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Hands-on Gear Review
Giant Anthem 2 2017 Review
Cons: Some pedal strikes, long stem, narrow bar
Bottom line: A nimble ride that's a blast to weave through tricky lines or whip around turns.
Giant created a well-equipped trail shredder in the Anthem 2, a bike with cat-like reflexes and a quick-witted personality. What the 27.5 inch wheeled Anthem loses in rolling speed when compared to our four 29er test bikes, it makes up for with acceleration, nimbleness and the critical fun-factor. The Anthem corners on a dime, manuals with ease, and is content to pop off trail features. A few testers experience a suspiciously high number of pedal strikes aboard this bike. Other notable drawbacks are a less than ideal tire and rim width and an outdated cockpit setup with a long stem and narrower bars. Still, this bike is outfitted with an impressive value to performance ratio thanks to its spectacular build kit. The Giant sports Fox suspension, a Shimano SLX 1x11 drivetrain, Shimano Deore M615 brakes and a Giant Contact SL Switch dropper seatpost.
Best Application — The Giant Anthem is a fantastic option if you're more comfortable on smaller wheels and prefer a quick, responsive ride. This bike is well-equipped out of the box, is capable on a wide variety of terrain, and excels in tighter, more technical trails. Those seeking 29er style momentum or cutting edge geometry might look to the charging Santa Cruz Tallboy or cross country climber Specialized Camber.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Analysis and Test Results
We had four bike testers put five full-suspension trail bikes through the wringer for six weeks. The Giant Anthem 2 squared off against the Santa Cruz Tallboy D, Trek Fuel EX 7 29, Niner Jet 9 and Specialized Camber Comp 29 for trail-slaying supremacy. We ranked them on fun, downhill, climbing and build kit to get the scores displayed above. The Anthem earns a 79 of 100. Learn about our testing process in our How We Tested article.
Frame Design and Suspension Overview
The Anthem is designed around 110mm of rear wheel travel. We measured the head tube angle at 67.5 degrees, which feels about right for the 110mm travel trail/cross country application. The smaller wheels on the Anthem allow for the shortest chainstays in the test, measured at 428mm. The Anthem also features Boost axle spacing, adding 10mm to the front axle and 6mm to the rear. We find our favorite suspension setups are often on bikes with this spacing and we really like the Anthem's squish. Coincidence?
The Anthem utilizes Giant's Maestro Suspension design, which features two suspension linkages and four total pivot points. These two linkages create a floating pivot point that the suspension system rotates around. Giant claims that the wheel travels a nearly vertical path to soak up the impact of an obstacle, meant to isolate pedaling forces from suspension action. The Maestro Suspension system is closely related to the DW Link found on Ibis and Pivot bikes. Our testers agree that this tried and true design is reliable, efficient and plush.
The Giant Anthem is a fun bike for those seeking a frolicsome and frisky ride. The bike industry is emphasizing the undeniable strides that 29ers have made in terms of lively and playful ride characteristics. The Anthem reinforces the fact that smaller wheels are still, and likely always will be, more responsive to rider input. Testers are impressed with its obedient handling and sky-high fun-factor.
Testers enjoy launching the Giant Anthem off of any obstacle in the trail. A Fox 34 Rhythm fork paired with a Float Performance EVOL rear shock keep things under control when returning to Earth. Bouncing back and forth between different lines in the trail is a particularly easy task aboard this bike. Testers find the Anthem does not require a two-minute warning before making a line adjustment, unlike the longer Niner Jet 9 and Trek Fuel EX.
The gates of heaven are opened by Giant's Contact SL Switch dropper seatpost. The dropper allows riders to get their seat out of the way, allowing proper positioning for trail shenanigans. Unlike the Santa Cruz Tallboy, Niner Jet 9 and Specialized Camber, riders can hit a button on the Anthem and instantly lower themselves into party mode, allowing you to slap the bike around without interference from the seat. Manuals and wheelies are encouraged with the seat post out of the way as is getting extra low through the corners. Drifting through corners and moto-style foot drags are all made possible by the Contact SL Switch.
Our testers scored the Anthem a strong 8 out of 10 for its ever-important fun-factor. It finishes second to the Santa Cruz Tallboy, which balances its playful spirit with serious speed. On the bottom end of the fun-rankings, the Niner Jet 9 rolls in at a 5 out of 10 for its tractor-trailer like attitude.
The Giant Anthem is one of our all-around favorites for downhill performance. When the going gets rowdy and tight, we find the Anthem is easy to handle, steering directly to the lines we want. Mistakes are easily and quickly corrected without requiring too much muscle or effort. This bike's geometry is slack enough for riders to avoid feeling like they're about to be ejected over the bars while maintaining its trail oriented character.
Testers did find a couple of nuisances in the bike's cockpit specifications. The 70mm stem has no place on a modern trail bike. It pulls riders forward, making them feel stretched out over the front of the bike. It also puts more angles between your hands on the bars and the rubber on the ground, slowing handling. Handlebars measuring 750mm feel so very 2006. While the 800mm bars found on some modern bikes may be excessively wide, the sweet spot is likely closer to 770-780mm.
When it comes to pure speed, the Anthem's 27.5 inch wheels don't blow its 29er competition out of the water. We can't confirm this as we aren't confident in the results of our downhill time trials. (Read why in our How We Tested article). But testers agree that the smaller wheels might make riders feel like they're traveling faster than they actually are. Bigger wheels do more to mask speed and trail feedback than the 27.5 inch hoops on the Anthem. If you're a Strava fiend, this could easily be interpreted as a negative, but, what is wrong with the feeling of being fully pinned even though you may not be?
The Anthem has excellent acceleration. OutdoorGearLab testers agreed that it's the fastest bike in the test to get up to speed, requiring the least amount of effort. You've just got to pedal a little more often to keep it that way. It can't hold momentum like a 29er. While the Giant's smaller wheels and shorter geometry allow for nimble, playful handling at slow to moderate speeds. More than one tester noted the bike felt a little squirrely and unstable at higher speeds. This instability is likely due to the Anthem's smaller wheels, shorter wheelbase, narrow bar/long stem combo, and narrower tires and rims.
Testers describe the Anthem as easy to pilot on the downhills, inspiring rider confidence when attacking the trail. The Anthem allows riders to slice through different lines, no need to commit to a single path. Having the ability to salvage your momentum on a bad line with a quick twist of the upper body is a valuable attribute when riding in uncharted territory. Popping this bike over holes, roots, and rocks requires minimal effort compared to the other test bikes. The 110mm of Maestro suspension is balanced and predictable. The Fox Float Performance Evol is supple off of the top, firm through the mid-stroke, and ramps up at the end to prevent riders from bottoming out on bigger impacts.
OutdoorGearLab testers experience an unusually high number of pedal strikes aboard the Giant Anthem, even while descending. Care and anticipation are required to slip in pedal strokes to exit downhill corners successfully. A quick survey of the trail goes a long way to avoid a bone-jarring and mojo-killing pedal strike.
The narrow Giant XC-2 rims mated with the Schwalbe tires are less than ideal. The industry trend of mounting wide rubber on short travel bikes seems to be a legitimate advantage. We did not attempt to install wider tires on these narrow rims, so we cannot confirm or deny that a 27.5 x 2.5 tire would play nicely with them. That being said, the Schwalbe Nobby Nic front tire offers reliable downhill traction at a reasonable weight. The Racing Ralph rear tire is geared towards dry conditions and could be a serious liability in wetter climates. The Racing Ralph offers terrible braking bite when it's time to shut your speed down.
We scored the Giant Anthem an 8 out of 10 for its downhill abilities, just behind the more confidence inspiring Santa Cruz Tallboy. The Anthem edged in front of the Trek Fuel EX and Specialized Camber which both scored an 7 of 10. The Niner Jet 9 came in at a 6 out of 10 for its lackluster handling and the one-dimensional downhill abilities.
The Giant Anthem is a capable, efficient and smooth climber, though it can't compete with the rollover abilities of the 29ers in the test. Testers state the Anthem feels lightweight and easy to power up climbs. Giant's Maestro suspension provides pleasant and effective climbing and keeps the rear wheel planted. It's one of the most active suspension systems in the test. A shorter wheelbase allows riders to steer through switchbacks with little effort. The Anthem's acceleration abilities get the bike back to cruising speed quickly upon exiting a switchback. More than one tester experienced flex in the frame while climbing. This burns up some pedaling power but isn't bad enough to give us pause.
Our timed benchmarking climbing trials shows that the Anthem is the second fastest climber in our test. The bike feels like an efficient and comfortable climber and the clock agrees. It's somewhat surprising that the 27.5-inch bike beat three 29ers on the climb, but we think its quick handling of the course's many switchbacks and speedy acceleration out of corners gave it an edge. The Santa Cruz Tallboy was the fastest climber, combining a comfortable rider position with excellent rollover ability "and efficient pedaling.
One tester describes experiencing a very high number of pedal strikes on the Anthem, even with proper suspension sag. Other testers experience a few pedal strikes, while another hasn't smashed his pedals once. It's not a universal issue but is something to consider if you like really technical climbs. The Schwalbe Racing Ralph rear tire hooked up well enough in our test sessions, although climbing on wet roots, granite, or leaves would be a problem. We would recommend a Schwalbe Nobby Nic to match the front as a tire with a nice balance of bite and rolling speed.
The extra room provided by the Giant Anthem's 70mm stem provides a nicely spaced cockpit for climbing. The rider has plenty of space to adjust his or her body to apply proper weight distribution for the steepness and surface of the trail. Testers did not report any cases of a wandering front wheel. One of the few benefits of the longer stem paired with the 67.5-degree head angle is that it keeps the front wheel weighted and planted while dissuading it from raising up. The Anthem is a comfortable climber that largely maximized rider output and inspired climbing confidence.
The Giant Anthem scored a 7 out of 10 for its comfortable, light-footed and efficient climbing ability. We rated the Anthem behind the Specialized Camber, which posted an 8 out of 10 and the category winning Santa Cruz Tallboy, which scored a 9 out 10.
Cornering, Handling, and Body Language
The Giant Anthem has strong descending and climbing skills. It's cornering and handling characteristics contribute handily to its success in both categories. Our testers are pleased with the minimal amount of effort it takes to pop the Anthem up and over any obstacles strewn across the trail. Cornering is quick and predictable, even if it is limited by the old school body position enforced by the narrow bars and long stem. This doesn't lend itself to slaying corners.
The short, 428mm chainstays allow riders to lift the front end with ease for manuals and wheelies. We are living in a time of the low and long bike trend. We come across many super long, slack bikes that require serious core strength to raise the front end. The lightweight feel of the Giant Anthem is not taxing on testers. Perhaps a tradeoff for the light feel is that more than one tester experienced a fair amount of flex in the frame. It didn't concern us but could annoy more aggressive riders.
Narrow bars and a stretched out feel is far from ideal when guiding a bike through the corner. A more aggressive, shorter stem would allow for quicker and more aggressive turning with a stiffer feel. Wider bars would encourage a more aggressive attack position and encourage riders to get low. Still, the Giant Anthem's cornering skills were above average in this test class largely due to the inherent cornering advantage that 27.5-inch wheels enjoy over 29ers. The dropper post encouraged riders to lean into or dip into corners with confidence.
The Schwalbe Nobby Nic provided a reasonably predictable front end with a solid idea of where the breakaway point resides. While not as defined and aggressive as Maxxis Minion DHF found on the Santa Cruz Tallboy, the Nobby Nic is above average in the corners among our test bikes. The same cannot be said for the Schwalbe Racing Ralph. Super aggressive riders might describe the Ralph in a positive light as slidey and drifty. Those of us who enjoy traction need to be careful with this rear tire as dipping into corners is not it's strong suit. Wet conditions, mud, and leaves would likely present a serious issue when attempting to navigate the Anthem around corners.
The Giant Anthem is a noble performer in terms of ride characteristics, and it is a clear winner in terms of it's build specifications. Testers scored the Anthem a 9 out of 10 for its build quality, edging out the Trek Fuel EX, which posted an 8 out 10. Giant's ability to utilize in-house components frees up some budget to source nicer components for the remainder of the build.
Fork and Shock — The Anthem came outfitted with a Fox 34 Rhythm fork. The 34mm stanchions provide sufficient stiffness for the intended trail application. As is consistent with most Fox suspension products, this fork is impressively supple and smooth. The Grip damper is rock solid and easy to use.
The Fox Float Performance EVOL rear shock is reliable, efficient and predictable. The Open, Medium, Firm adjustment is a little tricky to reach with Giant's vertical shock mount set low on the frame. While some testers note they use the compression adjustment, others left it wide open during testing.
The Giant XC-2 rims are on the narrower side of the spectrum. It would be interesting to determine the widest tire the rims can accommodate. Heavier, hard charging riders will no doubt put a deadly beating on these rims over a season or two. More rubber would likely slow the process.
Groupset — Giant outfitted the Anthem with a Shimano SLX 1x11 drivetrain with versatile 30-42 gearing. The Shimano SLX is a great drivetrain that is a cut above the Sram NX1 found on the Santa Cruz Tallboy and Niner Jet 9.
Shimano Deore M615 brakes provide nice lever feel and solid braking power in all conditions. Home mechanics and professional mechanics alike will be thrilled with the simple Shimano bleed process when compared complex procedure required by SRAM brakes.
Handlebars, Seat and Seatpost — Giant's Contact SL Switch dropper seatpost is a no-frills, solid performer. The post functioned well throughout the test and testers did not experience a failure. If we begin splitting hairs, a 125mm travel dropper seatpost isn't exactly ideal in a time when 150mm are the standard. Regardless, the Contact SL Switch is a fantastic addition to the build.
The Giant 31.8mm handlebars measured an eye-poppingly narrow 750mm. Wider bars would do wonders for the handling and overall performance of this beautiful blue bicycle. The 70mm stem is outdated and has no place on a modern mountain bike.
Notables — Extra points for a water bottle cage attachment inside the front triangle.
We tested the Giant Anthem 2 which comes in well-equipped at $2,575.
The Giant Anthem 3 runs $2,000 but does not feature a dropper post. It sports a RockShox 30 Gold RL Solo Air fork and RockShox Deluxe RT shock. Shifting duties are provided by a Shimano Deore 2x10 drivetrain.
The Giant Anthem SX is one step-up from our test model and retails for $3,000. This build features a burlier 130mm RockShox Yari fork and more powerful four-piston SRAM Guide R brakes.
Giant has a reputation for producing bikes that offer reliable performance at an impressive price point; the Anthem 2 is no different: $2,575 gets you a capable performer with full Fox Suspension, a Giant dropper post, Shimano SLX drivetrain and user-friendly Shimano Deore brakes. Plainly stated, the Giant Anthem offers excellent value with excellent performance characteristics.
Two testers would keep the Anthem as is, enjoying the nostalgic feel of the cockpit. The other two would immediately slap 780mm bars on a 40 or 50mm stem.
The Giant Anthem is a reliable bike with excellent handling traits and higher-than-average fun-factor. While this bike isn't as stable and doesn't hold momentum as well as its wagon-wheeled competition, there is something to be said for a fun and quick handling bike. Those who don't need the fastest bike, but prefer a fun, easy-to-pilot, and reliable trail bike at an impressive value, should consider the Giant Anthem 2.
— Pat Donahue, Joshua Hutchens, Kurt Gensheimer, Kate Blake, Clark Tate
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