Riding the Giant Trance in the Chilcotin Backcountry
Riding the Giant Trance in the Chilcotin Backcountry
We wanted to approach this story a bit differently than our typical coverage of a first ride on a new bike. From the beginning it was all about the experience. Giant released a new 140mm trail bike a few weeks back and they typically do things a bit different than most companies…In most cases media get an advanced preview of a new bike and keep it under wraps until the manufacturer unveils it to the public. In this case Giant showed consumers the bike and its details online, then invited select media on the trip of a lifetime to ride it in the Chilcotin Mountains in Canada. It is perhaps the most desirable place one could ride and to be frank, the bike was nearly an afterthought until part way through the first day when we pulled our heads back down from the clouds.
Giant’s line runs rather lean, after all they’re a Taiwanese owned company and take a rather conservative approach. They aren’t known for hastily jumping on trends or overproducing bikes. Their 2016 full suspension line has a 110mm, 140mm and 160mm bike (excluding DH). All of them run 27.5” wheels and there really isn’t any line blurring or overlap. Sitting smack dab in the middle is the Trance. It’s been their bread and butter, utilitarian, all ‘rounder for some time now but for this year it received a complete revamp.
Some of the inevitable updates were Boost spacing and a Metric rear shock. The geometry also got a touch more aggressive and the frame received a new one piece carbon fiber upper shock link with a much lower pivot on the seat tube. The lower links have been updated and their Maestro suspension has new kinematics which provide better ride characteristics in every possible way. Having ridden both old and new models we can personally vouch for that. If you could only own one bike in Giant’s line and you wanted a general purpose trail slayer this would unquestionably be your #1 choice as a daily driver.
Our adventure started out with a float plane ride departing from Vancouver airport and heading out past Squamish, then North through the Whistler Valley and into the Chilcotin Mountains, landing in a lake at Tyax lodge.
Premier MTB and horseback tours are run out of Tyax in the warmer months. How remote is it? A 45 minute drive on a dirt road gets you into an old mining town called Gold Bridge. In it you’ll find the closest food and gas but only a population of about 40 people. The Chilcotins have a stunning variety in landscape that’s hard to put into words. Peaks of all different colors are mainly snow capped with black rock up top. Alpine meadows, tempting but illegal scree, glaciers, the list goes on in the protected park. Incredibly vast, stark varied and severe at times the area is rich with metal and was a hot spot for mining in the 1940’s and 1950’s. A great deal of the trails we would ride were walking/horse paths developed during the gold rush in search of Copper, Gold and other precious metals. Copper in the hills gets picked up by snowmelt, trickles down into lakes and in oxidizes to turn the water to a stunning aquamarine color. With 2 guides, Adam Craig and some people from Giant we left Tyax by float plane after setting up our Trances. We would soon touch down in one of the aforementioned lakes in the middle of nowhere. It was surreal from the beginning.
We first started to head out around Lorna Lake with the goal of heading into a pass through two large peaks. Within 5 minutes a few of us missed a turn, got lost and became a bit nervous about the prospect of encountering a grizzly bear without the guide. More importantly, without the bear spray. After slogging through relatively flat but undulating, rooty, swampy terrain with frequent stream crossings we sorted it out and rejoined everyone. Despite getting lost we were optimistic & happy, seeing the silver lining in getting spun around. It meant that we got to see how the bike rode on trails that reminded us of East Coast techy XC riding, something we typically don’t get to do on press rides.
The bike managed well and we noticed a huge difference in how it pedaled compared to the last Trance’ super composed with a firm platform to push off of. The rough, rooty bits made us immediately aware of how light the suspension was off the top, providing fantastic sensitivity and thus traction. Some of this due in part to the incredible new RockShox Super Deluxe, the best air sprung rear shock we’ve ever ridden to date. But another factor is that Giant have also lowered the leverage ratio, and in turn the air pressures as well.
Anyhow…Soaked, we started heading up the pass and pushed up through scree and snowmelt. After our ascent peaked it revealed an idyllic scene in the form of a grassy valley below. Time to jam down some pristine alpine single track…but not before having a quick lunch. The trail was narrow and cupped so we had to time our pedal strokes carefully.
We quickly became aware of the Trance’s low BB, a few millimeters lower than the last iteration. We felt it was just about right but novice riders might need some time to get used to it. The bike was nimble and responsive at high speeds but plenty stable. Its head angle is 67º which isn’t aggressive by any means, but for an all purpose bike with 140mm of travel and 27.5” wheels, it’s right on the money.
Once the descent wrapped up we made our way through the valley below and would eventually stop for a quick break at “Bear Paw Lodge”. This was the real deal. A tiny cabin that’s not accessible by motorized vehicle. There was water, snacks and best of all hot coffee waiting for us. A lovely gentleman who looked like a prospector straight out of the gold rush era stopped tending to his horses to chat with us. We all snooped around a bit and eventually got back to it.
The next bit of riding was about as mixed as it could get. Uphill and downhill tech littered with rocks and roots, punchy climbs and both tight and wide open descents. We basically followed alongside a meandering creek, crossing it about a half dozen times. At points it was fast moving and nearly waist deep. With unstable footing the idea of falling in was a bit unnerving as we were headed to camp overnight remotely. Whether our gear would dry out by morning was less of a concern than if our cell phones would get fried; after all we are media nerds.
We arrived at camp just in time for beers and a swim in a nearby lake. Our bikes got a quick run through then we laid our gear out to dry, ate dinner and shared stories before bed. The next morning we were off for the second leg of our adventure heading back to Tyax.
Day two started out with a relatively flat, swoopy ride through some wooded single track. Some steep punches and quick descents were thrown in the mix but overall we were making our way up to get into another alpine valley. On the up/down bits we were surprised by how nicely Giant’s house brand seat post worked and found little to complain about aside from the handlebar’s narrow width and slightly excessive backsweep.
Their house brand carbon fiber wheels were snappy and responsive. Their 33mm width provided a nice wide footprint for the tires but we are scratching our head wondering why they didn’t make the move to hookless. With DT Swiss guts they’re surely in it for the long haul but we’d much prefer to see them upgrade to the 54 tooth star ratchet over the 36 tooth that came stock. It shouldn’t affect the overall price of the bike or wheels for that matter, but the nearly instant engagement makes the bike flat out better on the tech climbs and while exiting from low speed turns. It’s something that you can do as a consumer with an aftermarket upgrade kit, but when you’re spending $8K on a bike you’d prefer it would just arrive that way.
When our short climb peaked we arrived to find another stunning big mountain panoramic view. After a few stops for photos, we dropped into the best descent of the whole trip. It reminded us or Durango Colorado. We weaved through a narrow band of grassy high speed single track through Aspen trees with loads of room between them. Many of the steepest sections sent us down into tight, loose turns with rocks scattered throughout. This was the part of the ride where we got a bit more sideways and had some “stab the brakes” panic moments. The SRAM Guide Ultimates were foolproof; in our opinion they are the best brake on the market so it was par for the course. What did surprise us however was just how damn good the new Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires are. We had a bad experience with them a few years back but the latest version was amazing on everything we threw at them : muddy, loose, grassy, rocky and rooty. After this ride we’ll be seeking out a set to throw on our personal bike.
The seemingly never ending descent finally wrapped up at…you guess it, a creek crossing. It was the last major one on our trip though. The air temps started to get a bit hotter and the trails got dusty with some soft sections strewn about as we blasted down fast, flowing single track that could’ve been just about anywhere. The Trance manuals and wheelies brilliantly out of turns, up and over logs and rocks nicely; an attribute that improved with its shorter chain stays which comes in at 17.1”.
For the sake of reference the old Trance was 17.3” and we feel that bikes with stays around the 17” mark strike the perfect balance between easy manualing with nice cornering and flat out stability. The overall length of the bike seemed just right and we appreciated the longer top tube. We found the 70mm stem with a bit of rise to be an odd choice and personally would’ve opted for a 60mm with no rise, but that’s not a big deal and really tall riders might appreciate the stock stem. Speaking of taller riders, it is a bit of a bummer than Giant now offers the Trance in just 3 sizes as opposed to last year’s 5. Perhaps an aluminum version is in the works with more breadth in sizing. Anyhow, back to the trail where we came to a quick lunch before climbing up through loose, rocky single track.
On our last leg we encountered some really steep soft climbs that were bench cut into the side of a scree hillside. This is where we really appreciated SRAM’s new Eagle drivetrain. Our shifting was nearly flawless but after the rear derailleur got a few light smacks from trailside obstacles it was just slightly off. With range that huge, it’s bound to be a touch more finicky than 11 speed but the 50T rear granny gear was a lifesaver more than a few times. We’ll have to spend more time on Eagle but our first impressions were good after we twisted our barrel adjusters to hone things in just right. One thing is for certain, the range is massive and there is no longer a need for front derailleurs on mountain bikes.
Our ride ended on a high speed fire road pedal fest back toward Tyax lodge. It was a lot to digest. In two days we hadn’t necessarily covered all that much ground distance wise, but we’d seen a mix of terrain that no other ride could match. As we began to gather our thoughts we realized the Trance was one of the best bikes that we’ve ridden for this type of backcountry experience. Most longer travel bikes would’ve been a bit piggish and lighter duty bikes just wouldn’t have been as much fun. Add in the highly refined frame with updated geometry and a carbon fiber layup that provided a sprightly, snappy feel and you have a clear winner. We’ll be reaching out to Giant for a long term test on the Trance, but so far we can confidently say that this is the most well rounded bike that they have ever produced. We can also confidently say that if you’re considering a back country trip in Canada, the Chilcotins are amazing and Tyax is unbeatable.
Photos : Sterling Lorence