When Giant fully committed to 27.5” wheels throughout their entire lineup in 2014, they weren’t quite ready to fully unveil their bread and butter 160mm bike : The Reign. They took their time, the bike went back to the drawing board and metamorphosed into a completely different animal. Not exclusively in terms of construction and wheel size, but also geometry. With a 25.2” top tube, a 65 degree head angle and a 13.5” BB, the Reign sports some of the most aggressive geometry of all of the current enduro bikes on the market.
A few months back we reached out to Giant for a long term test to see what all the fuss was about. Offered with both aluminum and carbon fiber front ends, 4 models covering broad price points, and in classic Giant fashion, some of the best bang for the buck in the industry. We ended up aboard the Reign Advanced 1, their entry level carbon fiber offering. At just $4,750 it comes stocked with a super impressive spec like a RockShox Pike, Monarch Plus Debonair and a 125mm travel Reverb dropper post. While the drivetrain errs on the budget side, Giant really hasn’t skimped there. A Shimano XT Shadow+ rear derailleur, Schwalbe Tires and a DT Swiss rear hub are sprinkled in, reminding us the product managers worked hard to deliver a solid base for a great price. After we did a quick tubeless swap, the bike tipped the scales just under 30 lbs without pedals. After a geometry overview, let’s see how it’s been treating us out on the trails.
Perhaps our favorite characteristic of the new Reign is its mega aggressive geometry. Giant held nothing back here. The first thing we’ll mention is that it runs a touch large. If you tend to find yourself between sizes, you’ll likely want to size down. For example, our tester felt a touch stretched out on a size large at 6’0” tall. That said, after a few runs we were comfortable and acclimated. The next thing we became immediately aware of was the low bb. While that aids in stability and helps you really dig into turns, you need to mind your manners and keep your feet up. The Reign is not for the faint of heart, however it rewards precise riding.
With a 65 degree head angle and a stretched out front end, we expected it to be a bit wretched on the climbs but we were quickly proven wrong. Giant did the math here and spent the time in the development phase (thanks Silas Hesterberg!) and dabbled with various custom lowers on the RockShox Pike until they arrived at a custom 46mm offset. Although it may sound counterintuitive, adding 4mm to the stock lowers of a 27.5” Pike dramatically offset (no pun) the slack head angle’s tendency to flop on the climbs. It also added to stability on the descents. Anyhow, climbing isn’t all in the front end. The bike needs to check out with some efficient suspension. Overall we found the Maestro suspension to be about on par or better than most of the other 160mm bikes in the enduro category. On most climbs we found ourselves flicking to the middle compression setting on the rear shock. That firmed things up a bit but still gave us a bit of compliance and traction in the more technical bits.
Cornering was an afterthought. The 17.1” chain stays could be a touch shorter on the tightest of switchbacks, but in turn proved to aid in the bikes stability. For how long this bike is (nearly 48” wheelbase) we were blown away by how quickly it changed directions and responded to input. The uber stiff front end kept it snappy and resilient. One of the best handling frames we’ve ridden for sure.
On the descents we felt centered on the bike and very much “in it”. After a few runs getting acclimated to it’s length, we found the Reign definitely handles best at speed. Once we were used to it, we used it to our advantage and got along great. In terms of geometry, it definitely feels like a race bike. That’s not to say it’s out of its element on some casual trails or in a bike park. In fact, it’s a park monster and jumped very well. With that in mind, it does handle best when things get fast or “steep and deep”. If you ride flat slow trails, this is not the bike for you. It can negotiate those sections with the best of them, but it truly shines elsewhere.
The Reign Advanced 1 comes with a fairly modest mix of Shimano SLX and XT drivetrain bits. Giant bucked up where it matters with the XT Shadow + derailleur, MRP chain guide and DT Swiss 350 rear hub. The 350 is especially smart for anyone who plans on switching to 1X in the future as it’s compatible with a SRAM XD driver. We were pleasantly surprised by the performance of the drivetrain and have experienced zero issues so far. That said, it weighs in a touch on the heavy side and the shifting isn’t quite as crisp and racey feeling as some flagship offerings but that is to be expected. We realize something has to give to get this much bike down to a price this good. For those that want to lose some weight and simplify things, a 1X conversion via a one-up cog and a narrow/wide ring would save some weight at a reasonable cost as well as eliminating a shifter cable and freeing up some valuable real estate on the handlebar.
The Shimano SLX brakes proved their mettle as a fantastic mid priced option. The lever feel and performance was virtually indistinguishable from a pair of Shimano XT brakes which have become the mid-level gold standard. With a 200mm front rotor we were quite pleased on the steepest bits and in the high speed bike park stuff. They offered more than enough power and felt no different than most brakes spec’d on bikes which are double the cost.
Hats off to Giant on a fantastic job here. We would expect to see more of their in house bits here, but we were pleasantly surprised to just see a their own handlebar and grips…both of which we got along with just fine. The bar comes in at a whopping 800mm so we trimmed it down to our 780mm go to. The Truvativ stem rounded things off nicely up front – stiff and sturdy. What was most impressive was the Rock Shox Reverb offered at a price point where we would generally expect to see something far less refined. In regards to the Reverb, that leads us to a minor call out. It’s the only SRAM product mounted to the bar and it really doesn’t play all that nicely with the Shimano bits. We had to compromise a bit on where we mounted the lever and it sat at a bit of an awkward angle atop the handlebar above the right shifter. Should you switch to 1X, you could put the lever under the bar on the left side in a much better spot. Lastly the saddle – not too bad, but nothing to write home about. We can’t complain too much as most picky riders swap saddle, grips and pedals before they even take a bike home. All in all, a great mix of bits that are reliable, built to last and performed flawlessly during our long term test.
The AM-2 wheels that the Reign Advanced 1 arrives with are nothing flashy, but proved to be utilitarian, sturdy and reliable. Numerous rock strikes didn’t phase the rims and they proved to be one of the stiffest and snappiest aluminum wheelsets we’ve thrown a leg over in the 160mm category. At 24mm wide internally and 28mm wide externally, they gave our tires a pretty standard footprint.
We pulled the tubes out and swapped to tubeless straight away to save some rotational weight. With a bit of sealant and a floor pump, the rims and tires sealed up with no hassles and gave the bike a livelier feel straight away. We’re huge fans of the Schwalbe Magic Mary tire and the Hans Dampf complimented it nicely out back- particularly with the Trailstar compound.
As mentioned prior, praises due to Giant for spec’ing a DT swiss rear hub. Details like this drive the cost up, but the fact that it works with SRAM 1X systems and is easily serviceable without the use of tools is a lifesaver down the line if one decides to upgrade or finds themselves mid rebuild.
The carbon front end is perhaps the coolest part of this bike. It feels stiff yet lively and takes the edge off. The aluminum rear end is a wise choice in our opinion. Carbon rear ends are nice and all, but aluminum does a better job at taking a beating from crashes, heels, and errant rocks. The hardware that Giant chose was absolutely stellar. Oversized aluminum sleeves slide through huge bearings with top notch hardware. Nothing came loose during our test and the bike was hands down the stiffest 160mm bike we’ve thrown a leg over. This is a result of the sum of the frame’s parts. More details include the internal cable routing, a downtube guard and chainstay guard.
Our only complaint was that removing the rear shock could have been easier. Unfortunately, it required removing the cranks, yet if one was to switch to a 1X drivetrain this would likely be remedied. All in all – stiff, light and bulletproof and very little to gripe about.
Up front we were pleased with the Pike for the most part. The Dual Position Air is a fantastic fork and beneficial on the climbs as you have the option to drop the travel to 130mm from 160mm. However, the Solo Air Pike is definitely superior in it’s ability to allow the user to fine tune the stroke – for varying terrain and feel. All in all, the fork was dialed and we really have no major complaints, but having ridden the Solo Air version we do prefer that model. Not a huge deal and really it comes down to personal preference.
Out back, we loved the RockShox Monarch Plus Debonair and have had great success with that unit on this and other bikes in this category. The 3 compression settings are tailor made for getting a bike bike up the hill in all conditions while still providing the maximum amount of fun on the way down. The Debonair is simple to pull apart and tune the spring curve and progression.
However – occasionally, we did find the Reign Advanced 1 to ride a bit rough over square edged and mid sized hits. We dabbled with anywhere from 0-4 volume reducers in the shock as well as various sag percentages. While we settled in at 3 and found that increased its compliance AND support compared to the 1 reducer the bike shipped with, it was still a bit harsh when pushed super hard on the rowdiest of terrain. We tried all different rebound settings and found that the bike worked better with faster settings. The slightly short shock stroke (57mm) relative to the wheel travel (160mm) likely has the shock working a bit hard due to the less than ideal leverage ratio, but we experienced NO fade even on the longest descents. We did dabble with bolting up a coil sprung Vivid out of curiosity and that helped mid stroke compliance dramatically despite the fact that shock swaps were a bit arduous. That said – with the stock shock, the Reign Advanced 1 performed well on small chatter and big hits just fine and it’s likely that only a small fraction of the most discerning riders would notice, and only on really rough and fast terrain.
In summary, this is a fantastic bike which Giant wisely chose the spec on. At $4750 it is ideal for the rider who wants a heavy duty enduro/trail bike that’s great on the weekends at the bike park and the occasional enduro race. It makes the most sense for the rider who can’t afford a flagship bike that’s double the price, yet has no qualms about upgrading some bits in the future. Fortunately for that consumer, Giant has them covered with a stellar base of RockShox bits where it counts so they won’t have to dump too much money into the bike should they decide to upgrade a few drivetrain bits down the line. Lest we remind you, the drivetrain provided held up and provided better than expected performance in all conditions. It certainly won’t be holding anyone back. This is the same exact frame that won a stage under Yoann Barelli at the Whistler EWS last year and landed frother Josh Carlson a top 10 at the Scotland EWS last weekend. Minor quips aside, this is a fantastic all around bike and it’s tough to beat for $4750. Given Giant’s golden reputation for packaging an incredible bang for the buck, that should come as no surprise.