Giant Anthem X 29er 2 (2013)
Now, before I get into this review I’d just like to point out a few things.
The first is, I’m not a professional mountain bike rider, not even a keen enthusiast anymore. I don’t even own a mountain bike, having sold my lovely Cube to fund a more child carrying friendly hybrid. I did however ride mountain bikes a lot in my teens. Back then, suspension forks were state of the art brand new on the market and only available on the very best bikes. Full suspension was in it’s infancy. So this bike is the first full suspension bike I’ve riden in a proper off road environment. I should also like to point out that I’m in a peak state of physical fatness (not a typo) at present, with all the associated aches and pains of a man approaching forty. So, I’m probably not going to be typical of the kind of person considering this bike for purchase. However, as I have no previous experience in the full suspension world but I do know how to ride off road (it’s true, you never forget) maybe this review will help a biker keen to upgrade to full suspension or perhaps someone looking to experience the thrill of dowhhill off roading and would like a proper bit of kit under them.
£1799.00. To me, this is quite a lot of cash to spend on a bike. So, it had better be good I thought. Then I checked the range of what a person could spend on mountain bikes from The Cycle Centre and as it turns out £1800 is pretty good value! That said, I don’t believe that anyone but the very wealthiest casual rider is going to fork out nearly 2k for this sort of bike. No, it is only going to be the already addicted off-roader looking to upgrade or the very inspired looking to invest wisely in their new found passion. But, after a few hours in the mud and the snow, I may have to revise that presumptious statement.
I took the Giant Anthem up to Thrunton Woods, a long time favourite place of mine for cycling, walking, running and even photography. The properly sunny day in what feels like years seemed ideal for a spot of off-road bike testing. Little did I know that there’d be quite a lot of snow and ice still on the higher ground. No fear, thought I. I was properly dressed and I had a great looking bike on the roof. What could go wrong?
First Impressions: This bike looks the business. Even before touching it, there’s a lot ot indicate that it is a quality machine with potential. In the day’s when I did venture off road on relatively regular basis I’d always shied away from full suspension because they were very heavy. So it was more than a pleasant surprise to find out just how light The Giant Anthem was. I don’t know the exact weight but I’d be surprised if it was much more than 13kg. As the name would suggest, one of the [visually] distinguishing features of this bike is the 29 inch wheels. If you have not ridden an XC bike with rims of this size and are used to the more common 26 inch wheel size then I strongly consider you ride a big wheeled bike before making a purchase. More on that in a bit.
The frame is a nice looking white, grey and black that I really liked. Not too flashy, but not boring either. Both the front and rear suspension can be adjusted to control the rebound. or how much flex there is. I set it to maximum squishy and left it at that.
The only other thing that stuck out was the lack of a chain ring. There are only two cogs on the crank! I’m very used to bikes having three these days. The rear cassette had ten gears, making this a 2×10 (or 20 speed) bike.
On board (and off-road): The first section of the ride was all uphill (cue impending heart attack) so all I got to do was test the granny gears for half a mile. Well, not quite, the shifters were a pleasant surprise. The whole groupset is SRAM. I’ve never ridden anything other than Shimano. But I have to say the changes were slick and easy, even under pressure. It uses what I like to described as a push-push shifter for front and rear mechs. I’m very familiar with indexed shifters that utilise the thumb to shift one way and the fore finger to shift the other. Using just the thumb to press for any gear change took a little bit of getting used to. After a short while I realised the huge benefit of this system – you don’t weaken your grip on the bars during a change as all eight fingers say where you want them – steering and braking. On any other sort of bike I doubt it would matter too much, but on a bike you could be hurtling down a rocky path at break neck speed on I think any system that enables you to retain your grip is worth it’s weight in gold.
Then to the first bit of downhill, a sandy-gravel covered forest trail with big ruts created by rainfall runoff easily wide enough to snag a front wheel and send you in the nearest pine tree. Almost immediately my confidence soared. This bike just floated over everything, completely stable and controllable. The ruts and loose surface just didn’t bother me at all. I’m certain on my previous mountain bike I’d have had to slow down if not endure considerable levels of discomfort. This brief bit of excitement was closely followed by more hill climbing. Upon which lung busting section I discovered the joy of a two cog chain ring – getting into the granny gear is a lot easier! Simply put, this meant that I could carry my momentum forward and not have to worry about crunching gear changes.
The trail then flattened out a bit. Relief. But wait, what the heck is all this white stuff ahead? Oh, it’s snow. This should be interesting. And it was. Nothing could stop me. Icy puddles, rutted mud, snow covered rocks, you name the Giant just kept on rolling. Confidence levels increased yet again.
After a mile or so of this there came the big decent. Approximately four miles of it. Initially a steep rocky narrow path, then sweeping foresty trail. Words can not describe how much I enjoyed riding this bike down this particular trail. So I won’t try. But there was quite a lot of whooping and yelling involved. Again the stability, grip and brakes all combined to boost my confidence as I pushed my legs to drive me faster than I would have deemed safe on a front suspension frame. Awesome. Not me, the bike and the descent. For one brief, glorious, moment on that sunkissed, snowswept Northumbrian hillside, we were one, that Giant and me.
Back at the car, as I rested my feet on my temporary trusty steed, I pondered the answers to following –
Value for money (rrp £1799.00): Before riding the Giant Anthem, I would have made a snorting sound and dissmissed this price as “ludicrous”. My last mountain bike was a £700 Cube and it was great. Was this Giant £1000 better? Well, after getting truly filthy on it, I believe it actually is. I’ve never encountered a bike that boosted my confidence so much that I’d take on the tracks that I did at the speed that I did. This is definitive proof of the adage “you get what you pay for”. If I had £1800, some where to store it safely and a body that could cope with it, I would buy this bike in a heart beat.
Style: Worked for me. There is only one frame colour choice, so if you don’t like it, tough. The frame itself had a big chunky downtube with tapered top tube, which I liked. I can’t see any self respecting XC rider being embarrassed to ride it based on the paint job. The rims, fat tyres, distinctive wide bars all add to the presence of the Giant. 4 out of 5.
Function/design: Brilliant. This bike was made to go off road and down hills fast. And it does. Even with a fat, middle aged bloke on it. 5 out of 5.
Quality: I doubt the frame on this bike would ever let you down, short of riding off a cliff. The groupset felt very well made and didn’t give me any cause for concern. In fact the only problem I had was the bolt that secured the saddle to the post kept working it’s way loose. 4.5 out of 5