Market analysts tell us time and time again that the most popular bike segment going is the 26" wheeled, aluminum framed, full suspended trail bike making the Giant XTC 0 a bit of an anomaly right from the get-go. A 29-inch wheeled carbon-fiber hard tail, the XTC 0 leans toward the cross-country side of the spectrum with a price tag that even rank beginners will appreciate.
For $3,600, you can pick up a 2011 Giant XTC 0 exactly like ours, which consists of 3.9 inches of suspension travel via a Fox F29 FIT RLC (15QR) fork, a SRAM 20-speed drivetrain (X.9 & X.0 blend), and Giant's own in-house Contact handlebar. Giant P-XC29 2 wheels mate to Giant's Tracker hubs and come wrapped in Maxxis Crossmark 2.1 rubber. Braking comes in the form of Avid Elixir Rs and a Fizik Tundra 2 saddle (mounted to a Giant branded seatpost) round out the cockpit. All told our medium sized test sled weighed in a tad under 25-pounds (24.8) running Xpedo M-Force 4 pedals (not included).
Climbing onto the XTC 0 is an immediate reminder that this is XC territory as the firm-as-a-board saddle, long stride to the pedals and stretched out reach to grab the flat bar take away the more upright, relaxed feel of the modern trailbike. However, since the Giant is sporting the larger 29-inch hoops, the bike brings a slightly "inside of" (opposed to "on top of") feel usually absent from wispy XC bikes. Don't mistake this as being bulky or heavy though as the carbon fiber provides a lightweight rigidity deceptive of the large frame tubes.
Setup in a snap; in this case calculating the recommended sag in the fork and fine-tuning the rebound and compression levers (start midway in each if in doubt and then tweak from there). This is definitely a set-it & forget-it mountain bike!
Pumping the cranks on the Giant XTC 0 is a surprisingly lively experience with bursts of healthy snap available with each leg rotation. The rigid and lightweight feeling hard tail wastes absolutely no energy in the process of turning revolutions into forward motion; a trait immediately noticeable that tends to yield greater dividends as the ride wears on. In fact we found ourselves feeling sprightly and fresh on well-known loops where we're accustomed to running out of steam. Unlike most sub 25-pounders, the XTC 0 doesn't feel jittery or wheelie-happy upon acceleration; a trait surely produced by the heavier, more-planted 29-inch wheels.
That forward mounted riding position and light, snappy acceleration work wonders on the climbs as well. The 2x10 drivetrain is surprisingly well suited for popping off shifts on approach to the steeper grades and carrying momentum to crest some pretty nasty apexes is certainly one of this bike's greatest strengths.
Unfortunately in keeping with the "what goes up, must come down" way of reasoning; the Giant XTC 0 isn't near as confident a descender as it is a climber. Like most compromises any mountain bike makes to excel in certain areas over others, the short-travel fork, rigid rear and forward mounted rider positioning all work against the XTC on the way back down. However, and this is by no means a back-handed compliment, the larger hoops really make manageable what would have been absolutely disastrous downhill handling on standard 26-inch wheels.
Because of their ability to roll over trail clutter and ruts rather than push through them, the 29-inch wheels salvage the descending experience to the point where a savvy rider who flows with the contours of the terrain and uses momentum wisely can keep it up on two wheels down some pretty technical slopes. Nevertheless, by no means will this bike keep up with or manage to replace a healthy 5-inch + travel all-mountain rig. Think of any descending prowess you are able to extract from the Giant as a bonus on this, a solid climber and absolute force out on the flats.
Cornering efficiency, like on all 29ers, is really dependent upon the rider's style of directional changing. Tight "jackknife" turns are never pleasant on 29-inch wheels and the XTC 0 is no exception. Flowing around corners and carrying as much momentum as possible achieve best results here. What 29ers lack in "slam and jam" cornering prowess they make up for with the ability to lean the bike over farther than imaginable on a 26er. Again the name of the game is flow.
Braking is more than adequate, even on those high-speed descents. Slowing larger wheels down typically demands a lot from a brake set and the Avid Elixir Rs are plenty capable. Burn in took a little longer than usual but once the pads are properly seated, expect strong, fade-free performance.
For a hair over $3,500 complete, Giant really manages to pack in a whole lot of bike. In the realm of cross-country race equipment, especially of the carbon fiber variety, this price point comes in at less than many frames alone. Whether or not it's the bike for you depends heavily upon your definition of a good time. If your ideal mountain biking experience involves a lot of long distance exploration over moderate terrain, lots of climbing and the occasional weekend XC race, you've found your dance partner. Bike park riding, hard core descending and jumping on the other hand, are better suited to a wide variety of aluminum framed options in the price range.
The 29-inch wheel spec really adds a degree of versatility to a class of bike that is generally regarded as finicky and limited in scope. We came away quite impressed with the XTC 0 and with a nagging suspicion that a full suspension variation of this package could well have the rest of the industry playing catch-up.