Giant XtC 27.5 2 Test
Mountain bike technology is constantly evolving, and consumers are always trying to find a bike that delivers it all in one package–without having to crack open their savings accounts. Many riders want to give 27.5-inch wheels a go but don’t want to give up their trusty hardtails to do so. The power transfer of a hardtail is something that many don’t want to sacrifice, but they still desire the nimble feel that some 29-inch bikes often lack. Giant’s XtC has been a race-proven machine for over a decade, so its engineers had plenty of experience to rely on when they set out to create a 27.5-inch offering that wouldn’t get smoked on the climbs, but could still carve deep into any turn.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
The Giant XtC 27.5 2 is an excellent bike for a wide range of users, but the combination of a solid build spec, affordability, simple hardtail maintenance and smaller 27.5-inch wheels make the XtC 27.5 2 a great entry-level bike for racers in a high-school league. Until the rotational benefits of a 29-inch bike feel proportionally correct, we suggest young riders not fight it and ride something more appropriately sized that will allow them to perfect their technical riding skills. The Giant XtC 27.5 offers high-school students solid race performance without the additional size and weight of a 29-inch hardtail.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
Aluminum, through and through, this is a bike that will deliver for years to come. In fact, the components will wear out long before you’re able to mangle this frame. Internal routing keeps the shifter cables out of sight and cleans up the lines of the frame, though we wish the cables exited the frame closer to the head tube. The frame also includes an integrated chainstay protector, two bottle-cage attachment points and a 135×5-millimeter rear axle that utilizes an integrated quick-release.
WHAT CAUGHT OUR EYE?
The top tube and seat stays are about as sleek as you’ll find on a bike in this category. Starting at the head tube, the top tube tapers evenly until it reaches the seat tube, where the seat stays take over with a thin profile that demonstrates Giant’s determination to deliver a lightweight machine. The Rockshox Recon Gold is a welcome sight and instantly puts the XtC 27.5 2 a tier above where it would be if it were equipped with any other fork in its price range.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
One of the beauties of riding hardtails is their simplicity, and this was apparent heading out to the first trail loop. We’re picky when it comes to the consistency of brake feel, and we were happy that both brake levers engaged the rotors at the same point on the lever pull range. We set the Recon Gold fork to 25-percent sag, pumped the tires up to 30 psi, and headed towards the hills.
We began our first ride heading up a steep grinder, and the XtC 27.5 2 felt right at home. Initially we thought the 27.5-inch format would have us chasing the back tires of our 29er friends on any climb, but the natural feel of the geometry allowed us to put every bit of our power to the dirt. On short, steep climbs, it was a breeze to keep the tires moving and traction solid. We very rarely found ourselves in the granny gear and quickly learned that this is a bike that likes to be cranked uphill.
Cornering was a high priority for the engineers when they decided to make a 27.5-inch version of the XtC. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what enables the XtC to corner so well, but, for starters, the 69.5-degree head tube angle is absolutely perfect for this bike. It doesn’t put you too far over the bars for high-speed corners yet you can still tackle tight switchbacks with ease. The Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires hooked up in any corner and pulled us through the exit without any tire push. Racing Ralphs are a go-to cross-country tire for the desert conditions surrounding our headquarters.
The Rockshox Recon Gold allowed the XtC 27.5 2 to excel on the descents. Not only did it suck up anything you’d find on any moderate-to-aggressive, cross-country trail, but it held a line through it all with ease. It inspired the confidence we rely upon when pushing a hardtail to its limits. The cables made quite the racket on our first few descents, but we quickly remedied this with a bit of electric tape to keep them all together.
Though the consistency of the brakes felt great out of the box, their performance quickly diminished on the trail. They lacked the stopping power we needed in some last-second route deviations. Furthermore, on extended descents, brake fade was a real issue. Towards the end of any descent more than two minutes long, we found ourselves double-finger squeezing the brakes to muster up the stopping power needed to keep the bike at a controllable speed.
TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
We strongly recommend upgrading the Shimano M446 brakes to something from the Deore or SLX line. The performance jump to either Deore or SLX is night and day compared to the stock brakes, and it isn’t cost prohibitive. Throughout our testing period, we had to true each of the wheels once and again found them out of true at the end of the testing period. Are we so accustomed to all-mountain riding that we pushed them past their limits? Maybe; however, we never threw them sideways into rocky notches or off drops. If you ride a bit more aggressively than the rest of the pack, you may want to upgrade the wheelset first.
While testing the $1700 Giant XtC 27.5 2, we felt like we were cranking away atop a machine that should sell in a range above $2000. When people talk about getting the most bang for their buck, they’re speaking the language of the XtC 27.5 2.
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