The Giant Trance 29 3 is a sprightly cross-country weapon made for mile munching and groomed singletrack. It quickly runs out of travel when the going gets rough, though, and some of the spec choices of this base level model are a bit under par.
The 29er version of the Giant Trance was launched in the summer of 2018, but the name and the Maestro suspension linkage are about the only similarities between it and the 27.5in bike. The 29er has substantially less travel (115mm at the rear versus 140mm, and 130mm up front instead of 150mm). These differences make the Trance 29er a clear marathon cross-country contender from the off, rather than playful trail tamer.
I tested the entry-level aluminium Trance 29 3, which comes in at £2,099. The other alloy bikes cost a little more at £2,599 and a lot more at £3,799, while the carbon Trance Advanced bikes don't start until £3,999.
This bike gets an ALUXX SL-Grade alloy frame, a Marzocchi Bomber Z2 fork and a trunnion-mounted Fox Float DPS Performance shock. As Marzocchi is owned by Fox, the fork gets the air cartridge from a Fox 34 Rhythm fork to complement Marzocchi’s own Rail damper.
The Z2 feels a little chattery over small bumps and dives through the travel on big hits. It pays to experiment with Fox volume reducers to help the fork ramp up, as simply upping the pressure to increase support costs you some low speed compliance. It's a stiff chassis, though: the Z2 rivals the 35mm-stanchioned Revelation for stiffness, and beats the Fox Float 34.
The drivetrain is SRAM SX Eagle, while Shimano provides the stopping with MT400/MT401 brakes. Both systems have their own niggles.
The clutch on the SX mech just plain doesn’t work. I could feel the reverberations of the arm swinging and clunking through my feet – offputting at best, downright noisy at worst. On the upside, shift quality is good (if occasionally a bit clunky) and the large range is great for steep inclines. I didn’t have any creaking from the press-fit bottom bracket in my test time (about a month), but it's something to be aware of if you aren’t a press fit fan.
The bike is underbraked. The combination of MT400 calipers and MT401 levers give a budget look their performance sadly matches... they're woefully powerless. The pads shift in the calipers under light braking, and even the discs are disappointing. The M6000 discs are only for use with resin (organic) pads, meaning that if you ride a lot in UK conditions you'll be replacing pads more often than your socks.
The cockpit is an entirely Giant affair with a nice short 40mm stem, 780mm bars, chunky Giant grips and a 125mm dropper post with an underbar, shifter-style lever.
The Giant wheels (rims and hubs) come wearing Maxxis tyres, with a Minion DHF 2.3in on the front and a DHR II 2.3in at the rear. Both are set up tubeless from the off, which is great to see, but the front doesn’t get the tackier 3C compound.
While 2.3in tyres might seem a little narrow, the rims are only 25mm (internal) so anything wider would roll and flop under cornering. Still, this combination is totally okay for bigger mileages on a cross-country steed.
Lastly the frame is entirely internally routed, with pleasingly little rattle, and the whole lot comes together – as we've come to expect from Giant bikes – at a decent weight. Without pedals the Trance 3 is 13.8kg, or just 30.4lbs. Impressively light for a bike with this spec list, and an aspect that no doubt aids its climbing prowess.
The Trance is a good-looking weapon; a classic Giant shape with a large front triangle and a neat, low-mounted shock pushing the Maestro suspension system. Surprisingly, the 29er Trance gets a slacker head angle (66.5°) and a larger reach (442mm on my medium) than its longer-travel 27.5in counterpart, which if anything indicates the smaller-wheeled bike might be in need of an update...
The chainstay of this bike measures 435mm, the wheelbase is 1176mm, and the effective seat tube angle is 74.5°. But while all this may shout trail bike, in reality the ride is much more conservative. The 115mm rear travel, short reach and abbreviated wheelbase mean this is a long-distance machine, rather than one for more technical riding.
The bike excels at smooth, flowing singletrack. It’s responsive, and the Maestro suspension paired with the Fox Float DPS shock ensure the rear end is engaging, soaking up small bumps and staying ready to pop and pump at will.
The geometry suits gradually sloping descents rather than rougher singletrack, where the short reach and wheelbase make themselves know with a choppy, unbalanced ride over successive large bumps. The shock finds the end of its travel rather quickly too, and it’s here, if you're intent on getting rowdy, you realise the need for relatively high tyre pressures to keep the rims off the floor.
The bike climbs pretty well despite the slack 74.5° effective seat tube angle, a number which both confuses and disappoints me. The new 29er Giant Reign gets a near 77° degree seat angle for very efficient climbing (and combines it with a longer wheelbase for better balance on steep inclines), so it's not like Giant don't know what works.
Instead the Trance pushes the rider's weight towards the rear and, in combination with a long effective top tube and the short wheelbase, leaves the front end wanting to lift on steep climbs. It takes effort to keep the front wheel tracking. With a more Reign-like shape, the low weight of this alloy bike and its supple, bob-resistant suspension would make the Trance an excellent climber.
The new Marin Rift Zone 3 is pretty similar and has just a little more rear cushioning at 125mm. It's £200 more, but the you also get a Shimano SLX 12 speed drivetrain, the same fork as on the Giant and four-piston MT420 brakes. Meanwhile, spending £1,900 with Canyon gets you a 130mm Neuron AL 7.0 with a great spec list – including GX Eagle – although it also gets you rather old school geometry.
The Giant Trance 29 is in a rather niche category of 115mm cross-country bikes with some (limited) trail intentions. In this category it’s not bad value, but there isn’t much direct competition either. It’s not a trail slayer – as it gets rougher and steeper it quickly feels out of its comfort zone – and when pushed it's slower and sketchier than other short travel trail bikes.
But on longer, calmer missions it excels. It pedals well, it’s light and there’s enough comfort and scope in the suspension to help you out in tricky situations. It’s not a do-it-all bike – limited rear travel makes sure of that – but it's a lot of fun if you like churning out the miles more than really nailing either the climbs or the descents.
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