Custom 2015 Giant Talon

Teaching an old bike new tricks

With such a high demand for parts to be manufactured in the current climate of the bike industry, fellow riders (and even the local shop) are hard-pressed to find what is needed. Whether it be new or old, we are going to continue to see shortages across the board.

While this is the current status, we’ve taken this time to be creative with the resources available. We found ourselves looking at the bikes in the garage and coming to the realization we could take an “old” bike and give it some fresh updates.

We set off on this task with one of our favorite entry-level hardtails, a 2014 Giant Talon. Our test rider/builder, Michael Ballew, did extensive research for the past year into finding the parts necessary. They used every resource out there—from forums, chatting with brands, e-commerce consumer-to-consumer applications and even talking with other riders on a trailhead. The overall idea was to take a perfectly usable frame and give it some modern updates that most riders are looking for when purchasing a new bike.

The Box Components Prime 9 drivetrain with an 11-50t cassette was a big upgrade from the 11-34t that came stock.

Frame: As mentioned, the unique build is based on a carbon 2014 Giant Talon that originally retailed for $800. Traditionally, this frame is built with an entry-level 100mm RockShox 30 Gold fork. To make the bike more adaptable to varied terrain, the fork was swapped to a 120mm 2018 Factory Fox 34. This not only gives the bike more travel but also changes its geometry, but more on that coming up.

Freeing up space from the 3x system this all new 1x drivetrain not only provides a larger gear range, but weighs less.

Suspension: Going with a more plush 120mm of travel slightly slacks out the intended geometry. Another factor-changing geometry is Cane Creek’s 110-Series headset that is a zero-stack 44/28.6 on the top with an external cup 44/40 for the bottom of the head tube. This new headset had to be used in order to properly run the tapered steerer on the Fox fork. Without this crucial part from Cane Creek it would not be possible to run a tapered fork otherwise on this bike.

The new fork update creates a more consistent feel in rougher terrain in comparison to entry-level RockShox that had the shorter travel. Although the newer fork installed is not the latest on the market, we were also able to fit a larger-width 27.5-inch tire than the stock build. Overall, more travel and better performance to make a completely different-feeling bike than before.

Taking on a new form with limited parts being available took some creativity and patience for this custom build.

Drivetrain: The old 3×9 Shimano drivetrain that came stock on this bike had seen some serious use, so much so that the large ring in the front had most of its teeth worn flat. For the crankset, the builder was able to locate a fresh Chris King bottom bracket paired with a Race Face Turbine crankset. To add a little bling, an Absolute Black oval chainring was installed with a gold finish, but the real cherry on top was removing the front derailleur for a new 1x drivetrain.

The update with the Fox 34 being thru-axle instead of the previous quick release fork option gives the rider a more stable and secure front end.

In order to give this a new modern take, the builder went with Box Components’ latest 9-speed option. Yes, you heard us correctly, we said 9. The Box Prime 9 system is unique in that it retains the durability of 3×9-speed with the simplicity of modern 1x drivetrains. Just because 9 is smaller than the surge of 12-speeds we’ve seen in recent years doesn’t mean the range is sacrificed. Before this, Giant Talon only had an 11-34T cassette. With the Box Prime 9, it utilizes a 11-50T cassette that is paired with a Box chain, shifter and derailleur to complete the kit.

The main benefit of switching to this Prime 9 is also its compatibility with parts becoming few and far between. At one point the rear wheel was upgraded before this major rebuild so the builder was able to stick with a traditional HG freehub. This is a huge bonus that saves time without buying (or trying to locate) compatible freehub options that you may run into from other brands. We did a complete review of this drivetrain in the September 2021 issue, but we can say that it is a great option for riders who want a competitive gear range at a value-driven price. It may not be the flashiest drivetrain, but it is ready to be put to work for any rider no matter the budget.

The builder, Michael Ballew, taking the first test runs. As you can see, stoked on his modern updates to bring new life to the trails and his bike.

Wheels/axle: This builder had to get a little creative in order to have a proper set of wheels. More often than not, modern bikes are thru-axles in the front and rear. While there was no option for the quick release on the frame to be changed, there is an option for the front. The builder went with a new DT Swiss Boost front wheel since a thru-axle wheel was needed with the Fox 34 installed. For the rear, the rider upgraded to a WTB i30 that has end caps (and proper spacing) for a quick release to still be used. The wheels are both set up with today’s latest tubeless-ready technology. Not only an improvement with weight, but an added advantage for more traction.

This headset from Cane Creek allowed the builder to successfully run a more modern tapered fork.

Tires: When it came to rubber, this builder chose to run a great WTB tire combo. In front, they placed a 27.5×2.6-inch Vigilante with a 2.25-inch Trail Boss at the rear. Since the builder had the extra clearance with the new fork, they decided to put the largest tire that could fit in the front. Of course, the rear triangle has some limitations with clearance, so a lighter, smaller and faster-rolling tire was used. The DT Swiss rim width in the rear ever so slightly bumped up the tire to a 2.3-inch with just enough space to clear the frame’s seat and chainstays.

The previous drivetrain had seen better days and the Prime 9 hits the mark as an affordable, yet durable 1x system.

Sealant: The builder stuck with our recommendation of using Maxima’s Tubeless sealant. Not only have Maxima products kept our bikes running smoothly and looking fresh but they have also kept us riding further with fewer replenishments of tire sealant.

Brakes: To ensure our bike had plenty of modulation for stopping power, the builder went with Shimano XT M8000 brakes. Designed for more aggressive trail riding, the brake set is designed with a two-piston caliper. For an optimal balance of performance and budget in mind, the builder went with some simple 160mm Shimano rotors at the front and at the rear. The previous brakes were also hydraulic, yet they lacked the performance and feel of the XT brake option from Shimano.

Already in preparation for this build to be finished, Michael had his new roof mount installed for the drive home to Tahoe, California.

At the bars: A quality handlebar and stem combo is key to keeping the rider in control. At the cockpit for this build, the rider used a mix of parts from Sensus, Wolf Tooth, Race Face and Enve. The Race Face Atlas alloy handlebars are sitting large at 820mm wide, and that is paired with a 50mm carbon Enve stem. They are some big bars for a hardtail, but this was the builder preference. The grips are Kyle Straight’s signature Meaty Paw grips from Sensus. These are great for riders with big hands since they are 6 inches (151mm) in overall length with a thick 1.35-inch (35mm) diameter. Not only did getting rid of the shifter for the front derailleur clear up clutter, so did the ReMote Barcentric from Wolf Tooth. This particular dropper lever is a slender design that will help avoid any interference with existing levers.

For a unique touch, Michael used a torch for a burnt titanium look on this Wolf Tooth King Cage.

Dropper post/saddle: Originally, the bike was intended for a standard seatpost.With riders realizing the advantages of a dropper, this builder knew this was a must. Back in 2014, bikes at this level didn’t have the forethought to be designed with internal cable routing for a dropper. To combat this, Fox made a Transfer post that was externally actuated with a cable. Even though there are no cable guides, the builder simply used zip-ties to run along the brake and shift housing. Might not be the sleekest look, but the trade-off in riding experience was worth the simple adaptation.

Originally, the frame had no chain stay protection but that was easily changed with the help of Enlee’s guards that zip tie on.

Pedals: For the pedals, this builder went with the robust Deity Xepdo CXRs that have a forged 6061 aluminum body with three sealed cartridge bearings. For the added color pop, Xpedo produces an oil-slick version.

Summary: Although it took some time to find and locate these parts, the builder completely transformed and brought new life to an “old dog.” The bike rides more slacked out, so the steering uphill has changed to be more twitchy than it was before. However, when pointed down, the bike is more stable, smoother through the rough stuff, has greater traction and overall handling for a descent.

Yes, a fair bit of time and money were spent on taking this frame to a new level. Be that as it may, it’s important to get creative when bike parts may be sparse. This Giant Talon is a perfect example of an older hardtail being modernized with a unique set of components available in the bike world. 

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