Proof That Spending A Little Can Take You A Long Way
The popular Giant Talon aluminum hardtail has been offered for years, but the 2014 version is a big departure from previous models. The last time we tested the Giant Talon (in our October 2011 issue), it was rolling on 29-inch wheels. Giant’s testing persuaded them to downsize the Talon to 27.5-inch wheels, and after getting to know the new Talon, we can assure you there was no “downsizing” in performance.
WHO IT IS MADE FOR?
The Talon is a hardtail trail bike that delivers the goods for a very reasonable price. We are not going to call it a “beginner’s bike” because although it would be a great bike for a rider new to mountain biking, it is a serious trail bike that would serve an experienced rider on a budget or the rider curious to try the “tweener” wheel size.
The Talon 27.5 1 is the top of the Talon series, above the $700 Talon 27.5 4 and $570 Talon 27.5 5.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
The Talon uses Giant’s proprietary aluminum frame tubing, which is shaped to increase lateral stiffness in the headset and bottom-bracket areas. The frame has two water-bottle-cage mounts. Giant opts for interrupted and elevated derailleur cable routing. The derailleur hanger is replaceable.
The graphics on the black-on-black Talon look like they were stolen from Giant’s most expensive offerings. Giant also offers the bike in red.
WHICH COMPONENTS STANDOUT?
The RockShox XC30 fork is air sprung (a nice feature at this price range) and has external rebound and compression adjustments. The Shimano hydraulic disc brakes are welcome, as is the 3×10 Shimano drivetrain matched to Shimano Rapidfire shifters. Our bike came with Maxxis Crossmark tires, although the Giant website lists another brand as stock (no complaints on the Crossmark tires).
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
The setup: You’ll need a suspension pump to set the fork to about 20-percent sag; then set the rebound to your preference (start at full slow if you are over 170 pounds with gear). With the large-volume tires, you can get away with air pressure on the low side of your regular setting, which will improve the ride quality, even if it does increase the chance of a pinch flat.
The fit: A seasoned rider will feel like the cockpit is a bit cramped, but a new rider will find the fairly upright position comfortable and less intimidating than a more aggressive stance. The stays never make contact with the rider’s legs, and the standover is acceptable.
Moving out: The tires roll nicely. The 27.5-inch wheels get up to speed better than the 29er wheels of the old Talon, and the 3×10 drivetrain gives you plenty of options, with nice jumps between gears if you use that front derailleur properly. The fork’s action can be firmed up without locking it out (just twist the blue knob), and that feels great for accelerating while out of the saddle.
Cornering: The tires offer plenty of grip, and the geometry is dialed for the wheels. The performance in tight corners was so good that we looked forward to switchbacks.
Ride quality: We have ridden aluminum (and carbon fiber) hardtails that are jackhammers to the spine. Not the Talon. Giant gave the rear end lateral rigidity for pedaling power, but it still provides more comfort than is expected from a hardtail.
Climbing: This Talon is close to 3-pounds lighter than the 29er Talon we last tested, and that helps on the climbs. The 27.5 wheels roll over rocks and roots well, and the tires have plenty of bite. In the saddle, we cleared everything. The bite would pull the bike over obstacles like a tractor.
Descending: The 27.5 wheels don’t give that fantastic roll-over-everything feel of a 29er, especially on steeper descents. Still, it is hard to imagine ever choosing to ride a 26er after our time on this bike. It floats over stuff almost as well as a 29er and then hunkers down so you can drop it into downhill corners.
Braking: The brakes are well suited to the bike, although you need a light touch on the rear brake to keep from locking the tire (a common trait with any hardtail).
TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
Once you get comfortable, think about wider handlebars and a bit shorter stem. This will make the bike a little livelier and put you in a more aggressive position.
Switching to clipless pedals and converting the wheels to tubeless will both enhance performance, but neither mod is required. It’s just a suggestion.
Finally, Giant offers two less expensive models. If that is all you can budget, go for it. If you plan to buy a cheaper model now and upgrade components, however, we would council you to hold off on the purchase, save the extra dough and buy the 1 model. It would be hard to bring the 2 up to this level spending $600.
So, is the Talon 27.5 better than the last Talon 29er we tested? Yes, it is, and we loved that old Talon. The reason the 27.5 gets the nod is a serious weight reduction, better gearing options, and performance that will not hold you back. You also have a large dealership network standing behind the product. If you have the heart and the legs, the Talon will not let you down.