Giant Anthem 2 2017 Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Anthem is a fun bike for those seeking a frolicsome and frisky short-travel option. 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 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 and burlier Santa Cruz Hightower.
The Giant Contact Switch dropper allows riders to get their seat out of the way, allowing proper positioning for trail shenanigans. At the flip of a thumb, 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.
The Anthem rates about average for its Fun Factor. It's retro, long-stem, narrow bars, 27.5-inch wheels stand the test of a good time. Still, many of the more modern, innovative models surpass it.
The Anthem is a solid descender despite its 110mm of travel. 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 short-travel downhill time trials. But testers agree that the smaller wheels make riders feel like they're traveling faster than they 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.
Respectable descending skills don't earn very high scores in this stacked bike selection. The Anthem earns a below average score. It just can't be as capable as the many longer travel beasts in the competition. Our favorite short-travel descenders, the 110mm 2017 Santa Cruz Tallboy and 120mm 2018 Ibis Ripley each do a bit better.
The Anthem 2 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.
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 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 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 Anthem's strong climbing performance during testing earns it an above average result. It's short travel efficiency is undeniable but doesn't get blown out of the water by some of the longer legged bikes.
We ran time trails on five of the short travel trail bikes with similar build kits. This pit the Anthem against the 2017 Santa Cruz Tallboy, 2017 Niner Jet 9, 2017 Specialized Camber, and the 2017 Trek Fuel EX. 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.
Cornering, Handling, and Body Language
The 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.
Ease of Maintenance
It is important to consider ease of maintenance when buying a mountain bike. Performance is undoubtedly important, but you don't want to be stuck with enormous repair bills due to a super complex design. The maintenance rankings reflect the ease of maintaining the frame, brakes, suspension, and dropper post. Get more details in the trail bike review
Giant uses a proven suspension system that is not overly complicated. The bearing and pivot axle assemblies are straightforward. The Shimano brakes are easier to bleed than SRAM an use mineral oil as fluid instead of SRAM's corrosive compound. The Fox suspension has less frequent service intervals than RockShox alternatives, though mechanics often see Fox parts in between services. Be on top of your suspension's performance.
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 Anthem 2 is a noble performer in terms of ride characteristics. Its build kit is also impressive.
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.
Wheels and Tires — The Giant Anthem rolls on Giant XC-2 rims laced to Giant Performance Tracker Disc hubs. The 32h rear hub has sufficient spokes to keep things tensioned and straight for a while, and the hub engagement is decent. Both front and rear hubs feature the alleged extra stiffness of Boost spacing.
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 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 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 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.
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