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PARK CITY, Utah (VN) — With the announcement of its 2014 product line, Giant has placed its vote in the on-going wheel-size debate firmly in favor of 27.5-inch hoops. In total, the 2014 Giant off-road line-up includes seven new designs built around 27.5 wheels, while the women’s Liv/giant brand will offer five new 27.5 off-road bikes.
“We’ve just jumped headlong into 27.5, not with one model, not with a freeride model, but with a comprehensive line,” said Andrew Justkaitis, Giant’s global product marketing manager. “We just have a ton of bikes. It’s a full commitment. It’s the most difficult, daring thing we’ve ever done.”
The flagship bike in the 2014 line-up is the Trance Advanced 27.5 0. Designed with enduro racing and aggressive riding in mind, the Trance Advanced is a carbon bike with 140mm of rear travel. It comes built with the SRAM XX1 drivetrain. The bike’s advertised weight is 24.58 pounds for a size medium, which is notably light for a long-travel ride.
“The Trance showcases what 27.5 can do. It’s 24 pounds, and you’re getting all that travel,” said Justkaitis. “It’s really, really versatile. Everyone says that about their bikes: It climbs like an XC rocket, and descends like a free-ride. That’s been fun to say. But this is literally that.”
Additionally, there are three new 27.5 hardtails: the composite XtC Advanced, the XtC, which is made of Giant’s ALUXX SL aluminum, and the Talon, an entry-level aluminum bike.
The Anthem is Giant’s do-it-all cross-country bike, redesigned for 2014 with the 27.5 wheel size. There are composite and aluminum versions of the Anthem frameset, and both have 100mm of rear travel with Giant’s Maestro suspension system. The one-piece rear triangle is aluminum, while the rest of the frameset is carbon.
The Trance, meanwhile, is available in both carbon and aluminum. Giant’s flagship ride has a similar carbon-aluminum design to the Anthem, but it brings considerably more rear travel to the party.
In a departure from the company’s usual pattern, Giant is releasing both carbon and aluminum versions of its new 27.5 models. Because of the costs associated with building the molds for composite bikes, Giant has traditionally made new models in aluminum first. It is comparatively easy to make adjustments to an aluminum bike’s geometry.
“You can make changes in aluminum,” said Justkaitis. “If you make the angles wrong, you can make minute changes to that. The tooling associated with aluminum is easy. Once you commit to composite molds, you are committed to those molds, and you can’t change it. Those are literally chiseled out of steel.”
The molds for a single size of a carbon frameset can run $75,000 to $100,000, which is part of the reason for the high retail price of the finished bikes. The process of building the frames is labor intensive, too, and Justkaitis does not expect the costs of high-end composites to come down any time soon.
“There are over 500 pieces [of carbon fiber] in an average road frame, pieces that are placed by hand,” said Justkaitis. “We have molds, and into the molds go individually shaped and cut pieces at certain angles at certain degrees. There is no way to automate the process. It’s all done by hand. It’s not like you’re pouring goo into a mold.”
The ride quality, the elusive “feel” of the bike, comes from the carbon lay-up, which is the way the pieces are set into the molds. “The secret is the math that goes into the lay-up,” said Justkaitis. “There’s an astounding amount of math that goes into this stuff.” The basic processes of building carbon bikes are the same across the industry. The way the carbon pieces are set together is not.
Liv/giant goes 27.5
In addition to the main Giant line, the women’s Liv/giant product line has also been tapped with the 27.5 wand. Liv/giant has five new off-road designs, and unlike the main product line, the Liv/giant line-up for 2014 includes neither 26-inch or 29-inch wheel sizes.
Notably, the women’s Anthem and Talon 29er models, introduced in 2013, will not continue for the coming year.
“We only had the women’s 29er out for a year,” explained Jackie Baker, the Liv/giant global product manager. “We knew last year when we were launching it, that we were only going to have that bike out for a year. We knew. But people wanted it. We couldn’t keep them in stock.”
Fitting smaller riders to the 29er wheel size proved challenging for the Liv/giant designers, and fit and bike weight considerations proved especially compelling in the decision to shift the entire Liv/giant line to the 27.5 wheel size. The Liv/giant team is convinced that the 27.5 bikes offer the best fit and handling for women riders.
“When we were doing the 29er, one of my goals was to fit an XS rider,” said Abigail Santurbane, the Liv/giant category manager. “And it was atrocious. We did our best, and I think we did a really good job, but there were compromises. And with every 29er, there are compromises, but with the 27.5, it just fits.”
The Liv/giant women’s product line includes five new off-road designs: the Obsess Advanced (a carbon hardtail), the Lust Advanced (a 100mm-travel carbon full-suspension), the Lust (an aluminum 100mm full-suspension), the Intrigue (an aluminum 140mm full-suspension), and the Tempt (an aluminum hardtail).
The carbon Lust Advanced is the pride of the Liv/giant line-up. Santurbane called it the “lady’s ultimate shredding tool.” Liv/giant designed the Lust with the goal of making it light enough to climb well, while also having enough travel to be playful on the descents.
The Lust Advanced has 100mm of rear travel. Though it shares Maestro suspension technology with the Anthem, the Lust was designed independently. The carbon lay-up is tuned with the goal of giving women riders a more comfortable ride than they might find on a bike from the main Giant product line.
Giant moving completely to 27.5?
Though the Liv/giant women’s bikes will switch completely to the 27.5 wheel size, for the coming year, Giant will still have both 26- and 29-inch bikes in its main line-up. Over the longer term, the company plans to go all-in with 27.5.
“I don’t see the ability to have three wheel sizes in the marketplace,” said Justkaitis. “It’s just not feasible. Dealers can’t keep up with it. Nobody can. I truly see 26 going away, and the phase-out of 29. Giant has in our back pocket a two-year plan of phasing out 29er product.”
Giant’s decision about the fate of its 29er bikes ultimately depends on how the market reacts to the 2014 product line. Justkaitis confirmed that Giant would continue its 29er bikes for the next two years. “We can’t just turn off the faucet,” he said. Beyond two years, though, it remains to be seen whether 29ers will remain part of the Giant product line.
As for the remaining 26-inch bikes in the Giant line, Justkaitis hinted at the next step in the design evolution.
“We can’t say our entire line is going to 27.5 for 2014,” he said. “We can’t say that, because it’s not true. For example, the Rain X, which is a 6.7-inch-travel bike, and our downhill bike that is currently being raced, the Glory … I’m not going to tell you the future … [but] given our commitment to 27.5, it’s logical.”
The release of so many new products is an unusual move for Giant, and Justkaitis acknowledged the company is taking a risk in its far-reaching commitment to 27.5.
“This is a daring move,” he said. “But the bottom line is we believe in 27.5. It’s legit. It’s legit for everyone. Hopefully that bottom line message will carry through our brand and into the future. I hope it works. It’s a gamble. A big gamble.”