Giant Trance 29 3 2020 Review
Cons: Fork needed immediate service, can be overwhelmed in more aggressive terrain
Manufacturer: Giant Bicycles
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Should I Buy This Bike?
If you're on a budget and you're interested in a playful short travel trail ripper, then there's a pretty good chance you should strongly consider the Trance 29 3. This 29-inch wheeled bike sports 115mm of rear-wheel travel and a 130mm travel fork that land it squarely in the short travel category. Like many shorter travel bikes, the Trance 29 is quick, responsive, and has lots of personality. This bike is lively and fun on the descents, and riding it uphill is comfortable and efficient. The Trance 29's modern geometry make this bike far more capable and confidence-inspiring than its modest travel numbers suggest. This bike feels fast and comfortable tackling all but the gnarliest of terrain. If your trails or your riding style lend themselves well to a shorter travel bike, we think the Trance 29 3 is the best you'll find at this price.
The Trance 29 3 is a hoot to ride thanks to its distinctly playful, lively, and reactive feel. It might not be the first choice for hard-charging riders who want to plow down steep rock gardens at mach speed, but this bike will have you popping off every rock and root in the trail and searching for every side hit you can find. This bike's modest suspension is used very effectively which helps make it feel more capable on the descents than one might expect, with a modern geometry that gives this bike its impressive versatility and surprising confidence on a variety of terrain.
Riders who enjoy the climbs will be pleased to know the Trance 29 goes uphill as well as it descends. Not only is this bike lighter than many of the other bikes in this price range, but it brings its short-travel liveliness to the table that makes it feel quick, responsive, and efficient uphill. Combine this uphill performance with its notably playful demeanor and downhill capabilities and the Trance is one of the most well-rounded and fun bikes to ride in this review.
The Trance 29 3 is a zesty short travel trail bike that has a notably lively and playful attitude and versatile downhill performance. Its got a modern geometry that makes it far more capable and confidence-inspiring than its modest travel numbers suggest, and this bike tackles more aggressive terrain about as well as its longer travel competition. What the Trance 29 lacks in travel it makes up for with its propensity for manuals and side-hits with a budget-minded but quality component specification that won't hold you back.
With just 115mm of rear-wheel travel, the Trance 29 3 falls into the short-travel trail bike category. Yes, this bike is limited ever so slightly by its shorter travel, but the travel it has is well executed and is sensible for a large portion of riders and locations. In fact, our testers had just as much fun on the descents riding the Trance as they did on bikes with more travel. You may not be able to plow through that rock garden quite as hard, but you might be inclined to just pop over it on this bike. The geometry is modern and sensible, with a 66.5-degree head tube angle that inspires confidence in steeper terrain but isn't so slack that low-speed handling feels awkward or sluggish. The 460mm reach is relatively comfortable without being stretched out and works well with this bike's playful and not plowing attitude. The 1195mm long wheelbase feels appropriately long for a short travel bike, giving the Trance reasonably good stability at speed without sacrificing maneuverability in tight or technical terrain.
The rear-wheel travel is controlled by Giant's Maestro suspension design which has excellent small bump compliance and surprisingly good deep stroke composure. This bike definitely has a "more travel than it actually has" feel, and while far from impossible it was pretty uncommon to bottom out the rear suspension. It handles high-frequency chop quite well and can tackle just about anything with a skilled pilot and good line choices. The 130mm Marzocchi Z2 fork is a departure from the budget forks we find on most bikes in this price range. It has bigger stanchions and beefier chassis than a RockShox Recon and gives this bike a sturdier feeling front end. The travel is smooth, though ours quickly had issues and needed to be serviced after only a few rides. After dropping the lowers and adding oil, we were impressed by this fork's supple performance at this price.
The handling of the Trance 29 3 feels precise and direct, thanks in large part to short stout stem and 780mm handlebar with a 35mm clamp diameter. Dropper posts were an afterthought on bikes in this price range just a few years ago, but now most models come with one and Giant included their own Contact Switch dropper with a 1x style remote lever. This dropper is nothing especially fancy, but we've had nothing but positive experiences with Giant's dropper posts. The wheels are also Giant's own creation and have a quality feel and a 25mm internal rim width. They've mounted a Maxxis Minion DHF in the front and a Minion DHR II on the rear, both in a 2.3" width. This tire combo is tough to beat and works well in a huge range of conditions, but our testers found them to be a little narrower than they'd prefer. Wider rubber would take this bike's performance to another level.
When it comes time to ride uphill, the Trance 29 3 has quite a few things working in its favor to help make it an efficient and comfortable climber. The comfortable geometry, lighter weight, and a nice component specification for the price come together nicely. Add to that a shorter travel length and we've got one of the sprightliest climbing bikes in this review.
Shorter travel bikes are generally considered to be better climbers by default. With just 115mm of rear-wheel travel, the Trance 29 3 is the shortest travel bike in our test selection, and it feels like it has a little more energy and liveliness on the uphill compared to competitors with a little more travel. Giant's Maestro suspension design may also have a little to do with it, as it provides a calm seated pedaling platform that remains active enough to maintain excellent traction without feeling like you're wasting energy through excessive movement. Out of the saddle efforts result in some unwanted pedal bob, though no worse than most other full-suspension bikes and far from a deal-breaker. The Trance 29 is also one of the lightest bikes we've tested in this price range, 30 lbs and 12 oz set up tubeless without pedals, and that is very noticeable compared to the heavier competition. This bike weighs more than 3 lbs less than some of the heaviest competitors which makes it feel easier and more willing to cruise up climbs.
Giant hit a geometry sweet spot with the Trance 29. This bike has modern angles and numbers without going to extremes. The 75-degree seat tube angle is bordering on slack these days but it still lines you up in a comfortable position above the bottom bracket for pushing straight down on the pedals. The 460mm long reach measurement is adequate and feels great on this bike without being too long or feeling cramped. With a wheelbase of 1195mm, the Trance is long enough to power up and over obstacles in the trail while still remaining maneuverable enough to slice and dice through technical sections and tight uphill corners. One notable quirk about the Trance 29 3 when pedaling is that the chainstays are flared out a bit more than most bikes. One of our testers, who has a size 11 foot, reported that his heels made excessive contact with the chainstays while climbing.
The Trance 29 3 frame is crafted from ALUXX SL grade aluminum and has 115mm of rear-wheel travel controlled by Giant's excellent Maestro suspension design. The frame has modern trail bike geometry and they pair the modest rear suspension travel with a 130mm fork. The frame has internal cable routing, integrated chainstay protection, and a water bottle mount within the front triangle.
For the price, the suspension components on the Trance 29 3 are quite impressive. The Fox Float DPS Performance rear shock is quality and works well to control the 115mm of rear-wheel travel, it even has a 3 position compression damping switch which comes in handy when climbing. Giant broke the mold and spec'd a 130mm Marzocchi Z2 fork on the front of the bike. Marzocchi has only just recently begun producing forks again and is now owned by Fox. This is a nice departure from the flimsier forks found on the majority of the other bikes in this review, and testers found it to work very well, for a few rides anyway. The first couple of rides on this fork felt very good. It was especially supple and smooth in its travel, plus it has a sturdier feel thanks to its wider stanchions and stiffer chassis. It quickly started to feel overly stiff and unforgiving, however, and upon dropping the fork legs we found that it had nowhere near enough oil in it. Once oil was added, the fork felt smooth and supple again. This isn't a fatal problem, but it's annoying to service a brand new fork.
Giant makes everything you can think of, and that includes complete wheelsets. The Trance 29 3 comes with a Giant XCT tubeless-ready wheelset with a 25mm internal rim width. The 25mm width of these wheels is a bit on the narrow side by today's standards, but it still works well and these wheels have a quality feel. The Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR II EXO combo is hard to beat and exactly what we'd put on our personal bikes, although the 2.3" width feels a little narrow for our tastes but still works pretty well. The wheels and tires also come set up tubeless, saving you the expense of doing it after the fact.
Giant has given the Trance 29 a trail-worthy cockpit, and in typical fashion, it consists of entirely house brand components. It features a Giant Contact TR35 handlebar in a 780mm width that is clamped to a short Giant Contact SL stem with a 35mm clamp diameter. Testers were relatively unimpressed, however, by the bulky non-lock-on grips. Fortunately, Giant has included a Contact Switch dropper post with a 1x style remote lever, although the Giant Contact (neutral) saddle isn't especially comfortable compared to the competition.
It is impressive that bikes in this price range are coming equipped with 12-speed drivetrains, and the Trance 29 3 has SRAM's SX Eagle setup. The 11-50-tooth cassette pairs with the 30-tooth chainring to provide a huge gear range, plenty low for the steepest of climbs. In our testing, we've found the shifting performance of the SX level parts to be hit or miss. For whatever reason, the shifting on the Trance proved to be very finicky and nearly impossible to make perfect. The Shimano MT400 brakes are a slight step up from the lower level brakes found on other bikes in this review, though testers felt they still lacked power and modulation. Sure, they work just fine with performance on par with the competition.
As a brand, Giant has long been associated with value, and at a retail price of $2100, the Trance 29 3 is a good example of that. This bike absolutely rips for the price, with a budget-minded but quality component specification that performs well on the trail.
If you're on a budget or you're just getting into the sport, the Trance 29 3 is an outstanding short travel option. It may have a bit less travel than the competition, but this versatile and well-rounded bike is one of the most fun to ride. It scoots uphill better than most and it rips back down with a playful attitude and far more capability than you might expect. We feel it is also a great value, and it sports a quality component specification that won't leave you wanting, especially at this price.
Giant makes 2 models of the aluminum-framed Trance 29 including the 3 we tested which is the most affordable entry-level model. Additionally, they make several carbon fiber models called the Trance Advanced Pro 29.
The other aluminum model, the Trance 29 2, retails for $2,900 and has several notable upgrades that include a Fox Rhythm 34 fork, a Shimano SLX 12-speed drivetrain, and more powerful Shimano MT520 brakes.There are 4 models of the Advanced Pro 29 starting with the least expensive model, the Advanced 29 3 at $3,350. Other than the carbon fiber frame, it features a nearly identical build to the model we tested. The top of the line Trance Advanced Pro 29 0 attempts to break the bank at $10,500. It comes dressed to the nines with a RockShox Pike Ultimate, Carbon wheels, electronic SRAM shifting and dropper post, and SRAM G2 RSC brakes. Giant also sells the Trance Advanced Pro 29 frameset with a shock for $2,950.
— Jeremy Benson and Joshua Hutchens