the doing it all is to be done. In this case, “X” signifies extra travel – 135mm up from 115mm rear travel on the regular Trance, and up to a degree slacker head angle. “Advanced Pro” means you get a carbon fiber frame; in this case front triangle, rear triangle and rocker link are all molded from the plastic fantastic. “29”, well, that’s the wheel size. And “0” signifies Giant’s top shelf of componentry; Shimano XT drivetrain and brakes with an XTR derailleur, Giant’s own TRX-1 carbon wheels, along with Giant branded bars, stem and saddle, and finally, capping the package with Fox Factory suspension and Transfer post. And, in this instance, Fox’s Live Valve system. Swallow hard, break out the platinum card, and be prepared to shell out almost nine grand for this level of state-of-the-artness.
It is impossible to talk about this bike without talking about the Live Valve, and how the Live Valve interacts with the ride. But, it is also imperative that we try to decouple the Live Valve from the discussion just for a minute.
The stout, 150mm travel, Fox 36 fork up front implies a more aggressive intent than the rest of the Trance line. Maxxis Minion 2.5 and Dissector 2.4 tires reinforce that notion. This intent is backed up by nicely balanced modern geometry; a flip-chip allows the head angle to be adjusted between 66.2 and 65.5 degrees, with a concurrent seat angle of either 77.9 or 77.2 degrees. Reach on our size large test bike varies between 486mm and 494mm depending on where the chip is flipped, and chainstays are a par for the course 438/435 mm (again, length is determined by flip-chip setting).
This dance of numbers reveals a bike that all our testers deemed more fun than a barrel of monkeys. It is agile without being sketchy, stable enough to charge hard into messy terrain but still lively enough to feel more nimble than many similarly equipped and oriented bikes, and it offers a pleasing neutrality that is evident whether choosing lines or hunkering down and biting the stem to grind up long climbs. To a person, we loved the way this bike handles.
Suspension, however, also plays a role in handling. And this is where we talk about the Live Valve. So, Live Valve is new, sophisticated, and it has the potential to be truly awesome. Sensors at the fork, frame and rear wheel of the bike monitor not just the wheels as they react to terrain but also the pitch angle of the bike, processing this 1000 times a second and reacting to inputs in as little as 3 milliseconds – “one hundred times faster than the blink of an eye.” The pitch angle sensors allow the suspension to react differently when climbing versus descending, and the entire system is highly adaptive and able to be refined for a huge variety of inputs. There’s a controller box on the underside of the top tube that houses the battery, switches the system on and off, and also offers five different threshold settings.
The implementation of Live Valve, in theory, means that you can have big terrain, super plush, backcountry suspension that also provides a firm pedaling and climbing platform for hammering the smooth stuff, without ever having to flip any levers or press any buttons. The bike will adapt to the terrain and be just right for wherever you ride, however you ride.
In practice, there’s still a little work to do. Every one of us noticed some hesitancy when the system began first reacting to trail impacts, and while the climbing platform was awesome, we all struggled to get the descending plushness where we wanted it. Turning the system off completely meant that the stock suspension damping was fully open and a little bit too plush in many instances. This can be remedied with some Allen wrench twiddling, but then that sort of negates the whole point of having Live Valve in the first place.
THAT SAID, the potential of Live Valve is huge, and with some more time, some more tuning, some more adaptation, we could have refined the bike more to our liking. And the bike, Live Valve or not, is absolutely worthy in every other regard. Our test crew were left wishing we had more time and a Fox technician on hand, or the less expensive, $5700, non-Live Valve equipped Trance X Advanced Pro 29 1 to ride.
Never let it be said that Giant doesn’t offer some choices. If the price tag or the wired sophistication of Live Valve suspension are not your cup of tea, there’s the aforementioned $5700 model one step down. It offers a GRIP2 damper in its 36 Performance fork, and a SRAM GX drivetrain. $4700 will net you the Trance X Advanced Pro 29 2, with a RockShox Pike select fork, Deluxe Select shock, and SRAM NX drivetrain. All three Advanced Pro models use the same frame. Want the same geometry and handling, but don’t like carbon fiber? Save a whole pile of cash then and spring for the Trance X 29 2 at $3300, which still offers a 36 fork and GRIP damper, as well as Shimano SLX shifters and 4-piston MT-520 brakes. That’s super good damper and brake performance for the price. In the Trance X 29 lineup, this appears to be the sweet spot when it comes to value. Still too much money? Fine, be that way. $2500 gets you in the door with the Trance X 29 3. Same geometry, still got a flip-chip, RockShox Gold fork and SRAM SX drivetrain, and you STILL get 4-piston Shimano brakes.
We’ve also covered the slightly different, women’s-specific analog to the Trance X 29 in the Liv Intrigue 29 2.
Photos: Anthony Smith