Westlake Village, CA (Singletrack) – A nice trail on a nice bike: I rode the Backbone Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains today on the Anthem X Advanced carbon/aluminum 29er cross-country race bike decked out with carbon-rim Giant PXCR 29er tubeless-compatible wheels. Starting near Sandstone Peak and finishing on Malibu Canyon road above Malibu Beach, the 43km stretch we rode today as part of Giant’s 29er full-suspension product launch is the longest continuous section of this 109km trail that is open to bicycles.
It is continuously swooping in and out along the hillside while going up and down, sometimes quite steeply. It has high, sunny sections with incredible views of the Pacific Ocean to the south as well as of the (currently snow-capped) San Gabriel Mountains to the north, some steep slickrock sections between monolithic sandstone blocks set on edge, and (right now, anyway) lots of stream crossings and dense, humid forest in the deep valleys. It was a warm, sunny day with a cool breeze, moist, tacky dirt and a beautiful trail—what more could you ask for?
Okay, enough about the trail; how about the ride (i.e., the bike)? Well, the Anthem X Advanced 29er 0 proved itself to be quite versatile.
The Maestro 4-2-1 suspension system (four pivots and two links, resolving into one effective floating pivot) is at its heart. Tight and compact, with small, lightweight shock levers and small links kept low on the bike to keep both mass and center of gravity down, the Maestro performs masterfully. And the SRAM XX group performs without a hiccup as long as you don’t get a stick jammed in the rear cogs like I did today. On the other hand, you’ve got a right to expect virtuosity if you drop almost nine grand for this particular Maestro.
At only 22 pounds and with its efficient Maestro linkage rear suspension system, the bike climbs great. It’s light and nimble and easy to lift the front over obstacles while maintaining rear traction and power. With the front and rear RockShox pedal platform levers fully turned on – both on the Monarch RT3 shock and on the SID RCT3 fork – it climbs like a lightweight hardtail on smooth sections.
On rougher climbs, with both front and rear shock platform levers switched to the middle position, it’s still very efficient for pedaling while rolling better over boulders and not forcing the bike to almost stop and bump over them. And those lightweight wheels with superlight carbon rims and Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires on them get going again right away when you need them to after getting knocked off of your line.
The bike is quite nimble cornering and descending at speed — up to a point. On the Backbone Trail’s sweet bermed (and tacky today) switchbacks and quick dips in and out of ravines with moderately-sized rocks, it was smooth and predictable. And on the “Malibu Kamikaze” fire-road descent section near the end, it handled the speed, stutter bumps, and hard braking well and granted that big-wheel confidence. When it gets really fast and rocky at the same time, however, the bike reaches its limits. While the steering stiffness has increased over its predecessor, the Anthem X aluminum 29er, it still is not stiff enough to keep the wheels lined up when a big guy is bouncing around over big rocks on it, at least in its largest size. Its 100mm of travel is fairly plush by cross-country standards, but it is no big-travel all-mountain bike. The Maestro rear suspension is indeed still active while braking hard, but that doesn’t stop the front end from diving when slamming on the front brake.
The Anthem X Advanced 29er 0 is a very nice cross-country race bike. It also would be a great bike for long days in the saddle, riding trails that have plenty of ups, downs, turns, and up to moderately technical descents. It is very light, has an efficient suspension system that is active while braking, soaks up moderately large impacts and handles speed and small bumps well, and rolls fast on its big wheels. The internal cables stay out of the way, out of the dirt, and away from snags. It’s easy to flip the pedal platform controls on both shocks, and remote levers could be added to make it even easier to do at any time.