It could be argued that this day of near limitless configuration options that 5-inches of mountain bike suspension travel has become the very definition of a well-rounded trail bike. Sure there are dozens of examples of where 4 or 6-inch models manage to dazzle and we’re not here to dispute that fact. Rather, when we took delivery of Giant’s Trance X3 for testing, it was an immediate reminder as to just what a do-it-all trail bike is all about.
Our Giant Trance X3 came set up with a Fox 32 F120 R fork and Fox Float R shock (which breaks down to 4.7-inches of travel and 5–inches respectively), Avid Juicy 3 hydraulic disc brakes and Kenda Nevegal tires wrapping Mavic XM 117 rims. Giant’s in-house brand bar held Shimano Deore shifters controlling a Deore front derailleur and SLX rear. Shimano Deore cranks were also the brand of choice and with them triple chain rings (44/32/22). Miscellaneous bits such as seat post, saddle and stem are all of Giant’s own brand. SRAM provides the cassette and the hubs, interestingly, are mismatched with Giant’s own Tracker model up front and trusty Shimano Deore in the rear.
All told our bike weighed in at 29.32 pounds and a setup identical to ours can be had for $1,999.
Hopping into the X3’s cockpit is surprisingly confidence inspiring, even at a standstill. The reach to the bars isn’t torturously long and the overall layout feels compact and aggressive.
We didn’t run into too much difficulty getting the suspension dialed in; opting to run roughly 23% sag (both ends) on hardpack and a bit more (25%) if conditions were particularly choppy or rooted.
Because of the additional rigidity found in the 15QR thru-axle up front, we found we were able to get away with running the fork a bit plusher than usual so as to allow it increased small bump compliancy. Rest assured, we’re consummate fiddlers here at MBT, in the real world the Trance X3’s chassis is quite well balanced and will deliver impressive stability even if your fine-tuning is a bit off the mark.
After an off-season spent logging miles on 29ers, the Giant Trance X3 with its nimble demeanor and 26-inch hoops was a breath of fresh of air out on the soft Western NY singletrack. Dropping the hammer yields immediate bursts of acceleration. While starting out pushing the big ring is a definite possibility here, we felt as if doing so robbed a bit of the Trance’s charm, instead opting to allow the Deore drivetrain an opportunity to impress as we clicked through the gears on longer straights and wide-open flats. However, don’t mistake its penchant for carrying a nice head of steam as a disadvantage when the terrain gets ugly and the trail gets tight. In fact we would go as far as to say that the Trance X3’s best performance comes from exactly such conditions.
The key to making the most of the situation when the going gets rough is to let the Maestro package (coupled to Fox’s engineering prowess) do the work for you as you focus on your lines. That 15QR thru-axle we mentioned earlier assures a planted front end even in the choppiest of conditions. The rider who makes a conscious effort to resist unnecessary line-hopping, front-end popping, and brake sliding will make the most of the Trance experience. The bike stays planted with authority, transmitting very little harshness up to the rider. We found the quickest way around tough loops was to focus on keeping a smooth pedaling cadence and allowing the chassis handle the terrain.
About the only way to really find the limitations of the Trance X3’s chassis and suspension package is to start treating it like a dedicated free-ride rig. On the trails it’s sometimes easy to get a bit overconfident with its descending potential on account of the fact that it rarely exhibits twitchiness or protests to a good flogging. However, 5-inches of trail compliant suspension travel can be bottomed out with violent regularity over drops and through rock gardens at downhill-speeds. Giant has a whole plethora of more suitable bike options if such conditions tickle your fancy.
Odds & Ends
Many of our testers went into this review a bit concerned about the lack of setting options on the Fox Float R (which of course lacks a dedicated pedaling platform or lockout functions). However, and a testament to the engineering success of Giant’s Maestro linkage, such concerns proved futile over the course of the test period. Obsessive tuners may wish to fiddle with the shock’s rebound control to suit the conditions at hand, but otherwise unwanted suspension bob and chassis flex were never factors.
Kenda Nevegal tires made for an excellent choice in our muddy eastern conditions. We were quite impressed with their ability to find traction even on wet rocks in stream crossings without becoming bogged down with rolling resistance once we hit hardpack or pavement.
Finally the Avid Juicy 3 brake choice is well suited to the overall package here. These stoppers are well modulated for scrubbing speed; so much so as to be overkill for most technical trails and much appreciated in those instances where gravity takes hold.
We’re as guilty as the next when it comes to getting hyped up on bikes constructed of high-tech materials, spec sheets chocked full of bells and whistles, and travel numbers that defy what was thought possible on a bicycle but at the end of the day it’s bikes like the Giant Trance X3 that surmise the joys of trail riding. Back woods exploring, hopping rocks, pounding over endless roots and zipping in and out of trees are all a joy with the X3. Riders who wish not to be bothered with a multitude of controls to fine-tune and dozens of variables to question surrounding their ride will adore the simplicity and “set it & forget it” nature of the Trance. We rode it hard and put it away wet for three weeks of sloppy east coast springtime riding and at the end of the day found very little by way of complaint. For this price point, Giant packs an unbeatable amount of entertainment.