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The Frame

At the heart of the Trance is the hydroformed ALUXX SL frameset with Maestro suspension. Giant is proud to say that it's the lightest alloy 5.5-inch/140mm travel full suspension frame they have ever made. I am glad to see their swooping top tube is back after they abandoned it a couple of years ago in favor of a marginally lighter straight top tube. Not only does it look better to me, it also adds much needed standover height.

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The swingarm is 27.5 specific for the shortest possible chainstays and wheelbase, supposedly resulting in snappy handling. At 440mm the chainstays they are not the shortest, but I didn’t really notice the additional length out on the trail. It is shortsighted to put too much value in a single measurement of a bike's geometry - all the angles, lengths and widths should be considered together, as it's in this melting pot where magic happens.

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Cables are routed internally for a clean look and Giant has managed to do this in a way that doesn't lead to any annoying rattling or slapping that so many frames with internal routing suffers from. Keeping with internal routing, the Trance is compatible with "Stealth" dropper seat posts. The hose for the rear disc brake is still routed down the top of the down tube for ease of maintenance, but can also be routed internally should you wish to do so. More evidence of attention to detail can be found in the integrated chainstay protector. We're seeing more and more of these on frames and can only applaud the industry for adding value and bits where it matters.

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Trance frames feature convertible rear dropouts that allow you to run either 135mm QR (standard) or 142/12 through-axle wheels. I did find it strange that Giant ship their bikes standard with 135mm QR and not, the now widely adopted, 12x142mm.

For 2014 the Trance's head angle was slackened from 69.5 to 67 degrees, wheels downsized from 29" to 27.5" and the top tube was stretched out for a longer front center and better reach which helps when running a short stem. The seat tube angle was steepened by half a degree to a climb-friendly 73.5 degrees. The geometry stays unchanged for the 2015 model.

Overdrive 2

For their 2012 model range Giant introduced a new steerer standard called Overdrive 2. Rather than having a 1 1/8th inch diameter, these forks had a diameter of 1 1/4, and tapered down to 1.5″, which Giant claimed resulted in a 30% increase in stiffness at the handlebar. Although it was unique on their bikes, Overdrive 2 (OD2) was not patented and therefore free for all to adopt.

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There were however 2 practical issues with OD2. First, complete bikes shipped with OD2 forks which is fine if you weren't planning to upgrade and sell the OE (Original Equipment) fork. If you did, you could only sell that fork to another Giant rider with OD2 or to someone with a 1.5" straight steerer, but these are becoming hens teeth and should you find one it would be on a DH bike. Secondly, it used an OD2 stem and finding those aftermarket was a pain to say the least. Only a handful of stem manufacturers developed and launched OD2 compatible stems and most of them disappeared soon after. In terms of it's benefit I'm sure Giant saw a 30% increase in stiffness on a test bench. My initial thought was that that 30% would be over and above what the average rider would be able to feel on the trail and no real benefit in real life.

Why all this historic info you ask? Well going forward Giant has gone back to standard tapered steerer which means forks and stems are readily available and you will find a buyer for your OE fork or stem that came stock on your Giant. Riders rejoice! Note that Giant still refers to their tapered head tubes and steerer as "Overdrive".

Maestro Suspension

First introduced in 2004 the Maestro has seen several evolutionary changes over the past decade to adapt to riders, modern geometry and drivetrain revolutions. In recent years changes have been made to take full advantage of 1x and 2x drivetrains and cartridge bearings have been incorporated in the upper shock mounts to improve the bikes’ small-bump compliance.

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Components

Fork: The Fox 32 Float on the Trance 2 offers a noticeable upgrade in performance over the 2014 Talas and 2014 Float that I've ridden recently. It was easier to get the front and rear suspension balanced to my liking. That being said, at 140mm the fork feels stretched and battles with stiffness. Under load or when the trail gets rough there's quite a bit of twang and it soon feels over-run. This is in part due to the frame's seemingly willingness to go faster and bigger, but in doing so it stretches the Float 32's boundaries. From my experience a RockShox Revelation would have better suited the geometry and the faster, harder riding expected on the Trance.

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Tyres: Nobby Nics are great all rounders for general trail riding, but when pushed hard they battle to offer enough grip to maintain the speeds the frame can handle. Tires with some form of added sidewall protection is a must on most of the trails I ride and it didn't take long for the sidewalls to show signs of damage and wear. Note that the Nobby Nics on the Trance are from Schwalbe’s Performance rather than Evo line.

Wheelset: The Trance 2 runs on Giant's in-house branded rims and hubs. We have ridden several Giant's fitted with Giant rims and hubs and so far they have proven themselves reliable. We can't comment yet on how their hubs hold up after a wet and muddy season. For the type of technical riding the bike is capable of it would be nice to have a hub with quicker engagement - especially when negotiating tricky sections that need half a pedal stroke to make it over or through an obstacle.

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Adjustable Seat Post: It would be nice to see a dropper post standard on all Trance models. It was the one thing I wanted to change most on the bike in all the time I spend on it. Thanks to proper guides and the internal routing option it is an easy enough (if not cheapish) fix.

Drivetrain: Shimano's SLX groupset has become a fan favorite and for good reason. It is tough, strong, and reliable. The 24/38 chainrings paired with the 11-36 cassette provides a good spread of gears whether going up or down.

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Cockpit: A 730mm Handlebar paired with a 70mm stem is definitely a huge step in the right direction. No longer is it almost guaranteed that you will need to swap out the bar and stem to find something that works best for what the bike is capable of. After playing around with different set ups, I settled on a 60mm stem and 750mm bar - purely personal preference of course.

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MRP 2X Chain Guide: The bottom guide does a great job of keeping the chain in place and the ride quiet when the trail gets rough. Seeing one on a bike in this price range is testimony to Giant's attention to detail in speccing the Trance.

On the Trail

Simply put - this bike wants to go fast! The combination of the bike's geometry and suspension coupled to the natural fit and feel the first moment you climb on the Trance lends itself to high speed trail action. Increased small bump sensitivity means traction and grip is good on most terrain. The suspension does feel a little soft when changing direction quickly or when pushing it hard into a corner, but I would put that down to the Fox Evolution rather than the bike's suspension. The supple feel of the suspension means that you can run the shock a little firmer than usual. Giant's Maestro suspension always resulted in a wide tuning range and it's good to see that that has remained unchanged with this latest incarnation.

To suit my liking, I set the shock up in Trail mode and left it there. This also helped getting a balanced feel between the front and rear in most situations. Flicking the switch to Descent resulted in a ride that does not have enough "pop" for me and the shock would blow through it's travel too quick on heavier terrain.

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It is another example of a mid-travel bike where component choice compromises the bike's geometry and ease at speed. Push the bike hard and the fork and tyres battle to keep up. Even with a QR rear axle the frame feels stiff overall with the only discernible flex coming from the Fox fork up front especially when attacking high-load berms or when coming off bigger jumps and drop offs.

On the 2014 Trance 2 27.5 I previously rode, I had the time and luxury to tinker with the fork's internals. In an effort to rid the fork of it's linear feel, I added extra oil in the air chamber to ramp up progression. I think it is something heavier riders or riders riding heavier terrain should consider on the 2015 model, even though it did seem to perform better than the 2014 model during my time on it.

Set in trail mode there is little to no suspension bob. Spinning away on uphill sections is good with very little chain tug even in the small chainring. It was easy to find a good seated position to keep the front end down, even on the steepest of climbs and with the neutral suspension uphill sections were disposed of with relative ease.

Verdict

I still remember when, not so long ago, the Trance was the awkward middle child. Not as fast and nimble as it's younger brother the Anthem, but not as burly and big-hit capable as the Reign.

In 27.5" wheels, 140mm travel and a well-balanced geometry spearheaded by a 67 degree head angle, Giant has found the Trance's sweet point. It is still not as race-focused as an Anthem and won't cope with quite as much as the new Reign, but therein lies it's strength. It's stopped trying to be a long travel Anthem and with more and more downhillers finding a home in Enduro racing it doesn't have to border on the Reign anymore. It sits comfortably in the middle - exactly where most weekend warriors need their bike to sit.

It's light so it can go places and not kill you off. It's fast and agile and will happily play in the forest on single track all weekend. And when the trail turns south it will cope with most downhill sections riders may face on our trails without blinking an eye.

The Trance is no longer trying to be something it's not - the Trance has come home and found it's niche. It's a fast, agile and capable trail-muncher that will happily do a race (XC, Marathon or Enduro) when called upon. As a do-it-all bike, the Trance represents excellent value for money.

Recommend retail is R27,500 at the time of going to press.

Full specifications

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